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Rutgers defensive report card against Michigan

Grades depend on paradigm.

Rutgers v Michigan
Higdon and Michigan eventually wore down the Knights.
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Eight down, four to go as we are two-thirds of the way through the season. How did the units grade out against the Wolverines? Let us know how you feel about the defensive performance with our poll and in the comments below.

Same format as we break down the defensive performance at each of the three levels organized by alignment, assignment, and technique. The players listed in each group are in order of how noticeable they were to me, but potentially not every player who saw action.

Defensive Line: D+ (Davis, Joseph-Day, Turner, Wilkins, Bateky, Turay, Nash, Lumor, Previlon)

Alignment: Rutgers played mostly 40 fronts or when they did put more men on the line, Michigan often had fullbacks and tight ends seemingly everywhere themselves.

Assignment: Rutgers defensive line was in total stop the run mode and it was not effective. As a result of being so run focused, Michigan QBs had plenty of time when they did pass. There were very few slants, not enough time for stunts.

Technique: The defensive line was driven back way too much and did not have enough free arms to take down ball carriers close to the line. By getting driven back, there was no time for anything to develop in the form of stunts or E-gos.

Individual other player thoughts: Wilkins (4 tackle, 2.5 TFL) was not physically overmatched and made some plays. Bateky (1 tackles) struggled though. Joseph (1 sack) was AWOL. Previlon, too. Turner (3 tackles, 1 TFL) continues to show how if you are undersized but quick, you can make a few plays. Lumor played more initially but was replaced by Myles Nash (yes he played both ways again). Darnell Davis was able to muster 2 tackles but could not cover a running back on a wheel route. Not sure if Jimmy Hogan played. Kemoko Turay (7 tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL) deserves credit for chasing plays downfield, but needs to make more plays at the line in the run game. He did play his tail off though as at least one play he amazingly chased down a running back 20 yards downfield to avoid a long, long TD.

For Rutgers to have any shot to stay competitive they had to control runs to be the three or four variety not first down runs getting seven. At times, Michigan was getting so many on first that Michigan had every play in their playbook available on second. This limited Niemann’s creativity on third and short when it came up.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan
A host of Knights could not stop this plunge.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers: C- (Morris, Roberts, Douglas, Russell, Fatukasi)

Alignment: The linebackers played mostly the normal 4-3 stack and when they did show a 50 front Michigan was often in a heavy set themselves.

Assignment: For the most part Rutgers played this pretty conservative, with linebackers in run support and middle coverage zones.

Technique: As the game wore on, angles and speed eroded allowing big plays. In the pass game linebackers were in no man’s land a few times. It wasn’t as much keeping arms free as it was angles flattened out because Rutgers linebackers are too undersized to shed blocks from massive O-linemen.

Individual other player thoughts: Ross Douglas went from hero to zero, though he did get hosed by the refs on at least one call. Eric Margolis was the heavier option on the strong side early in the year but in this game the staff used Brandon Russell who was overmatched, registering only one tackle. The staff didn’t stay complacent and then gave the first freshman up a crack, Fatukasi (2 tackles). Trevor Morris put up 7 tackles, but was not at his best like previous weeks, the one responsible for missing a tackle on what became the longest run of the day. Deonte Roberts seemed to be lining up the squad the way coaches drew it up. He had 8 tackles but only three were solo and did not remind anyone of Khaseem Greene, Steve Longa, or Tyronne Stowe.

This was an old school contest where linebacker play is critical unlike many wide open passing games these days where offenses do their best to force linebackers to the sidelines by spreading the field. Rutgers unit was exposed and luckily the defensive backs were there to bail them out a few times.

Secondary: B- (Gray, Harris, Hayes, Hester, Wharton, Campbell)

Alignment: Rutgers mixed mostly between their base defense and occasional nickel unlike last week when they completely confused Purdue with 30 fronts.

Assignment: Rutgers played press-man with Wharton and Hayes giving a little more cushion with less help inside than a week ago. The normal Ash cover 6 looked like cover 1 a lot with the strong safety covering a tight end, and free safety over the top.

Technique: Rutgers dared Michigan to throw to the seams occasionally with huge cushions. No one got burned badly deep.

Individual other player thoughts: Jawuan Harris (9 tackles, 1 INT) is the story again after leading the team in solo tackles and having yet another interception. K.J. Gray (9 tackles) regressed somewhat from the previous two weeks and was benched at one point for allowing a wide open third down completion to his man as if he thought the tight end was well short of the sticks. Hester (2 tackles, 1 PD) played a little more this game and perhaps he, Gray, and Harris will be full go against Maryland. Kiy did drop a potential pick six that would have given RU a 13-7 lead. Wharton (8 tackles) was solid in run support since U of M only completed 13 passes, the longest being 20 yards. Damon Hayes (8 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PD) showed his ability to chase down plays from the backside late in the game. Campbell didn’t see much time with RU in the base so much.

The secondary was not tested as much as they could have been. Their play has to be graded on a smaller sample set and more on their run support than coverage. This is probably the toughest unit individual grade to assign all season. I honestly have no idea what the coaches think about this unit compared to what they expected at this time of the season.

Rutgers v Michigan
It’s tough for the secondary when so much space is open for runners.
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Coaching: C-

This was again the typical conservative game plan without run blitzes or back side chase downs until the game was out of hand. Once the game was 28-14 you started to see more variance in the looks to the offensive line and a QB in his first meaningful action. The coaching staff seemed to be playing not to lose 78-0 and then realized too late this had the potential to be an actual game. I understand not wanting to get embarrassed but Michigan turned to a completely unproven quarterback and Rutgers seemed completely unprepared to make him uncomfortable. How about mixing up pressure or even just jamming tight ends at the line?

A disappointing effort by the defensive staff, though if I was grading the offense, ouch. Giving up 35 points was a lot thirty years ago and this game was a lot like one of those types of games. Maryland likes to attack the outside with screens to open up huge running lanes in the middle, will they have the same success as the Wolverines?

Effort: B

This defense wore down unlike the previous two weeks and it was evident late in the second quarter. They didn’t quit entirely, but there has to be more aggression when both sides know a run is imminent. Michigan has some talented offensive linemen but Rutgers did not have enough energy at times at the point of attack. A few times there was not enough effort to jam receivers at the line.

Overall grade: C-

Michigan just gained too many chunk plays on early downs in the run game. On the other hand, how many teams gave up 35 points and still won this week? College football, even the Big Ten is an offensive league now and Rutgers is just not competent on offense quite often. Seesawing back, if you know your opponent is going to run, all good teams can stop it (unless it’s the triple option). After wavering, the defense in my book gets a below average grade.

Three stars:

  1. Jawuan Harris
  2. Kemoko Turay
  3. Kevin Wilkins


Reasons for pessimism: 1. Rutgers has not won against the Big Ten East since 2015. 2. Rutgers defense gave up 334 yards rushing. 3. Teams will likely follow the Michigan blueprint. 4. What if Rutgers offense can’t do anything in the first half ever? 5. A third string QB and you can’t make him uncomfortable at all. 6. Jawuan Harris possibly the team’s best DB, how did we even get to this point? 7. Michigan has thrown for less TDs than RU, yet still steamrolled. 8. What can Rutgers do to even slow a team committed to the run? 9. Purdue and Illinois are not on the schedule again in 2017. 10. Freshmen linebackers couldn’t help out more?

Reasons for optimism: 1. Maryland’s offensive line is not Michigan. 2. Luck with the zebras can’t be worse than this one. 3. Not every team has a third string QB who was a stud recruit. 4. After two wins, the team came back to earth. 5. Blackshear was banged up and reduced the Rutgers firepower. 7. Michigan has the best or second best front four on the schedule and RU already played Ohio State. 8. Gio continues to get healthier. 9. Janarion Grant looked like we haven’t seen him in a while. 10. This is the same team you gave up 78 points to at home a year earlier.

Dave wonders, what if Maietti was was not called for holding on a pancake block late in the second quarter?


What grade did the Knights D earn v Michigan?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A: Any defense would have eventually worn out.
    (2 votes)
  • 30%
    B: If they had some help from the offense ...
    (45 votes)
  • 42%
    C: Average effort from a Power 5 defense.
    (63 votes)
  • 19%
    D: Better than 78-0, but poor.
    (28 votes)
  • 6%
    F: Give me a break, 334 yards rushing = fail.
    (9 votes)
147 votes total Vote Now