11/10/2018 – Michigan 42, Rutgers 7 – 9-1, 7-0 Big Ten
Confronted with every option for intrigue Michigan vs Rutgers could provide, BTN went with "who is Michigan's backup quarterback now?" The pre-game studio show teased it. The announce team mentioned it in the first quarter. There were multiple sideline shots of Joe Milton warming up next to Brandon Peters warming up. When the moment came, Peters entered, handed off to Chris Evans for a long touchdown, and was immediately replaced by Milton.
The prospect that Harbaugh was trolling BTN's angle crossed my mind. He almost certainly wasn't, but, it's not like he had anything else to do. In the aftermath of the game he praised Rutgers for not giving up ten yards a play and called Chris Ash "Rob Ash."
Rutgers. Whatever. Good… bad… Rob Ash is not the guy with the gun.
There is one bit of meaning that you might chisel out of the grim slab of a game against Rutgers. Michigan explicitly instructed Shea Patterson not to pull the ball, resulting in a fair number of runs wiped out near the line of scrimmage and a steady stream of third and mediums. Then they dialed up a bunch of high degree-of-difficulty throws.
Patterson nailed almost every one of them. He was flushed from the pocket away from his throwing arm; he calmly checked three options and hit Donovan Peoples-Jones on the third. DPJ hauled in a chunk fade on the sideline on another rollout left by the right-handed Patterson. Nico Collins got an inch-perfect back-shoulder fade for his second touchdown. Zach Gentry was permitted to explore the upper edges of the #buttzone on a seam. Oliver Martin had one TD doink off his facemask before scoring one on a two-man-route, max-protection throw from the Rutgers 16; Patterson slalomed through several defenders before finding literally the only option on the field just before it exited said field.
It felt like Michigan was calling the grossest stuff in their playbook just to see what would happen. Who puts two guys in a pattern from the 16? Who calls a short-side rollout to the left for a right-handed quarterback? Given Harbaugh's history, a man trying to make a point. The fourth quarter of Michigan's Citrus Bowl demolition of Florida a few years back featured Jake Rudock making a bunch of throws designed to end up on his NFL reel. That too was the grossest stuff in the playbook.
The 2018 edition of this wasn't aimed at the NFL, but rather Patterson himself. Patterson was asked to sit in the pocket and find guys. He was asked to take a bunch of deep shots despite a difficult wind situation. Harbaugh:
"That was a really tough night to throw the ball. It reminded me of my days back at Soldier field some of those windy conditions. But he made some throws that were just unbelievable. Put in the right spot with the wind blowing and swirling.”
Some of those deep shots got pushed off course; a couple of back-shoulder attempts didn't quite come off. As the rest of Patterson's passes zinged home against a not-terrible secondary the ceiling on Michigan's offense might have come off. The faint outline of a Rudockening is now there, waiting to be confirmed or dis-confirmed in two weeks. Also against Indiana. But in two weeks.
A version of Patterson who's taking shots to his giant leapy crew of wideouts, a version that's sticking in the pocket long enough for Michigan's routes to complete, a version that's got the whole suite of throws down: that is the guy who might propel Michigan past Ohio State and into the playoff. The hesitant version of Patterson that's slightly frustrated during Michigan's revenge tour is less likely to do these things.
Harbaugh spent this game daring his quarterback to evolve. So far so good.
Known Friends and Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Shea Patterson. See above. 18/27 for 260 yards and three TDs. Zero rushes. One more week to stay healthy.
#2 Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ nosed ahead of his compatriots with a tough catch down the sideline on the aforementioned Patterson rollout away from his throwing arm and a slant on which he was able to rumble for an extra ten yards despite four different Rutgers players hanging off of him.
#3(t) Nico Collins and Zach Gentry. Tough catches for each to convert first downs and, in Collins's case, score. One point each because the points are made up and don't matter.
Honorable mention: More or less the whole defense, which had Rutgers in turtle mode the whole day. Nobody really stood out as Michigan spread out the reps and TFLs.
10: Chase Winovich (#1 ND, #3 SMU, #1 NW, T2 MSU, T1 PSU).
8: Shea Patterson (#3 WMU, #1 Maryland, #3 PSU, #1 Rutgers).
5: Karan Higdon (#1 WMU, #3 Nebraska, #3 Wisconsin), Donovan Peoples-Jones(T1 SMU, #3 MSU, #2 Rutgers).
4: Devin Bush(#3 ND, #1 Nebraska), Rashan Gary(#2 WMU, #2 Nebraska), David Long(#2 Wisconsin, T1 Michigan State), Josh Uche (T2 NW, T2 MSU, T1 PSU), Jon Runyan Jr (T1 Wisconsin, T2 PSU), Zach Gentry(T1 SMU, #2 Maryland, T3 Rutgers).
3: Juwann Bushell-Beatty(T1 Wisconsin), Jon Runyan Jr(T1 Wisconsin).
2: Ambry Thomas (#2 ND), Josh Metellus(#2 SMU), Brandon Watson(T1 MSU), Lavert Hill(T1 MSU).
1: Will Hart (#3 NW), Mike Dwumfour (T2 NW), Kwity Paye (T2 NW), Khaleke Hudson(#3 Maryland), Ben Bredeson(T2 PSU), Nico Collins(T3 Rutgers).
Who's Got It Better Than Us(?) Of The Week
Harbaugh's post-game press conference in which he noted that all of Michigan's injuries were minor.
Honorable mention: Eh, most of the rest of the game.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
An 80 yard touchdown run from a guy whose name is misspelled allows Rutgers to close the first quarter 7-7.
Honorable mention: Karan Higdon cuts away from a first down on fourth and short; Ben Mason loses his mind on a short yardage run shortly after; various other Rutgers first downs.
[After THE JUMP: what happened on the 80-yarder]
Patterson, detailed. Via PFF:
Shea Patterson, Michigan
Week 11 Grade: 94.2
Now the 14th-highest graded quarterback in the country, Patterson put forth the highest-graded game of his career against Rutgers, in a proverbial ‘tune-up game’ before their much-anticipated matchup with Ohio State in two weeks. Michigan hosts Indiana next week before squaring off with OSU but if Patterson can find any sort of success like he did against Rutgers, the Wolverines will be sitting pretty at 10-1 heading into Columbus.
INSANE CUTS. Michigan's first drive ended in a turnover on downs when Karan Higdon cut to the backside of a play and got slashed down by a cornerback. This wasn't 100% crazy, as Jon Runyan Jr was getting shoved back in a way that must have been alarming, but there was 1) still a gap to the frontside and 2) nobody trying to fill it. It looks so much worse from the endzone cam:
Higdon had a later TFL that probably should have been a modest gain if he'd cut inside a force player. Instead he tested that guy, and it went poorly.
A bonus WTF item: Ben Mason being momentarily possessed by the spirit of Mike Shaw and trying to bounce a third and one carry that had already picked up three yards. Afterwards the veins on Harbaugh's forehead veritably throbbed. One dollar says that never happens again.
Tru Wilson's got glasses. Wilson got the next few carries after the failed fourth down attempt and did well with them. It wasn't exactly hard to do well with them, admittedly, but in the midst of Higdon making a couple of questionable cuts Wilson reinforced this site's earlier take on him:
He feels like the an instinctive runner as well. This three yard run features an unusual pattern because of another blocking dorf. Wilson ends up cutting outside of his fullback, whereupon he immediately goes north/south right off Mason's butt:
That is the maximally efficient path and not something Wilson has specifically repped.
He grinds out YAC like a larger back and pass protects like a cut-blocking demon so he's likely to get a bunch of time next year in what looks like a platoon situation. I'm sure everyone's hoping Zach Charbonnet comes in with his hair on fire but if Wilson is Michigan's floor at running back next year they'll weather Higdon's departure just fine.
Peoples-Jones assessed. It's taken a while to get a grasp on whether Donovan Peoples-Jones is going to live up to his five-star billing. His freshman season was a frustrating incomplete as balls sailed way over his head. His sophomore year has been a steady drip of encouraging information delivered at a Chinese water torture rate. Even after Saturday's relative passing explosion, DPJ is just 16th in the conference in receiving yards, behind two Iowa tight ends and three guys each from Purdue and Ohio State.
But! Yeah, he's really good. He does not have a routine drop this year by my reckoning. He's able to break off routes underneath and get open on slants and the like. He's obviously able to take the top off the defense. And he's a natural receiver with excellent body control and the ability to judge the ball in the air. There are more refinements to be had but one dollar he ends up Michigan's best receiver since Braylon Edwards.
Gentry. Eh? The spectacular seam catch above from Gentry was a reminder that Michigan does have an ent in the lineup and brings up a feeling similar to the one that prompted the DPJ section above. Gentry would have a lot more catches on a team that wasn't relying on a dominant defense and trying to get its QB to the Ohio State game healthy for the first time since dickety-six.
Early in the year a couple of routine drops seemed like a flaw. He doesn't have a drop since. His blocking has been erratic but not horrible.
Hello, Oliver. Also in WRs: Oliver Martin suddenly got a bunch of run in the gameplan, and looked a lot like Oliver Martin should look. His touchdown was a fingertip catch along the sideline that he managed after falling over. The doink off the facemask was unfortunate, but he had a couple other catches and an end-around. During all of these events he seemed like the polished, athletic gent he was reputed to be coming out of high school.
Evans in space. Chris Evans got a couple opportunities to Chris Evans people. He was the target of a flash screen and was able to tiptoe down the sideline for a first down when it seemed certain he'd get knocked out after a few yards. Later they split him out from an empty set and took advantage of some cover 3 from Rutgers to get an easy six yard hitch that turned into a 15 yard play because Evans is an excellent YAC guy.
His name is Bell, so we're contractually obligated. Ronnie "Calvin" Bell isn't quite the designated reverse guy that Calvin was back in the day but he's close. It wasn't his fault that Cesar Ruiz couldn't get an open-field block on his second attempt of the day, but I kind of feel like Evans should be getting those attempts. Bell hasn't shown the kind of open-field electricity that Evans has, and since Evans is a credible receiver it's not much of a tip.
Horror! Man, are my expectations out of whack when I'm throwing up my hands in the third quarter of a game that'll end up 42-7 because the Cable Subscribers are able to scratch out a first down. Rutgers avoided a passing rutger only by throwing to their quarterback.
The rushing breakdowns were about 90% missed assignments. This was a bit like Brown's first couple defenses, which tended to give up one or two big plays a game and little else. Part of that was Metellus sitting out; part of it was just one of those things. I don't think it should move anyone's opinion of the defense as a whole.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 10, 2018
80-yard postmortem. Four different guys bore some responsibility for the Rutgers touchdown. Chase Winovich and Tyree Kinnel both booked for the end-around fake. Devin Gil overpursued the play to the frontside. And Brad Hawkins was not able to shut it down after it broke through.
I think Winovich and Gil are the guys with the biggest oofs. Kinnel and Hawkins swapped duties on the WR's motion and Michigan has consistently used that swap to address jet/end-around action. Kinnel hauling to the sideline was expected. So: Winovich shouldn't have been that far upfield and at worst should have been able to slow the back down so that folks could rally. Gil meanwhile was booking hard to the frontside of a play where he wasn't needed; he failed to anticipate the cutback run that these jet/orbit motions often try to get, and got washed down the line by a blocker.
The two safeties got split and could not recover but they were put in a bad situation because a back was allowed to run directly upfield untouched. You'd still expect Hawkins to be able to chase down Isaih Pacheco before the endzone. Alas.
Kinnel seemed the least responsible to me because he's executing his assignment to go wreck the end-around so everyone else can do their jobs, but he recognized the handoff a lot later than Winovich and I kind of wanted him to be able to come off the WR earlier and maybe bend the back to where Hawkins could make a tackle.
Other chunk postmortems. Michigan endured the indignity of a crack sweep on Rutgers's first drive; that one was in large part Hawkins entirely failing to crack replace; Gil also got blasted out of the play. That one didn't look good by alignment.
The third long run was a wildcat snap that turned into an arc keeper; this one looked like Gil's issue all the way as Winovich fires down to the inside, which is fine, and Gil ends up running at an OL and getting buried. Just look at what Bush is doing next to him:
If Gil just does the same thing instead of replacing Winovich as his action implies this gets cut down after 8 yards. Instead big play.
All three of these big runs involve Gil not looking so hot.
Ross, on the other hand… Josh Ross obliterated a dude on a short throw and was not implicated in any long yardage plays. I don't know if this is a Bolden-Gedeon situation where one guy looks pretty good in practice despite being a much worse football player in actual games, but even the snap counts that favor Ross 2 to 1 in most games imply that Michigan's coaching staff is thinking along the same lines.
Indiana, whatever, but if we could please get full-time Ross against Ohio State that's what the season has demanded and what Ross deserves.
You're killing our sack rate, Larry. Rutgers tried a screen on second and eleven on their first drive that seemed open for a first down but was dropped. Zero other Rutgers screens were going anywhere even if caught, but that did not deter them from throwing 'em on seemingly every other passing down.
Rutger. Let's talk. Michigan had a passing down sack rate approximately 33% better than any team in the nation. You singlehandedly dragged that down from 19.6% to 17.7% with your "not in the face" playcalling. I understand why you don't want to get your freshman quarterback roasted on a spit. But please think of the bloggers dreading the new S&P+ team pages. You are bad and should feel bad and should mostly run incredibly long-developing routes from empty sets. Thank you.
As a result: expect a dull UFR. An opponent in a game-long turtle mode is going to generate very little in the way of UFR whiz-bang. Also points. But when Josh Uche's main contribution is not doing a good job on a third and eleven run that converted, well, things are going to get weird. Opponents not really trying to win—or possibly trying to win and knowing that every downfield throw has a 33% chance to be intercepted—make for mostly pointless analysis. At least the offense will have a bunch of middling runs and Patterson throws to check. Aside from the gotchas discussed above, Rutger's strategy was "not in the face."
This got them more yards than MSU and might have been correct.
Kickoff popups. Michigan gave up two big kickoff returns that got called back for holds, both of them seemingly relevant. Was the wind that stiff that Moody couldn't get it past the 15? Either Michigan was running a crazy experiment that failed or Patterson's day is even more impressive in that context.
How was that not blocked? Khaleke Hudson somehow failed to add to his blocked punt nosecone despite getting in the punter's cookies; dude was able to direct the punt away from Hudson and get the world's most fortunate roll. IIRC Hudson had a boggling missed block attempt last year where he contrived to overrun the punter(?); if he managed to tip both of these he'd probably be Michigan's all-time leading punt blockist.
Hinton picture of the whenever I find one. If Michigan had somehow conspired to lose this game on that Martin drop, this would have shown up in my twitter feed thanks to @MattRHinton:
Thankfully, this is not our reality.
Quarterbacks get hit. Devin Bush's personal foul for roughing the quarterback stands up as one of the more ridiculous ones in recent history, on par with Mo Hurst's last year against Purdue. Both were (probably? apparently?) based on one ambiguous line in the NCAA rulebook:
Forcibly driving the passer to the ground and landing on him with action that punishes the player.
This is the only possible explanation for a flag on a shoulder hit about one frame after the ball is gone. It's similar to the awful NFL rule that Clay Matthews keeps getting called for, but far more ambiguous in the NCAA.
I'm mostly for the targeting rule, which has been more predictable this year and might be maturing into a real sustainable thing. The NCAA and NFL's attempts to legislate every single hit a quarterback takes are not sustainable. When quarterbacks get tackled, defenders land on them. There is no rule you can make that will change that. Because physics. Repeal this rule.
Injuries. A brief survey:
- Rashan Gary played deep into the game and then displayed his range of motion afterwards. He's fully healthy.
- Josh Metellus travelled—he was the guy in the big jacket celebrating with Ambry Thomas after his interception. Harbaugh called his issue a "soft-tissue deal" and said he could have played in an emergency. He will likely be fine for next week.
- Lavert Hill was being evaluated for a concussion. Isaiah Hole points out that Hill missed the Wisconsin game last year with a concussion.
- Aubrey Solomon was "sick," per Harbaugh and should be fine.
- Kwity Paye had an arm issue that looked relatively benign. Harbaugh just characterized his injury as getting "hit on the funny bone." He's fine.
This game did not quite adhere to the NO INJURIES directive but whatever dings Michigan suffered won't impact the OSU game. Hill might not play next week.
Fourth down aggressiveness. All of it was good and appropriate. The punt right before the half was probably wrong on an expected value basis, but on a "let's get out of here and not get hurt" basis whatevs. Don't ask me about this stuff against Rutgers. I know nobody actually asked me.
CANNON TIME. Patrick took far too many photos of these guys and also not enough:
This is the only thing I unironically enjoy about Rutgers.
I’ve heard people say that the best way to find a good place to eat on vacation is to strike up a conversation with a local. Judging by the above photo, the locals know their Rutgers football. Rutgers put their best into this game for a certain definition of “best,” even digging a trick play out of the back of the book and deploying it late in the third quarter for a 19-yard gain on a QB-RB-QB connection. Had they scored, Rutgers would have pulled within 14. On the next play, they tried to give Michigan’s defense whiplash with a Wildcat look; Raheem Blackshear’s handoff went off the side of Isaih Pacheco, Michigan recovered the fumble, and the game was essentially over.
I’m from New York. I’ve had zero casual conversations about Rutgers in my life that didn’t center on how pathetic the Scarlet Knights are — and most of those have been with Michigan media or fans.
We’ll let, “their team is really improved and competitive,” slide on two grounds. The first is, it’s a low bar. The second is that last time Michigan was in Piscataway, it won 78-0. Technically, there’s some fact here. Same for the bit about the Scarlet Knights’ running backs — Isaih Pacheco broke an 80-yard run for Rutgers’ only real bright spot all game.
Then there’s this: “Quarterback (Artur Sitkowski) looked good, too. He made some real plays. That was a competitive game.”
Breakdown of this year's UFRs vs last years:
OL pass pro minuses have nearly been cut in half: OL pass pro minuses have fallen from 93 to 47, and the entire offensive line has just 6 more pass pro minuses than just the right tackle spot last year. A lot of the 2017 right tackle minuses were attributed to Ulizio, but Bushell-Beatty also got regularly worked after taking over for Ulizio halfway through the MSU game. The interior OL has also cut down on pass pro minuses by about 40%, mostly due to improvement at the RG spot; Onwenu has been fantastic at pass protection this year and has just 3 minuses through 9 games.
There was no way that anyone could have been happy with this game, save something in the realm of a return of the 78-0 defenestration, so a 35 point victory without a shutout, something that Michigan fans would have clamored for in their dreams just a season ago, will engender complaints, even if briefly. In the final analysis, Michigan won by five touchdowns and after Chase Winovich's fumble recovery, the math was sufficiently convincing in Michigan's favor that even the AP Elections Bureau had called the game in the Wolverines favor, despite there being 17 minutes of football remaining to be played.
"He looked really as good as he's ever looked tonight, in the pocket," Harbaugh said. "Not panicking. Moving subtly to get to the quiet spot. There's drills, for sure, and things that you coach. You do the same drills with some guys and they don't ever get it.
"He's gifted. He's really gifted in that area."
Afterward, Patterson deflected all praise for his performance to the players around him. The running backs who carried the load on the ground, his receivers who caught his passes and the offensive line that protected for him. He was not sacked in the game.
DEFENSIVE CHAMPION – Rutgers had zero yards passing at halftime. They ended the game with 59 yards passing – and Michigan did not register a sack. I don’t think Chase Winovich had a tackle. Not cool. I also didn’t like to see LaVert Hill & Kwity Paye leave the game early. What I did like was the emphatic, bone-jarring hit James Ross III put on a Scarlet Knight receiver! To quote their coach, “You gotta make them FEEL YOU!!” He did! Helmet sticker for #12.