No. 20 Michigan mauls Rutgers in Ash's final game


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Following his best career game against Boston College where he threw for a career-best 304 passing yards, sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski prepared to face one of the nation’s toughest passing defenses in No. 19 Michigan.

It would not be an easy task. Coming into this matchup, Wolverines’ (3-1, 1-1) were ranked as the fourth-best passing defense, according to ESPN. They held opposing offenses to an average of 127 yards per game. While this number takes into account a win over Middle Tennessee, a member of the lower-tiered Conference USA, it still is reflective of a vicious Michigan pass rush.

This proved too much for the Rutgers football team’s offensive line to handle. Sitkowski took hit after hit, as his safety net and his pocket collapsed countless times. At the end of the day, Sitkowski and the Scarlet Knights' (1-3, 0-2) passing offense was broken.

Rutgers has not won a Big Ten game since it defeated Maryland 31-24, back on Nov. 4, 2017. Saturday continued the losing conference streak, reaching 14 in a game where the Wolverines totaled 476 offensive yards in a 52-0 rout over the Knights in the 110,662-filled Big House.

Transitioning from the first quarter to the end of the first half, Sitkowski’s passing numbers did not fluctuate. In fact, they were exactly 58 yards, with 20 of them going to two of the passing offense’s options: juniors running back Raheem Blackshear and wide receiver Bo Melton.

Blackshear continued to play the role of the hybrid running back-turned-receiver against Michigan. Against the Eagles last week, the upperclassman exploded for 130 receiving yards and a 74-yard score, but against a Wolverines’ secondary that held Sitkowski to 106 passing yards, he muscled out 55 yards on seven receptions.

Blackshear was utilized in shotgun packages while he continued to line up as a slotback. Sitkowski sometimes had difficulty with this adjustment, overthrowing Blackshear on several attempts. 

But, the problem was not that the slotback and his quarterback had communication errors. It was due to an offensive line that constantly allowed Michigan pass rushers to break through the line of scrimmage. 

“We’re playing against some pretty good defensive lines,” Ash said. “When you look at the two teams we lost to (Iowa and now Michigan), those are two of the better defensive lines. They won the battle in both of those games.”

Out of all the Wolverines who broke through the line of scrimmage and berated the Old Bridge, New Jersey, native with hits, Michigan's Kwity Paye was a common denominator that consistently wreaked havoc on Sitkowski. 

The 277-pound defensive lineman hit Sitkowski in the second quarter for the Wolverines' first of two sacks on the day. 

“We gotta win games around here,” Sitkowski said. “Progress is only progress. Potential is only potential. You gotta win football games in this business.”

In one particular play, Sitkowski was holding his side after a slew of Michigan’s defensive line toppled over him. He would play the entirety of the game except for one play when redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan made his second appearance of the game, in one play before the game concluded.

Sitkowski continued a trend of incorporating underclassmen receivers into his offense. He hit redshirt freshman wideout Paul Woods with a few short gains. Woods would finish the day with 20 receiving yards.

A possible explanation for the increased usage of Sitkowski’s passing is not only because he has gradually matured since throwing an FBS-high 18 interceptions last season, but a lack of a running game has forced offensive coordinator John McNulty to slant the playbook around pass plays. 

Sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco, who had his first multi-career score game against UMass in the season opener, had his lowest rushing game on the year, totaling 23 yards on the ground.

Throughout the whole game, Rutgers only had 46 yards on the ground, compared to the Wolverines’ 141. Michigan had no problem breaking through for four rushing touchdowns, three of which came from the Wolverines' Shea Patterson, who looked like a semi-professional quarterback in front of the blue and maize crowd.

Patterson was a problem for the Knights’ pass rush. He had his best completion percentage of the season at 73.9% and a season-high 276 passing yards. 

Patterson’s connection with Michigan's Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins had a field day against Rutgers’ pass rush, which allowed an average of 16.8 yards per completion.

Collins opened the scoring with a 48-yard pass from Patterson, more than 2 minutes into the game for the day’s first score. Each game this season, the Knights have allowed opposing offenses a score within the first 5 minutes, a trend that could continue, especially with the Terrapins arriving on the Banks next weekend.

But, improving the offense revolves around the five guys who are going to block for Sitkowski, Blackshear, Pacheco and the rest of Rutgers’ offense. The running game found little holes in the gaps created by the offensive line against the Wolverines. 

But, if the offensive line can set into a rhythm of blocking, they can improve heading into week six action against Maryland. And they will do so with a new head coach, but without current offensive coordinator, John McNulty, who was fired on Sunday along with Ash. Tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile will serve as the interim head coach effective immediately. 


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