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Here's what we need to see from Michigan football against Rutgers

Wolverines have long way to go to become Big Ten contenders

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh during warmups before a game against Western Michigan at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 8, 2018. in Ann Arbor. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It's the perfect time for the Big Ten's punching bag to come to Ann Arbor.

A reeling Michigan football program returned home to lick its wounds after getting pounded by a Wisconsin team that raced out to a 35-0 lead.

It's only one loss, but combined with concerns from the first two games and the overall perception of the program, it left a huge mess for Jim Harbaugh to clean up.

If Michigan could pick any team to come to the Big House this weekend, it would be Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, who have lost to Iowa and Boston College by a combined 44 points the last two weeks, own a 6-24 record in Big Ten play the last three years.

The Wolverines have been particularly hard on Rutgers, winning the last four meetings by a combined score of 204-37.

Michigan needs to improve in several facets of the game, and the early stages of those improvements need to be obvious Saturday.

Quarterback accuracy

It looked like this would be the year Michigan solidified the quarterback position after so much inconsistency and uncertainty throughout the last decade.

But once again, the offense has been crippled by bad quarterback decision-making and inaccuracy.

Shea Patterson is completing just 55.6% of his passes for an average of 7 yards per attempt. He's forcing the ball into tight coverage, missing wide open receivers and fumbling at least once per game.

Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins (4) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Shea Patterson (2) during the second quarter of an NCAA football game against Middle Tennessee in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

On Saturday, Patterson needs to do what coaches claimed he was doing throughout the offseason: going through his progressions, spreading the ball around and using his legs as a weapon.

Maybe Patterson isn't fully healthy. If that's the case, Michigan's touted quarterback depth needs to come into the equation.

Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton have also struggled to throw the ball. The Rutgers game is the best chance to get someone in a rhythm.

Offensive line improvement

With four starters returning and plenty of perceived depth inside and out, Michigan's offensive line figured to be among the best in the Big Ten.

In reality, the line has struggled in pass protection and the running game. Patterson has been under duress more frequently than last season, and Michigan is averaging a terrible 3.5 yards per carry.

Yes, injuries to starting left tackle Jon Runyan and potential starter Andrew Stueber have been factors, but the line as a whole needs to improve.

If Rutgers can get pressure and bottle up the Michigan running game, it'll be a long season.

Some sort of pass rush

Michigan's defense is in shambles because even Don Brown's aggressive scheme can't generate any pressure on the quarterback.

The Wolverines have been exploited for being aggressive, but they aren't reaping any of the benefits.

Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. of the Army Black Knights fumbled the ball which was recovered by Michigan during the second overtime to end the game at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Army 24-21.(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Brown built a reputation for having great defenses at Michigan, but now there's a pattern of his unit flopping in the biggest games. He was supposed to have a strong pass rush this season with Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Uche and Kwity Paye, but that hasn't come to fruition.

Michigan has to pressure the quarterback or it will get picked apart. A handful of sacks against Rutgers wouldn't mean much, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Play with an edge

As concerning as the outcome of the Wisconsin game was the body language from Michigan players as they gave up touchdown after touchdown and struggled to score themselves.

Michigan gave up early in the second half. Players were walking on and off the field. When McCaffrey got knocked out of the game by a dirty cheap shot, there was no outrage.

Overall, it was an uninspiring, lifeless performance in a game that could have vaulted Michigan into the national championship conversation. If they couldn't get up for that game, how are they supposed to get up for Rutgers?

This season could go one of two ways. Bad attitudes could get worse after the loss and Michigan could spiral out of control. Or, the team will come together through the adversity and play with a chip on its shoulder.

A Michigan team with something to prove would beat Rutgers by about 50 points. If nothing has changed over the last week, it'll be blatantly obvious from noon to 3 p.m. at the Big House.

The Rutgers game itself isn't a turning point in the season, but it will be a peek into what kind of effort the fans should expect the rest of the year.


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