To put it mildly: last week was a rough game for Michigan. It’s not often that a game that at one time was 35-0 feels more lopsided than the scoreboard indicates, but that’s precisely how I think we all felt walking out of the beatdown Wisconsin gave the Wolverines last week in Madison.
But there is good news. And that good news comes in the form of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights - a team that should provide Michigan an easy opportunity to bounce back, get a big win, and return to their winning ways as the B1G schedule heats up.
Let’s get into it…
(20)Michigan vs. Rutgers
Saturday, September 28 | 12:00PM EST
CBS Spread: Michigan -27.5
ABOUT THE RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
- 1-2 (0-1 in B1G), 105th in the SP+
- Things have stagnated a bit under head coach Chris Ash, as Rutgers hasn't had a winning season since their first B1G season in 2014
- Offense features two incredibly talented RBs, but struggles in the passing game
- Defense isn't particularly aggressive, and hasn't been able to stop the run thus far this season
The move to the B1G hasn’t gone well for Rutgers - that much is for certain.
Since going 8-5 in their first year and grabbing a win in the Quick Lane Bowl, the Scarlet Knights are 11-37 - but it’s been their match-ups with the Wolverines, in particular, that seem to encapsulate their struggles. After all, who can forget Michigan’s 78-0 victory over Rutgers in 2016 (though I’m sure Rutgers fans would surely like to)?
2019 looks like another rough one for the Rutgers faithful - and while there are certainly some bright spots worth pointing out, their trip to Michigan Stadium this weekend will likely be another chapter in Michigan’s dominance, especially as the Wolverines look to bounce back.
For Rutgers, it begins with their running backs in Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco. Pacheco, in particular, has been by far the brightest part of the offensive attack for Rutgers - getting 245 yards and four touchdowns already this season. But, somewhat surprisingly, even with this great rushing attack - the Scarlet Knights are running the ball just 30 times per game, good for 119th.
This would make some sense if they had a sensational option at QB, but, alas, that’s not really the case. They’ll start sophomore Art Sitkowski in place of the injured McLane Carter - and while Sitkowski was a heralded QB prospect coming out of high school, he was abysmal in his freshman year - completing less than 50% of his passes with a TD-INT ratio of 4-18… yikes. Granted, he looked good a week ago in the Knights’ loss to Boston College, going 23-33 for 304 yards, a TD, and an INT in place of Carter - but against a Michigan defense out for revenge following last week’s debacle, we’ll see how he fairs.
All told, Rutgers averages just 353 yards per game (good for 13th in the conference), and as long as Michigan can tighten up their rush defense, they shouldn’t present the Wolverines with much of a challenge. More on this in a moment...
Defensively, Rutgers best chance tomorrow is that Michigan continues to struggle offensively - because as bad as things are on offense… they’re just as bad, if not worse, on the other side of the football.
Rutgers is currently 12th in the B1G in yards allowed per game, dead last in rushing yards allowed per game, and though they rank 5th in passing yards allowed per game - it’s not necessarily because they’re particularly disruptive back there. They rank 100th in passes defended on the year, and Iowa’s Nate Stanley absolutely torched them in week two for a near perfect day, getting 236 yards, three touchdowns, and no INTs en route to a 30-0 victory for the Hawkeyes.
Part of the issue for Rutgers (and the good news for a Michigan line that has struggled so far), is that they rarely bring much pressure, choosing instead to hedge their bets by playing some deeper coverage. That would be effective if the defensive line could win their battles up front - but that seems to be rarely happening. Besides the rushing yards, the Scarlet Knights also rank 113th with just three sacks on the year - so Shea Patterson, battered though he may be, should have plenty of time in the pocket.
Keys for Michigan
Stop the Run. Period.
It’s been an uncharacteristically tough year for Michigan stopping the run - highlighted by last week’s 203 yards from Jonathan Taylor.
So against Rutgers, Michigan’s young defensive interior needs to tighten up, and win the battles we know they can come away with. Last week, one of the keys to Boston College’s victory was keeping Pacheco to only 47 yards out of the backfield, putting pressure on Sitkowski to make plays against the Eagles. As stated, he was good - but good shouldn’t be good enough against Michigan at home.
If the Wolverines can put together a vintage, run-stopping performance, then it should prevent Rutgers from getting anything going all day long.
What Will Happen
This one won’t be close, and as much catharsis as you can get from a win against Rutgers, expect to get all of that and more tomorrow.
Even without Zach Charbonnet, Michigan will pound the ball on the ground all day long, and just when Rutgers starts to creep up on defense, the Wolverines will burn them over the top.
Meanwhile, the defense won’t allow the Scarlet Knights to get kind of momentum scoring the football, and this one will be over by halftime.
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