Eleven touchdowns, 78 points and one historic game later, the Michigan football team is coming off a signature beatdown.
The Wolverines’ defense played its best game of the season, and the offense turned in a performance nearly good enough to match. The starters only played half the game, but we still had plenty to take away.
Here are five things we learned from Michigan’s 78-0 shellacking of Rutgers:
1. Jabrill Peppers might have a real Heisman case.
For as gifted and versatile as Peppers has always proven to be, he took it to a new level on Saturday.
After his first-quarter punt-return touchdown was called back for a block in the back penalty, Peppers refused to be denied at his New Jersey homecoming, scoring two rushing touchdowns from the quarterback position.
Following the game, Harbaugh said Peppers was the most versatile player he has ever coached and put him at the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation. He thought hard to come up with a player who was more versatile and eventually settled on Jim Thorpe.
That’s high praise, and after Saturday, it’s warranted. Peppers’ called-back return saw him make an incredible sequence of moves to dodge defenders, and on a 63-yard run in the first quarter, he was about as elusive as can be.
Whether Peppers compiles the offensive stats to be a Heisman finalist remains to be seen. But with the success he’s had, it could be hard for Michigan not to give him the ball.
2. Michigan’s O-line can’t afford any more injuries.
When sophomore left tackle Grant Newsome was lost for the season last week with a catastrophic knee injury, the Wolverines lost their margin for error.
Juwann Bushell-Beatty started in Newsome’s place against the Scarlet Knights, and he seems to be the No. 1 option going forward. But for a brief period of time Saturday, it looked like he might have been hurt, too. Early in the game, Bushell-Beatty went down, limped off the field and had to come out of the game.
Junior Mason Cole shifted to left tackle from center, and redshirt junior Patrick Kugler took Cole’s place. This is not to say that a line starting Kugler at center couldn’t be successful. He was a highly touted recruit, and Michigan clearly feels comfortable enough with him playing to send him in Cole’s place.
But on the offensive line, chemistry is everything, and the Wolverines just don’t have time to keep tinkering with new combinations.
3. Khalid Hill can’t be stopped.
Jim Harbaugh might be the country’s foremost fullback user, and the man who appears to have won his loyalty on the goal line is doing nothing to lose it.
Through six games, redshirt junior Khalid Hill leads the Wolverines with seven rushing touchdowns, and he has done so on just 13 carries. Hill is averaging 1.62 yards per carry, but Michigan almost exclusively gives him the ball when he only needs to gain one.
Saturday, the Wolverines even found a way to get Hill the ball through the air. A former tight end, Hill caught his first receiving touchdown of the year on a catch-and-run from redshirt junior quarterback John O’Korn.
4. Kenny Allen is still the kicker.
This one might be a little misleading, because Michigan didn’t actually attempt any field goals. Allen and sophomore Ryan Tice split the extra point duties, with Allen taking seven and Tice taking one, and freshman Quinn Nordin did not see the field.
But after the game, Harbaugh said that Allen would have gotten the nod had Michigan needed a kicker.
All told, that’s probably a good thing for the Wolverines. Harbaugh indicated they had isolated rushed kicks as a problem for Allen. The difference between how fast Allen was kicking and how fast they want him to kick amounts to mere tenths of a second, but apparently he showed enough to hold his job taking field goals.
Now, he’ll have to start making them.
5. Bold prediction: Jehu Chesson will get hot in the coming weeks.
Chesson caught his first touchdown pass of the season Saturday, when Speight led him with a beautiful ball for a diving touchdown. It was a much-needed breakthrough for Chesson, who after a blazing finish to last season, hadn’t been able to find the end zone in 2016.
He has made a smattering of plays, but over the first half of the season, he has been held largely in check. Now that he’s found the end zone, though, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Michigan look to get him into a rhythm. Chesson’s production down the stretch was crucial last season, especially in a chaotic game against Indiana.
If the Wolverines can get him going again, it could pay big dividends as the schedule continues to open up.