After a rough start, Michigan pulled away from Rutgers in the second half to improve to 4-0 on the season. The vaunted Wolverine defense allowed a 69-yard passing touchdown on the opening drive of the game. It was the first points Jesse Minter’s defense has allowed in the first quarter all season.
Michigan rebounded, though, as a creative offensive drive from Sherrone Moore and a late first-half touchdown pass from J.J. McCarthy to Semaj Morgan put the Wolverines on top heading into halftime, and the lead only grew in the second half.
Here are three takeaways from the Big Ten opener.
Rusty secondary play puts Michigan in an early hole
Heading into Saturday’s matchup, Michigan had yet to trail or be tied against any opponent in the 2023 season. That changed against Rutgers, though, as the Scarlet Knights found the end zone within a minute of the game’s inception.
Gavin Wimsatt connected with Christian Dremel for a 69-yard touchdown on Rutgers’ third play from scrimmage to put the Wolverines in a 7-0 hole. It was the longest play allowed by the Michigan defense all season.
It wasn’t the superiority or excellence of the Rutgers offense on that particular play, but rather poor execution from Rod Moore.
Moore was on the field for the first time all season, but perhaps his lack of game experience cost Michigan a quick three-and-out.
The following drive, Moore wasn’t on the field, and Quinten Johnson came in to replace the junior.
Luckily, the missed tackle by Moore didn’t prove to be too costly in the end, but it certainly wasn’t the way Michigan had hoped to start the game.
Jesse Minter’s group rebounds nicely
After falling behind 7-0 early, Jesse Minter’s highly touted defense didn’t sulk or let mistakes compound; instead they proceeded to shut down Wimsatt and the Rutgers offense.
Of the ensuing six Rutgers drives following the opening touchdown, Michigan held the Scarlet Knights to fewer than 10 yards on four of them.
Rutgers put together only two drives longer than three minutes on the day as Minter’s defense proved once again why it’s one of the best groups in the nation.
With Rutgers approaching the red zone and facing a 4th and 2 late in the third quarter, fifth-year senior defensive back Mike Sainristil perfectly read a screen play, jumped the route and returned it for a 71-yard touchdown.
It was Sainristil’s second interception of the season, and it put Rutgers in a tough 24-7 hole.
Michigan still has yet to allow more than seven points in a game so far this season, and with Nebraska coming up next weekend, that mark may be extended at least one more week.
9 and 2 continue to lead a surging, methodical offense
As Blake Corum and J.J. McCarthy have alluded to multiple times throughout the offseason and early on this season, it’s going to be tough for opposing defenses to stop both the rushing game and the passing attack.
Corum has welcomed a stacked box from opposing teams, because he has full trust in McCarthy to beat teams over the top.
Conversely, McCarthy has referred to Michigan’s offense as a “smash fest” offense, and has no issue with handing the ball to No. 2.
In the non-conference, defenses opted to stack the box and stop Michigan’s rushing attack, which opened up the passing game for McCarthy and Roman Wilson.
On Saturday, though, Rutgers failed to successfully stop either.
Michigan rushed for 201 yards, and McCarthy threw for 214 as the Wolverines’ offense carved up a solid Scarlet Knight defense.
Harbaugh’s team isn’t running up the score on any of its competitors, but it’s getting the job done with a methodical approach.
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