Rutgers fell 31-7 to No. 2 Michigan in the Big House on Saturday in a way that was way more frustrating than hopeless. That’s a positive and even though the score wasn’t as close as most though it could be, there were encouraging signs. RU played extremely hard, was not intimidated and held up physically for the most part against the two-time defending champions. The difference in the game was too many mistakes by the Scarlet Knights. Head coach Greg Schiano called Michigan “a great challenge” this week and his team was unable to overcome it
Rutgers committed several momentum killing penalties, five in total, all on the offensive side of the ball. There is certainly an argument that a few of them were questionable, especially the first holding call on Hollin Pierce. RU was leading 7-0 and Kyle Monangai ran it 27 yards to midfield. Instead, the play didn’t count and the offense was forced to punt soon after.
“The momentum, things are going well at the beginning and we get the ball back and we’re moving it again. And then it gets brought back,” Schiano said.
However, the offensive line struggled in committing false starts as four different lineman got flagged for it.
“As I tell our team, you can never let that become the issue,” head coach Greg Schiano said. “It’s us. We have to do better. We have to be more detailed, we have to coach better, we need to play better, we need to just do better.”
For an offense trying to establish a rhythm, it certainly didn’t help.
As for the play that essentially ended the game for Rutgers, several mistakes were made. It was fourth and two on the Michigan 27 yard line with under five minutes left in the third quarter and RU was trailing 17-7. Here are three issues I had with the play and how Schiano addressed each of them:
Not opting for a 42 yard field goal when converting makes it a one score game late in the third quarter.
“Like I’ve told you guys before, everything we do is with one mission in mind and that’s to win the football game,” Schiano said when asked about the critical decision. “We felt like that was the right thing to do.”
A screen pass knowing Michigan will likely bring pressure on 4th and 2 seems careless
“I don’t call the plays, we have an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator that calls them. I can chirp in any time I want and say ‘no, let’s do this.’ I trust those guys, they’re great coaches,” Schiano said. “We call plays with the intent to win the game. Everything, all the studying we do all week, all the film studying, all the stuff we do is for one reason: to try to win the game. When we make a call, sometimes they work and it’s great, and sometimes they don’t. That’s coaching, really. … I have total faith in the guys that call our plays on both sides of the ball. I look forward to winning games with those guys.”
Failing to minimize the damage and allow a backbreaking pick six.
“You got to get them on the ground,” Schiano said on Michigan returning the interception 71 yards for a touchdown. “It’s still a 17-7 game. Got to get him on the ground and we weren’t able to do that. I don’t know, some people said there was a chance to get him and they got blocked. I don’t know, I didn’t see any of it. We have to get him on the ground, that’s our job.”
It was the first interception thrown by quarterback Gavin Wimsatt all season and it came at the worst time. However, it felt like the coaching decisions didn’t help put him in a good spot at all. Overall, I though Wimsatt held his own, never wilted and stayed fairly composed. He finished 11 of 21 for 180 yards with a touchdown and interception. He also ran it six times for 28 yards including for two first downs.
Rutgers came into the game leading the Big Ten in rushing with 210.7 yards per game but were held to only 77 yards on 3.3 yards per carry in the loss to Michigan.
“I was frustrated with a few things. They’re a very good football team. You have to make sure you are on point with everything,” Schiano emphasized. “Because if you’re not, it’s not just a gain, it’s a touchdown. If you’re not, it’s not just a (pass breakup), it’s a pick six. We had three shots inside the 30-yard line, and we get that against that team, it’s 14-7 at half. I think anybody who comes out here and plays the No. 2 team would sign up for that.”
He added, “It’s just the way it goes. I made mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. It’s the human element. Is it frustrating? Sure. Everybody gets frustrated. It’s part of it.”
Even so, Rutgers lost in a way that was encouraging as well. They lost because of missed opportunities more than because of being overmatched from a talent and physical standpoint. This team still looks like its improved and one that has a legitimate chance to win six games this season.
“We’re not there yet,” Schiano said. “We’ll get there but we’re not quite there yet. I think Michigan’s program is there. They’re a little bit ahead of us right now. But we’ll get there.”
With Wagner next, it’s October that is crucial to how high the ceiling will be this fall. At Wisconsin, Michigan State at home and Indiana on the road are all opponents that Rutgers can beat if they play to their potential. Execution, limiting mistakes and taking advantage of key chances are all critical to their success during that stretch. This game feels like a good learning experience ahead of a make or break slate. Nothing Rutgers wants to achieve this season changed in this loss, but October is when their fate will ultimately be decided.
“We had our opportunities,” Schiano said. “You just have to convert. Whether we coach better, whether we play better, whatever it is, we’ll go back to work. This game won’t define us. We’ll go back to work and we’ll get better. Our best will be good enough, we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
If they can do that and can achieve six wins, the loss to No. 2 Michigan will be a useful experience that helped move this team forward.
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