Michigan 48 Rutgers 42 – Week 5 Recap


Final Score: 48-42 3OT, Michigan by 6 over Rutgers
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 19.3 (-13.3)
CD Projection: Michigan by 6 (✔)


WEEK 5 RECAP @ Rutgers

Admittedly, it felt weird to be treating a week 5 trip to Rutgers as a must win.  But, it absolutely was a must win game for Michigan, and for Jim Harbaugh.  They won, and that matters a lot.  There were still a litany of errors to correct for this coaching staff, and for these players.  But in the end, Michigan finally managed to make some key plays in big spots.  This will prove to be a memorable lesson in how to win for these players, especially those with very little game experience.

I hope everyone is prepared for a very fast transfer from the Joe Milton hype train to the Cade McNamara hype train.  McNamara looked very sharp after taking over for Milton in the second quarter.  He was 27-36 (75%) for 260 yards and 4 TDs.  Perhaps more importantly, once the offense forced Rutgers to defend the whole field, the running game was able to find some creases.  There is still a lot of work to do to bolster the depth while three of the five starting lineman recover from injuries.  Hassan Haskins seems to have stepped forward to gather more carries than the other three running backs.  However, Chris Evans had perhaps the play of the game on a 4th & 5 conversion in the 4th quarter.  Josh Gattis finally seemed to get into a rhythm for the first time since October 24th in Minneapolis.

On first glance, this game was a lot like the rest of the 2020 performances for Don Brown’s defensive unit.  There were still huge chunk plays given up through the air to a Rutgers QB who was averaging 5.3 yards per pass attempt coming in.  Rutgers managed 6.8 yards per called pass play tonight against Michigan.  There were a few glimmers of hope, however.  Early on, we saw a flash of speed off the ball from Chris Hinton.  If he emerges as an interior threat, this defense immediately improves.  We also saw Dax Hill make a technique correction from early in the game to the end.  In the 1st quarter, Dax made a passive play on a deep ball and the WR high-pointed a 43 yard bomb to set up Rutgers’ first score.  On the final play of the game, in a similar coverage technique, Dax left no doubt by going up high to snatch his first interception of the season. 

Giles Jackson continues to show his propensity for being a playmaker.  Today, it was as a kick returner.  His 95-yard touchdown return to open the 2nd half was a huge part of why Michigan was able to execute a comeback victory.  When Rutgers kicked away from Jackson, Blake Corum was very capable of converting short kicks into good field position also.  Michigan was very fortunate that their explosive return game was able to pick up the place kicking.  Three missed field goals nearly cost Michigan this game in regulation, and in overtime.  One missed field goal was affected by a poor snap, but the other two were clearly pushed right by Quinn Nordin.  I expect Michigan’s special teams unit will sink even lower in next week’s SP+ rankings.


By the Numbers: Week 5 @ Rutgers


Michigan was steamrolled by the Wisconsin Badgers 49-11 in Ann Arbor.  Even with low expectations, the fan base was still mortified by the poor performance.

NEXT UP: @ Rutgers: 108th, -10.5

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 19.3, Michigan Win Probability 87%
A quick note: Bill Connelly’s content at ESPN has moved behind the ESPN+ paywall.  In addition to his rankings article I always link (PREGAME SP+ above), I’ll also share this article where Connelly discusses why SP+ missed on Michigan (the defense).  He mentioned that without preseason projections, the Wolverines would be in the 60s in SP+ overall ranking.  They are currently 27th overall.

Michigan Offense (35th) vs. Rutgers Defense (90th) 
Here is some bad news, then some good news, then some unknowns.  The bad news is Michigan’s offense has only looked viable in one game versus Minnesota.  The Gophers were the 44th ranked defense per SP+ heading into week 1, but have plummeted to 85th after four games.  The good news is the week 5 opponent is Rutgers and they are putting the 90th ranked defense out there on Saturday.  Will Michigan be able to mount any successful offensive rhythm this Saturday in prime time?  We won’t know much until we’ve seen whether the two OTs, Jaylen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes, are back in the lineup.  Also, we need to find out who steps forward at quarterback after Joe Milton was benched in favor of Cade McNamara last week.

Michigan Defense (26th) vs. Rutgers Offense (112th)
Rutgers has been boom or bust from drive to drive this season.  They have scored at least 20 points in every game, including 27 against Ohio State.  They were able to cash in on Michigan State’s 7 turnovers to score 38 in week one.  However, in terms of efficiency and explosiveness, they are still lacking severely and have slipped to 112th in offensive SP+.  I expect they will attack Michigan the same way the last three opponents have.  They will test the corners deep down the sidelines.  Also, running back Isaih Pacheco will run right at the edge defenders who struggled so mightily against Wisconsin.  

PREDICTION: This may very well be Jim Harbaugh’s last stand.  A loss to Rutgers will signal that the 2020 team may have decided to pack it in.  While I do expect to see many frustrating plays on both sides of the ball, I don’t think the program will roll over.  I am prepared to see a close game throughout, but in the 4th quarter Michigan’s playmakers will have to step forward.  I would feel better about this prediction if I knew for certain who those playmakers are.

Michigan 33 Rutgers 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 41 Rutgers 10)


SP+ Overall: 27th (↓9), 10.7
SP+ Offense: 35th (↓5), 33.0
SP+ Defense: 26th (↓7), 22.2
SP+ Special Teams: 83rd (↑21), -0.1

AP Poll: NR (same), 0

Coaches’ Poll: NR (same), 0

CFP Rank: N/A

Michigan 52 Rutgers 0 – Week 5 Recap


Final Score: 52-0, Michigan by 52 over Rutgers
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 27.3 (+24.7)
CD Projection: Michigan by 20 (+32)


WEEK 5 RECAP vs. Rutgers

Michigan had everything to prove to themselves in this game, and re-established trust in themselves and their systems.  This was a thorough and complete domination from the Wolverines. Michigan scored twice in every quarter, and pitched the first shutout since their 78-0 drubbing of Rutgers in Piscataway in 2016.  Shea Patterson looked more comfortable behind his offensive line, and the passing game seemed to find some rhythm. Ronnie Bell again led the team in targets with eight, but Donovan People-Jones looked more healthy and was targeted five times, catching four of them.

On defense, the improved run fits were immediately noticeable.  Rutgers was only able to rush for 1.6 yards per carry. The Scarlet Knights only managed 152 yards of total offense for the game.  Rutgers also attempted to utilize the crossing route attack that was successful for Indiana and Ohio State at the end of the 2018 season.  While Melton and Blackshear were able to get loose a handful of times, the longest plays allowed were kept under 20 yards by the defense. Don Brown continues to add fronts, alignments, personnel, and coverages to maximize the number of options available later on in the schedule.

The Michigan fan base was also embarrassed by a lack of intensity from the Wolverines last week in Madison.  That issue did not travel back to Ann Arbor. The players and coaching staff brought a very high energy level from the opening kick.  Part of that may have been due to Josh Gattis coming down from the coaches’ box onto the sideline. Numerous times on Saturday, both Gattis and Jim Harbaugh were visibly fired up on the Michigan sideline.  This continues a pattern of playing much more sharply and with more passion in home games. Two weeks from now Michigan travels again, this time to Illinois. In that game, we’ll have to see if the coaching staff has figured out how to break the Home / Away cycle.  Next up is a challenging crossover against another Big Ten West contender, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

By the Numbers: Week 5 vs. Rutgers

Back to work! See you Saturday.


The Wolverines traveled to Madison.  Not good.  Actually, to quote Jim Harbaugh, “unacceptable”. 

NEXT UP: vs. Rutgers: 105th, -10.9

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 27.3, Michigan Win Probability 94%
If seeing Michigan at 26th overall in SP+ surprises you like it did me, you’ll be floored to find out that the offense moved UP two spots after the Wisconsin loss.

Michigan Offense (72nd) vs. Rutgers Defense (78th)
We see and hear many pundits calling for more deep shots and 50-50 balls to the outside wide receivers. Consider these words of caution: making downfield vertical attacks the core offensive philosophy puts even more responsibility on the shaky pass protection. Such a path could turn out disastrous. Personally, I advocate for a philosophy that draws the offense up toward the line of scrimmage, then attempts to hit three or four big plays over the top, perhaps on double moves. The core package should remain inside zone, split zone, the Arc Read on the ground. Through the air, we could probably start with a mesh concept that Indiana and Ohio State killed our defense with, in addition to the RPOs off of the inside and split zone runs. These are just my two cents. I would be happy with any game plan that ends up greater than 45% success rate.

Michigan Defense (12th) vs. Rutgers Offense (112th)
Don Brown is not the problem.  He remains one of the top five defensive coordinators nationally, in my opinion.  However, his aggressive philosophy and man-to-man scheme provide clear opportunities for opposing offensive coordinators to exploit his tendencies.  One repeatedly successful tactic is employing pre-snap shifts and motions that force Michigan’s outside run support players to be moving inward and away from the line of scrimmage at the snap.  The Wolverines’ typically identify these scripted attacks in real time during the game and Don Brown’s adjustments normally shut out the lights. Against Wisconsin, some individual players were beaten, and others were caught out of position trying to do too much.  This week against Rutgers, Michigan won’t be at the same disadvantage up front. I expect to see some frustrating run game success for Rutgers early, but very little after the first quarter.

PREDICTION: In the preseason, I expected Michigan to be returning to the Big House with something to prove.  Somehow I underestimated. The Wolverines have EVERYTHING to prove. Both the offensive and defensive coaches need to establish clear visions of how they plan to attack successfully.  More importantly, the players need to start experiencing some sustained success to rebuild trust and confidence in their respective systems and coaching staffs. The lingering injuries and what I expect will be simplified offensive and defensive game plans still make me anxious.  However, I think we’ll see a much more acceptable performance from the Wolverines this week.
Michigan 34 Rutgers 14 (PRESEASON Michigan 55 Rutgers 10)


  • SP+ Overall: 26th (↓10), 13.9
    • SP+ Offense: 72nd (↑2), 28.3
    • SP+ Defense: 12th (↓11), 14.8
  • AP Poll: 20th (↓9), 287
  • Coaches’ Poll: 20th (↓10), 389
  • CFP Rank: N/A

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Rutgers

We’ve been here before. This is year four of the Harbaugh Era, and the November feeling we are sharing is quite familiar.  Take a look at Michigan’s record through ten games under Jim Harbaugh: 8-2 (2015); 9-1 (2016); 8-2 (2017); 9-1 (2018).  After a quick review of the 42-7 victory over Rutgers, let’s look for other historical clues about what may be in store for the 2018 team.

What is S&P+
The original system was based on Success rate and equivalent Points per play. It was an attempt at an OPS-style measure for football, a look at both efficiency and explosiveness. As so many things do, however, it has grown more complicated.In its current state, S&P+ is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors of winning football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnoversFull Explanation 


The coaching staff chose to incorporate more passing plays and concepts into the game plan for Rutgers.  Michigan passed on 40.9% of plays in a 42-7 game.  That’s a tick above the 38.0% season average, and the highest passing ratio since the Big Ten opener versus Nebraska in Week 4.  Shea Patterson continued his improvement as he leads the evolution of the offense.  His performance (18/27, 260 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT) translated into a 63.0% Success Rate on pass plays, Michigan’s highest since Week 3 vs. SMU.  Michigan also averaged 9.6 yds per pass play, marking their third-highest passing YPP of the season.

From a Harbaugh era perspective, the 2018 offense most resembles the 2015 offense led by another QB transfer, Jake Rudock.  While Rudock finished with 7.2 yards/attempt, completed 64%, and averaged 237.7 yards/game, the 2015 team finished ranked 32nd overall in S&P+ offense and 8th in passing offense.  Through ten games in 2018, Patterson averages 7.6 yards/attempt, is completing 67%, and averages 206.5 yards/game.  Michigan’s offense is ranked 21st overall by S&P+, and the passing game is 7th.  While those numbers are remarkably similar, there is reason to expect a stronger finish than 2015 when turning your attention to the run game.  The running attack is also ranked 7th in S&P+ in 2018, compared to 43rd in 2015.  Michigan’s 215.4 yards/game (2015: 158.2) and 48.4% success rate (2015: 43.8%) are key differences, enabling Jim Harbaugh and staff to dictate the flow and tempo of the game.


Rutgers matched Michigan’s rushing output of 193 yards on the day, and capitalized on numerous missed assignments to put their 80-yard touchdown run on the board.  As scary and as frustrating as that might make us at first glance, this is no time to panic for Wolverine fans.  On the long touchdown run, simultaneous mistakes were made by DE Chase Winovich, LB Devin Gil, and S Brad Hawkins.  Rather than worry about this anomaly, I choose to be grateful that this will be a very teachable moment for all three levels of Don Brown’s defense, and that it came in a low-risk game with time to make corrections.

For a historical comparison, we have to revisit Michigan’s 2016 defense that put EIGHT draft picks into the ensuing NFL draft.  Both the 2018 and the 2016 units ranked 2nd in S&P+ overall, and 1st versus the pass.  Success Rate allowed is almost exactly the same, 29.5% (S&P+ 1st) for the 2016 defense, and 29.3% (S&P+ 2nd) this year.  In terms of explosiveness, the 2018 squad (through 10 games) has actually improved over two years ago allowing an IsoPPP of 1.02 (S&P+ 12th) compared to 1.18 (23rd) in 2016.  The defense will remain the centerpiece of each game plan as Michigan looks to reverse the trend of November and December disappointments in the Harbaugh era.


Overall: 24.9, 4th (down 1)
Offense: 35.7, 21st (up 3)
Defense: 11.6, 2nd (down 1)


@ Rutgers UM 42 RU 7
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 22.2, 10-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 45, 9-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 9.3


vs. Indiana: Overall -1.2, 81st
M Offense 35.7, (21st) vs. O Defense 29.6 (75th), Midpoint: 32.65
M Defense 11.6 (2nd) vs. O Offense 27.6 (82nd), Midpoint: 19.6

The midpoint of S&P+ ratings gives a 13.05 point edge to Michigan. Given the weather forecast, and Indiana’s penchant to keep it close before giving way at the end, I think that sounds about right.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: There will be some motivation to score early and often to allow seniors down the depth chart to get onto the field in their last Big House appearance. Despite all of the external noise, the same two critical factors remain: 1) Stay Healthy 2) Focus on the task at hand
Michigan 24 Indiana 10 (PRESEASON: Michigan 24 Indiana 14)


Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Football continually puts themselves into solid position through the first ten games of the season. This year, with an improved offense and a dominating defense, the Wolverines will be judged on how they finish their run for a Big Ten title, and a berth in the College Football Playoff.