It looked like Michigan might run away with the game at halftime as the Wolverines looked dominant in the first half, taking a 20-3 lead into the locker room.
Michigan racked up 233 yards compared to Rutgers 121. The second half was a different story. Rutgers outscored the Wolverines 10-0 and held the Michigan offense to just 42 yards.
A late fumble recovery by the Michigan defense sealed the victory late in the 4th quarter.
“I was really proud of them,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They found a way.”
The Michigan offense started the second half with four straight three and outs, giving Rutgers a chance to get back in the game.
“The defense was in a bad position,” Harbaugh said. “It showed the character of the defense. I’m really proud and pleased with that. They found a way and got it done.”
Michigan was able to hold off Rutgers’ comeback effort with key stops in the red zone, forcing two field goal attempts, one of which missed wide right.
“Thank goodness for red zone defense,” Harbaugh said. “Put a lot of time into it, practice it a lot.”
The Michigan defense also came up with two crucial stops on 4th down to keep Rutgers from adding to the scoreboard.
“Those are huge 4th down stops,” Harbaugh said. “Those are turnovers. That’s what we ultimately needed to win, those are critical.”
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara found a rhythm in the first half, going 8-11 for 156 yards, but struggled to get going in the second half, completing just one pass for 7 yards.
“I think going into the first half we had a ton of momentum offensively, we were clicking on all cylinders,” McNamara said. “Us losing that momentum and a couple of those stalls, running the ball or throwing the ball we struggled a little bit to get that first first down in the second half, and I think that’s what led to the struggle.”
The Michigan team has preached all year how they are never satisfied and know there is always room for improvement, and that remains this case after the game against Rutgers.
“Today wasn’t good enough,” linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green said. “We know that, on both sides. We’ll get it fixed, and we just need to execute better and play team football.”
At the end of the day, Michigan came out with the win and improved to 4-0 on the year, and 1-0 in Big Ten play, despite the shaky second half performance.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Harbaugh said. “When they start putting a space for pretty on the scoreboard then we’ll worry about that.”