Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers


Michigan football got to 4-0 on Saturday but it wasn’t pretty and here are five things we learned from the Wolverines performance. 

After Michigan football won just two games a year ago, it’s hard to complain about a win, especially one over a conference opponent.

But there were a lot of troublesome signs in the 20-13 win over Rutgers. The fact that Michigan football went three-and-out three straight times in the second half was disturbing, as was the first down margin which favored the Scarlet Knights 13-0 at one point in the second half.

Michigan needs to be better than that. Rutgers is improved under Greg Schiano. This program isn’t going to be an automatic win on the schedule but it wasn’t a sharp performance and here are the five things we learned about the Wolverines.

This game reminded us that we need to pump the breaks a little when it comes to this Michigan team. It has improved from last season and is going to get back to a bowl game and all that, but is it ready to contend in the Big Ten? That’s another matter.

Rutgers controlled the of scrimmage in the second half and stymied Michigan’s vaunted run game, which looked unstoppable in the first three games.

Not only did Rutgers out-gain Michigan, but the Scarlet Knights also had more yards on the ground and if it wasn’t for multiple stops in the red zone, this game could have gone the other way.

Michigan football isn’t the disaster it was last season. That’s plain to see. But the same questions about beating good teams, still linger, at least until next week.

Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers 13
Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers 20

Michigan football got to 4-0 on Saturday but it wasn’t pretty and here are five things we learned from the Wolverines performance. 

After Michigan football won just two games a year ago, it’s hard to complain about a win, especially one over a conference opponent.

But there were a lot of troublesome signs in the 20-13 win over Rutgers. The fact that Michigan football went three-and-out three straight times in the second half was disturbing, as was the first down margin which favored the Scarlet Knights 13-0 at one point in the second half.

Michigan needs to be better than that. Rutgers is improved under Greg Schiano. This program isn’t going to be an automatic win on the schedule but it wasn’t a sharp performance and here are the five things we learned about the Wolverines.

Still too early to say Michigan is back

This game reminded us that we need to pump the breaks a little when it comes to this Michigan team. It has improved from last season and is going to get back to a bowl game and all that, but is it ready to contend in the Big Ten? That’s another matter.

Rutgers controlled the of scrimmage in the second half and stymied Michigan’s vaunted run game, which looked unstoppable in the first three games.

Not only did Rutgers out-gain Michigan, but the Scarlet Knights also had more yards on the ground and if it wasn’t for multiple stops in the red zone, this game could have gone the other way.

Michigan football isn’t the disaster it was last season. That’s plain to see. But the same questions about beating good teams, still linger, at least until next week.

Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

The running game isn’t invincible

In all levels, coaching makes a huge difference, yet you can really see it in college football. With Greg Schiano on the sidelines, Rutgers is a completely different program.

Schiano is doing a great job recruiting, but he attacked the portal hard and he’s got a veteran team. He also is one of the best defensive minds in the game. He’s won a lot as a head coach and a DC and it was obvious that he would try to take away Michigan’s strength.

Rutgers sold out to stop the run and it worked. Michigan, despite a strong start and back-to-back touchdown drives to open the game, averaged 2.9 yards per attempt and just 112 total yards.

It was strange that the Wolverines didn’t attack the edges more with Corum. He was run right up the middle time and time again.

Regardless, there weren’t many holes and the offense simply couldn’t make Rutgers pay for stacking the box. The second half was the Washington game all over again — this time without a running game to carry the load.

We saw what happened when Michigan can’t run the ball and it resulted in zero second-half points. That’s not going to cut it next week. But back to McNamara, can he be the guy?

Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

McNamara’s ceiling is just too low

Cade McNamara looked great in the first half, that is until he missed a wide-open touchdown pass near the end of the first half. After he missed that throw, he was off the entire game.

After starting the game completing 7-of-8 passes, McNamara finished just 2-of-8. He threw just 16 times and while he didn’t turn it over and averaged 10.2 yards per attempt, he wasn’t good enough.

On Michigan’s second drive in the second half, he missed two easy first-down completions, one which probably goes for at least 30 yards if completed. Rutgers put the game in his hands in the second half and the Wolverines were lucky not to lose.

His lack of arm strength is apparent and so is the lack of athleticism. McNamara can be accurate and he doesn’t make mistakes, but against Washington and Rutgers, he’s completed 16-of-31 passes for 207 yards and zero touchdowns.

That’s not a fluke and Saturday’s game has me convinced it’s only a matter of time before J.J. McCarthy is starting.

I wrote in my preseason predictions that J.J. McCarthy would start the Northwestern game, following the bye week. The Wolverines have back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Getting one win is going to be difficult. Both teams are desperate and are much better than their records indicate. And for my money, the next two weeks will define the season for Cade. Either he finds a way against Wisconsin and Nebraska, or it’s time to go with talent over experience.

Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

Lack of impact plays a problem for the defense

There’s a lot to like about Michigan’s defense.  Through four games, the Wolverines are allowing just 11.8 points per game, which is fourth in the nation. Michigan football is giving up just 303 yards per game too, but there is a huge caveat.

The Wolverines haven’t played an elite offense or anything that can be considered close to elite — even good outside of maybe Western Michigan.

Dylan Morris and Noah Vedral looked too comfortable for my taste and the pass rush, or lack of it, is becoming a major issue.

Outside of Aidan Hutchinson, the Wolverines don’t have a single edge rusher who can do anything consistently. David Ojabo did force a fumble to seal the game late, but in four games, the Wolverines have six sacks and 4.5 are from Hutchinson.

Michigan has also forced just three turnovers. Fourth-down stops are nice, but good defenses take the ball away, and the Wolverines haven’t shown that ability.

Ojabo has flashed but needs to be more consistent and the interior rush has been non-existent. Turnovers often come because of pressure on the quarterback and unfortunately, for the Wolverines, even against a team with a porous O-line, the pass rush was invisible.

Michigan Football: 5 things we learned in uneasy win over Rutgers

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

The real test begins

Starting the season 4-0 seemed like a reasonable goal for Michigan football. It wasn’t going to be easy with Washington on the schedule, a team ranked to start the season, but it was necessary.

And the Wolverines did it. They beat Washington on a huge recruiting weekend and avoided disaster against Rutgers. While we don’t know how many games Michigan football will win, this team is going back to a bowl game and it’s regained its footing after 2020.

The future is really bright for this program. McCarthy is going to be a star and Donovan Edwards is too, plus Corum is right there already. Five-star Will Johnson is coming in and if the Wolverines can close the 2022 recruiting class out strong, the future could be even brighter.

But sitting at 4-0 and with Ohio State not looking as strong as usual, Michigan shouldn’t be looking to the future. There is enough talent to win now and we’ll find out a lot next week in Madison about the 2021 Michigan football team.

Winning there will take a much better effort from all three phases of the game, especially in the trenches and at the quarterback spot.

McNamara is solid but he’s a game manager and unless the running game and defense are playing at a high level, it’s hard to see him doing enough to win in Madison.

It will be the ultimate test for McNamara and for a team with lingering questions, it should finally bring the answers we have been seeking.

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