Well, that was an unexpected nail-biter. I was spot on with my prediction of Rutgers scoring 13 points, but I thought Michigan would have a bit easier time on offense (I predicted 34 points). For two years in a row, Michigan has beaten Rutgers by just one score (they won 48-42 in triple overtime in 2020), and it’s frustrating to an extent that the Wolverines can’t play better despite being significantly more talented, especially on offense. Rutgers has mediocre players on the offensive line, at quarterback, and at tight end, yet they manage to scheme their way to a modicum of success. But a win is a win. We’ve seen these games turn into losses, so I’ll take it for now.
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Hire Sean Gleeson! I think I talked about this last year, but I continue to be impressed by Rutgers offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson. When Gleeson was at Princeton, I sat in on a clinic with one of Gleeson’s grad assistants. It was one of the most impressive clinic sessions I’ve sat in on during my coaching career. Gleeson stresses defenses in so many different ways, and you can see that with how he finds weaknesses to pick on. With Michigan starting a redshirt freshman inside linebacker and then losing Josh Ross, Gleeson kept going back to the well of putting Nikhai Hill-Green and Kalel Mullings in conflict. And he does all those things with mediocre players. I think he could do some really explosive things with skill guys who can actually run, offensive linemen who can move their feet, and a quarterback who has an ounce of arm strength.
Cade McNamara was . . . something. It was a tale of two halves for quarterback Cade McNamara. After going 8/11 for 156 yards in the first half, he was 1/5 for 7 yards in the second half. Two things that happened in the intermediary were a) he got targeted by Rutgers defensive tackle Julius Turner, resulting in an ejection for Turner and b) he missed a wide open Luke Schoonmaker in the end zone at the end of the first half. It seemed like one or both of those events knocked him off his game. He then proceeded to miss a couple more wide open receivers in the second half. They weren’t wildly inaccurate throws because McNamara is an accurate thrower overall, but they were just a foot or so outside the targets’ catch radius. I also saw some frustration that he kept the ball on a zone read near the end of the game in a critical situation, but he did the same thing against Washington for a 9-yard gain against a safety blitz. I think Rutgers had an idea that Michigan might run McNamara on a zone read in that situation, so they sent a safety, but he stayed wide enough that when McNamara kept the ball, he couldn’t get outside and ended up losing a few yards.
Michigan’s offensive line isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I know one of the talking points all season has been the excellence of the offensive line, but you could tell a game like this was coming. Michigan’s line doesn’t get a vertical push nearly enough to be considered a dominant line, and they benefit from a couple good running backs, who create a lot of things on their own. Rutgers did what they should have done, which was play a bunch of people close to the line of scrimmage, keep things hemmed in, and force Michigan to throw the ball. McNamara and his receivers need to be more consistent at beating man coverage.
A.J. Henning: 0 offensive touches. Michigan’s punt returner, who broke out a 29-yarder and is so far averaging 16.5 yards per return, had 0 offensive touches. McNamara targeted the 5’10” Henning on a back shoulder fade, and that’s it. Blake Corum averaged 3.2 yards per carry and Hassan Haskins averaged 3.4, but apparently they were the only ones worthy of touching the ball more than 2 times (Cornelius Johnson and Erick All had 2 catches each, including 23+ yard receptions for both). Michigan continues to fail to get its most explosive players the ball, which is why I continuously give lower TTB Ratings to skill players than I should.
What does this mean for Michigan? I’m not sure it means much. Good teams struggle sometimes with mediocre teams. There are a lot of jokes about Rutgers, but the truth is that they’re one of the better coached teams in the country. They’re maximizing their talent. Greg Schiano does a great job with their defense, Gleeson does a great job with their offense, they don’t take penalties, and they don’t turn over the ball (Noah Vedral’s fumble at the end of the game was their first turnover this season). Michigan should beat Rutgers by more than 7 points, considering the advantages in talent, but sometimes you’re going to have a stinker of a game. The first half is roughly the way Michigan should have played, when they had a 20-7 lead. The second half was their worst half of football all season, and they were outscored 6-0 against a well coached team. Hopefully Cade McNamara and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis learn a little something from this, but at least with Gattis, I think the chances are slim.
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