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.
Unfortunately for college football in general, and Michigan State University, in particular, MSU has emulated the famed Humpty Dumpty, by plummeting to earth after tumbling off a wall. In MSU’s case, the fall was off a solid wall of good reputation. Their fall cracked, and also broke the shell of silence and containment so effectively engineered to maintain MSU’s reputation from damage by derogatory incidents over many years.
This sad state of affairs has not been child’s play to those victimized, but constitutes harsh, undeserved lifetime punishment. It is true that it is hard, if not impossible, to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. MSU may smell the stench of this mess for many years. Tarnished reputations are difficult, if not impossible, to render whole again.
But Michigan State is giving it the old college try, with the firing of the University’s president, and its noted Athletic Director and the head of their Department of Osteopathic Medicine.
Former Governor John Engler is now in charge of the restoring MSU’s reputation. Some feel he has not, in the past, been a special friend of academia. He has been, and remains a most astute politician and stellar Spartan. He appears to be an ally of Ingham County’s Prosecuting Attorney who is charged with an investigation of the scandal(s). Some say Engler has endorsed him for Governor. Some victims and others have noted this with concern. In any case, it is certain he has the best interests of MSU at heart at all times.
Much of the student body and faculty seem on the right page regarding the situation.
I don’t think that Coach Izzo and Coach D’Antonio will be fired as so many Spartan fans fear, but they may have to put up with enduring questions for the rest of their careers. That is not an important question at issue here.
The most important issue is that the anti-victim culture, so long maintained and nurtured in East Lansing, supposedly for the benefit of MSU, be eliminated for the benefit of MSU. The dysfunctional MSU Board of Trustees needs to be addressed.
Can this kind of mess happen at any University? Of course. Sexual transgressions are part of humankind, but coverups of such activity intensifies the damage to individuals and institutions, as MSU is learning, and as PSU learned earlier. Too many under age, helpless and unfortunate victims have also learned. This stuff can be nipped in the bud if there is maintained in a community a culture of sensitivity to victims, and openness. Silence is not always as golden as advertised.
Sadly, for Michigan State, a comparison to the Penn State’s Sandusky scandal readily comes to the minds of many people. How can one tell which was worse? In terms of ruined lives, ruined University reputations, and eventual institution dollar costs, they are both horrific. Cover-ups spell disaster.
It is time to move ahead from last year’s disappointing season. With all its high points on and off the field, the season ended with a painful thud. Three critical losses late in the season again provided no run at the B1G playoff or title. This and no national final four or title, together with no bowl victory, put to rest optimistic M fan expectations as they evaporated at seasons end.
LAST SEASON’S WOES, FINAL CALL: No matter that the Wolverine three late season losses were close. The Ohio State University victory drought continued at the hands of the Wolverines yet again, in what appeared a very winnable chance. The fact that this one occurred in double overtime did not alter the fact that it produced another very big ouch. That there was a controversial spot favoring the OSU offense didn’t matter either. The Wolverines did not score or defend well enough to win with everything on the line in crunch time in their most important outing of the season.
Then there was the final game in the Orange Bowl that ended with a controversial FSU off-side non call, perhaps preventing one more M offensive stab at victory. The real bugaboo was the Wolverine gift of the winning TD with 40 seconds on the clock. At clock zero, it was 33-32 for the wrong side. Another big ouch.
The season’s early promise became a miasma as those earlier promising season expectations evaporated. The harmful loss to Iowa that started the skid was simply inexplicable.
It is now time to drop kick our attention forward and attempt to estimate and evaluate what might lie ahead in this, Coach Harbaugh’s critical third year at the Michigan helm. It is the most critical of his Michigan tenure.
GOALS: Any attempted probe into the state of the football program early pre-season is always of questionable value, because the basis for much of its prognosis is what happened the prior season. Any prediction of a team’s future football fortunes is even more “iffy” for those programs attempting a spring to the top of the heap.
It is still true the Wolverines have made many significant steps forward under Harbaugh, with very few compensating steps backward, as their trajectory has mainly been forward and upward and all signs point to a continuance and improvement of rising fortune through achievement of goals.
It is easy to state goals pro-season. The difficult part is for the team to achieve them. The fun for fans is in watching them being achieved.
A LITTLE DEEPER INTO THE HARBAUGH ERA: It does not require too big a leap of one’s imagination to expect program progress to continue at an accelerating rate. High among those expectations are the things still unachieved, such as shots at a BIG Championship, and the pot of golden rewards that lie at the end of a successful National Championship Playoff rainbow. You know what they are. The team knows what they are. Harbaugh has established a culture and motivation that is superior. But first things come first. A critical first goal this year is participating in the Big Ten Championship Game. No Wolverine team heretofore has won the privilege.
Competing for these goals is boilerplate every year, but in Harbaugh’s third year expectations will rise.
These are his players, his coaches. They are not as experienced as last year’s edition, but it there are a number of sophomores with athletic talent, and college ready bodies, expected to contribute immediately. Foremost among that group is DE Rashan Gary who leads the group. He will be a prime time player this year. There are at least nine others in his class that played enough last season to be considered experienced this year. WR Eddie McDoom is an example. They will be bolstered by another fine recruiting class this year.
This year’s class had eleven early entries, with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones projected as perhaps the best athlete in the 2017 class, and perhaps even on the team. He will probably receive significant playing time this year if he can best the considerable competition in the position group. Cesar Ruiz is an able bodied, versatile OL that may be able to contribute, even fight for a starting spot. Many of this class will contribute to the two deep. We will get clues as to their identity as spring practice unfolds.
The perceived success of Wolverines this 2017 season to a large extent also depends on success in chasing the rainbows listed above, but this year it is overwhelmingly important that they whip OSU. It has to be done. There will again be a vapor of Scarlet and Gray smugness in the air this fall that can’t be tolerated in M Stadium. That has to be overcome this year. Hmm….maybe that aroma is more pungent than a sniff of smugness!
They must beat all three “States”: MSU and PSU and especially OSU in addition to competing for championships this season.
This is an important season for both this team and its coach. It is important that they surpass last season, which trended so well but finally failed in achievement of their prime goals, and it will be a difficult one. The schedule is tough, but MSU and OSU are at home.
All the aura of success that Harbaugh is managing off field must be equaled on the field to maintain. They must win against the best, home or away to compete for championships. There is work still to be done, and it won’t be easy. But we should expect additional success in year three.
THE QUARTERBACK POSITION: The QB positon has to continue to evolve, especially pass accuracy, and a total mastery of the long ball. This will have to happen with a brand new set of receivers. The fact that Wilton Speight threw for 2,538-yards last season, with 18 TDs, and only 7 interceptions, can’t be ignored.
Still he has to win the job again, and depth must be developed. Obviously, Speight is the experienced frontrunner, but Wilton Speight, Redshirt Brandon Peters, Jon O’Korn, and others will battle for the starting slot, and give no quarter. The QBs that do not achieve starter status may be asked to step in at a critical time during the season, after any offensive snap. It is very important every year that they are well schooled and ready.
This is Harbaugh’s forte. No doubt they will be ready. More Pep has been added to the mix
COACHING CHANGES AND COACHING RESPONSIBILITY CHANGES: I like the coaching additions and responsibility alterations they have made. Pep Hamilton has been added to the staff as Jed Fisch left. The additions and alteration are:
Pep Hamilton: Pep brings a wealth of QB coaching experience from the pro level as well as college as he replaces Jedd Fisch. I expect he will be solid there. He is M’s new Assistant Head Coach /Passing Game Coordinator.
Greg Frey: He was last at Michigan as Rich Rodriguez’s OL coach. He has been named Tackles and Tight Ends Coach. Does his presence mean some change in the blocking style of the OL, and maybe a little more spread? I like the split in the coaching of the OL. It may give the overburdened Drevno a little respite.
Jay Harbaugh: is now the Run Game Coordinator and Co-Special Teams Co-ordinator. Former RB coach Tyrone Wheatley has returned to the pros. There are some slings and arrows directed at Jay because he has no playing experience as a running back. My physician does not share my illnesses, but I expect help to effectively address the situation effectively through training. Jay will do the job.
Tim Drevno: He remains Offensive Coordinator/OL coach. He will coach the center and the two guards.
To accomplish their goals any year, the Wolverines have obstacles to surmount, and rebuilding an effective offensive line is one of them. It appears this task is at the top of the heap this season. Improved pass protection and a consistent running game are both necessary to success.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: This year the offensive and defensive lines are depleted. Experienced and versatile starters Sophomore Left Guard Ben Bredeson returns, as does Mason Cole. Right Guard may be manned by hefty and athletic Freshman Michael Onwenu (350 plus). It is possible that Freshman Cesar Ruiz vies for a spot on the in the two deep. Maybe can compete for a starting position. He has the physical tools. I doubt he will be at center because Mason Cole is experienced there. There is speculation Cole might vacate center. There will be a constant battle pre-season and maybe into the season as the search for the best five for the best five intensifies.
RUNNING BACKS: The style of the RBs will change with the graduation of the hammer that was DeVeon Smith at the position. It looks like the frontrunner at TB at this time is Sophomore Chris Evans. He gained 7-yards an attempt last season, and sometimes he is lightening in a bottle. Ty Isaac is back for his 5th year. He progressed last year and has size and talent. Junior Karan Higdon had six TDs last year and should be improved this year. Kingston Davis has transferred.
Kareem Walker will challenge for time. His light went on in the December Bowl practices. A healed Drake Johnson would be most interesting, but has not yet been cleared yet for a sixth year to the best of my knowledge.
Freshmen O’Maury Samuels is especially quick and Kurt Taylor. He had an outstanding junior year in HS (1,631-yards). At FB, Kahlid Hill will be back for his 5th year. He had 16 TDs last season. He can catch passes.
WIDE RECEIVERS: This is probably the most interesting position group on the team at this time. The oft injured and now recovered Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways have to find gold at the Last Chance Mine, or they will be passed by. They will be pressed by sophomore’s Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford. McDoom is fast and Crawford is faster. They are both now fairly experienced. Eddy McDoom had considerable experience last season, producing effective end arounds etc. Truth to tell he was more effective on the ground than receiving as that was the way he was utilized. But he can shine as a receiver, too.
The 2017 recruits are an outstanding group, with Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones considered by most to be hyper talented.
Tarik Black has star potential in this own right.
Brad Hawkins spent a year maturing in prep academy, where he put up outstanding receiving numbers. He is 6’2″ and 205 lbs. H
Martin and Collins also are gifted receivers.
If it turns out that the offensive line can effectively pass protect, I think that by the end of the season this wide receiver position group will be the strength of the offense.
Junior Grant Perry is missing a golden opportunity for football advancement by being in the doghouse for alleged transgressions after last season’s win in East Lansing. His football future remains in limbo. Hope he can work through it. The future looms exceedingly bright for this hyper talented group. Experience is coming their way to blend with their talent.
TIGHT ENDS: Redshirt Junior Ian Bunting will obviously get more opportunities for catches with the progression of Jake Butt to the pros. At 6’7″ and 250 lbs. Bunting is a talented load, along with stable mate Tyrone Wheatley. At 6’6″ and 276 lbs., Wheatley packs a punch, and owns good hands. I expect both these guys to explode this year.
And there is more. Sophomore Nick Eubanks, 6’5″ and 236, but will fight this spring for playing time.
The Wolverines did not land a TE recruit in 2017, but collared a talented 6′ 8″; 236 lb. walk on who has room to grow, Carter Selzer. After a pair of Glasgow walk on successes, and another one in progress, one not cannot help appreciating walk-ons. Besides Selzer, the Wolverines have a number of them this year. If one or more rises it will be noted.
Devin Asiasi, who saw extensive playing time last year as a freshman, has transferred to UCLA for personal reasons. He needs to be closer to home. There are no hard feelings on either side of this transfer.
Part 2 will present defensive comments later in the week.