Michigan football flips first-half scare into rout at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — If you needed a reminder of how good this Michigan football team is, Saturday night should suffice.

The short-handed Wolverines, reeling from a tunnel melee last weekend that distracted and left two players injured, flipped the switch and turned a first-half scare into a 52-17 rout of Rutgers.

And it all came about in a span of less than six minutes early in the third quarter, when Michigan turned a three-point halftime deficit into an 18-point lead.

From there, Jim Harbaugh’s team shut the door. It scored three touchdowns in just a matter of a few commercial breaks, aided by a three interceptions and short fields. Senior linebacker Michael Barrett had two of the interceptions, including one that he returned 31 yards for a touchdown.

Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines entered Saturday with one of the best defenses in the country, a unit that ranked top-5 nationally in nearly every statistical category. And despite trailing at the half, Rutgers hadn’t exactly stuffed the stat sheet.

A blocked Brad Robbins punt and subsequent return netted the scrappy Scarlet Knights their first touchdown of the game, while one long, sustaining drive sent Rutgers into the half with a 17-14 lead.

More: Michigan missing four starters, DB Gemon Green in uniform at Rutgers

Red-zone woes had been on-field talk of Michigan all week, and its coaches vowed that improvement was coming. The offense responded by scoring touchdowns on six of its seven drives inside the Rutgers’ 20-yard line, although a few were hairy.

It took Michigan six plays inside the red zone to score its first touchdown, including three plays from the 2-yard line, and another five plays from the 7-yard line to punch it in a second time.

Nevertheless, the 9-0 Wolverines got the job done — converting when they had the ball with favorable field position, quieting the naysayers for now.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy finished 13 of 27 for 151 yards passing, throwing for two touchdowns. Running back Blake Corum rushed for game-high 109 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, his sixth straight game with more than 100 yards on the ground.

Donovan Edwards equaled Corum’s haul, racking up 109 rushing yards on 15 carries and three catches for 52 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown during Michigan’s third-quarter scoring burst.

The Wolverines were shorthanded in several areas on Saturday, a game played before a lively crowd of 51,117 at SHI Stadium, especially on offense. Starting tackles Trente Jones and Ryan Hayes didn’t travel with the team to New Jersey, nor did receiver Roman Wilson, whose absence opened the door for more opportunities elsewhere.

Ronnie Bell added two catches for 43 yards, while freshman Tyler Morris had a crucial 7-yard catch to convert a first down.

Rutgers made the most of its big plays in the first half, with redshirt freshman quarterback Gavin Wimsatt (14-29, 166 yards) converting throws of 37 and 48 yards, respectively. But the magic ran out in the second half, with the Michigan completely overwhelming Wimsatt and a still-in-progress offense. He was sacked three times (defensive end Mike Morris led the way with 1 1/2 sacks), while freshman corner Will Johnson chipped in with the first interception of his collegiate career.

The Scarlet Knights totaled just 57 yards in the second half, while Michigan shut out its third straight opponent in the second half.

Kicker Jake Moody missed a pair of 50-yard field goals in the first half, contributing to Michigan’s halftime deficit, but added a 29-yarder in the second half to help cap a run of 38 unanswered points.

Michigan hosts Nebraska next Saturday, Nov. 12, in Ann Arbor, the first of three regular-season games remaining.

Read more on Michigan football:

Behind the scenes as U-M’s equipment staff keeps football team humming

Jim Harbaugh had an epiphany after tunnel attack. How will Michigan respond?

For Michigan RB Blake Corum, patience pays off

Freshman CB taking on bigger role for Michigan football

U-M studying causes and solutions to red-zone struggles

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