First-half observations: QB McNamara provides spark, UM trails Rutgers 17-7

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan's Christopher Hinton (15) gets past Rutgers offensive lineman Cedrice Paillant (54) to sack quarterback Noah Vedral (0) during the first half on Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.

Piscataway, N.J. — It seemed a bit surreal that this has been described as a must-win game for Michigan at Rutgers, but now, at halftime, it’s now a gut-check game for the Wolverines.

Rutgers (1-3) carries a 17-7 lead into halftime. Both teams entered this game having lost their last three.

Michigan has now been outscored, 97-59, in the first half this season.

Quarterback change

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday the quarterback competition would be open this week, after starter Joe Milton threw two interceptions in the 49-11 loss to Wisconsin – both led to Badgers’ touchdowns. Cade McNamara came in late in the third quarter and instantly gave Michigan a spark, guiding the Wolverines to their only touchdown.

Not surprisingly, Milton made his fifth start at quarterback for the Wolverines. But it was an uneven first half for Milton, the redshirt sophomore. He was 6-of-13 for 103 yards. During Michigan’s first series of the game, he had a promising start converting on Michigan’s first third down with a 16-yard pass to tight end Nick Eubanks. The next time he faced third down hit connected on a nine-yard pass to Cornelius Johnson, who then fumbled.

With Michigan trailing 14-0, Milton could get nothing going, throwing two incompletions and took a sack. Rutgers took a 17-0 lead its next possession, then McNamara came in the game. McNamara sparked Michigan with a 52-second scoring drive that covered 63 yards in three plays. He connected with Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown with 3:40 in the first half.

No help from the run game

Again, Michigan was playing from behind and had to look pass first, but the run game offered almost no assist in the first half.

They are working behind another new-look offensive line. Injured starting tackles Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes were out for the third game, and center Andrew Vastardis did not travel because of an undisclosed injury. He was replaced by Zach Carpenter. Chuck Filiaga at left guard is the only lineman who has played in every game this season.

Michigan had 17 yards on 15 carries and that includes 16 sack yards. But Michigan’s backs had 10 carries for 24 yards. This has been a continuing problem for the Wolverines, who entering this season considered their run game the strong point of the team.

Twitter: @achengelis