Despite the 26-24 loss, senior quarterback Devin Gardner engineered four scoring drives, each six plays or more and the longest one ending with a four-yard touchdown run by Gardner to cap off a seven play, 75-yard possession.
Part of the reason for the sustained drives came a result of chunk plays, or explosive plays as Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called them Monday.
Six of the seven receivers to catch passes Saturday went for 10-yards or more, four reeling in balls for 20-yard gains, the longest of which came on a 28-yard completion to Jehu Chesson.
Add in a 19-yard touchdown run by Gardner and a 26-yard scamper but now injured running back Derrick Green and Michigan found some serious success offensively that leaves Nussmeier encouraged moving forward.
“It’s a huge part of the game,” Nussmeier said. “You look at winning football on offense in my opinion, the number one thing is turnover margin.
“We’ve not been good at that all season and now we gave up one this week, which is better than what it’s been; it’s improvement. We’ve got to get to zero, that’s our goal, we talk about it every day; we practice it.
“And then you talk about creating explosive plays on offense cause if you don’t turn the ball over and you’re able to create explosive plays, if anything you’re going to turn the field over and force the other team to play on a long field. That is encouraging to have 10 in the game, that’s about one every six-plays, which is pretty good.
“But we’ve got to continue to do that and we’re always looking even in the games we struggled we haven’t created explosive plays and why not? There’s a number of reasons but each and every week when we game plan, how do we put our guys in position to create explosive plays?”
Junior wide out Devin Funchess led all Michigan receivers with five catches for 71-yards and at this point is clearly the Wolverines No. 1 target down field, both literally and figuratively.
Moving forward though, the plan is to get tight end Jake Butt more involved in the passing attack. Butt reeled in a sensational one-handed catch for 20-yards down to the Rutgers five-yard line at the end of the first quarter, setting up Michigan’s first touchdown of the game.
“Obviously you can go back to targeting and how often was he targeted and what was the production,” Nussmeier said. “We had Jake targeted six or seven times in the game, really only able to get him the ball one time, down the field vertically.
“We had another one or two where we tried to and a lot of that, you put guys in certain positions like I said I can’t tell you what defense, we try and get the best idea of what defense we’re going to get but obviously they have multiple defenses and it dictates where the ball goes.
“But that’s part of reading and progressing in the passing game for the quarterback so obviously we want to get Jake involved more. And another thing is Jake continues to come off that injury and continues to get better and better from a physical standpoint and gaining strength.”
Lost in some of Saturday’s loss is the progress made by the wide receiving group as a whole as well.
While Gardner was able to find open guys down the field, the wide outs turned into playmakers too. On a 20-yard completion to Dennis Norfleet right in front of the Rutgers sideline, Norfleet came back to the football in front of two defenders, allowing him to make the play.
According to Norfleet, this is emphasized constantly.
“We talk about it all the time,” Norfleet says. “If the ball is in our area and it’s a catchable ball we have to make our quarterback feel confident when he throws it and knowing we’re going to go get it no matter where it’s at in our area.
“Yeah, the big thing about it is make your quarterback feel comfortable when he puts it in the air and let him know you’re going to come down with it. That’s what I try to do and that’s what the whole receiving crew try to do as we go on.”
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