PISCATAWAY — Last weekend’s loss to No. 2 Ohio State looked and felt like rock bottom for the Rutgers football team.
The Scarlet Knights completed just three passes on offense and allowed 10 consecutive scoring drives on defense in the 58-0 loss to the Buckeyes, a beating so bad it seemed they could only go up from there.
But Jim Harbaugh and his No. 4 Michigan team were not too keen on getting upstaged by their bitter rivals.
The Wolverines (6-0, 2-0) showed the Knights (2-4, 0-3) no mercy, piling on touchdown after touchdown in a display so dominant, the final score of 78-0 doesn’t come close to doing it justice.
The loss wasn’t the heaviest in program history — that distinction belongs to a 98-0 loss to Yale in 1883 — but it may very well be the most emphatic.
Rutgers followed up its disastrous offensive performance against Ohio State with one of the worst in the history of the sport it created, finishing the game with half as many yards (39) as Michigan had points.
Only five yards came through the air as junior quarterbacks Chris Laviano and Zach Allen each completed a pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jawuan Harris, who made the only catches for Rutgers in the second consecutive game.
The Knights earned just two first downs, both coming in its final drive toward the middle of the fourth quarter after 17 consecutive drives ended in either a three-and-out or, in one instance, a fumble.
Junior punter Michael Cintron was called upon 16 times, the most punts in a game since at least 2000, the first year College Football Reference began recording stats.
The Wolverines had 600 yards of offense, totaled 11 touchdowns and won by the third-largest margin of victory in the history of the winningest program in college football history.
The Knights have been outscored 136-0 in their past two games.
“It just feels like playing a video game,” said senior strong safety Anthony Cioffi. “We got spanked."
Before everything unraveled and Michigan piled on the points in front of an announced crowd of 53,292 that included 200 high school recruits, the Knights were able to hold Michigan to two straight three-and-outs and a fumble, which they recovered at the Michigan 35, to open the game.
But like last week, Rutgers’ offense was stagnant and lacked any bite, with Laviano going 1-for-8 and getting sacked on his five drives behind center.
He was replaced by Allen, but the TCU transfer didn’t fare much better, going 1-for-10 and finishing with negative-1 total yards after getting sacked three times.
“We were hoping to getting it going on offense right now,” said head coach Chris Ash on the reason for the change in quarterbacks. “Whether it's through Zach or somebody else or a running back. You know, we've got to get something going on offense. We've obviously struggled the last three weeks in a row.”
Jabrill Peppers was one of the catalysts of Rutgers' struggles on both sides of the ball.
The East Orange native who elected to go to Ann Arbor over Piscataway showed why his name is being thrown around as a Heisman Trophy candidate with a homecoming performance he won't forget anytime soon.
A linebacker by trade, Peppers scored two touchdowns on three rushing attempts on offense in addition to his two tackles on defense.
He also brought a punt back for a touchdown while on return duty, but it was called back for a penalty.
Peppers even had a chance to throw the ball, being given the nod on one of the two direct snaps he took behind center, but after rolling out to his right and seeing some space between the defenders, he didn't hesitate to squeeze through to the endzone.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 9, 2016
“He was so athletic and so fast, it was really impressive,” said Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh on Peppers. “Gosh, if there’s a better player in the country, I don’t know who it is … there’s nothing he can’t do. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps the most impressive run of the night from Peppers was the one he didn’t take into the endzone.
Taking a direct snap, he stuck the ball out for a running back to take on a read-option, but his teammate ran the wrong way, leaving him holding the ball out to no one. Seeing the Rutgers defensive end had crashed to the running back's side, he took off running through a wide-open gap set by his offensive line, chomping up 64 yards to set up the first of eight redzone trips for Michigan on the night.
Peppers was joined by Khalid Hill (2), Karan Higdon (2), Ty Isaac (2) and Bobby Henderson (1) in combining to tie a program-record with nine rushing touchdowns.
The other two scores came through the air, Hill catching one and Jehu Chesson receiving the other.
The latter was the play of the night, a joint effort between quarterback Wilton Speights’ fantastic throw on the run and Chesson’s majestic diving catch in the back of the endzone.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 8, 2016
It was the prettiest play on one of the ugliest nights in Rutgers football history.
Embarrassed was the word senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton used to describe the feeling in the locker room after the loss.
“The whole thing's on me,” Ash said in his postgame press conference. “I've got to do a better job of getting the team ready. Simple as that.”
The mood was understandably somber among the Knights postgame, but heavy and historic as the defeat was, the 78-0 shellacking looks the same as a 14-13 nail-biter on the team’s record.
After facing three top-5 teams in the Wolverines, Buckeyes and No. 5 Washington in the first six games of their season, the Knights have an easier slate to look ahead to following their second consecutive blowout loss.
With half of the season still to go, Rutgers still has plenty to play for.
“When we bring them back in tomorrow, we'll talk about what's left and what's out in front of us,” Ash said. “Not going to make any excuses about the teams that we play. They are on our schedule every year and we've got to play them every year … nobody said it was going to be easy.”