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Three players to watch as Michigan takes on Rutgers

Rutgers will have to be able to run against Michigan’s staunch defense.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

The Michigan Wolverines are 3-0 and their toughest challenge yet comes to the Big House on Saturday — the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. At 3-0, the Scarlet Knights are only one win away from matching their 2022 win total.

The way they have won is classic Big Ten football: stopping the run, and moving the ball effectively on the ground. For the second time this season, Michigan’s defense will be tested against a mobile quarterback. The difference in Saturday’s game is Rutgers has a bell cow running back to tag team with him. On the defensive end, they have a former Wolverine turning heads in his third season with the program.

QB Gavin Wimsatt

Rutgers loves running the football, and it has a hell of an athlete under center in Gavin Wimsatt. If the Wolverines don’t do their job of containing him on option keepers, he’s going to make the defense pay.

Schiano is unleashing the playbook for Wimsatt. This season, he’s already seen 28 rushing attempts in three games. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has found the end zone twice. In an instant, he can be beyond the second level and into the secondary:

Last season, Wimsatt had only 40 rushing attempts in six starts and ran only four times against the Wolverines for -18 rushing yards. Sacking him three times certainly helped, and that kind of pressure is going to be necessary on Saturday, too.

His 144 rushing yards this season are certainly impressive, but 87 of those yards came last week against Virginia Tech. If Michigan’s offense can get a lead, Rutgers could be in trouble, because Wimsatt is far from a weapon with his arm. He’s completed just 51.5 percent of his passes this season and has been sub-50 percent in the last two weeks. Remarkably, that’s an improvement from his career 46.6 percent completion percentage.

As the starter last season, he threw seven interceptions and has more picks (nine) than passing touchdowns (eight) in his career. As long as Michigan can force Rutgers into passing situations, it should be able to take care of business on Saturday.

RB Kyle Monangai

The last two weeks, Monangai has run for more than 140 yards and has been a massive reason Rutgers looks like a competent team. He’s received 58 carries through the first three weeks and has reached the end zone five times.

Again, the majority of his production came against Virginia Tech, where he was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week with 143 yards and three touchdowns.

Monangai was the rushing leader for the team last season, but early indications show he is ready to take the next step. To do that, he’ll have to prove he can run with the same ferocity against Big Ten defenses. Northwestern held him to just 49 yards in Week 1. Last season, the only game where he had a real impact in conference play was his 162-yard performance against Michigan State. In the other eight Big Ten games, he had 151 yards.

DL Aaron Lewis

At one point, Lewis was a Michigan Wolverine, but he transferred to Rutgers and has become a beast. Last season, Pro Football Focus had only two players in all of college football with an 80+ pass rush and run defense grades: No. 2 overall pick the NFL Draft Will Anderson Jr. and Aaron Lewis.

That hype has come into 2023 as he was on the preseason watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football. Lewis was also named a Preseason First Team All-Big Ten by PFF.

Lewis is one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten and in the country, and he’ll be the biggest challenge the Michigan offensive line has had to this point in 2023. He had eight tackles and a sack last week against Virginia Tech, and he won’t be afraid to show out in the place he very briefly called home.

Lewis has speed, power and size, and can easily disrupt games if not kept in check. You’ll see him get to J.J. McCarthy in this game if the Michigan offensive line isn’t careful.