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Handing out grades for Michigan’s victory over Rutgers

A mixed-bag performance generates a mixed-bag report card.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are lucky that football has two halves; otherwise, they would have been the fourth top-six team to be defeated on Saturday. Outscored 17-13 in the first half, Michigan righted the ship and outscored Rutgers 38 to nothing in the final 30 minutes of the game. The following is the most varied report card I have written to date, as this was easily Michigan’s most mixed performance of the season.

Quarterbacks: C

J.J. McCarthy has a cannon of an arm and is as mobile of a quarterback as you can ask for. However, he has to learn to put a bit more touch on the ball. Entering the game as the nation’s most accurate passer, the sophomore connected on less than 50 percent of his passes against the Scarlet Knights. The blame for this can be shared with the inability of the wide receivers to get open, but there were too many passes on which McCarthy put too much mustard. The first-year starter will learn and improve – he’s only 19, after all. However, for the time being, his shortcomings need to be pointed out and, hopefully, corrected.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: D

For Michigan’s wide receivers, Donovan Edwards is the guy their girlfriends told them not to worry about. Edwards — a running back — has been Michigan’s most consistent pass catcher all season long, and this certainly was the case in this game. Other than Ronnie Bell’s 43 yards, the next-highest receiving total was Cornelius Johnson’s 18. Michigan is a run-first team, but an unsettling pattern is starting to develop on the offensive perimeter: Michigan’s receivers can’t get open, even against weaker competition.

Running Backs: A

Of all the serious Heisman contenders, a strong argument can be presented that Blake Corum had the best performance on Saturday. C.J. Stroud completed less than 40 percent of his passes against lowly Northwestern, and Hendon Hooker fizzled against Georgia. Blake Corum’s 109 yards and two touchdowns won’t make the Heisman voters drool, but his dependability certainly will. As already mentioned, Donovan Edwards is probably one of Michigan’s best catchers and is maybe a top-five running back in all of college football himself. Tavierre Dunlap, C.J. Stokes, and Isaiah Gash all got meaningful and productive snaps as well.

Offensive Line: B

The pocket was relatively clean for J.J. McCarthy, but the offensive line got stonewalled on back-to-back trips to the goal line. Blown blocking schemes were eliminated after halftime. This was a mediocre outing for an otherwise dominant group.

Front 7: A+

On the stats sheet, the Front 7’s performance was even better than in the demolition of MSU’s rushing attack and Peyton Thorne. Tack on two interceptions by Michael Barrett, and this was as impressive of a performance as you can have. It was a pleasant surprise seeing the linebackers drop back in coverage; Michigan will probably have to do more of that against a much more prolific passing offense at the end of the month.

Secondary: A-

Once again, Michigan’s corners (namely, D.J. Turner) struggled in man, one-on-one coverage. Once defensive coordinator Jesse Minter switched to a more zone-heavy scheme, Rutgers’ passing attack was dead in the water. These adjustments are an encouraging sign, but preventing one-on-one situations will need to be a point of emphasis in preparation for the Buckeyes.

Special Teams: D+

The blocked punt scoop-n-score punctuated the subpar night for the Michigan Wolverines special teams. Jake Moody can be forgiven for missing two 50-yarder field goals; after all, he’s human. A.J. Henning didn’t make much noise in the return game. The only saving grace for this group was that two of Brad Robbins’ three punts that got fully airborne landed inside Rutgers’ 20.

Michigan’s Deportment: B+

Michigan’s overall performance can be looked at in one of two ways. The first, held by the pessimistic camp, is that Michigan played down to its competition, that the offensive gameplan was too predictable. The second, held by optimists and others, is that Michigan made impressive defensive adjustments and did a good job refocusing after a taxing week marred by the actions of Spartan players after last week’s win.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. While it is true that the defensive staff made consummate defensive adjustments after the half, and Michigan overcame some of the lethargy created by the tunnel incident, Rutgers exposed some key weaknesses. The wideouts need to figure out how to get open, and quickly. And the defense needs to limit one-on-one situations for its corners, or C.J. Stroud will make mincemeat out of them.

All-in-all, the Michigan Wolverines got the job done, and that’s all that matters in games like these. It’s on to Nebraska.