Michigan football wakes up in third quarter, routs Rutgers after sloppy start, 52-17
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — It all happened in the blink of an eye.
Michigan football entered halftime as fireworks went off in the distance with a light show flashing as the Scarlet Knights danced their way off the field.
U-M had done a lot of things right; outgained Rutgers on the ground, 125-1, picked up more first downs, 12-4, and controlled the ball for more than 21 minutes. However, thanks in large part to special teams woes — a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and two missed field goals — the Wolverines found themselves down, 17-14, going into the break.
But just like it had done in the previous three games, outscoring opponents, 62-3, in the second half, Michigan imposed its will in the final two quarters.
The Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) forced a three-and-out, scored a touchdown, got an interception, scored another touchdown and then returned the following play for a pick-six. In 1:42 of game time, the Wolverines scored 21 points and the rout was on, pulling away with a 52-17 victory on Saturday.
"We have this," running back Blake Corum said of the message at halftime. "It's just a little bit of adversity, we know what type of team we are, what type of work we put in. Through the offseason, now these ninie games.
"Just stick to the plan and we will come out victorious."
Michigan shines with red-zone success
While it wasn't always pretty, U-M was successful in the red zone on Saturday.
One week after they settled for five field goals, the Wolverines went 7-for-7 on red zone trips, six of which ended with touchdowns.
"Good, felt great," coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. "Felt great to make that improvement...winning in some ways I'd say we hadn't before. Just makes you feel great, great team win that way.
It started on the first drive, when the Wolverines went 75 yards on 12 plays. It looked like Corum had scored on a 33-yard ankle-breaking rush on the fourth play of the drive, but an illegal formation penalty negated the highlight reel play. It then took nine more plays, including seven from inside the 14, but on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Corum pounded in the first score of the game.
Two drives later, Michigan had the ball first-and-goal from the Rutgers 7 after Corum ripped off a 43-yard run.
Again, it took all four downs (five tries in total, as Rutgers jumped offsides on third down and gave Michigan a free play). On fourth-and-goal inside the 1, McCarthy went under center and scored on a QB sneak for Michigan's second touchdown in as many red zone trips with just less than two minutes to play in the first quarter.
"I was happy to get it in and do it by any means necessary," Harbaugh said. "I felt like that was the best way to get it in, use all four downs if we had to."
They wouldn't get inside Rutgers' 20 again until the third quarter, but this time didn't need a fourth down try.
On third-and-6 from the 14, McCarthy floated a ball perfectly to the back left pylon where Donovan Edwards made a leaping grab for the touchdown. The two had connected on a 26-yard pass earlier in the drive to get into Scarlet Knights territory.
McCarthy finished 13-for-27 passing, for 151 yards and two touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown.
Michigan only needed to go 10 yards on its fourth touchdown drive of the game — set up by Michael Barrett's first interception — so McCarthy handed it to Corum on consecutive plays and he scored from 2 yards out.
Corum extended his streak to six consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards; this time he finished with 109 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
"Better, much better," he said about the red zone effort. "Coming off of last week when all we did was really kick field goals, to limit that a little bit it definitely felt good, but you know we can get better.
"There's definitely work to still be put in, but when you go 6-for-7 (on touchdowns), it definitely feels better than that previous week."
Late in the third quarter, McCarthy's second TD pass went to Cornelius Johnson on on a slant pattern from 6 yards out, capping a 28-0 third quarter for the Wolverines. The second-unit added a score of its own, when Isaiah Gash scored from 4 yards out to cap a Davis Warren-led drive which went 58 yards in nine plays.
Plenty of turnovers to go around
Michigan co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale said on Wednesday his team was putting an emphasis on forcing turnovers for this home stretch in the month of November. So far, so good.
The Wolverines forced three Saturday, all interceptions in the pivotal third quarter. The first came by Barrett. Freshman quarterback Gavin Wimsatt stared down his receiver on a curl route and didn't see Barrett, who stood in the way of the pass and grabbed the first interception of his career.
"I don't think he did (see me)," Barrett confirmed after the game. "I knew (Sean Ryan) had a good first half, had a couple balls he caught and they'd try the one-on-one back side.
"I knew I could sit underneath it and if it was a comeback (route) it was for me, and I don't think he saw me because I was looking right at him and he threw it straight to me."
Barrett's second career interception came on the next defensive play from scrimmage and was the result of pressure up front.
Eyabi Okie came off the right side, which forced Wimsatt to step up into the pocket. As he went to throw, Mike Morris hit him from behind forcing the ball off target. It then deflected off Aron Cruickshank's out-stretched arms and into Barrett's, where he returned it 31 yards for a touchdown to put the Wolverines up 11.
"They still had my sweat on it from the first time," Barrett joked about putting on the "turnover buffs," which he wore into the interview room postgame. "Felt good to put them back on."
Late in the third, Wimsatt threw a deep pass down the right sideline for Shameen Jones, which Will Johnson — who started in place of Gemon Green, who was injured in the tunnel incident last week and traveled with the team but never saw the field — grabbed and returned 29 yards into Scarlet Knights territory.
Special team concerns
Special teams was long seen as a secret strength of this team, but for the second consecutive week, the unit struggled.
On the second drive of the game, when the Wolverines went three-and-out and were forced to punt, Rutgers ran a stunt on its punt block attempt and it worked to perfection as Max Melton swatted the Brad Robbins kick, Timmy Ward picked it up and ran it in from 7 yards out to tie the game, 7-7.
Then, Jake Moody started his uncharacteristically tough game. With 4:42 to play in the first half, the Wolverines settled for a 50-yard field goal attempt, which Moody pushed wide right. It was a windy night in Piscataway, but he had it at his back and the kick had plenty of leg — enough distance where it would have been good from 60.
He had a chance at redemption on the final play of the half with almost the exact same kick from 50 yards out. He over-compensated and pulled it to the left.
A.J Henning also had a 30-yard kickoff return that was negated because of a holding penalty early in the second quarter.
Moody did finish his game by connecting on a 29-yard attempt with 11:18 left.