A win is a win, right?
I suppose that all depends on who you ask. From what I could tell following Saturday night’s triple-overtime win against Rutgers, the vast majority of Michigan fans weren’t filled with the warm and fuzzies a much needed win might provide. In fact, many of them seemed to be even more frustrated (and embarrassed) following Michigan’s comeback win against the Scarlet Knights.
If you’re anything like me, here’s why Saturday night’s win likely left you feeling frustrated.
1. Cade McNamara
The most obvious positive takeaway from Saturday night was the performance and emergence of Cade McNamara. The redshirt freshman entered the game with the Wolverines dead in the water, having failed to put a single point on the board and trailing by 17 points just before the half. The gunslinger from Nevada wasted no time putting the ball in the end zone, tossing a 45-yard dime to Cornelius Johnson down the middle of the field for Michigan’s first touchdown of the night. Michigan needed a spark and McNamara delivered. From there on out, McNamara would engineer another four touchdowns and lead the Wolverines to a 48-42 triple-overtime comeback victory.
While McNamara emerging as Michigan’s obvious QB1 was a positive on the night, I walked away feeling frustrated as to why it took this long for Michigan’s coaching staff to recognize it. Admittedly, none of us can see what happens behind the scenes and in practice. At the same time, I have a hard time believing what is so obvious during the game wasn’t as obvious in practice. Where Milton often looks unsure, unsettled, and rushed, McNamara provides poise, confidence, and command. I suppose it’s possible that Milton is an all-world practice player and that McNamara shines brightest where it matters most, but the fact that it took this coaching staff five weeks into the season to recognize it is concerning to say the least.
2. Offensive Play Calling
Once again, Michigan found itself in a crucial short yardage situation with a 6-5, 250-pound quarterback behind center. Once again, Michigan attacked that situation from the shotgun formation. Once again, the result was predictable (as it had been every other time Michigan has tried it).
This is just one instance of questionable decisions coming from Michigan’s sideline, but it’s one that is recurring and they don’t seem to be learning from it. McNamara has given me far more confidence in this offense than I had prior to week five, but the questionable play calling from Gattis and/or Harbaugh still leaves me wondering whether or not they'll put these guys in the best position to succeed when it matters most.
3. Don Brown and the Michigan defense
If there’s one thing we can all agree on at this point, it’s that the Michigan defense remains the Wolverine’s greatest liability. For Don Brown, it should no longer be a matter of if he will remain on Michigan’s coaching staff, but rather when Harbaugh will make the necessary decision to cut him loose. The secret is out on Brown’s defense and opposing quarterbacks (along with wide receivers) are having field days with it.
It was certainly encouraging to see Christopher Hinton and Josh Ross get to the quarterback, but the instances of encouraging play are still few and far between. The Michigan secondary gave up 381 yards through the air and allowed Rutgers to put 42 points on the board, both of which were single-game highs for the Scarlet Knights through five weeks. Rutgers was the closest thing to a “sure thing” that Michigan had remaining on its schedule, and it took triple-overtime to put them away. Regardless of what happens offensively from here on out, it’s likely that Brown’s defense will keep every opponent in the game from here on out.
4. It was Rutgers
The one thing that Jim Harbaugh has been able to hang his hat on through his first five seasons is that he’s mostly beat the teams he’s supposed to beat. That hasn’t been the case in year six, and it nearly happened again Saturday night.
Sure, Rutgers is a better team this year than they’ve been in years past, but they’re still Rutgers. Michigan is a premier Power 5 program with an $8 million head coach, while Rutgers is a perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder with a first year head coach. Yes, it’s 2020, and yes, it’s a bit of a wacky year, but everyone is facing the same set of strange circumstances. Under no circumstances (strange as they may be) should a team like Rutgers be taking the Michigan Wolverines to triple-overtime. Of course U-M will take the win, but it’s extremely hard to feel good about that one.
Overall, Michigan was able to put one crucial question to bed after week five with the quarterback controversy in Ann Arbor ending as quickly as it began. Beyond that, plenty of questions (and concerns) still remain as the Wolverines inch closer and closer to that final game of the year. If that win against Rutgers didn’t make you feel all that great, you’re certainly not alone.