Story of the week for Michigan football: 'But it was Rutgers'
Wolverines get back on track in blowout win over Scarlet Knights
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team badly needed to get into a rhythm offensively and play a complete game after a humbling trip to Wisconsin last weekend.
That's exactly what happened Saturday at the Big House. Josh Gattis joined the sideline and coached his offense to 476 yards and 52 points. The defense was dominant on the ground and through the air.
Michigan looked like one of the top teams in the Big Ten over the weekend.
But it was against Rutgers.
It's a phrase Michigan fans will hear all week, whether they're following national or local coverage of the team's 52-0 beatdown that was ultimately the last straw for Chris Ash's tenure at Rutgers.
A Michigan team that looked completely out of sync against Middle Tennessee State, Army and Wisconsin put together an immaculate performance.
Shea Patterson found his accuracy and completed 17 of 23 pass attempts for 276 yards. He also ran the ball four times, thrice reaching the end zone.
Michigan needs Patterson to be both on target as a passer and a threat to use his legs. He was both of those things Saturday.
But, it was Rutgers.
Michigan's quartet of excellent receivers did exactly what Gattis envisioned during his "#SpeedinSpace" ramblings in the offseason. Ronnie Bell, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black combined for 14 catches and 234 yards.
True freshman Giles Jackson caught his first touchdown pass on a 23-yard missile from Joe Milton.
All five running backs were healthy and got carries. Christian Turner showed some life with 48 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Michigan even took care of the ball. It didn't lose a fumble for the first time this season, and even Patterson's interception was a more than justifiable one-on-one jump ball to Collins. Michigan's coaches would gladly take that shot every week.
Maybe Michigan has fixed its turnover problems. Or maybe it was just Rutgers.
It's difficult to understate just how awful Rutgers is this season. Not only have the Scarlet Knights lost their last three games by a combined score of 112-16, they even fell behind 21-7 against UMass in the opener. An Oct. 26 date against Liberty will likely determine whether Rutgers enjoys a second-straight 1-11 season.
A defense that got shredded for 35 unanswered points at Wisconsin held Rutgers to just 152 yards in a shutout that was rarely threatened. The Scarlet Knights averaged 1.6 yards per rush and 4.4 yards per pass.
Aidan Hutchinson was everywhere, stopping Rutgers on fourth down inside the 5-yard line, getting into the backfield and even dropping back in coverage.
Michigan also got contributions from two of the highest-rated players on the roster: Daxton Hill and Cam McGrone.
Hill was the No. 1 safety in last year's recruiting class and among the fastest players in the country. McGrone was ranked the No. 1 linebacker in the 2018 class by 247 Sports.
The Wolverines desperately need defensive playmakers, and both Hill and McGrone fit the bill. Both should see much more time going forward, and Saturday was proof that they could be difference-makers.
But, well -- you get the idea.
Nothing Michigan did against Rutgers was going to prove the program has turned a corner. But the Wolverines also needed to do exactly what they did to avoid exacerbating the struggles.
When the Scarlet Knights come to town, the goal is to blow them out. Michigan didn't play out MTSU or Army, and that foreshadowed the disaster at Wisconsin.
This win against Rutgers is, at minimum, proof that Michigan's offense can be explosive. It's also a much-needed confidence builder that could start to unify a previously wounded locker room.
Michigan certainly feels a lot better this week than last, and if it goes on a winning streak, we'll know it started Saturday.
But if Michigan loses to Iowa, we'll know it was just Rutgers.
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