Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh speaks to the media on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Ann Arbor. Nick Baumgardner, Freep
As far as motivation goes, revenge isn’t on the menu this week for Michigan football.
Rutgers coach Chris Ash was angry in 2016 when Jim Harbaugh was signing players from New Jersey and hosting satellite camps.
Then Harbaugh beat Ash and Rutgers 78-0.
Over the past three games against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, Michigan’s chief motivation appeared to be proving itself as a title contender to America, while rubbing rivals’ noses in it at the same time.
Rutgers is no rival. Rutgers is the worst team in the Big Ten. The motivation for this week?
“Treat them how they’re supposed to be treated,” junior linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said.
The list of things that separate championship teams from good teams is long. And this makes the cut.
Trap games and letdown days don’t happen to great teams. Great teams are motivated for a variety of reasons, like anyone else. Proving a point. Hated rivalries. But great teams also compete against themselves and their own standard, regardless of foe.
For Michigan, this should be the mindset for the next two weeks.
Rutgers is a bad team and should be dispatched as such.
Indiana should prove to be a tougher test, but the Hoosiers aren’t a Big Ten title contender.
Michigan is. And Michigan should act as such.
“Just knowing another team wants to beat you, knowing they want to get in the way of what you want to do with your season,” Bush said. “I take that personal.”
Championship teams don’t live off the singular motivation of “revenge,” and Michigan’s made it a point this week — and after the Penn State game — to clarify that. The motivation is the end prize. Everything else along the way is gravy if you want it to be.
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Michigan has worked hard to flip the perception that surrounded this program toward the end of last season. It has worked to break false narratives and prove it’s capable of being considered one of the top teams in the country. It has worked for revenge, too, of course. Michigan hates Michigan State and everyone knows that. It doesn’t like Penn State either. We know that now, too.
Rutgers? Bush and his teammates say they don’t like Rutgers either.
Because Rutgers is in the way.
“We’ll come out there Saturday and play hard and as fast as we can,” safety Tyree Kinnel said. “We want to keep our confidence boost going up and up.”
What I’ll be watching Saturday
Conversion time: Rutgers’ rush defense is bad, the second-worst in the Big Ten at 234 yards allowed per game. Michigan will be able to move the football against this team on the ground, and it’ll probably be able to do so early and often.
But finishing productive drives with touchdowns early in this game will allow the Wolverines to get in control, get into the bench and get out of Piscataway, N.J. without any setbacks or injuries. Empty drives early in games has been a problem, perhaps the only problem, for this offense in recent weeks.
Saturday will be a chance to squelch that.
QB pressure: Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski is a true freshman. He’s having a rough time this season with four touchdowns and 15 interceptions. And he has never seen a defense like this.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown vs. young quarterbacks is almost always a recipe for disaster for the latter party. Look for Michigan to pressure Sitkowski as often as possible early. Rutgers has done a nice job of protecting him this season with 12 sacks allowed through nine games. But, again: Rutgers hasn’t seen a defense like this.
Field goals: Quinn Nordin has missed four of his past seven field goals. There was poor weather at Michigan State. A missed block against Penn State. Still, there has been little consistency over the past month.
Michigan’s backup is true freshman Jake Moody, who is doing all he can to be the best kickoff man he can be. The Wolverines are in with Nordin. But he has to start making kicks, especially the simple ones.
The backups: If this game goes according to plan for Michigan, the backups will get a fair amount of action. Remember, the Wolverines can’t travel the whole team to Big Ten road games, so a lot of the guys who could see time are players who could also help this group down the line this season.
The Brandon Peters-Joe Milton dynamic at backup QB is interesting. Michigan would like to keep Milton’s redshirt if possible, meaning he can only play in three more games. But if Milton’s clearly ahead of Peters on the depth chart right now, he’s in. With Dylan McCaffrey out for the season, it might not be a bad idea for coach Jim Harbaugh to get both Peters and Milton as much work as he can, just in case.
U-M chat recap: What’s Wolverines’ weakness? Why’d Chris Webber snub hoops?
Contact Nick Baumgardner: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.