Updated: Apr 29
Phillip Lutz, Guest Writer
Michigan LB Michael Barrett returns an interception against Rutgers. Photo//Noah K. Murray/AP
The #5 Michigan Wolverines struggled in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. However, the second half was all Wolverines as they scored 38 unanswered points. Three interceptions, including a pick-six, sealed the 52-17 victory for the Wolverines.
The Scarlet Knights came out on fire trying to upset the Wolverines. They gave the Wolverines the ball on the opening kick off, electing to defer to the second half.
Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw deep on the first play, connecting with wide receiver Ronnie Bell for a 35-yard completion. A couple plays later, junior RB Blake Corum scampered for a 33-yard run. Corum ran it for a one-yard touchdown to cap the drive. Michigan led 7-0 early.
The next Wolverine possession saw a punt from Brad Robbins that was blocked by Max Melton. Timmy Ward recovered and ran it in for a touchdown for Rutgers, tying the game 7-7.
The Wolverines were quick to respond though, as Corum scrambled for 43 yards putting the Wolverines in first-and-goal. McCarthy took it himself as he ran it in for the Michigan score, putting them back in front 14-7.
Rutgers QB Gavin Wimsatt then found his weapons for some chunk gains: Sean Ryan for 37 yards and Aron Cruickshank for 16 yards as the first quarter expired. Jude McAtamney hit a 32-yard field goal a couple plays later, making it 14-10 Michigan.
McCarthy was able to find senior TE Luke Schoonmaker for a 13-yard completion on their next drive. Michigan was eventually forced to punt after a couple incompletions from McCarthy.
On Michigan’s next drive, sophomore RB Donovan Edwards led the way on the ground, but the Wolverines were forced to settle for a Moody field goal. The 50-yard attempt was no good, and the ball was sent over to the Scarlet Knights.
Wimsatt was able to connect with Chris Long for a monster 48-yard completion. This put the Wolverines on their heels and Wimsatt hit Ryan for a three-yard touchdown a few plays later. This gave the Scarlet Knights a 17-14 lead going into halftime after another Moody miss from 50 yards out.
At halftime, everyone talked about the Wolverines being on upset alert. Little did they know Michigan was a second half team.
Rutgers got the ball to start the third quarter with all the momentum. Wimsatt hit Shameen Jones for an 11-yard completion, but it was nullified by an offensive holding call. That killed their drive and Rutgers was forced to punt back to the Wolverines.
Edwards caught a 27-yard pass from McCarthy to get the Wolverines moving. McCarthy found Edwards again a few plays later for a 14-yard touchdown. Michigan regained the lead, 21-17.
Rutgers started off running the ball, but they were stopped for a four-yard loss. Wimsatt was intercepted on the next play by linebacker Michael Barrett. The turnover set up the Wolverines with excellent field position. Corum made them pay a couple plays later with a two-yard touchdown. 28-17 Michigan.
Wimsatt threw another interception to start the next drive. Barrett came up with the turnover again and took it to the house for a Michigan pick-six touchdown. 35-17 Michigan.
Wimsatt was visibly frustrated, and the Scarlet Knights were trying to get something going on offense. Wimsatt was able to connect with Cruickshank for a 28-yard strike, but they eventually punted back to the Wolverines.
Wimsatt threw another interception on their next drive, this time to freshman DB Will Johnson. Johnson returned it 29 yards deep in Rutgers territory. Corum broke out for a 28-yard rush down the middle. McCarthy connected with senior WR Cornelius Johnson a couple of plays later for the six-yard touchdown. 42-17 Michigan.
Edwards rushed for 46 yards on the next Wolverine drive before Moody hit a 29-yard field goal to end the drive.
Michigan later sent their backups on the field for cleanup duty. Sophomore QB Davis Warren showed off his legs as he ran for a couple nice gains. Sophomore RB Tavierre Dunlap tacked on a 15-yard run. Freshman RB C.J. Stokes came in and got Michigan closer to the end zone before junior Isaiah Gash finished it off for his first touchdown as a Wolverine.
Michigan’s complete dominance in the second half proved to be the difference Saturday, pitching a shutout on defense as the team continues to prove to be a finisher this season. After the game, Jim Harbaugh was asked how they did it. He said, “The guys tightened their chin straps a little tighter.”
The Wolverines still struggled in the red zone, but showed signs of progress. McCarthy finished with 151 yards and two touchdowns through the air and six yards rushing. Corum had 109 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Edwards also chipped in with 109 yards on the ground in addition to three receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Barrett’s two interceptions and touchdown showed the nation the Wolverine defense is up to the task.
The #5 Wolverines are expected to move up in the AP and College Football Playoff Polls this week with the losses by #1 Tennessee, #4 Clemson, and #6 Alabama. How far they move is not yet known, but they will likely be in the top four.
The Wolverines (9-0) return home on Saturday as the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-6) come to Ann Arbor. The game will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. Go Blue!