Michigan football hosted the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor and destroyed the Big Ten’s doormat program by a score of 52-0 in a drubbing that quite frankly, they needed to have. This was a bad football team coming to town and staring question about their heart and their fight in the face, Michigan delivered its cleanest performance of the season to this point.
Was it Rutgers? Sure, but coming out and playing 60 minutes of mostly mistake-free football allowed them to nearly double the 27.5-point spread that Vegas had thrust upon them this week and we saw some real, tangible things that this team can build off of moving forward. This was a step in the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less.
Here are the takeaways from Saturday’s contest.
(Editor’s note: Again, your responses of “hey, it was Rutgers” are warranted and assumed here. You don’t have to remind us.)
Josh Gattis’ big move
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the day was that offensive coordinator Josh Gattis moved from the coaches box, where he had been calling plays high above the field for the first three weeks of the season, to the field. And when you look at the final result and how players responded to that, it makes you wonder why he was ever up there in the first place.
The collaborative and face-to-face feedback that he was able to give his players by being down on the field was noticeable and the players said after the game that they preferred that seeing as that is the type of leadership and coaching they get during the week in practice.
It’s also clear that this is, in fact, Gattis’ offense and that Jim Harbaugh is not wavering in that. Watching him down on the sidelines made it clear that he is in charge and in command while Harbaugh more or less stands back and lets him run the show. It was a relatively balanced attack while the starters were still in the game, though it’s clear right now the passing game is much more of a strength than the rushing attack is. We will see if they build on that or work to get some more explosive plays on the ground, but it’s clear if this team will succeed, it’s going to be through the air.
Shea Patterson’s bounce-back effort
Patterson was locked in and played his best game of the season to this point, finishing the day with 276 yards passing and four total touchdowns (three rushing) and an interception. Take the stat line out of it, though, and you see a guy who was much more decisive and on-point on his throws and succeeded outside of the pocket.
Patterson’s interception wasn’t a reckless turnover like the ones we have been accustomed to seeing this season. It was a throw down the sideline to Nico Collins (gasp! The Wolverines got their best offensive player involved this week) that was a bit underthrown, but something Collins still had his hands on. Had he pulled the ball up like a basketball rebound, it goes down as perhaps one of the more impressive plays of the day. But because Collins dropped his hands, it gave the Rutgers the defensive back a chance to make a terrific play and he did. More often than not, you like Collins’ chances in contested catch situations and hopefully that’s something the Wolverines will not be afraid of exploring moving forward.
The zip and accuracy was there on a lot of Patterson’s throws and he had a clean pocket to work in all day long. We need to see him do it against tougher competition, but today was a good showing that should quiet most of the detractors for the time being.
State of the offensive line
The offensive line is still fascinating to me because their pass blocking for the most part this year has been pretty good outside of the Wisconsin game. What remains odd, and mind you this is after only seeing the game live and not watching the replay yet, is that they are not exactly moving bodies and opening up holes in the run game. The longest rush of the day was a 15-yarder from Hassan Haskins in garbage time and even with that, they had only 3.4 yards per carry on 41 attempts for 141 yards.
The rushing concerns might also be due to the fact that they do not have a back right now that seems capable of busting a big play, but the run blocking remains a concern. Overall, it was a mostly good effort, but the fact that we are five weeks into the season and this offensive line is not further along is certainly something to be a bit worried about.
Mostly good from the defense...with a familiar concern
Rutgers is a putrid football team and if I had a game ball to give out, I’d hand it to quarterback Artur Sitkowski for not leaving Ann Arbor in an iron lung. He was smacked around all day and it was a dominant and workmanlike effort from the defensive line. However, one of the scary things about Don Brown’s defense reared its ugly head at times throughout the contest.
The only time Rutgers was able to do much of anything offensively was when they ran some of the crossing routes that have continued to plague the Wolverines for about seven-straight football games since the latter part of the 2018 season. It might be a moot point because Brown has said several times he is not going to change much, if anything, about the defense. Rutgers does not nearly have the horses as other Big Ten teams to use Michigan’s aggressiveness against them, but when the Scarlet Knights are able to burn you a handful of times there, that should serve as an eye-opener for the Wolverines.
Young guys coming on
We saw some of the younger Wolverines show a decent amount of promise during Saturday’s game. Tight end Erick All was critical on a block down the field that spring Collins’ 48-yard touchdown in the first quarter and then he responded by making a tackle on special teams on the following kickoff. He was injured and left the game, but it is easy to see why the staff is high on what he can bring to the table moving forward. Safety Daxton Hill was another example of this and a clearly ascending player, as he has parlayed his strong start on special teams to getting some run with the No. 1 defense. Linebacker Cam McGrone, who started at middle linebacker, is another player that fits the bill here and appears to be a future fixture. If I’m Michigan, I’m giving both Hill and McGrone a decent amount of run moving forward and living with any growing pains because the upside is that high for both.
And that brings us to quarterback Joe Milton, who was a player a lot of fans were clamoring to see all week once Dylan McCaffrey was knocked out of action at Wisconsin. He entered the game late in the third quarter and had a drive with the No. 1 offense before repping with the two’s for most of the fourth quarter. Milton had a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one throwing) and was 3-for-4 with 59 yards through the air. The most impressive play of the day from him came on an absolute missile to Giles Jackson from 23-yards out that showed off the arm talent that those inside Schembechler Hall have been raving about. He has the chance to be a really special player if he can pull it all together.
One also wonders if we might not see more of Jackson moving forward as the team seeks playmaking ability on the offensive side of the ball. He is listed as a wide receiver, but did take a carry out of the backfield and also was used as a jet sweep decoy on a play in the first half. There might be a gadget role for him somewhere as he continues to develop and figure it out.
What were some of the things you say in Saturday’s game? Sound off below.