Struggling Michigan hopes to cure ails vs. Rutgers
Michigan’s inability to compete with arch-rival Ohio State during the Jim Harbaugh era has been hugely disappointing to its large fan base, but right now, the Wolverines are struggling to beat any Big Ten team.
The Wolverines (1-3, 1-3 Big Ten) have spun into disarray, losing three straight games and looking increasingly bad in the process. The most recent development was an embarrassing, five-touchdown thumping by Wisconsin last week, and now the program Harbaugh was hired to turn into a perennial contender just hopes to get past Rutgers (1-3, 1-3) on Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.
Harbaugh, whose future beyond this season has become a major question mark, is emphasizing a positive approach.
“We’re never going to stop. We’re never going to slow down and we’re darn sure not gonna feel sorry for ourselves,” he said. “Find a way to go 1-0 this week. It’s in the eyes, cheerful and undefeated. Keep pushing, keep attacking.”
Harbaugh is intent on keeping the players engaged, even though their preseason goals have been shattered by the 49-11 home loss to Wisconsin, which followed a 38-21 rout at Indiana and a 27-24 defeat against Michigan State.
“Guys are 18, 19, 20, 21-years-old, everybody has gone through challenges and obstacles at this time of their lives,” he said. “They’re at an age that they’ve gone through obstacles. They’ve had adversity in their lives and they’ve overcome it. … Come back, shake it off and you go forward and you push through with enthusiasm, with a bounce in your step. That’s the objective.”
Joe Milton won the quarterback competition in camp, but he’ll have to fight to hold onto that spot. Milton had two first-half passes intercepted on Saturday and was benched in the third quarter. Cade McNamara led the offense on its lone touchdown drive.
“We’re going to open it up. There will be competition,” Harbaugh said. “Both will see action with the ones throughout the week.”
There’s plenty of other issues confronting Harbaugh. Since the season-opening win at Minnesota, the rushing attack has managed 70.7 yards a game — less than 3.0 yards per attempt with no gains as long as 20 yards.
It’s no wonder Michigan has averaged only 18.7 points a game. Opponents, meantime, are averaging 38 points during the three-game slide, and the Wolverines haven’t forced a turnover.
The Scarlet Knights (1-3) have their own problems. They’ve also dropped three in a row since a season-opening road win at Michigan State.
Coach Greg Schiano is unfazed by the Wolverines’ woes.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” he said. “I know some look at their record, but it’s still a Michigan football team. They’re very, very talented. They run extremely well.”
Rutgers’ starting quarterback has also struggled, but for now Schiano isn’t making a change.
Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral threw three second-half interceptions in a 23-20 loss to Illinois on Saturday.
“Noah is our starting quarterback,” Schiano said. “I think I need to, from our standpoint at least, kind of settle things down a little bit. We are clearly in the developmental stage of offense, defense and special teams. With everything that has gone on this year, without training camp and spring ball, we can’t get the cart before the horse. But if you look in this developmental stage, offensively we are performing better than any time in the history of Big Ten football for Rutgers.”
Overall, Vedral has been picked off seven times, compared to five touchdown tosses. Bo Melton (20 receptions, four touchdowns) has the main target, while Isaih Pacheco (5.2 yards per carry) leads the rushing attack.
–Field Level Media