I’ll freely admit my first attempt at this week’s post just came out as one long string of gibberish with runs of “LOL” interspersed between. To be fair that probably would’ve conveyed the overall point just fine. What do you say after that performance? During the week, Rutgers fans proclaimed this to be their National Championship Game. By the end of the night Saturday every single one of the 70 Michigan players that traveled to Piscataway saw the field. Every. Single. One.
Do you remember those matching tests right before a holiday break in elementary school where the answers would inevitably spell out “Happy Thanksgiving”? You no doubt recall the sense of relief you got once you realized it wasn’t a real test. That would be the exact same feeling that sprouted up midway through the first quarter of Michigan’s first road test Saturday. The dismantling took place in front of an announced 53,292 at High Point Solutions Stadium (the birthplace of college football indeed), although if there really were that many people in the stands ESPN didn’t feel the need to show it on TV.
The lead-up to this game was relatively quiet. Every meaningful metric pointed to a comfortable victory over the Scarlet Knights; this lessened but did not completely quell concerns about the first away game. Competent road performances in 2015 had helped heal emotional wounds from the previous decade, but even so, I had some slight trepidation right before kickoff. Certainly this was not what one would call arational concern, but the loss to Gary Nova and Kyle Flood in 2014 briefly re-appeared on the radar well before ESPN mentioned it 29 times. No doubt an intern brought this up in the ESPN production meeting to raucous cheers. The broadcast crew didn’t make it past the opening kickoff before belting out “Rutgers trying to do in Michigan for the second time in a row here”. I quickly found the mute button. So too did the Wolverines. What may be lost in the statistical smorgasbord of domination is that Michigan started this game offensively with two three-and-outs and a two play drive that ended with a fumble. The next 13 possessions would feature 11 touchdowns and two punts. Huzzah!
This was the most singularly dominating performance I have ever witnessed on a football field. I say that without an ounce of hyperbole. Pick a line from the box score. Seriously, any line. Now think “when is the last time I saw that in a Big Ten Conference football game?”. You haven’t. Michigan scored 78 points with eight completions for the game. Eight. The QBs combined for 119 yards through the air and 75 of those yards came on just two completions. Jabrill Peppers carried the ball three times: two were for touchdowns, and the third? A 63 yard run that preposterously ended up as not-a-touchdown on a busted play. Even the stuttering offensive start had a near miss:
On 3rd and 5 from the Michigan 24, Wilton Speight got solid protection and delivered a strike to Amara Darboh through the rain and unfortunately Darboh’s hands:
From behind the line of scrimmage you can see the chasm that he is running into on this route, the safety is nearly 15 yards back and the corner well behind, he’s about to catch that ball dead in the middle of the field. The sideline view below drives the point home that had this been completed it was at the very least a big gain. Darboh was able to quickly separate from the corner and the timing and placement of the ball were on the money. All in all a great slant opportunity that was probably complicated by the rain and velocity of the throw. I also point this play out in particular because on a night where Speight didn’t look sharp early he once again demonstrated an ability to put the ball on the money with these intermediate slant routes.
The staff rotated through several different OL combinations during the period where Juwann Bushell Beatty was on the sideline.
On the play that De’veon Smith fumbled there was immediate pressure from the middle of the line, this was the result of Patrick Kugler missing a block on #51 who broke through and eventually forced the fumble. The following drive saw Mason Cole back at the center spot. This was one of the few major mishaps on the OL at least on first viewing. There was plenty to be encouraged about however, in particular was even more evidence of the maturation and “it clicking” for Kyle Kalis. Below is a dive to Karan Higdon with Rutgers stacking the the box and the safety only six yards deep:
As the play begins, Kalis pulls and seals off the LB coming into the lane:
Higdon hits the lane quickly and bursts up field for an eight yard gain and a first down.
Another well executed set of blocks came on one of Ty Isaac’s first touches of the game. Isaac demonstrated great patience in letting the blocks develop in front of him, Jake Butt seals his man while Kalis and Magnusson gwt outside. Kalis engages the filling LB and Magnuson releases downfield to spring Isaac for a first down on a beautifully executed toss.
Despite the level of the competition, I think we can safely say we are seeing meaningful progress in the rushing attack, both in terms of execution and in terms of the variety of guys carrying the football.
Once again, the completeness of this performance is still perhaps best shown in the box score. Hats off to Coach Harbaugh, the staff, and the team for delivering a game that will go down in the history books as one of the most dominant in the modern era. With a bye week approaching we’ll save the discussion of the defense for next week and take that opportunity to also look ahead to Illinois. As always, Go Blue!