ANN ARBOR, Mich — The now 4-0 Michigan Wolverines defeated Rutgers on Saturday, 20-13, and it wasn’t the dominant victory we have been used to seeing this year.
Michigan came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, with a methodical 17-play drive for 74 yards, capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Hassan Haskins. Things continued to bode well for the Wolverines at halftime as they led 20-3.
When you hear people say ‘tale of two halves,’ Saturday was the true definition — Michigan looked like a completely different team. The maize and blue had 35 rushing yards along with 42 total yards of offense in the second half.
So, what does this game mean for Michigan going forward? Is one-half of football indicative as to what this team is going to be, or are the first 14 quarters a better measuring stick?
If you want to look at the sample size, Michigan is outscoring its opponents 161-47 through four games and is still a top-five rushing offense in all of football.
I think this could have been a good thing for the Wolverines. This was the first sign of adversity that this team has faced, and while it wasn’t pretty, Michigan passed the test.
The offense may have stumbled in the second half, but the defense came through when it had to and helped Michigan stay undefeated. I fully believe last year’s team would not have beaten this particular Rutgers team when the going got tough on Saturday. It seemed when any adversity came the Wolverines’ way last year, the team folded, which is why they went 2-4. The Michigan State game was the start of the adversity last season, and things did not get better — as we all know.
Jim Harbaugh, Cade McNamara, and Nikhai Hill-Green all talked to the media yesterday, and they all fielded questions about adversity.
“Good! Thought it was a gritty win that way,” Harbaugh said. “Handling the circumstances — thought it was great character of our defense. Like I said, they competed. They competed through some of those things that were going against us, that were stacked up against us and competed. Just competed, right until they got the fumble in the two-minute defense. Tremendous job in the red zone. I thought they did well. I was really proud of them.”
“I think as a team we didn’t flinch at all,” Hill-Green said. “Offense, they know they’re going to clean their stuff up, but I feel they didn’t flinch, they did what they could do, and we did what we could do. We didn’t flinch at all, and we got the win.”
“I think (the) defense handled it extremely well,” McNamara added. “I think offensively we have to do better. I think this was a good experience for us to learn from – were not going to blow everyone out obviously – so we felt what it feels like, and we need to move on and get better.”
As you can see, the players and coaches are going to embrace this win, but they are going to continue to work on mistakes to get better for next week. Wisconsin should implement the same defensive strategy that Rutgers used on Saturday — stuff the box and make Michigan adjust.
Every single team is going to go through some sort of danger or adversity in the year, and the first game of the Big Ten slate is a great spot for Michigan to face that adversity, especially against a much-improved Rutgers team.
Now that the true Big Ten gauntlet is about to begin, Michigan can go back over the film and not allow history to repeat itself.
I feel confident in saying this isn’t the same Michigan team as before, it didn’t just give up or say ‘here we go again’ when the offense went into shambles. Instead, the Wolverines found a way to survive and advance — that’s all any team can do in the sport of football.