Takeaways from UM’s win: Robust defense returns

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

What went right

It was a career day for Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, who after being knocked out of the Minnesota game with bruised ribs a week ago, completed 18-of-25 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. And a week after the Michigan secondary was told – politely, we’re sure – it did not live up to its billing after allowing 461 total yards, including 317 passing, it held Rutgers to 97 yards passing. In four trips deep into Michigan territory, Rutgers mustered only three field goals and once gave up the ball on downs.

What went wrong

Michigan is among the nation’s top statistical leaders in terms of defense, but the Wolverines are not nearly as efficient defending on kickoff and punt returns. That was evident in the first half against Rutgers. Speedy Janarion Grant fielded Kenny Allen’s kickoff at the 2-yard line and 13 seconds later scored on the 98-yard return early in the second quarter. Then just before halftime, Grant returned a Blake O’Neill punt 67 yards to the Michigan 9, which led to a Rutgers field goal. “We’ve got some things to work on in our coverage units,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. The Wolverines are ranked 76th nationally of 127 ranked teams in kickoff return defense and are 95th in punt return defense.

Michigan wide receiver Jehu Chesson celebrates his first-quarter touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Jake Rudock.

Assistants make up for Harbaugh's 'deficiency' in screen game

Key developments

Michigan is 4-1 in the Big Ten with three games remaining, including the regular-season finale against Ohio State. If Ohio State beats Michigan State in two weeks, and Michigan wins their back-to-back road games against Indiana and Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State will play for the Big Ten East Division title and a spot in the Big Ten championship game. The Wolverines would have a loss, but by defeating Ohio State, they would go to Indianapolis because of the head-to-head victory.

Most telling quotes

Coach Jim Harbaugh on the unsportsmanlike/intent to deceive penalty: “I’m pretty offended by that, that that was called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Everything was to not deceive. Jake Butt was in on the previous play. He did not go off with the substitutes that were leaving the field. They were practically off the field when he left the huddle. We just train our quarterbacks to throw to people that aren’t covered even if it’s a running play. I was watching an NFL game where they didn’t cover a receiver and the quarterback handed it off and got maligned by scribes and pundits and so-called experts for not throwing it to him. I don’t know, my game plan next week if somebody substitutes and the receiver lines up wide, just don’t cover him. Why cover him? Just put an extra person in the box to stop the run and if they happen to throw it to the uncovered receiver, it’s a 15-yard penalty. You could make that argument. It’s bewildering.”

Harbaugh on Jake Rudock: “Jake’s a very tough guy, as tough as a $2 steak, and continues to show that.”

Cornerback Jourdan Lewis on setting the single-season pass breakups record (19) that had been set by Marlin Jackson in 2002 and shared by Leon Hall (2006). Lewis had two against Rutgers: “To be up there with some of those legends, it feels amazing. It’s another stepping stone.”

What’s next

Indiana seems to be a team everyone in the Big Ten fears because of its explosive offense that leads the Big Ten, averaging 467.6 yards a game. Still, the Hoosiers are 4-5 overall and winless in conference play and host Michigan on Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. game. It has been a tough stretch for Indiana, who is coming off a 35-27 loss to West Division-leading Iowa and has lost three times to unbeaten teams in the last five weeks. The Hoosiers have had some crushing losses, including a 55-52 game to Rutgers and a 34-27 decision to Ohio State with a chance to win at the end. Tailback Jordan Howard rushed for 174 yards on 22 carries and had two touchdowns against Iowa’s stingy defense, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who leads the Big Ten in total offense (295.1 yards per game), was 16-of-37 for 180 yards, an interception and a touchdown. The Michigan-Indiana game will be a meeting of the Big Ten leaders in defense and offense, respectively, with the Hoosiers averaging 467.6 yards a game while the Wolverines’ defense, ranked No. 2 nationally, is allowing an average 240.0 yards. Meanwhile, Indiana’s defense is at the bottom of the Big Ten, allowing a sizable average of 508.6 yards a game.