Jake Rudock was expected to play, but he wasn’t expected to play like that.
The fifth-year senior quarterback sustained a rib injury a week ago against Minnesota, a hit that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh likened to a car accident. The Wolverines’ coaching staff was optimistic he would be able to play against Rutgers on Saturday, and did he ever.
Even though he wasn’t at 100-percent health, Rudock played his best game of the season against the Scarlet Knights, racking up a career-high 337 passing yards and scoring three total touchdowns in Michigan’s 49-16 win.
“He was just on fire,” Harbaugh said. “He had a great game, making all the appropriate throws, all the right reads.”
Ironically, Rudock started the game on a miscue. Michigan’s first play from scrimmage was a toss to redshirt junior running back Drake Johnson, but Johnson couldn’t collect the toss, and Rutgers fell on the ball, thinking it had recovered a fumble.
But the officiating crew reviewed the play and determined the toss had actually been a forward pass, and thus an incompletion.
So Rudock started the game 0-for-1. It was one of the few mistakes he made all day.
After leading the Wolverines deep into Rutgers territory on the first drive, only to come away with a missed field goal, Rudock found paydirt on the next drive. A play-action fake to redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers left senior fullback Sione Houma open down the sideline. Rudock hit his streaking fullback, then found redshirt junior receiver Jehu Chesson in the end zone two plays later.
But his most impressive play of the night came on the Wolverines’ next drive. On 3rd-and-goal from the four-yard line, Rudock didn’t have any of his receivers open. Forced out of the pocket, Rudock turned up field and put his body on the line as he dove into the pylon for a touchdown.
“That’s a courage play, too,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, I’ve been in that situation. When he makes that turn up the boundary, you know they’re coming. Everybody’s coming, and they’re coming for that spot at the pylon, the one-yard line and the pylon, to keep you out of there.
“He knew that, I guarantee you he knew it, and he stuck his nose in there and gave no quota whatsoever on the entire play.”
Toughness and courage were the themes of the day for Rudock, who finally exited the game with 11 minutes remaining and his team up by 33.
“Jake’s a very tough guy,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, he’s tough as a two-dollar steak, and he continues to show that.”
Rudock’s career-best 337 yards came on just 25 attempts, less than half as many (52) as he needed for his previous career high of 322 yards when he was at Iowa.
He spread his 18 completions around to 10 different players, continuing a trend he has displayed all season. And while he didn’t have to throw any deep passes, he still had plenty of completions go for big yardage, a facet in which he’s not known for excelling.
Houma’s catch down the sideline went for 32 yards. Junior running back De’Veon Smith caught a delayed screen and took it 31 yards, and junior tight end Jake Butt gained 56 yards on a pass over the middle. It was Rudock’s longest completion of the season, fitting for his most impressive game.
“I think that you get those games,” Rudock said. “If you can see the ball get completed, and then completed, and then if you’re seeing the ball well, that’s a big thing.”
All things considered, Rudock’s big day did come against one of the nation’s worst pass defenses, exploiting a secondary that has given up nearly 300 yards per game this season.
But in a game he wasn’t a lock even to start, the fact that Rudock stood tall says a lot about the quarterback.
“Toughness is respected by everyone who plays this game and watches it,” Harbaugh said. “And he’s got it.”