If nothing else, it felt like a catharsis. There’s not really much to parse out with a 52-0 victory against Rutgers; as “expected victories” go, there are few teams Michigan has been able to consistently flatten over the years quite the way they have the Scarlet Knights.
But unlike past years, this was one that Michigan needed. Badly.
An inconsistent start to the year culminating in a devastating blowout loss to Wisconsin will do that to you, but credit where credit is due - Harbaugh and the coaching staff used this opportunity to rebuild this team’s foundation.
And now, as Michigan preps for a hungry Iowa team, here are a few things I’ll be looking for to holdover from last week…
Josh Gattis on the sidelines
We’ve talked a great deal about Josh Gattis’ new “Speed in Space” philosophy - but as of yet, it felt like all that speed was stuck running its tires through the mud.
So Harbaugh and Gattis switched things up a bit - moving Gattis from the booth down to the sidelines, and the results were immediately apparent:
- Season highs in passing yards (335), completion rate (74.1%), passing first downs (17) and first downs overall (28)
- Only one turnover, and no fumbles
- An offense that consistently was able to move the football, with only one three and out on the day - which came late in the fourth quarter
It’s fair to point out that it could have just come down to Rutgers being outmatched - but it’s also clear that Michigan needed this game. Their offense completely stalled in Madison, and even if having Gattis roam the sideline was simply a confidence booster, I’m hoping it continues in the weeks to come.
Joe Milton at QB
No, I don’t think Joe Milton should replace Shea Patterson at QB… but the sophomore looked as good as we’ve seen him against Rutgers this past weekend.
Even in just going 3-4 for 59 yards, he looked calm, cool, and collected in the pocket - and balanced his rifle of an arm with a great sense of the field. Dare I say it, but he’s beginning to look a lot like the promising prospect we expected when he was signed with the 2018 class.
So where does that leave him for the remainder of the year? It’s hard to say - but Shea Patterson’s struggles certainly won’t be excused by this one performance against Rutgers, and who knows how long Dylan McCaffrey may be out with concussion symptoms.
That leaves Milton as the number two option, or perhaps even as an additional QB if he and Patterson are tapped to split time.
But at the very least, it suddenly nudges him ahead in the discussion of who will take over at QB in 2020 and beyond - and if Saturday is any indication, that’s an exciting enough prospect in and of itself.
Rushing defense? Rushing defense.
Ah, yes. That’s more like it.
This is the one encouraging piece from Saturday that can’t just be explained away with “Well, it was just Rutgers” - because Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear are, as I said in my preview, the real deal.
Michigan’s defense held this dynamic backfield duo to just 34 combined yards (as a team, Rutgers had been averaging over 100 yards per game up to this point) - and DL Kwity Paye accounted for 3.5 tackles for a loss by himself.
The stalled running game put more pressure on QB Artur Stikowski, who simply was overwhelmed by the Michigan defense. He would finish with just 106 yards and, obviously, no touchdowns on the day.
It won’t erase last week’s struggles - nor the interior issues that have plagued this unit all season long. But like the offense, this was a game for the Wolverines to build on - and looking ahead at their match-up with Iowa this weekend, it’s a confidence-builder they needed.
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