Saturday’s game against Michigan has been long promoted as a “Stripeout” for fans attending. It is a variation on the previously popular “Blackout” games that Rutgers held in the past. The most celebrated one was Rutgers first ever Big Ten win in 2014 against Michigan. However, this season’s team, led by head coach Jim Harbaugh, will be a much more formidable opponent than the Brady Hoke led Wolverines from two years ago.
Michigan enters this game ranked #4 in the polls and holds a perfect 5-0 record. They average 44.4 points per game on offense, even after only scoring 14 points in their win over #8 Wisconsin last weekend. Their defense is stellar, allowing only 12.4 points per game and ranked as the #1 defense in S&P+.
The biggest fear this week from my perspective is the Harbaugh factor. Understand that he not only wants to win this week, but he will take every opportunity to embarrass Rutgers on national television and in front of the home crowd. There will also be many recruits in attendance, including 4-star recruit Marquese Bell, whom both schools are recruiting heavily.
After Harbaugh antagonized Chris Ash and Rutgers with the “Harvest the Garden” slogan, mocking the “Fence The Garden” mantra this past summer, as well as with the satellite camp battle, you know he has been looking forward to this game, whether he admits it or not. Harbaugh is surely looking to make a statement that Rutgers is far away from being competitive with Michigan. This is true because the current talent gap is steep. The problem for Rutgers is that Harbaugh lacks a certain etiquette and respect that most college football coaches have for their conference brethren. If the team isn’t ready to play early, this game could have a result worse than last weekend’s 58-0 loss to Ohio State.
We are talking about a coach who refuses to release a depth chart each week, something that is a common courtesy across college football. It’s not like there is much of a strategic advantage in doing this, as all the opposing team needs to do is watch film to put together their depth chart. It’s a bit tedious, but work that a graduate assistant can easily handle. That’s not the point though.
Harbaugh doesn’t release the depth chart, perhaps as an attempt to gain some psychological edge over his opponents. Or, as some suggested, it’s to honor tradition started by legendary coach Bo Schembechler, who never released depth charts either. If it actually led to a strategic advantage, the Big Ten would make releasing depth charts mandatory. It’s just a way for Harbaugh to defiantly wag his finger in the air and declare he and his program is above their conference foes. It’s actually a move driven by insecurity in my opinion, not one of strength.
Another factor that may have Harbaugh extra amped for this one is the recent transfer of former 4-star recruit Ahmir Mitchell, who left Michigan after his suspension this summer to return home and play for Rutgers. Look, we don’t know the full details of how it went bad for Mitchell at Michigan and we don’t know Harbaugh’s thoughts on the matter. We do know that Ash and the staff felt comfortable enough to take Mitchell and give him a chance to make amends. If Mitchell does work out at Rutgers, it’s a great recruiting chip to play against Michigan with New Jersey recruits in the future.
Rutgers is rebuilding and the first half of the schedule has been brutal. Saturday against Michigan will most likely be another painful game to watch. However, fans need to fill up High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday and support this program. There will be nothing worse than if it’s a Michigan rout and there are 10,000+ fans in Maize & Blue filling the stands. The second half of the schedule should lead to more optimism for the rest of the season. However, Rutgers needs to gain some confidence and build some momentum heading into that stretch of winnable games.
Harbaugh and Michigan will look to crush Rutgers football’s spirit this weekend. Some Michigan fans will take every opportunity to do the same with Rutgers fans. Our team needs to stand up and compete this weekend and we need to do our part in supporting them. And if it does get ugly, well appreciate the pain of today and believe that Ash is moving this program in the right direction. As crazy as Harbaugh can be, he expects a difficult atmosphere for his team to play in. Let’s make sure we deliver and channel 2014.
Don’t expect the same results as 2014. This is one time a hard fought loss by only a few scores is okay and of course, far better than worse case scenario, total obliteration. Rutgers is rebuilding and Michigan is looking to ruin the foundation. Harbaugh is smart enough to know that he doesn’t want Rutgers under Ash to become a true competitor in recruiting New Jersey’s best players. So expect that Michigan will look to make a statement this Saturday in a big way. Let’s hope Rutgers can make one of their own.