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It wasn’t pretty — you know it, the national media knows it — heck, Jim Harbaugh knows it.
In the first three weeks, the national media has been somewhat mum on the Wolverines with more cursory mentions than anything, and there were even less in the Sunday takeaway columns. That’ll happen when you go scoreless in the second half against Rutgers and merely survive rather than assertively win.
Still, Michigan football is 4-0 with a reeling Wisconsin on deck. Some of the major outlets still weighed in on what they saw in the 20-13 win over Rutgers and while there are now abundant questions, there appears to be a recurring theme amongst the pundits across college football.
We lead off with friend of the site Bill Bender, who acknowledges the obvious straight away (as pretty much all takeaways will this week) as Michigan struggled particularly in the second half. Despite expectations now that the Wolverines will win in Madison, Saturday may have been a wake-up call that it will take a lot to actually emerge at 5-0.
Michigan faces some doubts after an uneven second half in a 20-13 victory against Rutgers. If the 4-0 Wolverines want to be considered for real, it wouldn’t hurt to grab a victory at two-loss Wisconsin. They have not won in Madison since a 20-17 victory in 2001, when Hayden Epstein kicked the game-winning field goal with 14 seconds remaining. This will be a strength-on-strength matchup with the Wolverines’ running game going up against Wisconsin’s run defense. A similar score could be in the works. The Badgers have won the last two meetings in blowout fashion.
Michigan wasn’t really mentioned in the broad takeaways column, save for an interesting stat: the Wolverines have not trailed in the first four games of the season, which is the first time since 1973 — Bo Schembechler’s ‘tiebreaker’ year.
The best retrospective comes from Tom VanHaaren in ESPN’s overall power rankings, where Michigan came in at No. 15.
The Wolverines got off to a good start against Rutgers, going up 20-3 in the first half. The offense sputtered, however, in the second half with four straight drives without a first down. That opened the door for Rutgers to make a comeback, but Michigan’s defense eventually made the necessary stops to give Michigan the 20-13 win. Michigan gave up 352 total yards of offense while gaining only 275. Quarterback Cade McNamara had only one completion in the second half and finished the game completing nine-of-16 passes for 163 yards. Michigan came away with the win, but the players said they weren’t satisfied with how they got the win. — VanHaaren
Oddly, CBS Sports didn’t really do its typical around the horn piece it tends to, but we did find this in the late-released grades piece by Barrett Sallee.
Sallee is often hyper-critical of Michigan and he does give the Wolverines a ‘C.’ However, he does note that there’s no shame in struggling against this particular Rutgers team.
Under normal circumstances, a 20-13 win over Rutgers wouldn’t just be bad enough for an “F,” it might be enough for relegation. But this is a different Scarlet Knights team. Give Michigan credit for taking care of business in the face of adversity, but it wasn’t a pretty win at all.
It’s a perhaps a backhanded compliment, but like everyone says, ‘give Michigan credit.’
While Michigan’s 3–0 start has drawn more attention—people get excited easily by the Wolverines—Michigan State (22) has been the more impressive 3–0 team from the state. The Spartans have two road wins against P5 competition, dominating both Northwestern and Miami. Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III is the nation’s leading rusher at 164 yards per game. Quarterback Payton Thorne hasn’t thrown an interception in 77 attempts.
Still, give Michigan credit for trampling three straight teams and looking good while doing so. And Rutgers, 3–0 for the first time since 2012. And Maryland, also 3–0, with a Big Ten road win on the ledger. The division offers no walkover opponents to Ohio State or anyone else.
Stewart Mandel is another typically hypercritical pundit of Michigan football, and certainly the Wolverines did little to warrant an about face on Saturday.
Michigan finally encountered an opponent it couldn’t run for 300 yards against — Rutgers. The Wolverines took a 20-3 lead, but Greg Schiano’s team dominated the second half, holding Michigan to 42 yards. The Wolverines’ defense did its part, preserving a 20-13 win to move to 4-0, but it had to be a reality check game for Jim Harbaugh after his previously dominant rushing offense averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt. I don’t know who will win next week’s Michigan-Wisconsin game, but the final score will be 13-9.