Rutgers Overview: Complete 180 From 2014
Zach: Four games remain until the start of the Big Ten championship, with those four games being crucial ones if Michigan hopes to accomplish their dream of claiming the title for the first time since 2004. First stop is the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey, where head coach Kyle Flood and his squad holds a 2-3 record at home this season. Their first ever matchup began the downfall of Brady Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor and the beginning of a major cultural change. Ricky, what major differences do you see from last year’s Michigan team following their loss to Rutgers to now where they maintain a 3-1 record in the conference?
Ricky: It’s completely different. It starts with coaching. One could see that Michigan would just roll over and quit when things became difficult in 2014. Total opposite this year, and it was evident in the second half against Minnesota. From an on-field standpoint, Michigan has a solid answer at quarterback, pending Jake Rudock’s status, multiple pieces at running back and a strong defense. Oh, and Jabrill Peppers; he makes a world of a difference. The Rutgers game last year was where the tires started to fall off for Michigan (though the Minnesota loss was much worse). Derrick Green’s season ended in the bright lights of Piscataway and the stove became hotter for Hoke. Zach, Michigan State and Rutgers played in an interestingly close game in early October. You also follow the Spartans. Was there anything you noticed in that matchup that could factor into Saturday’s afternoon tilt?
Zach: Michigan State had a handful of injuries from key contributors that played into factor during their close win at Rutgers. It was also wide receiver Leonte Caroo’s first game back from suspension, who followed up with three touchdowns and over 100+ yards receiving. He absolutely tore apart the Spartans’ secondary, so if that occurs once again on Saturday, where the senior has a field day, a replica final could happen. But Jourdan Lewis is more than capable of matching up with Caroo based on talent. Do you see the cornerback winning this four quarter battle?
Ricky: Michigan has an above average offense, nothing speculator but better than I think most expected. When the Wolverines won five straight games before losing to Michigan State, they averaged 226.4 rushing yards on the ground per game, but faltered to 62-yards against the Spartans. That will need to change this weekend, and it will fall into De’Veon Smith’s hands, after Jim Harbaugh announced that Drake Johnson will sit out with an undisclosed injury. Smith totaled just 2.4 yards a carry two weeks ago. Do you believe Smith will booster an impact on Saturday or will the struggle continue?
Zach: At this point, there’s nothing that the redshirt freshman can’t do on the field, whether it’s on defense, special teams or offense. Last week against Minnesota, Peppers saw 92 snaps at both Wildcat quarterback, running back and receiver. It would make sense, however, to save Peppers for Penn State and Ohio State at the end of the season, but if you have a Lamborghini, why leave it in the garage? Peppers would be another weapon for whoever starts at quarterback, so why not have him play both ways, especially as a ball carrier option, which could be needed, being that Michigan rushed for 3.7 yards a carry against Minnesota. Can they break the slump on Saturday?
Ricky: Rutgers enters Saturday in the middle of the pack in rushing defense (57th in rushing yards allowed per game in FBS). Linebackers Steve Longa and Quentin Gause are having strong seasons for the Scarlet Knights, with 91 (second in FBS) and 71 tackles, respectively. I think Michigan’s success at running the football depends on a few variables: De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson’s health and offensive line play. The Wolverines couldn’t get anything going against Minnesota, besides the "carry fairy" blessing Johnson with some key yards late. I think as a unit, Michigan can surpass 150 yards rushing but someone needs to separate themselves with season’s end looming.
Recap: Wisconsin 48, Rutgers 10
Another week, another Rutgers manhandling. This time, at the hands of Wisconsin.
The Scarlet Knights couldn’t get anything going offensively in the 38-point loss, their fifth of the season. Quarterback Chris Laviano struggled against Wisconsin's defense, completing 4-of-14 passes for a mere 31 yards while tossing an interception. Backup Hayden Rettig saw time off the bench, completing 2-of-6 passes for 51 yards.
Besides Joshua Hicks 72 yards, Rutgers didn’t have much going for it in the running game. Robert Martin and Paul James both had double-digit yards but Rettig and Laviano had losses of -12 and -20 yards, respectively.
Corey Clement returned to Wisconsin’s backfield and stomped Rutgers to the tune of 115 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. Joel Stave had a very Jake Rudock game at quarterback, finishing 13-for-25 passing for 217 yards, a touchdown.
Rutgers’ defense wasn’t able to stop much, but it was able to intercept Stave twice.
Key Players To Watch
Laviano did not see the field last season during Rutgers’ first Big Ten victory over Michigan. He gets that chance this Saturday in his ninth straight start. The sophomore is coming off an overall QB rating of 28.6 following their loss to Wisconsin, to which he completed four passes for 31 yards with one interception.