PISCATAWAY — When Michigan beat Rutgers, 78-0, midway through the 2016 season, it was hard to view the final score and the statistics that went along with it as anything other than excessive.
Granted, Jim Harbaugh was playing second and third-stringers in the second half, but 78 points and 11 touchdowns are huge numbers.
Twenty-five months later, Michigan, a threat to win the national championship now, just as it was the last time it was here in 2016, will return to HighPoint.com Stadium to face Rutgers on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
With the benefit of a lot of hindsight, did Harbaugh run it up on Rutgers?
"I don't think they did anything out of line," Chris Ash said Monday during his usual beginning-of-the-week press conference on Monday at the Hale Center. "You know, our job is to stop somebody and that's what we've got to do. You guys can go back and reflect and look at what's happened in the past, the last time they were here.
"It is what it is. You know, nobody did anything out of line. It's our job to play better, and that's what we need to do this Saturday."
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The 78-0 game was part of a hellacious first season for Ash. Michigan, which entered the game ranked No. 4, racked up 600 yards of total offense, while holding the Scarlet Knights to just 39.
A 43-0 halftime lead included Harbaugh going for, and converting, a two-point conversion when his team was already up 27-0.
"I would say I have enough of my own problems without worrying about somebody else's," said third-year defensive coordinator Jay Niemann. "Our job is to stop them. They're going to do what they do. They're going to choose to do whatever they feel is in the best interest of their program. I think sometimes, when you look at it offensively speaking in that situation, if you do have backups in the game, you're trying to get guys an opportunity to throw and catch that might not have a chance to do it.
"You can look at it as running the score up, things of that nature, but our job is to stop them, like I said. Their job is to do what they feel like they need to do to develop their program and continue on. We just have to leave it at that."
In finishing 0-9 in the Big Ten that season, a distinction very much in play this season, Rutgers lost to Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State by a combined 224-0.
That 2016 Wolverines team opened the season 9-0, ascended to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, then lost three of its final four games by a combined five points to finish 10-3. That included a 33-32 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Staff writer Josh Newman: [email protected]; @Joshua_Newman
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