In a wild game in which Michigan had to fight to win ‘til the very end, there was a lot to digest. Here are the key takeaways from Michigan’s 48-42 win over Rutgers.
Milton’s struggles continue
Joe Milton seems like a great guy, but he’s just not getting it done presently at quarterback for Michigan. After struggling in recent weeks, the trend continued in the first half against Rutgers. Milton completed 5-of-12 passes for 89 yards and took some sacks as well. With Michigan’s offensive line struggling and the offense opting to run empty formations, it was important for Milton to see the field well presnap and diagnose where the blitzes were coming. However, Milton didn’t see the field well and made questionable throws and wasn’t playing with the speed necessary to keep moving the chains. The offense looked like it wasn’t going to net many points at all on the night. Cade McNamara came in and changed that. While it would be unfair to write off Milton’s ascension and improvement in the future, it’s clear he needs more weeks and months to develop.
He did. Yes, it was against Rutgers, but McNamara did just about everything you’d want a quarterback to do. With Michigan trailing by 17-0 in the 2nd quarter, McNamara made his presence known immediately for the second week in a row. McNamara led Michigan to a scoring drive culminating with a 46-yard TD throw to Cornelius Johnson. The game got crazy from there but McNamara remained in control of Michigan’s offense. McNamara displayed the ability to put the offense in the right situations and align the wideouts in the right spots with a quick tempo in mind. He displayed aggression in key moments, he didn’t hesitate when he saw an open window to throw to. There wasn’t a lot of negatives to his performance. He took chances when he needed to, but was pretty safe with the football overall. McNamara went 27-of-36 for 260 yards and a rushing score. It appeared that McNamara has the ability to read a defense and knows their tendencies (from the sample size to this point). He handled blitzes well, he looked like a starting quarterback. McNamara will be the starter going forward gives gives U-M the best chance at cohesion.
Kicking woes nearly cost Michigan the game
Kicker Quinn Nordin missed three field goals. The first was on him, the second was a high snap that doomed the attempt, and the third could have cost Michigan the game in overtime. Nine points Michigan should have got were taken off the board, and put them in a horrible situation in overtime but luckily Rutgers missed their field goal as well to extend the game.
First off, congrats to the unit for ending the game in overtime on a 4th down interception by Dax Hill. The clinching play aside, the defense continued to let Rutgers back in the game when McNamara and the offense were doing their best to close the door. The manner in which Rutgers was able to put together their last minute drive to score a touchdown and have a successful 2-point conversion was disappointing. Michigan had them, the game was won, and the defense let Rutgers back in before eventually closing the door in triple OT. The secondary continues to misplay balls, the unit isn’t generating enough of a pass-rush overall, they’re getting fooled on trick plays and are caught out of position too often. I saw fight in the unit, they were tired late in the game, but the 42 points allowed is far from an acceptable number. Michigan’s given up the most points in the Big Ten. With Kwity Paye out and Cam McGrone leaving the game, the unit isn’t at full strength, but they have to start playing in an instinctual manner instead of (A.) hesitating or (B.) overrunning.
Haskins is a RB1
Hassan Haskins is Michigan’s best running back right now. He plays with a good balance of speed, shiftiness, and physicality. Some of Haskins runs were the most physical we’ve seen of the Harbaugh era. Haskins production was pivotal down the stretch and his steady gains extended Michigan drives and led to points. Haskins rushed for 109 yards and 1 TD and Michigan could not have won this game without him. While Evans, Charbonnet, and Corum all should be utilized, their go-to back down-by-do in crunch time appears to be Haskins.
Tip of the cap to Rutgers and Greg Schiano
Greg Schiano is a good head coach, and he has Rutgers fighting. You could tell the game meant a great deal to the program and they were executing at a high clip offensively, and were coming out swinging on defense before McNamara found success and Michigan started generating production on the ground. This isn’t the same Rutgers of recent memory, they’ll be a more prepared and talented team under Schiano. The stat below is indicative of the strides they’ve made this season offensively.
Rutgers scored 20 or more points in all five Big Ten games this season. In the previous four seasons, Rutgers scored 20 or more points in five out of 36 games. That’s not a moral victory, that’s dramatic statistical improvement. https://t.co/0B3Eaq3zGb— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) November 22, 2020
Where Michigan goes from here this season
Wins are nice. Michigan usually blows out Rutgers, they did the opposite of that this time around but still got a W when things looked bleak in the first half. Michigan now stands at 2-3 and has a chance to get to .500 next week and send Penn State to 0-6. While the team and program will continue to get criticized due to how the defense and kicking unit performed, there’s some optimism to be had on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan wound up getting their best output from a QB and RB this season, the offense put up a lot of points. The production against Rutgers can’t be overblown or overhyped, but a win is a win and there’s still a shot at heading into their last game against Ohio State with a 4-3 record. The defense and kicking team have a lot of issues to address, but if Michigan’s offense can continue to gain some momentum they’ll at least be able to keep the team in games. Just beat Penn State and go from there.