No. 2 Michigan welcomes Jim Harbaugh back to the sideline for its Big Ten opener against Rutgers in a battle of unbeaten teams Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Harbaugh has completed a school-imposed three-game suspension for NCAA recruiting violations. The Wolverines (3-0) tore through their nonconference slate during the ban, beating East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green by a combined 96-16, all at home.
Harbaugh said Monday that watching Michigan’s games through a different lens, away from the sideline, has inspired him to “implement some new things” for the program.
“Really so much to unpack there. From other coaches stepping up, other staff stepping up, other players stepping up, just the amount of leadership bonds that were necessary, were created, all the tremendous positives that came from that,” Harbaugh said.
One task for Harbaugh this week is to help J.J. McCarthy course-correct. He tossed three interceptions in 13 attempts in the 31-6 win over Bowling Green. One interception came in the end zone.
McCarthy said after the game he would take the interceptions “on the chin.”
“Whether it’s a great throw or an interception, I’m always going to move on and stay in the present moment, no matter what it is,” McCarthy said. “It just didn’t go well after the first one and I just gotta watch the film and see what I can do better.”
The Wolverines rank second in FBS in total defense (222.3 yards per game) and first in scoring defense (5.33 ppg). But their first Power 5 opponent of the season is sure to present their toughest test to date.
Rutgers (3-0) leaned on running back Kyle Monangai, who has 357 rushing yards (tied for sixth in the country) and five rushing touchdowns (tied for fourth) as the program’s emerging star. He racked up 165 yards two weeks ago against Temple before adding 143 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 35-16 win over Virginia Tech.
That earned Monangai Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, making him the first Rutgers player to win that award since 2014.
“Oftentimes, running backs can get away just by being naturally talented guys, and he is naturally talented,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said Monday. “But he’s worked very hard to understand run schemes, understand pass protections and, most importantly, understand defenses.
“So I think he’s now what I would call a guy who is in that final quarter of his development here, and those are the guys that we need.”
Rutgers also brings a top-10 scoring defense (10 ppg) to the table.
Schiano said Michigan has “absolutely no weaknesses” and feels the Wolverines have the best offensive and defensive lines in the country.
Michigan also has an answer to Monangai in the form of Blake Corum, who’s off to another hot start this season. He has scored six rushing touchdowns, tied for second in the country, and gained 254 rushing yards while backfield mate Donovan Edwards has taken more of a complementary role.
Rutgers’ first Big Ten win as a member of the conference came against the Wolverines in October 2014, a 26-24 home triumph in coach Brady Hoke’s last season at Michigan.
The Wolverines have won the eight meetings since, though that included a 48-42 triple-overtime thriller in 2020 and a 20-13 squeaker in 2021.
–Field Level Media
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