'We were hungry': Michigan gets well with shutout win over Rutgers
Ann Arbor — Michigan needed a boost and a quick-fix from the doldrums after the beatdown at Wisconsin last week.
Not unexpectedly, Rutgers provided the perfect antidote.
The 20th-ranked Wolverines pounded the Scarlet Knights, 52-0, before 110,662 on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. It was Michigan’s first shutout since beating Rutgers, 78-0, on Oct. 8, 2016.
Just to get this out front from the start, instead of qualifying every bit of positive commentary about Michigan’s performance with “but it was against Rutgers,” it was, in fact, against Rutgers, the punching bag of the Big Ten East. That didn’t matter to the Wolverines (3-1, 1-1 Big Ten), who were in desperate need of a heavy dose of confidence after being shellacked at Wisconsin a week ago.
“We were hungry to come out here and play,” said defensive end Kwity Paye, who had six tackles, including 3.5 for loss. “Our main objective was to shut them out, and we did that.”
Michigan played virtually mistake-free, a big change from the first three games in which the Wolverines had nine turnovers, including seven fumbles. There was one blemish in the second half, an interception, but that was long after the outcome had been decided.
Perhaps the first indication this was going to be a blowout was at the start of the game, as the Wolverines did something they haven’t done this season — they scored instead of fumbling the ball their first possession. They were clean and efficient in their operation, driving 80 yards in five plays with Nico Collins scoring on a 48-yard pass from Shea Patterson.
And from there, Michigan rolled.
“It’s good to see it pay off in a victory that was much needed,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said, referring to the hard work he said the players and coaching put in during the week.
Patterson accounted for four touchdowns, including three short rushing scores, and was 17-of-23 passing for 276 yards and the touchdown toss to Collins. With Dylan McCaffrey unable to play while recovering from a concussion suffered at Wisconsin, Joe Milton entered the game in the third quarter and finished with a touchdown run and touchdown pass, a 23-yarder to Giles Jackson.
Patterson mentioned several times the team played with a chip on their shoulder after the embarrassment last week. He said they didn’t overthink in practice, focused on details and played with emotion. The lack of turnovers also helped considerably, which had been stunting the offense’s growth and preventing it from developing any rhythm.
“We’ve got a lot of guys, a lot of playmakers, good backs,” Patterson said. “The more we just go out and play and trust in ourselves, trust in our coaches, the better off we’ll be. I think that’s what we did today.”
Eight Michigan players caught passes, including Ronnie Bell, who led the way with 83 yards on six receptions. Donovan Peoples-Jones, in his first significant playing time of the season since returning last week, had four catches for 62 yards. Tight end Nick Eubanks added three catches for 43 yards, while Collins and Tarik Black each had two catches, for 59 and 30 yards, respectively.
“They threw and caught the ball exceptionally well, protected the quarterback exceptionally well,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. “Their offensive line in pass protection played extremely well. We didn’t come close to getting to them. They threw and caught the ball exceptionally well, broke some tackles, as well. They threw the ball downfield a little bit more and the receivers went and made some plays on it. That’s really the difference.”
The offense responded positively to having first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis coaching on the field rather than in the press box, where he spent the first three games. And with the lack of turnovers, he was able to flex his play-calling a bit and put his "speed in space" offense on display.
Coupled with the shutout from the defense, Harbaugh was feeling pretty good about his team. He said this was a boost to the overall team morale.
“Should be encouragement to them,” Harbaugh said. “When you’re down and your back is against the wall, you’ve got to come out and fight. You’ve got to sustain, you’ve got to work harder. You’ve got to work smarter. You’ve got to be tougher mentally and physically. That’s the only way to do it, and they really set themselves to doing that. That’s one week and now you go about doing it another week.”
But back to the earlier point — Rutgers is Rutgers, a team Michigan should beat. Undefeated Iowa comes to Michigan Stadium next week and will provide a significant challenge. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 48-3 victory over Middle Tennessee State, who Michigan beat, 40-21, in the season opener. They have also beat Rutgers, Miami (Ohio) and Iowa State heading into next weekend's tilt.
Regardless of the opponent, Harbaugh made clear his team learned plenty in the debacle at Wisconsin and plans to maintain that focus with the meat of the schedule ahead.
“We need to be a hard-working, blue-collar team,” Harbaugh said. “If we can play good, we’ve got a good chance to win, and we’ll be darn tough to beat. If not, we can be beat. Everybody on our schedule is good. It behooves us to go one game at a time and be building and attacking at the same time. We’re right in the middle of the season. We still need to build, but we’ve got to be able to attack at the same time.”