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Rutgers Football Game #4 Preview at #20 Michigan

Opportunity for a “miracle” take one on Saturday at the Big House.

Michigan v Rutgers
Five years ago seems so long ago for both clubs.
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-2; 0-1) at Michigan (2-1, 0-1)

Where: Michigan Stadium; Ann Arbor, MI

Kick-off: Saturday, September 28 at 12:01 p.m. EDT

Weather: 71 degrees, scattered thunderstorms with a 40% chance of rain, 9 mph winds

TV: BTN, Kevin Kulger, Matt Millen, and Lisa Byington, Out of market channel finder

Stream: Fox Sports App

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - Rutgers IMG Sports Network: WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, Sirius 211, XM 201. (WRSU 88.7-FM: Troy DeSavino and Justin Sontupe)

Current Spread: Michigan -28

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-2; Michigan 0-3

Series History: Wolverines lead the all-time series 4-1

SB Nation UM site: Maize n Brew

Michigan Statistical Leaders

Passing: Shea Patterson - 50 for 90 pass attempts, 55.6%, 629 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT; Dylan McCaffrey - 5 for 11 pass attempts, 45.5%, 57 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; Joe Milton - 0 for 3 pass attempts, 0.0%, 0 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: Zach Charbonnet - 196 yards on 43 attempts, 4.6 ypc, 3 TD; Christian Turner - 86 yards on 20 attempts, 4.3 ypc, 0 TD; Ben VanSumeren - 13 yards on 5 attempts, 2.6 ypc, 1 TD;

Receiving: Ronnie Bell - 11 catches for 180 yards, 16.4 ypc, 0 TD; Tarik Black - 10 catches for 161 yards, 16.1 ypc, 1 TD; Nico Collins - 8 catches for 147 yards, 18.4 ypc, 1 TD; Sean McKeon - 6 catches for 96 yards, 16.0 ypc, 2 TD;

Defense: Khaleke Hudson - 34 tackles, 1.0 for a loss, 1 sack, 0 interceptions; Brad Hawkins - 27 tackles, 0.0 for a loss, 0.0 sacks, 0 INT, 1 pass defended; Aidan Hutchinson - 24 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defended, 2 forced fumbles

Kicking: Quinn Nordin - 5 for 5 PAT’s, 0 for 1 FG attempts; Jake Moody - 2 for 2 PAT’s, 3 for 3 FG attempts, long of 43

What To Watch For

Sitkowski watch

We are back to the Art Sitkowski watch after a brief hiatus. Last week I asked for good play calling and good execution. We got a lot of both, the only blemish being some struggles when Rutgers penetrated deep into Boston College territory, an unfamiliar spot for Art and the offense. Hopefully they learned something from the game tape, but don’t expect another 300 yard passing game, perhaps most due to the offensive line. The hogs up front were better against Iowa than they were against BC, but the Wolverines possess the type of explosive athletes the Eagles wish they had, so things could get really dangerous in the pocket.

If Rutgers does get down multiple scores, expect Michigan to continue to play things straight up until the bitter end. Maybe we will see Rutgers be able to move the ball through the air when trailing for the first time since 2016, but don’t count on it. It will be a true test of the Rutgers wideouts to get open and catch the ball against stout man coverage for the first time this year. Iowa played a lot of zone, but I expect Michigan to press man as much as they can. Will Bo Melton get open? Is Matt Alaimo able to make a few plays? Can Daevon Robinson show the length to catch a few balls? Is Isaiah Washington going to just keep plugging along? I hope Sitkowski can be the guy, but if he is powerless I’d like to see if anyone else under center can help the receivers answer these questions.

Pacheco and Blackshear watch

For how well the Rutgers passing offense was compared to usual, the ground game was below average. It was not abysmal (see the 2016 Michigan tape for that), but disappointing nonetheless. Isaih Pacheco will be hungry to rebound, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Pacheco was pushing his linemen and dragging as many defenders he could, but there was just nowhere to go despite the Eagles committing just six men to the run.

Raheem Blackshear continued to find ways to be effective, not just on his 74 yard TD on a hot route. He has his work cutout again, though Michigan’s defensive weakness thus far this year has been containment on the edges which is Raheem’s specialty. The Wolverines have plenty of speed, but were heavily victimized by Wisconsin and Army on misdirection and counter plays by over pursuit. Rutgers doesn’t have Jonathan Taylor, but will do their best to mix in Pacheco, Blackshear, Aaron Young, and Bo Melton with a variety of motions, jet sweeps, and other wrinkles. Army punished the Wolverines time and time again and the Scarlet have more talent in the backfield than the Black Knights, but can the Rutgers offensive line do a servicable job?

Chris Ash, Head Coach. Andy Buh, D.C.

If the run defense isn’t Michigan’s biggest problem this year, it is definitely the passing offense. The same passing offense that devastated Rutgers in 2018 has escaped Jim Harbaugh’s squad this year. The biggest reason for the struggle is probably Shea Patterson’s shoulder, oblique, and everything that touches that area on his body nagging him all season. Harbaugh tried already to let Patterson rest, but now that backup Dylan McCaffrey is doubtful with a concussion it will be interesting to see if Shea plays hurt or third stringer Joe Milton continues to give a lot of handoffs. The Rutgers passing defense has been overall good, but also surrendered a few big plays. If Andy Buh’s defense can avoid those big ones with continued improvement from the young safeties, it should keep the confidence from invigorating Michigan.

Jim Harbaugh was content to try and wear down Army by handing the ball off over and over again. It barely got the game to overtime, but proved just enough to pull out a win against a Black Knights squad that lacks depth on the defensive line. Sound familiar?

Rutgers’s main criticism from a lot of people, and correctly so, is that they fail to play games with the team they have. The staff instead game plans and calls plays as if they have an Ohio State type juggernaut. It wasn’t quite like the injuries that destroyed the Umass defense in the season opener, but Rutgers had a few players get dinged up against BC. The one that mattered most was Willington Previlon who is irreplaceable as a run stuffer at defensive tackle. Previlon, Julius Turner, and Jaohne Duggan need to play balls to the wall for RU to have any chance of even keeping this game close. Then behind them, Drew Singleton, Tyshon Fogg, and co. all need bounce back games. They need to play like wild men. Singleton should have plenty to prove against his former mates and coaching staff.

Special Teams

The Rutgers special teams are good, but so are Michigan’s. For two struggling offenses, of course that begins at the punter spot where Michigan’s Will Hart was the only guy I saw last year in the Big Ten that was surely better than Adam Korsak. In 2019, Hart has raised his average from 47.0 yards per kick to 47.6, almost two yards more than Korsak (45.7). In his defense, Adam has dropped many of his inside the 20 in short fields which negatively impacts his average.

At the placekicker spot, Michigan has Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin who are both pretty good. Justin Davidovicz might have a slight edge, but it isn’t by much. Though Rutgers hasn’t broken big returns yet, they also face tough competition from Michigan’s Giles Jackson on kick returns and Ronnie Bell in the punt return game.

Will either team be able to create an edge in field position or will one squad have a huge breakdown to swing momentum early?

Why should I have hope?

  1. It’s college football.
  2. If Michigan starts to buckle and Rutgers somehow has a lead, the fans may turn on the Wolverines. Yes the game Rutgers won was at RU, but the Maize faithful did some psychological damage on their 2014 squad to facilitate that. Maybe we see it again.
  3. We have no idea what this Rutgers team will do if they smell major upset, because they have sniffed just one (the fake spike game) in the last decade or so. Of all Power Five schools, Rutgers has the longest drought since last beating a top 25 team.
  4. Weather could be a factor.
  5. You still really shouldn’t.

Path to victory

This is a stretch even with Michigan’s struggles, but you saw Army almost pull out a victory in the Big House and no one can tell me the Black Knights put more talented players on the field itself. Rutgers lacks depth at defensive tackle, but not as desperately as Army. Clean special teams, avoiding missed tackles, and not committing senseless penalties are critical for the unthinkable to be a possibility.

Despite all the four and five star talent on the Wolverine sideline, they are an average college football team right now. On the flip side Rutgers is not even an average football team, so the Knights need to close that gap quickly before the Wolverines get it together. Will one team get it together before this game?

The betting line on this game is where I expect it would and should be. If Rutgers won this game, the Scarlet Knight faithful would be a lot more surprised than the Michigan fan base, a very strange circumstance. So as a result, the question I have is if an upset would even make this highlight?