ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — No. 19 Michigan enters Big Ten play trying to focus only on Rutgers, and yet its school-record conference championship drought is tough to ignore.
The Wolverines (3-0) have not won a Big Ten title since 2004, surpassing the span they went without a conference championship from 1950 to 1964.
While Michigan certainly can’t win a championship on Saturday at home against Rutgers (3-0), a setback would make it difficult for the team to recover from in coach Jim Harbaugh’s seventh season.
Wolverines defensive back Brad Hawkins said his teammates are squarely focused on big goals.
“Just continuing to win games, beat the teams that a lot of people think we can’t beat,” Hawkins said. “Win the Big Ten, make it to the playoffs, things like that. Just continue to grow, prove people wrong.”
The Scarlet Knights are off to their best start since 2012, a year after Greg Schiano’s final season of his first stint at the school.
“We have to go and show that we belong, and we haven’t done that yet,” said Schiano, who returned to the school last year. “We won a couple games, but as I’ve said before, I don’t feel like 2020 was real. I feel like you didn’t get a real picture of every team, but this is real.
“It’s weekends like this that made me want to be in this league. We’re excited about the opportunity. We’re going to go out there and see how we stack up.”
Rutgers has not beaten a ranked team since defeating No. 23 South Florida in 2009.
WHAT A RUSH
Michigan is leading the nation in rushing with a tandem of running backs and a line that seems to be getting better each week.
Blake Corum, who leads the nation’s position players with eight touchdowns, ranks third in the country with 135.7 yards rushing a game. Hassan Haskins is averaging 93.7 yards rushing per game.
Corum is the school’s first running back to have three straight 100-yard games on the ground since current assistant coach Mike Hart did it 11 years ago.
The Scarlet Knights have been penalized a nation-low 2.33 times per game and they have not turned the ball over this year. Likewise, Michigan has not lost a fumble or thrown an interception. The last time Rutgers went four straight games without a turnover was 1993.
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara replaced Joe Milton last year in the game at Rutgers and went on to throw four touchdowns and run for a score in a 48-42 win in triple overtime.
McNamara has thrown 108 passes in his career without an interception. In his 37 possessions, the Wolverines have scored 25 times with 21 touchdowns and four field goals.
Milton transferred to Tennessee and highly touted freshman J.J. McCarthy came up short in a competition with McNamara to start.
“Capitalized on his opportunity, took the bit and ran with it,” Harbaugh said. “Got to give great credit to Cade for doing that. For having the fortitude to step in there, take the bull by the horns and he hasn’t given it up.”
THE OTHER QB
Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral has completed 58 of 81 passes for 606 yards and four touchdowns. His 71.6% completion percentage is 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten. And, it is the highest completion percentage by a Rutgers’ quarterback since 2000. Last year, Vedral had a career game against the Wolverines with 381 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Schiano suspended defensive backs Malachi Melton and Chris Long after they were charged with three counts of aggravated assault and a weapons count, stemming from an incident in which three people were struck by paintballs fired from a passing vehicle. Melton returned one of two interceptions for a score this season and Long has played on special teams.