ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There’s only one game standing between Michigan football and a perfect month of September, and it comes against a Rutgers team improving drastically under Greg Schiano.
For the first time since the series began in 2014, Michigan and Rutgers are both undefeated heading into their matchup.
Michigan’s 3-0 record isn’t necessarily a surprise, given the competition, but the way Jim Harbaugh’s team is dominating has started to turn heads. The Wolverines rose to No. 19 in the AP poll after laying 63 points on Northern Illinois.
Rutgers, meanwhile, jumped out to a similarly strong start while flying more under the radar. The Scarlet Knights sandwiched a true road win over Syracuse with beatdowns of Temple and Delaware in the non-conference season.
Now, they’re hungry for their first upset of Michigan since Brady Hoke’s final season.
Harbaugh has not been kind to Rutgers over the years, going 6-0 with final scores that include 52-0, 42-7, 49-16 and, of course, the infamous 78-0 game.
Last season, an entirely different story played out. Rutgers took Michigan to triple overtime in Piscataway and could have won the game multiple times. Instead, the Wolverines escaped, 48-42.
Cade McNamara played hero in that game, replacing starter Joe Milton and completing 27 of 36 pass attempts for 260 yards and four touchdowns. That changing of the guard helped shape the offense we see today, which is directed by McNamara but led by the running game.
Michigan’s decision to move on from renowned offensive line coach Ed Warinner and hand the keys to former tight ends coach Sherrone Moore didn’t receive much attention in the grand scheme of the offseason. But so far, the offensive line has paved the way for this 3-0 start.
Sure, Blake Corum is the one winning Big Ten awards and filling up highlight reels, but take a look at the stats for Hassan Haskins and Donovan Edwards. All three running backs are averaging better than 5.5 yards per carry. The common denominator: Michigan’s offensive line.
Corum and Edwards regularly have several yards of room to accelerate off the line of scrimmage, while an untouched Haskins runs downhill in short yardage situations.
In terms of pass protection, McNamara dropped back 37 times in the first three games without taking a single sack.
Before the season, Washington figured to pose the greatest early threat to Michigan. Now, Rutgers seems the more formidable foe.
Schiano’s team already owns a true road win, albeit against an inferior Syracuse squad. Still, after playing Michigan to three overtimes a season ago, Rutgers comes into Ann Arbor with some confidence.
If Michigan looks ahead to Wisconsin, Rutgers will put an end to this cozy reunion between the Wolverines and the top 20. Gone are the days when Rutgers could be skimmed over on the schedule -- and this comes from someone who never missed a chance to take a shot at Chris Ash’s disastrous reign.
Harbaugh and his staff managed to avoid any drop-off from Washington to Northern Illinois. If they’ve preached the same message this week, Michigan could polish off an outstanding (and sorely needed) month of September.