Michigan got back on track against Rutgers in front of a crowd over 111,000 for Homecoming in a 35-14 win.
We saw a quarterback change, two running backs tally over 100 yards each, a touchdown scored in the air and another opponent fall short of the 200 total yard mark with a solid defensive effort.
Let's get to it and hand out some grades.
I will rate this based on when we all saw the change, because I have a hunch we'll see more of Brandon Peters. Everyone watched when he trotted out on the field in a tie game with a loud cheer over The Big House. The crowd was re-energized and their eyes got bigger. It's a new guy from spring; he's talking more, communicating and checking down as the comfortable looking quarterback he is. When Rashan Gary was asked about Peter's on Saturday based on what he's seen since the spring game, he said “From spring ball to now, it’s two completely different quarterbacks, it's unbelievable.” He did well overall in the game at 10-of-14 for 124 yards and one touchdown. He did great in third and fourth down situations (4-of-5) with no sign of nerves. He got meaningful snaps with the game tied 7-7 against Rutgers and his first three drives ended with touchdowns.
Every Peters pass in 1 clip. pic.twitter.com/BqvVWRe1DW— Due# (@JDue51) October 29, 2017
Moving forward, the transition is setting up very well with another home game against Minnesota then on the road at Maryland. It's an ideal situation in the development for Peters before a top-10 ranked matchup at Wisconsin. It's a gradual progression from Rutgers to Ohio State and an interesting situation that's he’s now in. When Jim Harbaugh was asked earlier this week about who will start, he said Brandon Peters will be in the game and will likely start. He didn't want to call him the starter at this point in the week which shouldn't surprise anyone if you've ever followed his press conferences.
Running backs: A
The “running back by committee” approach was loud and clear against Rutgers with Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac rushing for over 100 yards.
Touchdown, @_KareemWalker!!#GoBlue 〽️ pic.twitter.com/dWF6DOwP0z— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 28, 2017
Kareem Walker scored his first collegiate touchdown and Chris Evans caught Peters’ lone touchdown throw. If we know one thing, this group is talented overall with several guys hungry to get in and make plays. If I had to select one guy right now overall, I would definitely stick Higdon in there at the one slot and Walker in as the second. Both gained yards after contact and showed quickness against Rutgers. Seven players, including freshman O’Maury Samuels, had rushing yards. I want to see another strong run game against Minnesota against the No. 36 ranked rush defense and No. 20 ranked total defense.
Wide receivers/tight ends: B-
With Peters in the game, it felt like some of the offense in the air improved as well with several guys getting in the mix. 10 players had at least one catch in his one. Sean McKeon led the group with three catches for 31 yards. Minnesota is another challenge for this offense, but one that can create some momentum in the air if Peters can continue what he started against Rutgers. Minnesota brings the No. 23 ranked pass defense, so they will challenge this unit and whoever is playing quarterback. The first drive by Peters ended with a throw to Chris Evans.
You could say that @UMichFootball QB @_B_P_18 is off to a good start. pic.twitter.com/Vw2S5OVZDx— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 28, 2017
Offensive line: B
While this group struggled before Rutgers, they moved in the right direction and played much better. Center Patrick Kugler probably summed it up best on Monday when talking to the media, saying “There was a lot of pride in that game, could tell everyone was trying to finish every single play.” Sometimes it just takes that one solid game to move in the right direction and Kugler has seen it in Michael Onwenu. “He’s understanding the game a lot more, it's incredible compared to last year.” Some positive signs and comments by Michigan’s center who knows what it takes to improve and is doing what he can to encourage the guys around him. Ben Mason had a great play on this drive for a touchdown.
Best part of this pay is Ben Mason pounding his guy, then pancaking his ass in the end zone. pic.twitter.com/yZZb4D4vbc— Due# (@JDue51) October 29, 2017
While fans and the crowd were energized to see Brandon Peters get in the game against Rutgers, Kugler did not feel it was any different in his shoes. “It was no different energy, he made some plays and that was the difference. We believe in all our QB’s.”
Defensive line: B+
After a struggling performance against Penn State, the group got back to what they have been doing all year. They held Rutgers to only 94 yards over 31 runs and 101 passing yards. They also held them to 3-of-11 on third down attempts with five sacks on the day. A Don Brown defense allowed for several guys to rack up the numbers as well.
Rashan Gary & Chase Winovich went off today against Rutgers. pic.twitter.com/uaIM2SQFUv— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 28, 2017
This group was led by Maurice Hurst with eight total tackles was also added to the list of Bednarik Award semifinal players.
NEWS: @mohurstjr has just been named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award! #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/2oG100TMcY— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 30, 2017
This group will tested with Minnesota’s No. 47 ranked rush offense averaging 182.3 yards per game on the ground.
Devin Bush Jr. had a solid game with 11 more tackles, five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He leads the team in tackles (67) and was also named to the Butkus Award semifinal list of 15 players earlier this week.
Mike McCray also spoke to the media on Monday about their performance and the last two games. “We're in great spirits, want to keep it going. Rutgers was a good team, they have play-makers on offense.” He also was talking about the upcoming opponent and the night game against Minnesota. “We can't control what time we play, the assignments still there.” He's seen improvement by some of the younger guys like freshman Kwity Paye and sophomore Michael Dwumfour. “You can see the improvement, both are great players.”
This team knows how stopping the direct snap has been an issue and what to do in order to correct that. The one big play for Rutgers was by Janarion Grant in a 65-yard run for a touchdown. Mike also commented about this saying, “On us, and we will get it right.” This defense will be challenged against Minnesota and first year coach in P.J. Fleck, so we can see what this group is about in another night matchup this upcoming Saturday.
A continued improving unit is the young secondary. They held Jerome Washington to only two catches for 33 yards, who’s averaging 9.3 yards per play. Josh Hicks and Hunter Hayek caught one for over 20 yards. Outside of those three four plays, this group did well overall. Lavert Hill had three tackles, which is the most in a game since four against Florida. He's also added a tackle in each game since Michigan State. This group will see the No. 116 ranked pass offense in Minnesota and No. 111 overall offense, so they may not be tested as much compared to other teams.
Special teams: C+
Ambry Thomas had a solid day against Rutgers with an average return of 19.3 yards on three kickoff returns. Brad Robbins continues to perform very well, who averaged 41.7 yards on three punts and a long of 48. However, my grade is mainly since Quinn Nordin missed one field goal and there was a fumbled punt that was recovered, so there's some room for improvement. When and if this team needs solid kicking in the remaining games, fans should be confident in the group overall to deliver when needed.
I thought the time and game of inserting Brandon Peters was right. While some fans may have wanted it to happen earlier, it's a situation now where each week ahead brings progression with more challenges each week leading up to the last game. Indiana and Michigan State were close games that I don't think provided the right situation and Penn State would have potentially been a disaster situation. The opponent was right and I agree with this decision. Be excited for what's ahead, and it could bring some excitement and an identity on offense.
Another positive was only being penalized three times for 25 yards. This was well below their game average of 8.5 penalties for 75.7 yards per game heading into this game. The dropped balls and interceptions ended when Brandon Peters came in with three drives for three touchdowns.