Piscataway, N.J. — Understandably, this did not have the same electric vibe as Michigan’s last three games, all against ranked opponents. During the past week, the Wolverines assured they would remain focused on the task at hand, but Rutgers, winless in the Big Ten, was hardly an attention-grabber.
The fourth-ranked Wolverines looked a bit sluggish at the very start and then matter-of-factly did their job, in a 42-7 win at Rutgers before 43,786 Saturday at HighPoint.com Stadium. Michigan is 9-1, 7-0 Big Ten and leads the East Division. The Wolverines play Indiana at home on Saturday before traveling to Ohio State for the regular-season finale.
After beating Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State on what has been called their “Revenge Tour,” the buzz was lacking as the Wolverines prepared to face Rutgers, five-plus touchdown underdogs. The Scarlet Knights are now 1-9, 0-7. Their only score came on an 80-yard run from Isaih Pacheco.
Giving up that early touchdown got the attention of Michigan’s defense.
“Immediate response is, we’ve been through worse, one touchdown is not going to hurt us,” defensive end Rashan Gary, who had four tackles, said. “We’ve got to get back to playing football. After that happened, that’s what we did. We got back to playing Michigan defense.”
The Wolverines’ top-rated defense held Rutgers to 252 yards, including 59 passing and 4-of-12 on third down. They also forced two turnovers, a fumble and an interception by Ambry Thomas. The Scarlet Knights are the fifth team Michigan has held at or below 10 points this season. Michigan has allowed 21 points the last three games.
Receiver Nico Collins, who had three catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns, said the Scarlet Knights’ touchdown with 26 seconds left in the first quarter to tie the game was all the Wolverines needed to get them zoned in.
UM receiver Nico Collins on the Wolverines' slow start at Rutgers Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“We started a little slow, but we made up for it. Got the win,” Collins said, adding it took about two possessions until they felt in a rhythm. “Second half came out a little better and did what we had to do.”
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson was steady and commanding even while facing challenging windy conditions especially in the first half. Patterson was 18-of-27 for 260 yards and three touchdowns, including the two to Collins. The second, a 10-yard touchdown, came off a turnover. Patterson, who sat out the fourth quarter, also connected with Oliver Martin for a score.
Patterson did not have a rushing attempt against the Scarlet Knights, perhaps in part because backup Dylan McCaffrey is out with a broken collarbone and the objective is to keep Patterson from unnecessary contact. The game plan had him throwing more.
“It starts with the O-line — they did a heck of a job protecting,” Patterson said. “I don’t think there was one time I had to get out of the pocket unless something broke down with the route concept. Just taking what they give us. It wasn’t our plan to come here and toss it around. We’re just going to take what they were giving us whether it was passing or rushing the ball.”
Patterson said it was not “necessary” for him to carry the ball and said there were a couple plays where he did have the option to run.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discusses quarterback Shea Patterson Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“He’s been running the ball quite a bit the last couple of weeks,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We put a couple different plays in where he could zone read and come out throwing the ball. It was a nice extra wrinkle for us and get him moving out of the pocket instead of running the ball as much. It was a nice addition to the offense. That puts pressure on a defense now. You can be handing it off on a zone play inside, quarterback could be pulling it and coming out and throwing. There’s a triple option effect.”
Collins was wide open when he and Patterson connected for a 36-yard touchdown with 5:07 left in the first half.
“I was not expecting the cornerback to pass me off,” Collins said. “I thought he has help on the top, but when the play started, nobody was there so I was thinking one and one. Once he passed me off, Shea found me and I caught it.”
Karan Higdon scored two rushing touchdowns and passed 1,000-yards this season with 42 yards on 15 carries. He needed 37 to reach the mark. But he was not able extend his consecutive streak of 100-yard rushing games to eight.
“It’s unbelievable,” Patterson said of Higdon’s achievement, while Gary, standing to his right, fist-pumped. “It’s really cool, especially because we went with him over the spring and the summer and saw all the hard work he put in. He’s such a pivotal leader on this team so to see him accomplish that goal, that’s amazing.”
Chris Evans led the team with 75 yards rushing, including a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Tru Wilson had 58 yards on eight carries.
The Wolverines led 21-7 at halftime and expanded their lead on the opening drive of the second half. Patterson rolled left on third-and-7 and found Donovan Peoples-Jones for 32 yards to the Rutgers 16-yard line. Two plays later, Patterson, who had plenty of time to throw, found Martin in the corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and 28-7 lead.
Michigan forced a fumble the next series and converted the turnover for another touchdown, the 10-yard pass to Collins.
In the fourth quarter, with Patterson taking a seat, it was unclear who would come in as backup since redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey broke his collarbone last week. Brandon Peters was the first quarterback in and handed off to vans the first play. Evans went 61 yards for a touchdown and a 42-7 lead. Milton started the next series for Michigan.