ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Rutgers hung around for a while, but Michigan turned on the jets in the second half and pulled away for a 31-7 victory in Jim Harbaugh’s return to the sideline. Here are four quick thoughts.
That’s more like it
The Wolverines didn’t look great last week against Bowling Green, and they were another subpar half from getting a bunch of “What’s wrong with Michigan?” takes. Mike Sainristil put an end to that by sniffing out a screen pass and returning it 71 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Rutgers was driving with a chance to kick a field goal and pull within a touchdown but elected to go for fourth-and-2 from the Michigan 27-yard line. Sainristil arrived just as the ball did, ripped it away from the Rutgers receiver and outran everybody to the end zone. Just like that, it was 24-7, and Michigan was in total control.
This is the second week in a row that Michigan’s defense flipped the game by intercepting a screen pass. Teams might want to think twice about trying that again.
— Michigan Football on UMGoBlue (@UMGoBlog) September 23, 2023
McCarthy bounces back
After last week’s three-interception performance, J.J. McCarthy had an efficient day: He was 15-for-21 passing for 214 yards, one touchdown and no picks. He started a bit slow — he wasn’t the only one — but the Wolverines got him going by scheming wide-open passes for Donovan Edwards and Colston Loveland en route to their first touchdown.
Michigan opened up the playbook a bit, and the result was a less predictable offense. McCarthy had one of his most productive days as a runner with 51 yards on seven carries and might have discovered a new weapon in freshman Semaj Morgan, who pulled in the first touchdown reception of his career.
Special teams need work
Michigan has been rock solid on special teams the past two years, but it has been a struggle this season.
The Wolverines had trouble fielding a punt that rolled inside their own 10-yard line, mishandled another kickoff return and missed a field goal after a delay-of-game penalty pushed them back 5 yards. Kicker James Turner later connected on a 46-yard attempt, but he’s still looking for consistency. So is Michigan’s special teams unit as a whole.
Michigan looked like it hadn’t been tested
Michigan Stadium was dead quiet after the Wolverines gave up a 69-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game. At that point, it looked like the Wolverines might need to settle in for a dogfight.
The Wolverines held Rutgers scoreless for the next 59 minutes and ended up winning comfortably, but they won’t be satisfied with how they played for the first 40 minutes. Michigan’s secondary was playing at full strength for the first time this season with safety Rod Moore and cornerback Will Johnson back in the lineup. There’s still some rust to knock off, and it took Michigan a half or so to adjust to a Big Ten-caliber opponent. Once the Wolverines found their footing, they looked a bit more like the team that’s expected to challenge for a third consecutive Big Ten championship.
(Photo of J.J. McCarthy: Bob Kupbens / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)