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

Tyler J. Davis, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse for Michigan football, the Wolverines are down 17-7 to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights with 30 minutes left to play.

And it still can get worse. The Wolverines could lose this game, pushing Jim Harbaugh's hot seat to a blazing temperature and the Maize and Blue to 1-4. That result would be Rutgers' second conference win in its last 26 tries (you may remember the Knights' last win, against Michigan State earlier this season).

But there's hope in the form of Cade McNamara who took over at quarterback in the second quarter and immediately threw a touchdown.

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

Missed opportunities

Joe Milton has struggled. Not just this game or last game, but in most of the games he's played as Michigan's quarterback. There was a host of errant passes Saturday, including an underthrow to pretty open Ronie Bell in the second quarter.

But when Milton did manage to put it on the money, he didn't receive help from his wideouts. After completing a third-and-5 pass on the Wolverines' first drive, receiver Cornelius Johnson fumbled, giving Rutgers the ball.

Michigan quarterback Joe Milton warms up before the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Michigan quarterback Joe Milton warms up before the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey.

That play didn't lead to Knights points, but it seemed to throw off Milton, who after starting 4-for-4, ended the half 5-for-12 for 89 yards with no interceptions or touchdowns.

Then, in the second quarter, Milton put a nice ball on Giles Jackson, running a wheel route, to push the Wovlerines into the red zone. Jackson couldn't come down with the back-shoulder toss and Michigan came away scoreless after missing a field goal from 49 yards. (The Wolverines were 0-for-2 on long field goal tries, with Quinn Nordin missing a 53-yarder just before the half.)

Milton also failed to convert a run on a first-quarter fourth down attempt, after Michigan was gifted a fourth-and-1 because a Rutgers player ran into U-M punter Brad Robbins.

But if there's any reason for hope its McNamara, who was 10-for-12 for 113 yards and a touchdown.

[ Michigan football game score vs. Rutgers: Live updates ]

A struggling offensive line

Milton isn't getting any help from his run game or blockers. The Wolverines have a paltry 15 yards on 17 carries, and that's including a 9-yard carry by Roman Wilson. Rutgers is often meeting Michigan's running backs in the backfield.

Milton wasn't helping matters with four carries tallied for minus-16 yards. He was sacked twice.

Through two drives, McNamara has not dealt with quite as much pressure.

Michigan Wolverines backup quarterback Dan Villari (4) warms up before his game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
Michigan Wolverines backup quarterback Dan Villari (4) warms up before his game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

Can't stop the pass... again

The much-maligned Michigan secondary isn't exactly responding well to an avalanche of scrutiny. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral has his sights on a career game thanks to a couple of long completions. In six starts over his four years, the senior has topped 250 passing yards just once — last week vs. Illinois.

Vedral is on pace for 300 yards through the air after finishing the half 14-for-21 for 162 yards. He also leads Rutgers with 20 yards.

If Michigan can stamp out Vedral's success, a second half comeback becomes much more likely.

Follow the Free Press on Facebook and Twitter for more news. Tyler Davis can be contacted at tjdavis@freepress.com or on Twitter @TDavisFreep.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Michigan football fell behind Rutgers so badly