Rutgers football (1-2) travels to Ann Arbor for the third time in program history on Saturday to face Michigan (2-1). Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses last week, with the Wolverines getting blown out at Wisconsin. Jim Harbaugh’s team is experiencing issues at quarterback once again, both in regard to performance and health. However, the Scarlet Knights continue to struggle with penalties and turnovers, as well as allowed almost 300 yards on the ground in the defeat to Boston College.
In an effort to find out more about this week’s opponent, I was fortunate to speak with Trevor Woods of SB Nation’s Michigan site, Maize n Brew. Michigan fans are in doom and gloom mode much like Rutgers fans, but for very different reasons. Find out more here.
AB: After the loss to Wisconsin, what is the current state of this team and describe the mood of the fan base?
TW: The current state of the team itself appears to be in bunker mode. Jim Harbaugh told the team to not worry about the outside noise and to let him deal with it. We’ll see if they take that advice to heart. By all comments made from staff and players this week, they’re definitely upset about the loss but realize the weekend in Madison wasn’t fatal and all their goals are still attainable (in theory). As far as the fanbase, it has been brutal. It’s been proverbial dark clouds all week with little to no optimism. It’s been ugly. But if Michigan has a dominant performance on Saturday, things will get a lot more positive in a hurry.
AB: What have been the issues with the offense and is their hope it will improve enough for Michigan to challenge for a Big Ten championship?
TW: I’m not sure what the future holds for the offense in terms of a B1G Championship, but the offensive issues have been schematic, technical, and effort based. The team was out-hustled, out-coached, and out-manned against Wisconsin, paraphrasing Harbaugh. The team was getting blown off the ball, offensively and defensively, and the word toughness could not be associated with the team in any way. From a scheme standpoint, new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis brought in an uptempo spread based scheme that hasn’t had quick enough tempo, or provided the speed in space from playmakers he claimed it would. The quarterback play hasn’t been up to snuff, the blocking hasn’t protected the QB or opened up holes for the backs, and there hasn’t been enough deep shots to the wideouts down the field. I do think they’ll improve offensively, but they need to get things clicking quickly.
AB: The defense hasn’t been as dominant as expected, what are the issues and how confident are you they will return to their usual high standard?
TW: The defense has been out of position and have endured many mental lapses in pass coverage and run support. Beyond the mental miscues has been the aggressive scheme of Don Brown being exposed in recent games, using that aggression against him, whether that’s hitting a receiver deep or dialing up a counter run where the D is out of position. If the defense is to return to their high standard they must implement more Plan B’s and be willing to play more zone coverage at times, and if they’re going to play man coverage the secondary needs to play more physical and actually jam wideouts once the ball is snapped. I really have no gauge as to whether they’ll return to their high standard or not. There’s definitely game film that has exposed weaknesses, we’ll see if Rutgers tries to use Wisconsin’s game plan.
AB: Injuries have been an issue, particularly on offense. What is the status of key players heading into Saturday’s game?
TW: Running back Zach Charbonnet was limited last week, he very well could be again this week. Quarterback Shea Patterson is probable with a shoulder injury. Tight end Sean McKeon is out. Backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey is doubtful with a concussion.
AB: What is the general feeling on Harbaugh as head coach and how do you see his future at Michigan?
TW: The general feeling nationally is he needs to start winning the big games. Harbaugh hasn’t had a good record against top 10 teams (1-9 I believe). However, I still believe he is a good coach and his best days are still ahead at Michigan. I mean, they have to be, he hasn’t beat Ohio State yet. He would be the first to say that his record against OSU, the fact that Michigan hasn’t gone to the Big Ten Championship Game, is unacceptable. Harbaugh came in as the perceived messiah, and that is one hell of a hard thing to live up to. 10-3 seasons aren’t tolerated by the Michigan fan base.
AB: This is the third trip to Ann Arbor for Rutgers fans but any recommendations on where to spend time this weekend?
TW: Ann Arbor is a lovely town to walk around. The State Street and Main Street areas have a lot of bars and eats. Both areas have something for any age group or interest. I’d also recommend walking around the golf course across from Michigan Stadium before the game, that’s where you’ll find one of the biggest tailgates in the country ($40 to park there, though).
AB: What is your prediction for the game?
TW: This is hard. I think Rutgers will be able to net a couple long touchdowns, but Michigan will have a better performance offensively through the air and Michigan wins 31-14.
Thanks so much to Trevor for taking the time to giving great insight on the current state of Michigan football. You can follow him on twitter here and for more coverage on Michigan, visit Maize n Brew. To read my answers to Trevor’s questions on Rutgers football, click here.