Rutgers and Michigan will enter Saturday’s game with identical 1-3 records and three game losing streaks. There is no doubt that visitors have more talent and depth, but it seems likely that this matchup could be the most competitive since the Scarlet Knights shocked the Wolverines 26-24 in 2014.
Michigan has struggled on both sides of the ball this season and could be in for a quarterback change. Even so, Rutgers will need to play its best game of the season after having lost to the Wolverines by an average score of 51-7 over the past five seasons Can the Scarlet Knights turn the page under Greg Schiano and be more competitive against Jim Harbaugh’s squad this season?
To find out more about the current state of the Wolverines, we spoke with Trevor Woods SB Nation’s Michigan site Maize N Brew. Let’s kickoff things here.
AB: After a 1-3 start and another season with the offense struggling, is Jim Harbaugh’s time coming to an end soon? And if Michigan loses to Rutgers, would it seal his fate and/or would he be allowed on the plane headed back to Ann Arbor?
TW: Jim Harbaugh would answer the first part by saying his actions have always said he’s loyal to Michigan. However, the caveat there is whether Michigan will continue to be loyal to him. Some believe the end is near, others believe he’ll be around a long time longer. I don’t think a loss to Rutgers would have any immediate impact as far as his fate, but it would definitely be a blow to the program, and 1-4 would be a downright travesty. Fair questions, though.
AB: What have been the biggest issues with the offense this season and who do you expect to start at quarterback this week?
TW: There have been receiver drops, but the biggest issues have been the offensive line and quarterback play. The o-line isn’t protecting all that well, and has been porous in run blocking, leading to predictable passing that the defense knows coming. In regards to the QB play, Joe Milton has had his fair share of mental lapses and mechanical issues, and I don’t think many of them classify as quick fixes. I expect Michigan to start Cade McNamara, who replaced Milton in the 3rd quarter against Wisconsin. McNamara gave Michigan’s offense a bit of a spark, but the sample size is too small to determine how much of an upgrade he is over Milton.
AB: What are the biggest reasons for the regression of the defense and what has Michigan done to adjust either with personnel or scheme wise?
TW: Michigan is a predominantly man coverage scheme that blitzes heavily, but they’ve added zone wrinkles this season that haven’t been successful. The regression has been across the board, in run defense and pass coverage, along with schematics that just aren’t working no matter what is dialed up. There’s been a lack of physicality, the defense has been hesitating, and they’ve been shredded in a variety of ways. There have been adjustments made, even with personnel, but they’re still not performing at an acceptable level in any which way.
AB: What are the biggest strengths of Michigan right now?
TW: It’s hard to say. Before the season I would have said the running game. But that hasn’t been the case at all. There haven’t been many strengths, but the most consistent contributors have been safety Daxton Hill and wideout Ronnie Bell.
AB: Who are a few key players to watch for on Saturday and how do you expect Michigan to come out from a mental and emotional standpoint?
TW: As mentioned above, Hill and Bell. Beyond those two, defensive end Kwity Paye is a highly touted pass rusher that hasn’t been able to get home much this year. I’m a fan of RB Hassan Haskins but he only received 1 carry last week, I believe he should be their RB1. Tight end Erick All can get open with the best of them but he has had major struggles catching the ball. CB Vincent Gray has had a good couple weeks after getting torched earlier in the season. It’s hard to say ‘who to watch’ when so many players have been underperforming.
From an emotional standpoint, it’s anyone’s guess. They’ve lost three in a row and have looked defeated the past couple weeks. I myself have no expectations as far as what I think they’ll look like mentally and emotionally. Ideally they’re disappointed with how they’ve performed this season and has put in extra time this week fine-tuning whatever has been going wrong. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but it’s the only way they win this game. If they play without energy and like they’re a 1-3 team, they’re bound to be a 1-4 team.
AB: What’s your prediction for the game?
TW: Rutgers has looked competitive this season, more than in recent memory. Michigan has blown them out a good handful of years now, but the game is likely to be much closer this time around. Rutgers can win this game. Michigan is definitely backed into a corner right now, but I think they’ll play hardened and angry along with just enough execution to get the job done. Michigan wins 33-24 but Rutgers covers the spread.
Thanks to Trevor for taking the time to give such great insight on Michigan football ahead of Saturday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter here and make sure to visit Maize N Brew for complete coverage of Michigan athletics. To read my answers to Trevor’s questions on Rutgers ahead of this matchup, click here.