Three Up/Three Down: Michigan Squeaks Past Rutgers In Big Ten Opener

Michigan is 4-0, but it wasn't pretty against Rutgers.
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Michigan was a 20.5-point favorite coming into the game against Rutgers, which is a pretty big number against a conference opponent, and we all saw why that usually doesn't happen. The Wolverines looked impressive early, but hit walls on offense and got exploited on defense allowing Rutgers to climb back into the game. At the end of the day, Michigan won 20-13 , but there's a lot to digest.

Michigan is now 4-0, but a one-score win over Rutgers is a little concerning. Here's some positives and negatives from today's win.

Three Up

Blake Corum was mostly effective during the final four minutes

When Michigan needed to salt the game away, they were almost able to with Blake Corum. The sophomore standout was held in check for the most part, but as the four-minute mark approached, Corum picked up nice yardage on several carries and was aided by a face mask penalty. He got Michigan into field goal range, but Jake Moody missed the 47-yard attempt that would've sealed the deal. Corum finished the day with 68 yards on 21 carries and was kept out of the end zone for the first time this season. It wasn't the performance Michigan fans are used to, but he did just enough when necessary and helped put Michigan in a position to win the game.

A timely turnover

After Moody missed the field goal, Rutgers had the ball on the 29-yard line with just under two minutes to play. After running the ball well all day long, quarterback Noah Vedral kept it again but fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Michigan. Rutgers didn't have any timeouts left and Michigan was able to kneel it out and escape with the win.

A win is a win

I mean, I guess?

It goes in the books as a W and Michigan is 4-0, but that's not how it was supposed to look against Rutgers. After a triple overtime win against the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway last year, and a just-barely victory over Greg Schiano's squad today, Michigan fans have had about enough of the bottom feeders from New Jersey.

Three Down

The offense as a whole

Michigan came out of the gate with an impressive 8-minute, 17-play drive that ended in with a rushing touchdown by Hassan Haskins. After that, nothing really worked. The Wolverines only carved out 2.9 yards per carry on the ground, and without the dominant run game that U-M had grown accustomed to, the passing game wasn't effective either. Cade McNamara finished just 9-of-16 for 163 yards and no scores. Those kinds of stat lines are becoming the norm and just aren't good enough. Again, this was Rutgers. This wasn't Wisconsin in Madison, Penn State in Happy Valley or Ohio State. This was the Scarlet Knights inside The Big House.

Everything looked great last week against a bad MAC school in Northern Illinois, but against the first Big Ten opponent of the year, the offense that had some people worried even after a 21-point win over Washington, seemed to rear its ugly head. With the running game rendered average at best, Michigan looked the same.

No killer instinct

It looked like Jim Harbaugh might have some killer in him with 22 seconds left in the first half, but that quickly fizzled right before halftime. After a nice stop on 4th down with 22 seconds left in the half, Michigan called a safe, yet potentially big pass play that connected, resulting in Mike Sainristil picking up 51 yards. Michigan was poised for a momentum-building touchdown from inside the 5 and then the killer instinct disappeared. After a run on first down that wasted a lot of time, Cade McNamara missed a wide open Luke Schoonmaker in the end zone on second down. Then, with five seconds left, Harbaugh opted to kick a field goal rather than try one more quick hitter.  

In the second half, while in plus territory, Harbaugh, or Josh Gattis, decided to run the ball on 3rd and 12, which obviously wasn't picked up. The fact that they didn't even consider a passing player shows a lack of confidence in McNamara and a too much complacency. Michigan punted the ball back to Rutgers and the Scarlet Knights drove right down the field and scored a touchdown making it 20-10 at that point. That call on 3rd down actually gave Rutgers the life that they needed to get back into the game.

At the end of the day, Jim Harbaugh played not to lose rather than to win and it almost cost him. Michigan is 4-0, but the 7-point win over Rutgers certainly changes the vibe that was present before kickoff. 

Michigan's defense got exposed

Against the first team that had some grit and toughness, Mike Macdonald's defense got gashed. Rutgers came into Michigan Stadium and outrushed the Wolverines 196 to 112. A Michigan team that had been averaging nearly 350 yards rushing per game barely eclipsed the century mark against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights aren't overly talented, but they've taken on the personality of their head coach. Greg Schiano is salty and hard-nose and so is his team. Running back Isaih Pacheco and quarterback Noah Vedral ran the ball, seemingly at will in the second half, and almost did enough to steal one in Ann Arbor. They didn't, but for the first time this season, Macdonald looked in over his head.