The 5th ranked Michigan Wolverines traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University last Saturday. The Wolverines were a 39.5 favorite. Rutgers had not won a Big Ten game in six attempts. The Wolverines had captured 6 straight Big Ten Wins.
Rutgers has not enjoyed a good football season this year under Head Coach Chris Ash, and obviously, the Scarlet Knights aren’t riding high currently, but they believe they are improving. They have some talented personnel on offense, and special teams.
They proved this by tying the score 7-7 in the first quarter with an 80-yard scamper from scrimmage much to the distress and surprise of both the Wolverines and their fans.
While a group of Wolverines was in close pursuit, they could not catch the speedy Scarlet Knight. It was a beautiful serpentine run by Rutgers’ Isaih Pacheco for six.
He was in the end zone before the Wolverines caught him but he had the company of several Wolverines as they tackled him in the end zone, including Chase Winovich. This was the biggest mistake the Wolverines defense made all evening, and they did not make it again. The same play was stuffed a couple of times later.
The Wolverines do not have a long history against the Scarlet Knights, but have now bested the them four out of their five encounters.
They have only played since Rutgers was admitted to the B1G in 2014. The one M loss is still celebrated in New Brunswick (campus location), and at Piscataway (stadium location). It was their first Big Ten win after entry into the conference, and a nasty blow to M fans at the time of its occurrence.
That 24-26 loss had an Appalachian State quality about it. It is not a surprise that it is still celebrated at Rutgers. Understandable, as anybody would forget a 78-zip loss, and remember their first Big Ten win instead.
THE FIRST COLLEGIATE FOOTBALL GAME WAS AT NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY-Rutgers v Princeton. The sesquicentennial of that 6 to 4 Rutgers victory will occur next year on November 6, 2019. Wonder how many spectators attended that first game and what the price of admission was, if there was one.
When I read about this on the Rutgers pages there were the usual pejorative comments from disgruntled fans that emanate from struggling programs that are consistently losing.
Slowly but surely, Coach Ash is improving the product. Only the Buckeye dreadnaught (52-3), and the Badgers torpedoed the Knights badly prior to the Wolverines, this season.
All the pro-Wolverine hype could lull a fan or a team to sleep. The Wolverines had much acknowledged superiority, but fortunately it did not prevent them from giving very satisfactory effort. This was a classic example of a “trap game”. Only once did the Knights break a significant big play. Rutgers were out jousted and dominated in this tournament.
The Michigan Coaches are to be credited for having the Wolverines ready after three straight tough encounters with ranked teams. They had both the will and the way to win. As was expected. Rutgers played hard, had good schemes, and left some bruises. Coach Jim Harbaugh lauded the efforts of both sides in his post-game press conference, and so did Rutgers, Coach Chris Ash.
OFFENSE AND DEFENSE were outstanding against the Knights, although, in truth, it was not one of the best defensive games of the season against the run.
In my opinion, the offensive player of the game was Shea Patterson. He tossed 18 times for 280-yards, and 3 TDs.
Coach Harbaugh said at the post game presser: “He (Patterson) really played well tonight. He just does everything you ask him to do. That was a really tough night to throw the ball, it reminded me of my days back in Solider Field with that wind and conditions. But he made some unbelievable throws with that swirling wind. Also, our receivers did a great job catching the ball in the elements. Our guys continue to do a really good job catching the ball. That was really impressive. Rutgers was doing a good job containing the run game, but the protection was terrific all night. The throw and catch part was difficult with the conditions, but they did it at as high a level as you could have.”
Shea is the “guts and glue” (as the late great Bob Ufer used to say) that holds M’s offense together this year. He rolled right and left, hit receivers, handed off perfectly, threw for three TDs, threw no interceptions, made good RPO reads, and played in a poised and workmanlike fashion.
That WRs Nico Collins (3/56-yards, two TDs with a long of 36-yards), Donovan Peoples-Jones (5/83 and a long of 32), and Oliver Martin (3/35) made fine catches, kept a toe in bounds when required, and ran intelligent routes helped to make this an outstanding offensive performance.
TE Zach Gentry (3/42, long of 2) made an outstanding leaping catch. Chris Evans and Bell nabbed 3 each, for a combined 41-yards.
The WRs did have a couple of muffs, but they generally overcame the wind and are improving every game.
The OL was up to the task. They pass protected well and opened hole for a number of backs.
Asked why M was 9 of 13 on third down conversions Rutgers’ Head Coach Chris Ash addressed the subject after the game by stating that “Can’t put it any other way. Good players make good plays. They pass protected well. And some of their play actions, we couldn’t get to the QB, and that’s really the difference”.
The OL also was a benefit to the running game. In rushing for 2 scores, Karan Higdon blew past 1,000-yards to date for the season. It cannot be said that his game was among Karan’s best. He did not have the best first half of his career.
Still, it has been a long time since an M RB has accomplished that for the Wolverines. Karan has earned every yard.
The leading rusher was Chris Evans who broke a late game 61-yard TD scamper, Chris ran 6/75-yards and 1 TD, for a 12.5 average. Tru Wilson ran 8/58, long of 15, with a 7.9-yard avg. Karan Higdon was 15/44 with a 2.8 avg. Martin, Hewlett, Edwards Bell, Mason and Milton also carried. The group totaled 40 carries for 204-yards, 3 TDs, and a 4.8-yard average.
The Wolverines totaled 453-yards of offense to Rutgers’ 252, Rutgers had only 59-yards through the air.
The Wolverines continue to show improvement game by game.
Chris Ash said that Rutgers’ had their best rushing performance in a long, long time, with but one “misfit” that occasioned Chris Evan’s 61-yard bee line to the end zone. Other than that, he (Ash) thought they played a really good run game, and that it was their best rushing of the year. Said the Wildcat helped some, and was part of the game plan.
The M defense was effective enough to win big on this afternoon, but maybe a little less aggressive than they were in the prior three games against the run. Against the passing attack they were lights out.
It is no surprise that after the three-game revenge tour they could have a little let down in crushing the running game. The longest Rutgers play of the passing game was a trick play to a second- string Rutgers QB, Giovanni Rescigno, that went for 19-yards.
This is beginning to look like a consistently productive offense and defense. As good or better than any in the Big Ten. I am certain Don Brown will cure any dysfunctions in the run defense by Hoosier time.
HOW THEY SCORED: Rutgers received the Kick Off, and then the teams traded blows with no scoring effect for most of the 1st quarter until the 45 second mark. Karan then ran it in from the 1 yard-line for a TD to complete an 8 play 59-yard drive. TE Zach Gentry had a 16-yard catch, Higdon, Evans and Mason got it to the one via short runs before Karan ran it in. M-7, R-0.
Some seconds later Rutgers’ Pacheco breezed 80-yards to score via Rutgers’ best play of the game. M-7, R-7. It was a most beautiful execution of a zone read play.
The Wolverines answered in the second quarter on another Higdon 1-yard TD run. That completed a 12-play 65-yard drive. Shea Patterson completed passes to Martin Oliver (7-yards), Ronnie Bell (12-yards), Donovan Peoples-Jones (9-yards) to move the ball to the Rutgers 20. A couple of short runs and Higdon scored again. This series was an example of Shea’s value to the Wolverines at the QB position. M-14, R-7
Next it was the Nico Collins show, as he caught a great throw by Patterson in the end zone. Both the throw and the catch were perfection. This completed a 6-play, 53-yard drive for 6. Collins had previously contributed to the drive with a 10-yard catch. M-21, R-7.
The half ended at the above score with the Wolverines firmly in control and receiving to start the second half.
Patterson went to the air again, and with effect. First came an in-completion, then Gentry nabbed a 21-yard pass to the M 49. Peoples-Jones caught one for 32-yards. Oliver Martin was wide open in the end zone as the Wolverines made it look easy. It was a 6 play, 53-yard drive. M-28, R-7.
The next M scoring drive started with a 13-yard Tru Wilson run. He then toted two for 8-yard each, and one for three. Tru had his best Michigan performance in this game. A ten-yard pass to Collins got the score, completing the 5 play 43-yard drive. M-35, R-7.
The Wolverines finished the scoring for the game with a Chris Evans dash up the middle for 61-yards and the TD. It seems that he is finally back to 100% after an injury plagued season. Good timing.
The Final was M-42, R-7
TAKEAWAY: This was a much-needed game for the Wolverines. The offense was relatively ineffective running the ball, so Shea Patterson showed them the way to a win through the air. This was a definite trap game, and the Wolverines prevailed, giving up only one big play, They can be happy with the result,
While the Northwestern Wildcats have clawed their way to Indy, the fate of the Wolverines regarding the West Division title is still in the making. They must beat Indiana at home next week end, and the Columbus denizens in their lair the next week to face the Wildcats in Indy.
You can bet that the team and their coaches, are correctly taking it one game at a time, and are seeing only IU Red at this time, but the bigger picture can now come into view for fans. In the shadows, beyond the Hoosier Red, one can catch glimpses of Scarlet tinged with Gray. Even deeper into the shadows there lies a snarling Wildcat.
Michigan sorely needs to be in the Big Ten Championship title game. They need a shot at another Big Ten Championship soon. Some of us are getting old.
I think this set of Wolverines is up to the task. They have the required coaching, talent, ability, and the will necessary to make the required team effort.