Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh commends trust between players and coaches, leading to 52-0 blowout of Rutgers at Michigan Stadium, Sept. 28, 2019.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For almost four hours Saturday,Michigan football was granted a reprieve from the scrutiny, criticism and doubt it faced in the aftermath of its crushing loss to Wisconsin.

Shielded from the negativity as they returned to the warm cocoon of Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines forged ahead in their season of uncertainty by demolishing Rutgers, 52-0, and punching the reset button.

An offense that had stagnated in Madison was dynamic back home in Ann Arbor, amassing 476 yards. A defense that hemorrhaged points against the Badgers thwarted the Scarlet Knights repeatedly. Less than 20 minutes into the game, Michigan led by two touchdowns and made an impressive stand in the shadow of its own end zone to preserve a shutout.

The 110,662 spectators in attendance had been appeased, applauding the strides the Wolverines had made this week when they dabbled in introspection and soul-searching to find what ailed them.

“We’re determined to see improvement,” coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday.

The idea Michigan needed to take a proactive approach was encapsulated in a move before kickoff that was as symbolic as it was pragmatic. The decision made by offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to migrate from the box to the sideline to call plays was more than just a cosmetic adjustment. It seemed intended to bolster Gattis’ communication with the players and improve his connection with quarterback Shea Patterson, in particular.

And it immediately paid dividends.

On its first possession, Michigan raced 80 yards toward the end zone in five plays, as Patterson sent a pass toward the sideline that Nico Collins turned into a 48-yard score. It was the introduction to a strong performance by Patterson, the senior who has been maligned for his erratic play. He finished the afternoon with a robust 74 percent completion rate and 276 passing yards.

Impossible to ignore throughout this one-sided affair was the miserable opponent Michigan was playing. Rutgers won seven games in the previous three seasons, establishing residency in the basement of the Big Ten standings.

This season, the school from New Jersey appears just as lousy, having failed to score a single point in its first conference game against Iowa before it suffered a similar fate yet again Saturday. The Scarlet Knights were a convenient opponent for a Michigan outfit hoping to sell the notion it was on the path toward redemption.

A 27.5-point underdog, Rutgers never posed a threat to the Wolverines. Michigan, to its credit, took advantage and showed a level of relentlessness that was absent against Wisconsin.

Four of the Wolverines’ first five drives ended with points and lasted at least eight plays. Meanwhile, the defense, led by end Kwity Paye, operated with renewed spirit and ferocity as the unit channeled its frustration into crushing blows delivered at the expense of Rutgers quarterback Art Sitkowski.

All in all, it was a solid performance for a team that needed to move past the Wisconsin debacle.

Whether Michigan is really back on track is another story.

For nearly four hours, the Wolverines tried to present a convincing case they were, and in the process, leave a week of negativity behind them.

Contact Rainer Sabin at Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin