Seven days ago, it was turmoil in Ann Arbor following a 35-14 road loss at Wisconsin.
Outlets were coming up with lists of names to potentially replace head coach Jim Harbaugh. Josh Gattis, three games into being a coordinator, was being called a fraud. The effort and cadence of the Michigan program were questioned following the road trip to Madison.
The Wolverines followed up a week of justified criticism with an expected but still impressive punishing of lowly Rutgers. So much so that Chris Ash didn’t make it back to the bus with a job as he was fired from his post Sunday morning.
Though the offense looked to be in a consistent rhythm for the first time this season by using space to spread the ball out to the long list of weapons in the passing game, it didn’t impress national pundits enough to buy back on U-M. The Athletic still ranks U-M outside of its Top 25 behind the likes of undefeated SMU, Appalachian State, Wake Forest, and 4-1 teams such as UCF, Oklahoma State, and Cal.
There’s much more needed to be seen before national and local pundits alike begin buying back into this team.
That being said, you can still take away some impressions from the shutout by keeping in mind Rutgers is abysmal while not forgetting this Michigan offense couldn’t move the ball against Army and fumbled the ball four times. Strides were made.
“They should’ve scheduled Rutgers during the bye week,” a fellow reporter said to me in the press box following Michigan’s 24th point against the Scarlet Knights. “You get taken to your limits against Army, then have to spend two weeks figuring out all your issues … for Wisconsin?”
Had U-M been granted the opportunity to work out the kinks against a lowly Rutgers team as we saw in Week 5 before the matchup with the Badgers, perhaps that game has a different headline. Regardless, we’re here, and Michigan is 3-1 with slim-to-none national media buying its stock.
All that being said, ahead of them is a homecoming game against Iowa, a prime opportunity to show the country their season is far from over with a victory. After all, a year ago, following a road loss to Notre Dame, U-M tallied 10-straight wins including blowouts of Wisconsin and Penn State at home.
Michigan is at home. It’s a five-point favorite at the time of publishing. And it’s coming off an easy win. These are the moments U-M has flourished in under Harbaugh. Not the rivalry games at home, but the games it’s perceived as small favorites against other ranked teams. It’s defeated Wisconsin and Penn State handily at home — sans 2016, when U-M beat U-W 14-7 — in similar situations despite being routed by them on the road in the seasons in between.
In 2018, when the Wolverines hosted the No. 14 Nittany Lions and No. 15 Badgers in four weeks, they outscored both, 80-20. In between those matchups was a road trip to Michigan State and a bye week.
Ahead of the home matchup with No. 14 Iowa, this setting seems all too familiar. An undefeated mid-tier Top 25 team at home, shortly after a bye week — if you’re counting that glorified scrimmage against Rutgers, two bye weeks — is typically where Harbaugh’s Michigan shines most.
Whether this team does what teams in the past have remains to be seen. It’ll be no easy task, though, as the Hawkeyes rank third in the country in total defense despite facing the country’s No. 8 ranked total offense in Iowa State (the rest of its opponents’ offenses rank below 100th nationally.)
A blowout over Rutgers is perceived as nothing more than the first-team offense defeating the scout team defense in a mid-week practice.
However, a victory over No. 15 Iowa and its third-ranked defense would be the first step in bringing the season back to life. It won’t save the season overnight, but it’ll certainly accelerate Michigan back to identifying as a contender in the Big Ten.
Michigan has the health and talent to showcase its potential at home against the Hawkeyes despite all the noise surrounding the program over the past seven days.
A turnaround on the season begins with a ranked win over Iowa on Saturday. It’s more than feasible and it’s right in front of them.
It doesn’t have to be a blowout. Just win the game.
Otherwise, the panic alarm on the 2019 season will officially sound.