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What To Watch For: Rutgers at Michigan

Despite being heavy underdogs this week, there’s plenty to watch for Rutgers fans.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Rutgers Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers visits Ann Arbor this week in a match up of Big Ten teams that share 2-2 records in conference play. Readers can click here for the OTB Staff Predictions but regardless of whether or not you think the game will be close, there are still a lot of things to watch for this week.

Can Rutgers put up points against a tough Michigan defense?

The short answer is yes. However it’s going to be difficult. I think in order for Rutgers to put up any points versus Michigan they’re going to need to open up the playbook. I fully understand that this is an offense that lives and dies by the run, but if Michigan is able to neutralize the ground game, how exactly are we moving the sticks? Keep in mind the passing defense of Michigan is number one in the Big Ten, so passing will be tricky as well. Coach Kill will need to find creative ways to get the ball to their play makers for Rutgers to have a chance in this game. I attended the Chris Ash show this week and was able to ask him about Raheem Blackshear and his role going forward. Coach Ash acknowledged that Blackshear has earned the right to get more touches but that they would not force the issue. If the run stalls this week, look for Blackshear or Edwards to see some passing routes out of the back field much like the wheel route touchdown we saw last week.

Is Rutgers able to cover the spread?

At least one contributor each week usually makes the comment, “ I hope I’m wrong” when doing their game prediction. As for covering the spread this week, I just don’t see it happening but once again, I hope I’m wrong. The spread currently sits at 23 points in Michigan’s favor. My first impression was that it seemed high but the more I thought about it, I think it’s very fair. Consider this: Rutgers is second to last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and dead last in total offense. They’ll be going up against a defense in Michigan that ranks second in total defense in the Big Ten, third in rushing defense and tops in pass defense. That’s a tall order for Rutgers. The Michigan offense is nothing special but I’m worried Rutgers defense will have trouble holding up for four quarters especially on the road. The key to the defense having success this week might actually lie on whether or not the offense can sustain drives, allowing the defense to remain fresh.

Is Giovanni Rescigno finally healthy?

I’m not sure if anyone besides Gio knows the answer to this but what is clear is that he’s not looked himself the last two weeks and that has hindered the ability to run certain plays. I don’t know if any player is 100% healthy at this point in the season but if Gio could be healthy enough to run without limitations, it greatly increases the flexibility of the offense. And while I love his toughness on the field, please someone tell him to start sliding when he takes off on running plays. He’s by no means a small quarterback listed at 6’3’’ 228lbs but that’s also a lot of surface area for defensive players to tee off on. There’s no shame in sliding or stepping out of bounds to avoid a hit, especially if it’s going to preserve him for a full game. We’ll see this week how he holds up against a very physical defense.

What things would need to occur for Rutgers to have any chance of winning?

I didn’t pick Rutgers to win, I don’t expect them to win but I thought it’d be interesting to look at some things that would need to occur for them to have any sort of chance to win this week. For one, Rutgers needs something drastic to happen in their favor early in the game. Call it luck or a pick six, a turnover in Michigan’s side of the field, a long completion, something that would silence the crowd early and immediately put Michigan into panic mode. Second, they need to come out of this game with no turnovers or as few as possible. That obviously goes for any game but on the road, playing a Big Ten opponent who is favored by 23 points, there’s not much room for error. Third, force Michigan to throw the ball. Their passing is average at best and Rutgers’ secondary has been the strength of the defense all year. If they can put Michigan into 3rd and long situations, they at least give their defense backs a chance to make a play. Finally, keep the score manageable going into the fourth quarter. If Rutgers is down by seven to ten points I think that’s a margin they can equalize. If they’re down more than fourteen points or so, that’s probably game. Now, if they’re tied or somehow winning obviously that’s ideal but if not, at least keep the score manageable.

There’s no doubt this will be a tough test for Rutgers but this is life in the Big Ten as we know it. They’ve shown this season that they’re no longer the doormat of the Big Ten but they need to prove to fans how they’ve improved against the top schools. Michigan is not the Ohio State team we saw several weeks ago but they’re also not Illinois. I’ll be interested to see how Rutgers stacks up against a dangerous yet vulnerable Michigan team. Comment below and let us know what you’re watching for this week.