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Rutgers Football Game #10 Preview v #4 Michigan

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National Title Contender steamrolls into Piscataway for 3:30 pm kickoff.

Michigan v Rutgers
This scene took place on the same field just four years ago.
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

#4 Michigan (8-1; 6-0) At Rutgers (1-8; 0-6)

Where: Highpoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Kick-off: Saturday, November 10th at 3:40 p.m. EST

Weather: 43 degrees, sunny with a 1% chance of rain, 18 mph winds

TV: BTN Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), James Laurinaitis (analyst) and Rick Pizzo (reporter). Out-of-market channel finder.

Stream: BTN2go

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, Eric LeGrand, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 196, Sirius 105. (WRSU 88.7-FM Justin Sontupe, Matt Howe and Chris Tsakonas)

Current Spread: Michigan -39

Against The Spread: Rutgers 4-5; Michigan 6-3

Series History: Michigan leads the all-time series 3-1 with all games coming in B1G play.

SB Nation UM site: Maize n Brew

Michigan Statistical Leaders

Passing: Shea Patterson - 134 for 201 pass attempts, 66.7%, 1667 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT. Dylan McCaffrey - 8 for 15 pass attempts, 53.3%, 126 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Karan Higdon - 963 yards on 173 attempts, 5.6 ypc, 7 TD; Shea Patterson - 187 yards on 51 attempts, 3.7 ypc, 5 TD; Chris Evans - 251 yards on 50 attempts, 5.0 ypc, 3 TD; Tru Wilson - 223 yards on 38 attempts, 5.9 ypc, 1 TD;

Receiving: Donovan Peoples-Jones - 25 catches for 364 yards, 14.6 ypc, 7 TD; Zach Gentry - 25 catches for 350 yards, 14.0 ypc, 2 TD; Nico Collins - 23 catches for 373 yards, 16.2 ypc, 2 TD; Grant Perry - 16 catches for 119 yards, 7.4 ypc, 0 TD;

Defense: Tyree Kinnel - 47 tackles, 2.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 1 PD, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries; Devin Bush - 46 tackles, 6.0 for a loss, 4 sacks, 0 INT, 0 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumbles, 1 pass defended; Chase Winovich - 39 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 PD, 1 fumble recovery

Kicking: Quinn Nordin - 39 for 40 PAT’s, 11 for 16 FG attempts, Long of 50 yards

Michigan Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Michigan I Rutgers

What To Watch For

Energy

Talk about a roll of the dice ...” take 10. It’s true that the stadium will probably be at least 50% Maize and Blue. Prove me wrong Scarlet Knights fans. Is it possible that men’s basketball, women’s soccer, and field hockey energy could somehow parlay itself into the football game Saturday? College football players and fans are superstitious organisms so I guess anything is possible.

Using the head and not the heart, don’t fool yourself. Michigan lost to still undefeated Notre Dame in the season opener and has been an absolute steamroller since. The Wolverines have won eight straight games, including a whooping of then #15 Wisconsin 38-13, solid victory over rival #24 Michigan State 21-7, and then a 42-7 demolition of #14 Penn State their past three contests. Michigan has only allowed opponents to score 20 points or more three times and two of those were blowout wins when the outcome was long decided. The Wolverines have scored 38 or more six times behind the dual-threat quarterback Shea Patterson.

Speaking of quarterbacks ...

Sitkowski / McNulty watch

The RU offense did not beat themselves last week and for the second game in a row had zero turnovers. That’s about the only positive takeaway from the first 2.5 quarters of football. After that, they looked like a competent offense for the most part, though Wisconsin was rotating reserves in during the last few drives. That being said scoring 17 points against a perennial powerhouse on the road is progress for this program. One of the things we had to see from this program for the past 4 years is an ability to score points even in garbage time, which Rutgers has barely been able to do. It may be window dressing to the general public, but matters to the confidence of the players inside the locker room and gives the coaches something to build on in subsequent games. This may not be one of them though.

We haven’t talked much about opposing defenses lately because most of the time in college football these days, a defense is only as good as the rest they get from their offense moving the ball. Michigan is not the norm. The Wolverine defense is top 10 in the country in virtually every category including points per game allowed (5th at 13.6) and total offense allowed at just 216.2 yards per game. It came as a surprise to me that Devin Bush is still on the Wolverines because for the most part, year in and year out Michigan seems to send a dozen or so defensive players to the NFL and replace them with four star talent. Oddsshark is not the only source expecting Rutgers to be shutout in this game because the Michigan D is that good.

Chris Ash, D.C.

Rutgers’s defense on the other hand is littered with guys who have been multi-year starters. Now that we have seen Chris Ash as Defensive Coordinator for two games, it does appear that he is doing something to get the experienced group to perform closer to how they did last season. The guy who has finally showed the potential we have heard about for five years is Saquan Hampton. Hampton has been up and down while oft-injured in his career but last week was all over the field to the point he may have single-handedly discouraged Wisconsin from putting the ball in the air for the entirety of the 3rd quarter. Hampton had two INTs off starting QB Alex Hornibrook, who normally limits mistakes, and could have had more.

Michigan on offense presents the exact challenge Chris Ash indicated was the most difficult to defend when he took the RU job. The Wolverine offense is led by transfer quarterback Shea Patterson who is very good at taking care of the ball particularly knowing that he does not need to take many risks. Patterson plays a Giovanni Rescigno type style where when plays break down he gets outside the pocket and does not force the ball into coverage leading to his impressive 14 TD to just 3 INT ratio. The passing success also comes due to Harbaugh’s creative ability to counter punch off his rushing attack. Michigan is committed to the run which is easy when you are never down big and is so deep, their 4th running back Ben Mason has 24 carries, including six touchdowns.

Michigan is by far either the deepest or second deepest team Rutgers has faced this season. None of the other opponents are even in the ballpark. For Rutgers to control things at all, seniors like Deonte Roberts and Trevor Morris need to ensure the team is aligned well and plays with almost flawless execution and technique. Boosts from younger physically gifted players like Tyson Fogg or Rashawn Battle may be necessary in addition.

Kickers unite

Rutgers has had the decided edge in the kicking game in most contests this season, but not against the Wolverines. Quinn Nordin has a long field goal of 50 yards and scored 72 points himself compared to Justin Davidovicz’s 38 points and a long of 52. Michigan’s Will Hart is averaging an absurd 48.9 yards per punt. Adam Korsak for RU is doing quite well at 43.1, but not even close to Hart. Though kicking is no longer the reason people go to football games, perhaps unlike 1869, this could be the best matchup of kicking specialists in the country during the 2018 season.

What makes this intriguing is that the wind is expected to be a steady 18 mph with significantly higher gusts, so the field position battle could get interesting. Jim Harbaugh did praise Rutgers’s kick and punt coverage this season, though it may be difficult to get a good read on the ball with so much wind. Michigan is a juggernaut, but against a lesser opponent unexpected luck on special teams would be part of the recipe for many a late season upset.

Final Thoughts

Though not more talented, Rutgers was the better team during the 2014 season. Since then Rutgers has plummeted to the bottom of the Power Five while Michigan has a chance to take home a National Championship. It goes to show how much coaching, recruiting, and pure optimism can take a school on the gridiron. Rutgers led the all-time series 1-0, and it was not in 1914 but 2014! It can’t be said enough, but how crazy is it that Rutgers beat Michigan just four years ago when the current seniors on these two teams were already in their respective programs?

Rutgers was gifted chances against every opponent this season other than Ohio State with injuries to key opposing personnel, ineffectiveness, poor coaching on the other side, one-dimensional offenses, you name it. They were not able to capitalize even once, so even if Patterson were to get hurt, Harbaugh get the flu, and the Scarlet Knights got every bounce, this is probably not the RU squad to finally break the longest Power 5 drought of losing to ranked opponents. Perhaps one day soon, a Rutgers team can pull off a program changing upset against a top-5 team like this.

In 2014, I brought a coworker from the Philippines to watch the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium simply because it was a chance to see the possible National Champion (Oregon) in action. Will a lot of these general football fans brave the wind Saturday? And if they do, will either team get a boost? It will be interesting to see what happens and hopefully Rutgers can be competitive in some form or fashion for at least a little while.