Here is a random assortment of ten things to know, think about, and process ahead of Saturday’s game at Michigan.
Rutgers Hasn’t Trailed In October
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. After a bye week the first weekend of the month, Rutgers never trailed in wins over Illinois and Purdue. For a program that had a 16 game Big Ten losing streak entering October, this is a nice fact to think about as you sip on your pumpkin spiced latte, or pumpkin craft beer, in addition to the current and first ever winning streak since joining the league in 2014.
Rutgers Went 2-1 Against The West Division
Another milestone in conference play that was achieved this past weekend was that Rutgers posted a winning record in the divisional crossover games for the first time since joining the Big Ten. In fact, entering this season, Rutgers was 0-7 against West divisional foes. Posting a winning record this campaign against the West, albeit with their most favorable draw yet, is another sign of progress this season.
Janarion Grant Is Expected To Play
Grant left the Purdue game in the second half and didn’t come back, but head coach Chris Ash today said he “doesn’t expect any issues” with him this week. Everyone is frustrated with his lack of involvement in the game planning, but OC Jerry Kill said today that he is focused on getting him more involved. Having him break out this week in the Big House, where he returned a kickoff for a touchdown two seasons ago, would be fantastic timing.
Gio Rescigno Is Not 100% Healthy
If you follow Rutgers football, you knew early on in the Purdue game that Gio Rescigno was not fully healthy and his mobility was severely limited. He injured his knee in the win over Illinois and he just wasn’t able to run the way he is able to at full strength. Kill confirmed this in his press conference on Monday. It will be interesting to see if he can heal up this week and whether he will be any more mobile against Michigan. Without a doubt, this team thrives off the toughness of Gio, so I’d expect to see him start again this week. Also, let’s hope someone tells Matt Millen, the color analyst for BTN. He was completely puzzled during the Purdue game as to why Kill wasn’t calling for Gio to roll out of the pocket and also call more designed running plays for the signal caller. He can't run, Matt! I thought the announcers prep before they call a game? He will be on the telecast this weekend in Ann Arbor, so let’s hope he gets clued in.
Michigan Has A Dominant Pass Defense
The Wolverines are tops in the Big Ten against the pass, while Rutgers has the worst pass offense in the league. While the Scarlet Knights are eighth in the conference running the ball, Michigan also has the third best run defense in the Big Ten. The outlook for the Rutgers offense this weekend does not look positive, that’s for sure.
Michigan Beat Rutgers 78-0 Last Season
Of course, none of us forgot the fateful night that was October 8th, 2016. But be fully prepared for certain Michigan fans to remind us plenty of times this week. Of all the Big Ten fan bases that end up in our mentions on twitter and scream the loudest, Michigan is by far the most prevalent (Crimson Quarry slams desk!). I know there are plenty of classy and respectful Michigan fans too, but the one’s who like to say the 2014 win for Rutgers doesn’t count because Brady Hoke was their coach are the same people who boast online about last season’s victory. I think we all hope for a major improvement in this season’s matchup and a closer game should be expected. Regardless, expect plenty of shade thrown at Rutgers fans this week.
Michigan opened as a 23.5 point favorite
I’ve seen some Rutgers fans surprised by the large opening spread for this game, but considering the previous point and that this game is in the Big House, it seems appropriate. The Rutgers offense will struggle to score and while the Michigan offense isn’t great, it’s better. I am optimistic the game will be competitive, but you have to figure Michigan will be hungry to take out their anger after their blowout loss last week at Penn State. My point is the spread for this game seems about right to me. If you want an optimistic thought, Rutgers is 5-2 this season against the spread.
This Game Is The Battle For Fourth Place In The East
Yes, it’s true. Rutgers and Michigan are tied in the Big Ten East standings at 2-2. Anyone who put money on that before the season should be very proud. That’s not to say Rutgers is likely to win this weekend, as the point spread indicates, but after the past two seasons have brought little to be excited about in conference play, this fact is something to enjoy while it lasts.
Rutgers Is Tied for 2nd In The Big Ten With 9 interceptions
We know the defense is improved and this statistic is proof. The Scarlet Knights are tied with Penn State and trail Wisconsin by one. Rutgers has exceeded their interception total from last season (8) and there are still five games to play. Safeties Kiy Hester and K.J. Gray lead the team with two each. Michigan quarterback John O’Korn threw three interceptions in the loss to Michigan State, but hasn’t thrown a pick in the past two games. Obviously, the Rutgers defense needs to force turnovers against Michigan to have a fighting chance.
Rutgers Leads Big Ten In Kickoff Coverage
Old friend, OTB emeritus contributor and current associate sports editor of the Targum, Griffin Whitmer, gives you our stat of the day. What a difference a year makes and the good news is that kickoff specialist Justin Davidovicz is only a true freshman. You have to imagine he’ll have every opportunity to seize the kicking job full-time next season. Of course, the actual coverage team has been much improved as well. Punt coverage has been an issue at times this season (2 TD’s allowed), but special teams overall is far improved over last season. While fans continue to belabor the struggles of the Rutgers offense, completely fair to do so I might add, remember that subpar defense and awful special teams play from last season has turned into a good defense and very good special teams unit this season. That’s progress!
I don’t get tired of watching this replay. Enjoy!