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No. 19 Michigan continued its winning ways on Saturday after defeating Rutgers 20-13 to start out Big Ten play.
The Scarlet Knights were undefeated heading into the ballgame, but the maize and blue proved to be too much to handle for the up-and-coming team.
The Wolverines win for the fourth straight game, and it may have been an ugly win, but it’s a win nonetheless. The Wolverines looked like their dominating selves in the first half, but things changed in the second.
Michigan had 233 total yards in the first half compared to Rutgers 121, and those numbers dictated what the first half felt like — domination. The Wolverines entered the break with a 20-3 lead.
While the second half got a little close for comfort in the third quarter, the Wolverines were able to finish the deal and leave with a victory. The maize and blue forced a turnover late in the fourth quarter to win the game.
Here are three things we learned about Michigan.
Daxton Hill is showing out at Nickel
Photo by: Isaiah Hole
One of the few bright spots in this game, the former 5-star recruit and former starting safety for the Wolverines has found a new niche as the starting nickel-back this season. The maize and blue moved Hill this year to nickel to get him more around the ball on blitzes, and to help the depth at the corner position that mightly struggled last season. With each passing game this year, we can see how well that move helped the Michigan defense. Like the coaching staff does with Aidan Hutchinson -- moving him around on the defensive line or standing him up at rush-linebacker -- they can move Daxton Hill all around. The coaching staff has seemingly called more blitz packages for Hill to utilize his speed on the outside to get to the opposing quarterback -- Hill had two quarterback hurries and just missed getting a sack in the first half. There were multiple plays today that we got to see how truly fast the star defensive player is --off the snap running towards the quarterback or even chasing the ball carrier going east-west. Overall, this defense has looked to be in a much better place with Dax in his newfound home. Hill's final stat-line was: five tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one pass breakup, and two quarterback hurries
There is a plan for success against the Wolverine offense
Photo by: Isaiah Hole
Everyone knows what Michigan has done in the past three games -- it has run for over 300 yards in each one of those. Right from the first hand-off from Michigan, it appeared the defensive gameplan from Rutgers was to stack the box. The Scarlet Knights had anywhere six to eight guys that were ready for the run. It didn't matter -- in the first half -- Michigan still gained yards. In the first half, the Wolverines had 77 yards of rushing against that stacked box, but they also had 156 passing yards. Since the Scarlet Knights were so inclined to stopping the run, it left the Michigan receivers on one-on-ones with the Rutgers secondary. We saw how the crossing patterns killed the Rutgers secondary, and 'speed and space' really came to fruition in the passing game. Things took a turn for the worse in the second half. Although they tried and tried, the Wolverines couldn't get their run game going in the second half. What seemed to be conservative play-calling didn't help the situation either. The maize and blue had 233 total yards in the first half compared to the 42 total yards in the second half. Neither the passing game nor the running game could get anything going. The game plan looks simple -- stuff the box and take away the run up the middle against Michigan. Wisconsin will more than likely use the same game plan next week in Madison, so it'll be up to the coaching staff to make adjustments for the next game.
Michigan has now faced adversity
Photo by: Isaiah Hole
Michigan pretty much dominated the first half leading 20-3 at halftime. Then the third quarter happened -- Rutgers scored a touchdown which made it 20-10, and it had all of the momentum. A mixture of conservative play-calling on offense and giving the Rutgers receivers a ton of room on the defensive side led to a much closer game than what it should have been -- it became a tale of two halves. The game got to as close as 20-13 early in the fourth quarter. Not every game can be a blowout, but Michigan made this game way harder than it needed to be. The Wolverines went away from what was working in the first half and tried to coast in the second half, and it led to a near disaster. The defense continued to come up big in a game that the offense couldn't -- Michigan forced a fumble in the fourth quarter to ice the game, and it was the first turnover for the Scarlet Knights this year. At the end of the day, Michigan got a victory which improves them to 4-0 on the season. The team faced much-needed adversity early on in the season, and maybe that will be a good teaching moment for the team and coaches alike before the bulk of the Big Ten games begin. Remember, last seasons Wolverine team would have folded when the going going tough, but this team hung in there and did what it needed to do to win.