Grading Michigan football's win at Rutgers: Rising offense let down by defense, kicking

Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

Free Press sports writer Orion Sang grades Michigan football after the Wolverines' 48-42 win at Rutgers on Saturday night:

Offense: B

The Wolverines' first five possessions led to zero points. And then backup quarterback Cade McNamara took over — and led Michigan to a whirlwind comeback. McNamara completed 27-of-36 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Not only did he spark the passing game, but the run game also gained steam in the second half. The Wolverines rode running back Hassan Haskins, who received the bulk of the carries among Michigan's four-back rotation and ran 22 times for 110 yards and one touchdown. The Wolverines still have issues, but they were more efficient than they have been in recent weeks and corrected course after a slow start. Cornelius Johnson caught five passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns and is emerging among the receivers. Haskins ran hard and consistently generated extra yardage. Maybe there will be even more improvement now that McNamara has cemented himself as the team's top quarterback.

[ Michigan goes back to Cade McNamara — and he throws a TD immediately ]

Defense: C

The defense almost lost Michigan the game. The Wolverines allowed 482 total yards, and presented with a chance to win the game in regulation, promptly gave up a touchdown and tying two-point conversion. Quarterback Noah Vedral is no game-changing player. He entered the game averaging 5.6 yards per attempt and had 77 total rushing yards. But Michigan allowed him to connect on big passing plays of 43 and 61 yards — the latter of which went for a score just after Michigan had returned a kickoff for a touchdown — and run for 21 yards on a third-and-16. Vedral completed 29-of-43 passes for 378 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It is the second time this season an opposing quarterback has had a career-best performance against the Wolverines — and the other, Michigan State's Rocky Lombardi, has already lost his starting job. Michigan did just enough to win the game. But it needs to find solutions here fast.

[ Michigan was trailing Rutgers by 2 scores at halftime: How did it get that bad? ]

Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Giles Jackson (left) carries the ball against Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Christian Izien (right) during the first half at SHI Stadium.
Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Giles Jackson (left) carries the ball against Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Christian Izien (right) during the first half at SHI Stadium.

Special teams: C+

This was the one unit that had yet to reach the same lows as the offense and defense, but it finally got there Saturday night. There was a missed 49-yard field goal from kicker Quinn Nordin. Then, after a haphazard two-minute drill before halftime, a high snap botched the Wolverines' 53-yard attempt before halftime. The coup de grace: a missed 35-yard field goal from Nordin to open overtime. Michigan did get a 95-yard kick return touchdown from Giles Jackson, but the Wolverines' kicking woes loom large. Michigan has already made one switch at the position this fall after Jake Moody struggled in the season opener. Now, it seems like Moody has a prime opportunity to earn his job back.

[ Grade Michigan football's performance vs. Rutgers: Your turn to vote ]

Coaching: C+

This is a team with its back against the wall that, somehow, had yet to play like a team with its back against the wall deep into the first half of Saturday's game. Michigan allowed the opening touchdown for a fifth consecutive game and after a promising opening drive ended with a fumble, the Wolverines seemed deflated. Then McNamara entered down two scores in the second quarter, sparking the offense. Michigan dragged its way to a hard-fought win. The coaching staff deserves credit for the successful comeback.

But it also deserves scrutiny for how the rest of the game went. The Wolverines beat Rutgers, 52-0, in 2019, and while the Scarlet Knights added some veteran talent through the transfer portal, this game should not have been as close as it was. One wonders what the staff saw in practice during the week that led them to keep McNamara as the backup. There was some unwieldy clock management at the end of the first half that might've cost the team a chance at a closer field goal attempt. And the play-calling grew conservative in overtime, as the Wolverines leaned on the run game and subsequently found themselves in numerous tough down and distance situations. Michigan also has to figure out its short-yardage offense, because what they're doing right now isn't working. U-M took a step forward with the win, and it played with more energy and passion than in recent weeks — but there's still a lot to clean up.

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's offense under Cade McNamara the lone positive