In 2014, the Michigan Wolverines had a very good, nearly great, defense. But they didn’t have a consistent quarterback, one who could deliver on a weekly basis. This season, they have the No. 2-ranked total defense in the country.
And, with Jake Rudock, they also have a better fit at quarterback.
Had Rudock not landed in Ann Arbor, things would be much different for Michigan this fall. The Wolverines probably wouldn’t be 5-2 (2-1 B1G) without the senior transfer from Iowa. They probably wouldn’t have had Michigan State (almost) pinned 23-14 with nine minutes to play this past weekend, either.
Devin Gardner, the former starter, lost 29-6 and 35-11. He was sacked or hit hard no fewer than 12 times in those games. His teams sleepwalked through four embarrassing quarters.
Rudock’s experience, resolve and level-headed nature will continue to pay dividends. It did Saturday, as he put Michigan in great position to beat the Spartans. The secondary and special teams made costly mistakes–not so much Rudock.
He’s yet to solely cost a win for Michigan.
Granted, he could have been a bit better against Michigan State. Maybe hit a deep throw or two. That’s been an issue all season, really. The Wolverines offense lacks the big-pass-play aspect; however, last year, it lacked the make-any-play aspect.
Rudock has been steady through seven weeks. While his Week 7 line of 15-for-25 and 168 yards doesn’t sparkle, it runs parallel to what he had done during the previous six weeks. Saturday was no different, and Rudock deserves a solid B+ for his performance.
Had his team minutes away from victory.
His ability to navigate through trouble has allowed Michigan to further develop its run game. Because of Rudock, the defense doesn’t have to panic and shoulder too much responsibility.
Harbaugh couldn’t ask Rudock for much more.
Now that it’s halfway through 2015, it’s time to take a hard look at the 6’3,” 208-pounder’s contributions that have lead to an overall midseason grade of B-.
Video: During pre-MSU availability, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned how Rudock “doesn’t get rattled.” Wolverines passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch agreed with that analysis. Rudock is quite valuable.
Week 1 vs. Utah
On Sept. 3, Michigan opened the season with a 24-17 road loss to the Utah Utes. Rudock threw three interceptions. Two were due to miscommunication with true freshman receiver Grant Perry, and the other–a pick-6–was just a poor choice.
Rudock wanted to make a play. That didn’t happen. But he kept going, and that’s what the staff likes about him. That’s why he has the full respect of his teammates. They’re confident in him. They trust him. That wasn’t always the case in 2014.
On top of that, Rudock is incredibly tough. As illustrated in the above video, he got rocked at Utah–a hit that would have probably sidelined the former starter. Instead of fleeing, Rudock led the Wolverines on a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
He earned his stripes in Salt Lake City.
Stats: 27-43, 279 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT; Grade D+ (three picks hurt regardless of circumstances)
Week 2 vs. Oregon State
After losing to Utah, the Wolverines headed back to Ann Arbor for Harbaugh’s first home game. Rudock wasn’t flashy during the 35-7 win. He threw another pick that day, too. But he was precise. He was in control.
Following the victory, things started to get clearer: Rudock–who hit nine receivers that day–needed time to acclimate, but the offense was going to be much better than it was in 2014.
Stats: 18-26, 180 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; Grade: B-
Week 3 vs. UNLV
Now at 2-1, Michigan was starting to look like it’d improve upon its previous 5-7 record. Things weren’t anywhere near close to being set. The playbook was still rather vanilla. But Rudock appeared more confident versus the Rebels. Another steady afternoon led to a 28-7 victory. He threw an interception, but it was due to miscommunication on the part of the receiver.
Michigan didn’t need a lot to down UNLV. Rudock played accordingly while completing 63.6 percent of his attempts.
Stats: 14-22, 123 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Grade B-
Week 4 vs. BYU
Michigan’s 31-0 stomping of the then-No. 22-ranked Cougars changed national perception. The Wolverines were no longer pegged as a 7-5 team. No, the way it handled BYU suggested that something much more meaningful was in store during Year 1 of the Harbaugh Era.
Rudock’s relaxed confidence combined with a suffocating defense proved to be a lethal combination. The defense shut-down teams, but the points didn’t appear by themselves. If not for a slow, toned-down second half, Rudock–who methodically shredded BYU’s secondary–could have notched his fourth 300-yard game.
Stats: 14-25, 194 yards (roughly 160 in first half), 1 TD, 0 INT; Grade A-
Week 5 vs. Maryland
Were the Wolverines for real? Going on the road versus the Terrapins would further prove that Week 4’s slamming of BYU was a sign of more to come–not a simple flash in the pan. Until roughly midway of the third quarter, the Wolverines looked like the 2014 Wolverines. Clinging to a 6-0 lead, they needed motivation. And that’s when Rudock connected with running back Drake Johnson for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
Three minutes later, Rudock hit receiver Jehu Chesson for a 61-yard touchdown. They’re not always bombs through the air, but Rudock’s throws find hot hands connected to fast legs. His ability to roll out and run complements his arm. Because of baseball, Rudock is comfortable sliding.
He showed that the next week versus Northwestern.
Stats: 16-31, 180 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Grade B-
Week 6 vs. Northwestern
Chesson returned the opening kick 96 yards for a touchdown. That spotting of a touchdown gave Rudock an immediate advantage, and he followed by connecting with seven different receivers. After the 38-0 victory, Harbaugh mentioned how 19 receivers had at least one catch this season.
That type of distribution was exactly what the Wolverines needed. Rudock got more comfortable with tight ends Jake Butt and A.J. Williams, a welcome sign for a team looking to revert to power football. Williams had four catches for 48 yards. Butt had four for 40.
Rudock utilized the slide, too. His two-yard touchdown led to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. However, the Wolverines offense went somewhat dormant in the second half. Michigan led 28-0 at halftime. The defense did the rest. Week 6 enforced the idea of Rudock–who prefers not to be classified–as a bonafide game-managing quarterback.
It’s almost as if he plays with a checklist. Once the “score enough for the defense to take over” box is marked, he’s good. It works for the Wolverines.
Stats: 17-23, 179 yards, 1 TD (rushing), 0 INT; Grade A-
On Saturday, Rudock was in a rare mood. He was visibly emotional, and judging by his facial expressions, most likely pretty angry. It was a controlled anger, though. With that being said, wearing such a look is par for the course when your team lets a late lead slip away during a rivalry game.
The loss stung, but Michigan wouldn’t have gotten any closer with another quarterback.
Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81