PISCATAWAY — Michigan and Rutgers have played college football for a combined 280 years. Until Saturday, the two programs had never met.
And to continue what has been one of the Wolverines’ worst seasons ever, the Scarlet Knights etched Michigan into their history books at High Point Solutions Stadium, notching a 26-24 win. The game, played in front of the third-largest crowd in stadium history, marked Rutgers’ first-ever Big Ten victory.
After Michigan receiver Amara Darboh dropped a would-be first-down catch with 3:07 remaining, senior kicker Matt Wile’s 56-yard attempt was blocked. The Scarlet Knights ran out the clock to seal the result.
“I was out earlier with Matt and he was kicking 57, 59 all over,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “Felt good, with the wind he had, that he could make the field goal.”
Darboh appeared to catch the ball, but it fell from his hands as he reached over the first-down marker. The play was confirmed after Hoke challenged it, and the Wolverines (0-2 Big Ten, 2-4 overall) dropped to 0-4 against Power 5 opponents this year.
Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova entered the contest averaging 241 passing yards, and he surpassed that number in the first half alone. He finished 22 of 39 for 404 yards and three touchdowns.
“He throws the ball well,” Hoke said. “We knew that going in.”
Meanwhile, fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner threw a crucial interception late in the third quarter, missing his receiver after a pump-fake. The Rutgers offense began the drive at its own 41 and marched down the field in 10 plays. Then, Nova connected with receiver Andrew Turzilli to take a 26-17 lead with 13:12 remaining in the game.
The Wolverines’ secondary looked susceptible in the first half, too. Nova advanced his team 75 yards in 1:21 to give Rutgers (1-1, 5-1) a 19-17 lead over the Wolverines with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter. On the last play of the drive, Nova escaped defensive end Frank Clark to toss a touchdown.
And earlier in the second quarter, Nova threw an 80-yard bomb to Turzilli that gave the Scarlet Knights a 12-10 lead. That score held when the Wolverines blocked the extra point.
Until Gardner’s interception in the third quarter, the Michigan quarterback looked solid, mixing accurate passes with productive scrambles. Gardner, who was benched last week for sophomore Shane Morris, led two touchdown drives in the first half. That marked the first time this year the Wolverines reached the end zone twice in the same half against a Power 5 team.
“It didn’t surprise me at all that (Gardner) went out there and, I thought, played a pretty good football game,” Hoke said.
After a failed fake punt gifted Michigan the ball in Scarlet Knights territory in the second quarter, Gardner orchestrated a six-play, 43-yard drive to give the Wolverines a brief 17-12 lead. Sophomore running back De’Veon Smith punched the ball in from a yard out for the score.
Michigan’s other touchdown drive of the half ended on Gardner’s four-yard bootleg with 14:10 remaining in the first half. The fifth-year senior beat everyone to the edge on the play to give the Wolverines a 10-6 lead. That capped a 75-yard drive that included long completions to junior wide receiver Devin Funchess and sophomore tight end Jake Butt.
But in the third and fourth quarters, the Wolverines struggled to move the ball. They gained just 121 yards and scored only once after halftime, reaching the end zone on a 19-yard rollout by Gardner that cut the deficit to 26-24 with 9:17 to go.
“We haven’t played a full game,” Hoke said. “I thought today we responded better, and I thought we played better in the second half.”
Michigan stopped Rutgers and got the ball back with 6:34 remaining in the game, but Darboh’s drop led to Wile’s missed field goal.
Then fireworks exploded, confetti fell, and students rushed the field and tore down the goalposts to celebrate the Scarlet Knights’ first win in their new conference.