PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Shea Patterson threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, Karan Higdon ran for a pair of 1-yard scores and No. 4 Michigan kept its national championship hopes intact with a 42-7 win over Rutgers on Saturday.
The Wolverines (9-1, 7-0 Big Ten, No. 4 CFP) have won nine straight and remain in first place in the conference’s East Division. They have a final tuneup against Indiana next week at the Big House before closing the regular season at No. 8 Ohio State. Michigan hasn’t lost since the season opener against No. 3 Notre Dame and would have to beat the Buckeyes for just the second time in 15 years to keep any hope at a national title alive.
They showed no signs of a slip up against lowly Rutgers (1-9, 0-7) and kept the Scarlet Knights without a yard passing until the third quarter. The Wolverines took the field on a chilly night in front of thousands of fans in blue and maize winter hats and jackets who turned Rutgers into a Big House East.
Michigan’s win was never in doubt — it was a 38 ½-point favorite and had outscored Rutgers 162-30 over their last three meetings. Michigan’s 78-0 win two years ago in Piscataway was perhaps the most horrifying defeat of Rutgers’ 149 seasons.
The only upset Saturday came in the total time it took Michigan to score. The Wolverines didn’t take the lead until Higdon’s 1-yard run with 45 seconds left in the first quarter that made it 7-0.
Rutgers tied it at 7 when Isaih Pacheco took off for an 80-yard TD run, the longest rushing score for a freshman in program history. He finished with 142 yards on 16 carries.
A few thousand Rutgers fans were suddenly pumped, but the threat of a monster upset was quickly wiped out. Higdon gave Rutgers a 14-7 lead on a 1-yard run, and Patterson hit Collins on a 36-yard score. Collins was comically open — the Rutgers students in the end zone seats were closer to him than any defender — and it was clear at that point the Wolverines were rolling.
Patterson continued to play like the quarterback the Wolverines have needed in the Jim Harbaugh era to become legitimate national title contenders. Patterson, named a finalist this week for the Davey O’Brien award, is on the board at Las Vegas with the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy. He didn’t necessarily play like the best player in college football against Rutgers, but the Mississippi transfer didn’t have to be at his best. Patterson has thrown a touchdown pass to seven receivers this season and No. 7 was Oliver Martin in the third quarter. Martin’s 16-yard haul was his first career touchdown.
Patterson had his fifth three-touchdown game of the season when he found Collins again for a 10-yard score and a 35-7.
Michigan waved its oversized “M” flag, and Rutgers fans said goodbye as they flocked toward the exits.
Patterson again got a boost in the backfield from Higdon, who ran for 42 yards and became the first Michigan running back to top 1,000 yards rushing since Denard Robinson in 2012.
Chris Evans had a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth for a 42-7 lead.
Michigan: The Wolverines are the only undefeated Big Ten team in conference play and are poised to win their first conference title since 2004. Their first national championship since 1997 certainly remains within reach.
Rutgers: Artur Sitkowski had a 16-yard pass completion in the third quarter to give Rutgers 16 yards passing. That’s how bad the Scarlet Knights were in their toughest test to date. The only number more impossible to believe than the 0 in the yards passing column at halftime was the announced crowd of 43,786 in the stands.
CALLING FOR BACKUP
With the game out of hand, Michigan gave backup QB Joe Milton some snaps.
Michigan: Head home to play the plucky Hoosiers.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host No. 21 Penn State.