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What We Learned: Rutgers Week

Michigan is capable of putting up “style points” even if they aren’t so stylish.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT MICHIGAN

Michigan can get “style points” too. Last week, Michigan beat Wisconsin 14-7 in a heavyweight slugfest. It was a dominant win for Michigan in many ways as we discussed last week (8 first downs for Wisconsin, huge yardage disparity, 9 points off board for Michigan due to kicker problems), but it led national types to think Michigan had impotency issues on offense.

So what do you do when the talking heads are saying your wins aren’t pretty enough? You take your team to Rutgers and put up 78 points on them, all while not letting the competition even sniff the scoreboard, save for an overturned Shane Morris pick-6.

Now there are people saying Jim Harbaugh is not nice for coaching his team to a 78-0 win.

Sorry Sparty fan. Sorry Rutgers. And sorry, future opponents that this will also happen. The poll voting media thought Michigan did not have the potent offense needed to enter the college football playoff. And now, Michigan will be spending each week for the rest of the season reminding that poll voting media why their team does indeed belong.

Michigan belongs in the playoff discussion, and Rutgers doesn’t belong in the Big Ten. It’s hard to believe that 2 years ago, Michigan came into Rutgers and lost. Because with many of the same players, Michigan looked like a pro team that was in town to put on a clinic for the elementary school kids. Rutgers was outclassed in every aspect of the game, and despite accusations of Michigan running up the score, Michigan actually played them very soft.

Michigan gave their starters the second half off. They threw the ball 3 times. They introduced us to walk-on senior fullback Bobby Henderson, who got the bulk of the 2nd half carries. Sure doesn’t sound like a recipe for running up the score, does it?

This may sound like a nit-pick after a 78-0 win, but QB play needs to be a focal point of bye week. Wilton Speight is an interesting case. On the one hand, he is clearly playing winning football and avoiding mistakes, which was a big part of why he won the job. On the other hand, he has failed to make the short to intermediate passes needed to extend drives for two straight weeks now. This is a little more obvious to the naked eye because the other 21 positions on the field are performing at an extremely high level.

The good news is he is identifying the open man and targeting him. That is 75% of the battle really, when you consider all that goes into being a quarterback in Jim Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch’s system. The playbook is a lot thicker at Michigan than most schools, and there was a lot for Wilton to learn. The other 25% will come when he is able to develop the touch on those passes to consistently hit the targets between the numbers, not sail the ball above their heads, and not throw it a couple steps behind. I’m only talking about the routine throws here. Some of the stuff that Wilton does, you can’t teach. The improvisation, the big size that is tough to bring down, and the ability to get through his reads quickly.

The better news is that Michigan has 2 weeks to prepare for their next opponent, another 19 days before playing MSU, and 47 before The Game in Columbus. The bye week should do wonders for Wilton Speight, as he has some needed time to work with the coaching staff on making these routine throws, and additional time to develop chemistry with his receivers and tight ends.

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE BIG TEN

I’m looking for tough games on the schedule before OSU, and I’m just not finding any. Iowa looked to be pretty tough before the year started, but woof. They only scored 14 points on Rutgers. That should tell you a lot.

MSU will treat the Michigan game as their personal Super Bowl like always, but to borrow a phrase from Mark Dantonio, “where’s the threat?” Their QB situation is abysmal, with no immediate fix in sight.

Maryland was undefeated, but they just got hammered by a Penn State team that Michigan beat 49-10.

Illinois looks like the Illinois team that Michigan always beat up on back when Brady Hoke was the coach. Can’t imagine it would be any more difficult in the Hoke era.

That leaves only Indiana, a team that actually gave Ohio State a sweat this week. But there was never any doubt that OSU would win, just as there should be no doubt that Michigan will put away Indiana at the Big House. I think we will be looking at 11-0 Michigan heading into November 26.

We will learn a lot from Wisconsin-OSU this week. Wisconsin has a well-disciplined defense that can generate pressure on the QB. OSU has not faced a pass rush with a pulse yet this season, so it will be interesting to see how JT Barrett and company handle the pass rush, along with everything the night game atmosphere in Madison brings.

If OSU steamrolls Wisconsin 38-7 or so, Michigan fans should feel very discouraged about the upcoming game in Columbus. If Wisconsin is able to beat OSU up front, keep the game close (or possibly win), Michigan should feel a lot better about the win over Wisconsin on October 1. I know that common opponents don’t tell the whole story in college football, but in a sport where the giants so rarely clash, these games are a good barometer to gauge a team’s skill.

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE FBS

A lot can change when you hire Jim Harbaugh. The recent trend in college football is moving the big games to night time. Michigan has been slow to adapt to this, so the routine for Michigan fans has been watching Michigan play first on Saturday, and then watching games involving ranked teams at night.

During the Hoke and RichRod eras, I found myself saying “I wish Michigan could do some of these things”. And “what will it take for Michigan to become this good”. I envied these ranked teams. The passing game of Oklahoma State. The great running backs Florida State always seems to have. The defensive speed of teams like LSU.

Now I watch these same games and think completely different thoughts. Usually along the lines of “Michigan would destroy both these teams.” Or “Yeah let’s see him make that throw with Jourdan Lewis in coverage.”

It’s just ridiculous how well Jim Harbaugh has turned Michigan around, with only 19 games on the job. Yeah this paragraph wasn’t really about other teams in the FBS, but who cares. If Michigan takes care of business, they’ll be in the playoff. That’s a great position to be in.

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