The Scarlet Knights blew into M Stadium Saturday riding the ill wind of a 48-10 loss to the Badgers of Wisconsin, an earlier one TD loss to the Spartans, a blow-out loss to the Scarlet and Gray, and Penn State got 28 on them for another loss, and so on this season.
So far it had been a rough Big Ten season for the Knights. Their armor was dented and pierced prior to Saturday’s trip to Michigan Stadium and they suffered more dents Saturday. Even so, their return game was certainly not rusty.
Saturday the Wolverines won the joust as Jake Rudock had his best day as a Wolverine. He was 18 of 25 for 377-yards and 2 TDs. He seemed in tune with his receivers, and was poised. He consistently fed the ball in there with precision.
Even though the Knights had trounced a Hoosier scoring machine (sans defense) by a couple of points in Hoosier land 55-52, Rutgers Head Football Coach, Kyle Flood, who had been suspended for cheating previously, had to be desperate to shore up the dam against the flood waters that are trying to deep six his regime. A Michigan tsunami flooded Rutgers.
The Knights had a sometimes explosive offense, three good running backs, and some great receivers.
Unfortunately for them, they also had the second worst defense in the Big Ten, and their best offensive player, WR Leonte Carroo did not play due to injury. He has missed about half of this season’s games this season because of injuries and discipline. The explosiveness of Rutgers did come within 7 of beating then unbeaten MSU.
It seemed that the Wolverine’s defensive backfield had learned from the sometimes poor effort that they displayed against the Gophers.
That that effort was poor was indicated by Secondary Coach Zordich in a prior interview, who said that the back end of the defense (the DB’s) did not play aggressively, or well in the Minnesota game. Against the Knights, that was remedied.
Those DB feet, hands, and eyes got coached up this week. Aggressive, they held Rutgers to 95-net yards passing on 11 completions in 27 attempts. Even well into the second quarter, Rutgers had not a single pass completion yard.
The same could not be said regarding the Wolverines problematic kick return coverage. Knight return man Janarion Grant ran 4 kick returns for 155-yards, including a stunning 98-yard TD. He also had a 67-yard punt return.
Several things energized the Wolverines, not the least of which was Harbaugh, who was incensed by half time tunnel talk in which the Knights said that they were game finishers, blah, blah, etc. Jabrill Peppers mentioned trash talk in a post-game interview. Some Rutgers players were ignited by their late first half field goal.
Harbaugh apparently lit a fire under his team for the second half as they came out roaring. It was interesting JH went for a two point conversion after the first M TD of the half to drive the score from 35-16 to 42-16. Post-game, he cited “percentages”, and the venerable two point authorization chart as justification. Hmm. Could be.
Whatever the reason, more than one player cited Harbaugh’s fury at the half over two calls and the trash talking. One call was an overturned targeting call. This is the third such (targeting) call that has not gone the Wolverines way.
The other was an unsportsmanlike penalty, or “intention to deceive call”. Jake Butt with no intention of going off the field or to deceive, inadvertently trailed the players going off the field, but lined up. Noting the open receiver, Jake Rudock did what he was taught to do, toss to the open receiver. Harbaugh said he was “offended” by this call.
More incentive was that Rutgers came into the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium owning a winning record against the Wolverines. The Wolverines had never beaten them, and the Wolverines loss to them last year constituted another very low point for the last year’s team. I had not forgotten that Janarion Grant provided the FG block that provided the misery of defeat for last year’s Wolverines. He burned them again Saturday.
Last year’s team did not have this year’s Jabrill Peppers advantage. Earlier, Coach Zordich recently had indicated that the coaches had to do a better job of getting him (Jabrill) into position, and he had to make the plays, noting his near interception against the Gophers.
While not an interception he had an outstanding TD run. It was rumored that Jabrill was somewhat dinged, and Jourdan Lewis supplied two kick returns for 59-yards with a long of 35. He likes to have the ball in his hands and ran well. Jabrill gave no indication of being dinged in the TD run, and had, overall, a very good outing.
Lewis also set a M record for pass break ups, eclipsing the former record of 18 by one in bettering Marlon Jackson and Leon Hall.
Peppers has reinforced his stature as Michigan’s best player this season. He is becoming a legend at Michigan. Ninety-two plays against the Gophers on offense, defense and special teams was a remarkable performance. And while he shared the load some with Jordan Lewis on kick returns Saturday, he had that outstanding 18-yard TD run after a lateral on what looked like it was going to become a wheel route, but was cut up field. This was as nifty a run as you will ever hope to see as he made tacklers miss. The usually more restrained Harbaugh was justifiably effusive in his post-game praise for both Jordan Lewis and Jabril Peppers.
The Wolverines received to start the game and botched the first play. What was called a fumble on the field, was the result of an awkward Rudock attempt to push the ball to Drake Johnson. The call was fortunately reversed and considered an incompletion. Then a ten play drive resulted in nothing as Kenny Allen missed a 37-yard field goal wide left.
FB Sione Houma got it started for the Wolverines with a 32-yard catch and run to the Rutgers 14, and Chesson caught a 13-yard TD for the Wolverines first points of the game. M-7, R-0.
Rutgers answered with a FG, but the Wolverines pushed in another score on with Jake Butt contributing to the drive by catching one for 20-yards. Butt was the Wolverines leading receiver with four catches for 102-yards.
The just recovered from injury Jake Ruddock ran it into the corner of the end zone, catching the pylon, on a play characterized afterwards by Harbaugh as Rudock exhibiting toughness. Harbaugh’s comment “As tough as a two dollar steak” fit Jake on this play and. M-14, R-3.
The Wolverines got another first half TD to start the second quarter. Jake Butt had catches for 17 and nine yards and Jabril Peppers took it from there on a remarkable 18-yard scamper for 6. Seemingly trapped, he escaped and speedily made a beeline to score. Harbaugh lauded his remarkable ability after the game saying he did not know there was another rung to that (Peppers talent) ladder. M-21, R-3.
Rutger’s talented returner, Janarion Grant then took the ensuing KO 98-yards for Rutgers first score. He had two long TDs in previous games this season. It was M-21, R-10.
Drake Johnson made a nice run to score from the one, after a beautiful catch of twenty by Armara Darboh. M-28, R-10.
Rutgers then hit a 29-yard FG after a holding call on Jabrill, and it became M-28, R-13. The Knights kept hanging in there.
Dymonte Thomas provided the spark for the next Wolverine TD with a 28-yard return to the Rutgers forty. The Wolverines piled their score to 35 after an 8-yard Darboh end zone catch. Jake Rudock was on.
A pass interference penalty on Stribling preceded a Jarod Wilson interception at the M 15. This over the shoulder catch in traffic was an outstanding play by Wilson. Then happened the “unsportsmanlike” penalty. Coach Harbaugh and the Michigan crowd were understandably upset.
A 67-yard Janarion Grant punt return preceded another Rutger’s FG of 27-yards.
The Scarlet Knights brayed about that FG in the tunnel. The half ended at M-35, R-16.
The Wolverines kicked to start the second half, and came out energized. A personal foul on Rutgers was applied to better M’s good field position at the 50. A Chris Wormley 12-yard sack aggravated Rutgers problems and they punted to the put the ball at the M 40.
A 56-yard Jake to Jake pass took it the Rutgers 4. De’Veon Smith hammered it home. M-43, R-16.
M converted two FGs by Kenny Allen, and it was finally 49-16.
The Wolverines kept their foot on the gas in the second half offensively and defensively.
While individual football games have an ebb and flow of their own, this one seemed long.
Most fans are pretty consistent in what they want.
Some simply want their team to catch the opposing whippersnappers and belt them into an appreciation of the moral beauty of being Michigan, preferably while winning. Not always is this desired result an easy accomplishment.
What the coaches want is improvement in all aspects of the game weekly, preferably while winning. Nor is this always an easy accomplishment.
This was a hard hitting game for some of three quarters, with the Knights doing just enough to hang in there for a half or more. When you hit FGs instead of TDs, or don’t score during a half, it is hard to win.
Michigan’s defense held the Knights to 128 net yards rushing, and 97 passing. Chris Wormley had two sacks, and the two middle LBs, Bolden and Morgan, had 15 tackles (solos and assists) between them.
The Wolverines are still a work in progress, but you can see improvement each week, and they now are getting ready to face the aerial fireworks of the Indiana Hoosiers.