Very little went as expected for the Michigan football team Saturday. The 14th-ranked Wolverines won, beating Indiana 48-41 in double-overtime, but the game played out in dissimilar fashion than most have this season.
The defense, previously the best in the country, gave up a season-high 41 points, while fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock set a school record with six touchdown passes to go along with 504 total yards of offense.
Though Michigan won as expected, there were plenty of lessons learned about the Wolverines. The Daily breaks down five things we learned from Saturday.
1. Ryan Glasgow’s absence is a big loss — literally and figuratively.
By the time redshirt junior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow left midway through Michigan’s 49-16 win over Rutgers a weekend ago, the Scarlet Knights were too far behind to capitalize.
But with a week to prepare, the Hoosiers saw the hole the 6-foot-7, 297-pound lineman’s absence created. Indiana rushed for 307 yards Saturday — more than doubling the previous high of 144 yards allowed by Michigan’s defense.
Running back Jordan Howard ran for 248 yards and two touchdowns. The previous best individual rushing output against the Wolverines was just 81 yards.
Things grew worse after the game, however, when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh announced that Glasgow would likely be out for the season with a pectoral injury.
Players and coaches reiterated all week that the rotation-heavy defensive front was deep enough to survive, but the results in the game showed otherwise.
“It looked like we were playing like we were undermanned. We were tired,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just going to have to suck it up. … There’s nothing in football you hate to see more than when a team goes on a long drive and only runs the football. That was all they did.”
2. Jake Rudock can carry the Wolverines.
Things looked much brighter on the other side of the ball, as Rudock had a career day. The 504 yards of offense and six touchdowns will stay in the record books, but it was his leadership that allowed him to lead the Wolverines on a last-minute drive to tie the game with two seconds left, which means more in the present.
“He is unflappable,” Harbaugh said. “He just does not flinch, does not matter what the situation is. He talks, he gives feedback, he’s exactly the same all the time. He’s got ice water in his veins.”
Aside from a few setbacks, Rudock has gotten better as the season progresses, throwing for 777 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two weeks. Because Rudock was unable to work with the Michigan coaching staff or the full team until August, there’s a chance he’s just now hitting his stride.
If that’s the case, Michigan’s upcoming matchups against Penn State (7-3) and Ohio State (10-0) seem much more manageable.
3. Facing Ohio State at 9-2 is far from inevitable.
Though the matchups can be manageable if Rudock plays otherworldly, the odds of that happening are very slim. Rutgers (119th in the nation in passing yards allowed) and Indiana (127th) have the worst pass defenses in the Big Ten by a wide margin, while Penn State (second) and Ohio State (seventh) are not only among the conference’s best, but also the nation’s.
After Michigan’s blowout win over Rutgers, many had begun to assume that the Wolverines would blow past the Hoosiers and Nittany Lions to enter the Nov. 28 matchup against the Buckeyes with a shot at the Big Ten East title.
But after showing major defensive holes and failing to receive production from its running backs (82 yards on 21 carries), it has become clear that Michigan is far from the unrelenting force many thought it was earlier in the season.
Instead, the Wolverines have become a team susceptible to upsets and underwhelming performances.
4. Michigan has recovered from its late-game woes.
For much of the past three seasons, Michigan has struggled mightily in close-yet-winnable games. Whether it was blowing late leads, comebacks that fell just short or catastrophic fumbled punts, the Wolverines have had difficulty walking away with wins when they should.
But in its last two close games, Michigan has stood tall. Against Minnesota, a goal-line stand put an end to a wild win after the team nearly blew a lead. And against Indiana, the Wolverines regained a lead they had previously blown.
Part of the change can be attributed to an older and wiser team than in past years, but much of it is simply learning how to win close games. Even in an uncharacteristically bad game for the defense and an exhausting day for the offense, Michigan was able to close it out.
“Our guys found a way to win,” Harbaugh said. “As good a win as you’ll ever have.”
5. BOLD PREDICTION: Jehu Chesson wins the team MVP.
Despite a quiet start to the season (190 yards and zero touchdowns receiving in his first seven games), the redshirt junior wide receiver has exploded on the scene, racking up 276 yards and seven touchdowns in his last three games.
More importantly, Chesson emerged Saturday as Rudock’s top target. With Michigan leaning more on the passing game in recent weeks, look for Chesson to run away with not only more touchdowns, but the title as the Wolverines’ best player.