Harbaugh and Homecoming, a homecoming for Harbaugh and the No. 2 Michigan football team’s first Big Ten matchup of the season against Rutgers — this Saturday should be a telling matchup for both units.
As the Wolverines recover from a mistake-riddled victory over Bowling Green, the Scarlet Knights skid into Ann Arbor on a 3-0 hot streak, sporting two wins over Power Five teams. The mentality matchup couldn’t be more different. After a three-interception game by junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy and a slew of sloppy issues by Michigan this past Saturday, Rutgers’ 35-16 dismantling of Virginia Tech looks all the more impressive.
While the Wolverines lead the historical matchup 8-1 all time against the Scarlet Knights, punctuated by a 78-0 win in 2016, make no mistake — this year’s Rutgers team is no slouch. The Scarlet Knights have never won in Ann Arbor, but coach Greg Schiano has the most experienced and successful group of his tenure at his disposal.
So as Rutgers thunders into its first road game of the season and Michigan completes its four-game homestand, The Daily outlines what to watch for this Saturday:
He’s back — and apparently more excited than ever.
After a three week long, self-imposed suspension by Michigan Athletics, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh will return to the sidelines after four separate acting head coaches stood in his place. In his absence, the coaches compiled a 3-0 record against less competitive schools, while Harbaugh “went to a place (he’s) never been.” Now, Harbaugh comes home on Homecoming weekend, with much work to do.
A shake-up — or more accurately, a return to true form — is just what the doctor ordered for the Wolverines. Struggling with a subpar run game thus far, coupled with recent mistakes by McCarthy, has left Michigan with its hands full.
“There’s so much to do,” Harbaugh said Monday. “And it’s real positive. You watch the game, and so many feelings of just ‘Hey, just win. Just win the game.’ ”
The Wolverines did just that, summiting all three non-Power Five opponents, yet, questions still linger. Michigan hardly exhibited dominance in any of the contests and on the eve of competing in Big Ten play, the best version of the Wolverines has to come soon.
“Watching it from the perspective I have, maybe there’s been too much put on the players,” Harbaugh said. “They got to win by 40 points, or 30 points, or 25 points. That’s a lot. … The goal is to win the game.”
Now, with Harbaugh on the sidelines, he’ll have the ability to make his presence felt when it counts the most. The ‘Free Harbaugh’ shirts can be shelved, and it’s time for Michigan to learn from its mistakes, because Jim class is back in session.
Who is Michigan?
Seriously though, what happened? Where did the Wolverines go?
As it stands thus far, Michigan looks nothing like it did over the past two years. Built on a stout ‘no-star defense’ and a bullish running game, the Wolverines won consecutive Big Ten Championships — and did it their way.
Now, things aren’t so simple. The once-lauded running game has looked like a hollow version of its former self. While senior running back Blake Corum has maintained his efficiency, his ability to burst explosive plays out of the backfield has flashed in and out as he returns from injury. Meanwhile, junior running back Donovan Edwards has struggled mightily, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, with his longest run reaching just 14 yards.
Corum though, doesn’t see it that way.
“No concern — go look at the stats,” Corum said postgame against Bowling Green. “We probably had the same stats as last year. First three games last year, I never rushed for a hundred yards. No concern, man. Calm, cool and collected.”
Be that as it may, that lack of success has directly fallen on McCarthy’s shoulders, as he has thrown for 701 yards across the first three games of the season. It’s a position that has brought him much praise, but much anguish as well. Through two games, McCarthy looked Heisman-esque. After the Falcons, though, not so much.
Against a more formidable Big Ten defense Saturday, Michigan’s offense will arrive with ample baggage.
Rutgers’ Big Ten persona:
Judging from afar, the Scarlet Knights don’t look all that dissimilar from the Wolverines.
A defense-oriented, run-heavy team, Rutgers looks to utilize the same style that has brought Michigan recent success. Trotting out its “Dark-Side Defense” the similarities between the two are almost uncanny.
With a sixth-ranked scoring offense in the conference powered by the legs of running back Kyle Monangai and quarterback Gavin Wimsatt, the Scarlet Knights average over 30 points per game. Slow and steady, look for them to control the pace and exhaust the defense on the back of clock management.
On the other side of the ball, Rutgers boasts the No. 3 scoring defense in the Big Ten behind a suffocating front seven. Eight separate Scarlet Knights have recorded a sack, and they have let up just 10 points a game.
Rutgers rolls into Ann Arbor as a 21-point underdog still, but judging by past history and present heat, the game may play out closer than anticipated for a Michigan team that has captured eight straight contests against the Scarlet Knights.