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Even though they play Rutgers, the Wolverines have a lot to prove this week.
Embarrassed. Dejected. Confused.
Those words are how many Michigan Wolverines fans and alumni feel after what has been quite a tumultuous 2-1 start to the 2019 season. Jim Harbaugh, Shea Patterson and the rest of this Michigan squad have had just about everything thrown at them from the fan base after a disgusting 35-14 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday.
The Josh Gattis offense has had about as rough of a start as possible, and no one knows what it really looks like after three games. It seems Gattis himself is not even sure what he wants do to with all the talent Michigan has on the offensive side of the ball. They are flat out undisciplined and under performing through the first quarter of the season.
Defensively, the philosophy has not changed much for Don Brown despite blow out losses to Ohio State and Florida at the end of 2018. It’s still a lot of man-to-man and blitzes where every defender has to be better than the guy he is lined up against. There is no fail safe, and if someone gets beat, it is a big play going the other way.
The defensive interior has been atrocious, the defense as a whole hasn’t contained the outside run (especially against Jonathan Taylor this past week), and they have seemed unprepared and out-schemed against two of the three teams they have played.
You think you are feeling embarrassed, dejected, and confused? Imagine how much more that is amplified within the walls of Schembechler Hall.
Everything Michigan has planned for from a coaching perspective has failed. The players themselves are not performing to their skill level, even if they aren’t being put in a position to win games by the coaching staff. And on top of all that, insults and criticism are being hurled at nearly every player and every coach about their performance so far.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the fans, experts, alums and critics that do so, they deserve every bit of critique that has been thrown at them. But you and I both know everyone in that locker room is feeling the pressure of what we all have to say about how poorly they are playing.
With that said, the Wolverines should annihilate the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday. Every position group for Michigan is bigger, faster and stronger. But with the way the Wolverines have played so far, with all the naysayers breathing down their necks and pinpointing every mistake they make, and with the frustration boiling within the program, this could be a much closer game if the mistakes continue on both sides of the ball.
Rutgers is not a good football team. It opened up the season by beating the snot out of UMass, but have scored only 16 points since then after being shutout by Iowa and falling to Boston College last week. Michigan should win this football game even if it isn’t playing its best football.
But if Rutgers jumps on the Wolverines early and force something to go wrong on either side of the ball, it could have a chance of capitalizing on a defeated Michigan team. The only way the Scarlet Knights stick around is if the Wolverines come out like a woeful team that is still hosting a pity party from their loss at Camp Randall. If they come out with the same energy they showed late against Wisconsin where both Charles Woodson and Jake Long criticized their heart, Rutgers will have a chance to win.
The Wolverines have to come out with a chip on their shoulder. They have to come out to prove to all of the doubters wrong by beating up on a bad football team like they should.
That is why the story of this game will be Michigan not beating themselves, and not beating themselves early. Every opening drive for the Wolverines’ offense this season has ended with a fumble. Breaking that streak and building some confidence offensively by coming out of the gates with a touchdown could pay dividends for this struggling offense. The only way they lose is if they beat themselves.
The Wolverines need to prove to their fans, the skeptics, and most importantly to each other that they are capable of being a good football team.
Saturday is not Michigan against Rutgers. It’s Michigan against Michigan.