The Wolverines returned home to Ann Arbor Saturday afternoon to host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Alumni and fans celebrated Homecoming, and the Blast From The Past on a windy, chilly football Saturday.
Before Saturday, the Scarlet Knights were the proud owners of victories in their last two of three games, while the Wolverines had lost two of three.
Beating Purdue and Illinois was quite an accomplishment for a Rutgers team that had been struggling for wins under Head Coach Chris Ash. They nailed Illinois and then Purdue. Nailing Purdue was an especially good win for them, while the Illinois win was necessary for residency above the bottom of the Big Ten football barrel.
The Boilermakers produced over 472-yards of offense to Rutgers paltry 217, but two turnovers and red zone woes killed their chances of a win against a lesser team. On the other side of the ledger, as good as the win over Purdue was, an earlier Rutgers loss to Eastern Michigan seems bad.
The fact that M won 78-0 last year was immaterial. Wins are never automatic, and everyone in the Big Ten can mount a challenge. That score was source of pride for the Wolverines last year, but it is a regrouping focal point for the Knights this year. They even had T-shirts showing the score. But it was all to no avail for the Scarlet Knights, as an effective Brandon Peters replaced the struggling Jon O’Korn at QB and engineered the win.
PETERS’ TAKEOVER AT QB PROVED PROVEDENTIAL FOR THE WOLVERINES’ FORTUNES ON SATURDAY: Despite guiding an 80-yard, 13 play drive for an early second quarter TD, the mistake plagued John O’ Korn struggled through the first quarter, and into the second. He threw an interception and muffed a snap twice. While the Wolverines covered the fumbles, they obviously destroyed drives, and wasted downs. Interceptions speak for themselves.
While John was decent in the Purdue game, he threw game ending interceptions against MSU in the monsoon.
That the offense was ineffective against Penn State was not all O’Korn, who endured seven sacks. It was a team loss with the defense struggling mightily too. Still the passing game wasn’t working. and that is supposed to be a QBs forte.
Watching the first quarter, in which the Wolverines were scoreless, it appeared John was regressing against the Knights.
He did lead a scoring drive mentioned above 80-yards in 13 plays and contributed a 15-yard run in the series. Kahlid Hill finished from the one, and the Wolverines had a 7-zip lead, but M couldn’t protect the lead and needed more. They did not get more until Brandon Peters took over the offense.
John’s interception, and the two fumbled snaps, brought Peters into the game. This was about when everybody expected Peters to be inserted for a few plays or a series. Harbaugh said after the game, that they knew Monday Peters was going to play.
Brandon entered the game in mid second quarter, and the Wolverine’s offense rejuvenated. They scored on the next three series. With a bevy of short pass completions, the running game began to work better. The seemingly rough-cut-offense began to smooth out. Many of the passes were catchable and were caught. Not all of Peters’ passes were great, as a few were not on target, but he hit receivers regularly, and had no interceptions. The chains moved. He was 10 of 14 for 124 net yards, a TD, and he pitched a long throw of 20-yards.
Coach Harbaugh said after the game, with a smile, that a bird has left the nest.
SCARLET KNITGHTS HAD SOME TALENT AND THE SAME BIG TEN RECORD AS THE WOLVERINES BEFORE SATURDAY’S GAME:
The Scarlet Knights had a trio of running backs, the most productive of which is usually Gus Edwards. The Wolverines held him to 34 net yards on Saturday, but he did get a short TD.
Saturday their most effective runner was Janarion Grant. The returner/receiver/tailback showed his stuff again, as he has in prior years. He had five carries for 71-net yards, but one of those was a 65-yard streak for a TD. He makes a habit of that kind of play.
The Rutgers QB, Giviani Resigno hails from Michigan, and is more adept at running then passing. He started in two prior games before entering Michigan Stadium.
Michigan’s defense held up well against him, and the other Rutgers threats in general. They were held to 94 net yards rushing on 31 carries. 65-yards of the 94 were the result of Janarion’s long run. They were held to 101-net yards passing, as they completed 8 of 16. Meanwhile, the Wolverines amassed 334-yards rushing and 137-yards passing.
HARBAUGH HAD BEEN UNDER FIRE FROM SOME DISGRUNTLED FANS AND SOME OF THE NATIONAL MEDIA THAT HELPED BUILD HIM UP: Coach Harbaugh will not wilt under the stain, and he is not in any kind of a hot seat, nor is he leaving in the foreseeable future.
He is not ranting and raving and tossing blame around willy-nilly for the PSU team loss, or other woes. I am sure that he is discreetly assigning some well-deserved blame to both players and coaches, when and where deserved. The Wolverines did what they always do after a loss under Harbaugh. They went back to work. This time though, there seemed to be a lot more work to be done. A great deal of it seemed to have been accomplished for Rutgers Saturday, but not all.
To the disappointment of a growing group of fans, he had not been throwing any mud at the quarterback wall. He had solidly supported his starting QB, John O’Korn.
Before the game, many fans certainly hoped that Brandon Peters would at least get a few quality snaps or more against the Knights, even if he did not start.
Surprisingly, he played for much of the second quarter and earned the whole second half. He has surely earned the start next week.
While there will undoubtedly be some controversy as to why he did not take over sooner, there is no cloud in my mind. To me, the time was ripe, and the time was right.
M’s offense had fallen to 10th in the Big Ten in points scored in games this season prior to Rutgers. They also lagged in most other offensive categories. It’s was not just O’Korn. Receivers did not break open, and catchable passes were dropped at critical times. Backs have not blocked well in pass pro at times.
The nature of the quarterback position is that it is at the center of the offensive storm that occurs when an offense is not playing well. A play action team prospers when there is both a robust passing game and running game. It’s hard to have one without the other.
PETERS AND THE OFFENSE DIDN’T WIN IT ALONE: The Michigan defense showed up. With the exception of about four plays, they were absolutely outstanding. They had 11 TFLs for thirty-nine yards in losses. They had 5 sacks. They allowed Rutgers 11-yards in the first quarter and only 17 fourth quarter yards. Mo Hurst had M’s first sack on the first snap of the game to set the tone.
LB Devin Bush led the group with 3 solo tackles and 8 assisted tackles for a total of 11. Mo Hurst had 2 and 6 for a total of 8. Viper Kaleke Hudson had 4 and 1 for 5.
DE Rashan Gary regretted afterwards that he did not flatten as many of the Knights as he would have liked to, but he provided great pressure that drove them into other Wolverine hands.
DE Chase Winovich had three sacks, and one was spectacular. One of his sacks flattened the Rutgers QB, who then was fortunate enough to recover his own fumble.
THE SCORING: The scoring started in the 2nd quarter as the first quarter was barren.
The Wolverines opened the scoring on a one-yard TD plunge by Kahlid Hill, and the Wolverines were in the lead 7 zip.
This 13-play drive engineered by O’Korn, covered 80-yards with O’Korn contributing a run, and the rest of the running game was working, but after that offensive production lapsed.
In the second quarter, Rutgers’ Janarion Grant ran in a 65-yard TD for a 7-7 tie. The run completed a three play 75-yard drive.
After this score, Brandon Peters was taking snaps as the Wolverines quarterback. The Wolverines pulled ahead with Karan Higdon providing runs of 8 and 12, and then producing a 10-yard TD. Ty Isaac had a good 6-yard run in that drive too. Before that score, Wheatley had caught a nifty Peters 15-yard pass. M-14, R-7.
Peters than provided a flawless two-minute drill to close the second quarter, and half. Higdon ran for 3 and 4-yards. Peters hit Gentry for 12-yards, and Isaac ran for 10-yards. Then it was an Evans catch and scamper for twenty yards-and six. If you blinked you likely missed it. The half ended 21-7.
Early in the third quarter, Higdon was at it again, rushing for 32-yards. Kareem Walker pushed for 5-yards and the TD. M-28, R-7. This was a 4-play, 54-yard drive.
Rutgers answered on a 2-yard Gus Edwards TD run. This ran the score to M-28, R-14.
Karan Higdon produced a 2-play, 51-yard drive for a score with runs of 12, and 49-yards. The beautiful 49-yard TD capped the scoring, and produced the final score of 35-14.
A TOAST TO THE RUNNING BACKS AND OFFENSIVE LINE: The backs benefitted from better OL play.
Karan Higdon was at his best, toting 18 times for 158-net yards, and two TDs with a long of 49-yards. Ty Isaac had a good game too, carrying 14-times for 109 net yards with a long of 21. Kareem Walker ran hard 6 times for 34-yards, and his first collegiate TD, with a long of 13. All this did not happen without the OL blocking better in the running game, and some good running performances.
SOME TAKEAWAY: The insertion of Peters into the line-up provided an offensive spark that has been missing for some time. He is not a cure all. He will face challenges as a starter that he has not had to handle yet. Tougher circumstances, and rougher, tougher, opponents.
Things will get tougher than in this game as the season progresses. Pass rushes, better defenders, higher stakes. Everything. His performance Saturday showed poise and talent, and provided a very promising lift for his team. He throws a nice ball with accuracy.
It should be fun to watch him develop over the rest of the season, if that is in his future, and it now appears that might happen. He will have to continue to compete with the rest of the quarterback roster. His job has just begun.