After receiving a thrashing from offensive juggernaut Ohio State last week, our Scarlet Knights must now do battle against AP no. 4 Michigan Wolverines, whose colossal defense is ranked 1st overall in S&P+ for FBS teams. I wouldn’t expect any miracles this Saturday. Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano, who has looked lost on the field at times this season and lacks the ability to compete against the BIG 10 elite, will face a defense that is ranked 2nd in Passing Yards Allowed.
The Michigan defensive backfield is led by senior defensive back Channing Stribling, who has 3 interceptions (including one pick-six), 8 passes defended and 11 tackles this season. The front seven is directed by senior linebacker Ben Gedeon, who is tied for 68th in Division I tackles with a total of 42 and 2 sacks. From an advanced stats perspective, the Michigan linebackers rank 4th in LB Havoc Rate, which measures the unit’s performance in tackling for losses, forcing a fumble, or defending a pass (intercepted or broken up).
The Wolverine defense does a marvelous job getting to the quarterback, ranking 6th in Standard Down Sack Rate and 8th in Passing Down Sack Rate. Senior defensive lineman Chris Wormley, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks and has recorded 16 tackles, will make Laviano’s life more difficult by applying pressure throughout the evening. The defense is also stout against the run, ranking 2nd in SD Line Yards per Carry, 4th in PD Line Yards per Carry, and 7th in Stuff Rate. Line Yards per Carry is unadjusted stat for average rushing yardage on standard or pass downs while Stuff Rate records the percentage of runs where the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. .
Considering the Wolverine’s strength against the pass, RU will probably lean on junior running back Robert Martin and senior Justin Goodwin. One area of vulnerability for the Wolverines is giving up big plays as revealed by their 102nd ranking in Rushing IsoPPP, which is a statistical measure of how “explosive” an offense or defense can be by assigning a point value to every yard line based the number of points an offense could expect to score from that particular field position. Essentially, Michigan has given up several big plays to earn such a lousy ranking. Martin, Goodwin, and committee will have to work hard to exploit the slightest of opportunities.
The Michigan offense reminds me, from a statistical standpoint, of the Iowa team RU played a couple weeks ago. Nothing great, nothing terrible. The Wolverines special teams do an awesome job of getting its offense in great field position, ranking 4th in Field Position which complements its 15th ranking in Finishing Drives, which in this instance measures the times a team scores once its inside the 40-yard line.
RU’s offense ranks 99th in overall IsoPPP, thanks in large part to lousy quarterback and wide receiver performance. Of 128 teams in FBS Division I competition, RU passing offense ranks 123rd. However, the Scarlet Knight rushing IsoPPP earns a respectable 48th in Rushing IsoPPP and 51st place ranking in Division I rushing offense.
If Rutgers is to have any chance of an upset tonight, head coach Chris Ash may want to consider playing freshman quarterback Tylin Oden in various formations and situations while severely limiting Laviano, who is a liability. Martin and Goodwin will need to find running lanes and the end zone to overcome a nasty Wolverine defense.