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What To Watch For: Michigan vs. Rutgers

How badly will Michigan beat Rutgers?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 Michigan travels to New Jersey to take on the hapless Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday. The Wolverines are expected to pound the Knights by multiple scores. Here’s what you should watch for:

Keep Shea Patterson Healthy

Maybe I’m taking Rutgers a little too lightly, but this game should be easier than any other on Michigan’s schedule. Rutgers is that bad.

The main objective, other than obviously securing the win, should be to keep the starters healthy, especially quarterback Shea Patterson. With backup Dylan McCaffrey out indefinitely, the team lacks depth under center. I fully expect to see both Brandon Peters and Joe Milton get playing time for most, if not all, of the second half as the Wolverines figure out who is No. 2 and No. 3. Milton may have more talent, but Peters has experience. The team is also hoping to keep Milton’s redshirt, which means he can play in up to three more games this season.

In addition to getting Patterson out of the game early, Michigan should limit his rush attempts. There’s no reason to have him take hits in a game that should be decided early.

U-M should have a 30-point lead by halftime, and Rutgers isn’t good enough to come back against Michigan’s backups, let alone its starters.

Don’t Make Silly Mistakes

The only way an underdog like Rutgers wins a game like this is by winning the turnover battle (probably by a significant margin) and getting some gifts from Michigan. If the Wolverines simply take care of the ball and don’t make any critical mistakes on special teams, they should be in good shape.

Michigan can put this game away early by taking advantage of Rutgers’ poor offense. The team’s quarterbacks have combined to throw only four touchdowns and a whopping 17 interceptions. Starter Artur Sitkowski has 15 of those picks. Michigan’s secondary already has a number of pick-sixes this season, so don’t be surprised to see another in this game.

This season, the Wolverines have been pretty good about limiting mistakes. There’s nothing to suggest that changes this weekend.

Get Backups Some Playing Time

Not only should Michigan get Patterson out of the game early, it should also give the rest of its starters plenty of rest once the game is out of hand. There’s no reason to risk injury to key players before the Ohio State game.

Getting out to an early lead will go a long way here. Don’t allow Rutgers to believe it has any chance of an upset. Once the Scarlet Knights are down, they’ll be out. Look to see Michigan be aggressive in the first half especially. It’s highly doubtful U-M will beat Rutgers as badly as it did in 2016, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Karan Higdon Approaches 1,000 Yards

Higdon sits just 37 yards away from 1,000 for the year. He should reach that mark early in the game, potentially on the first drive. It’d be a big milestone for Higdon, who fell six yards shy of 1,000 last season.

Right now, Higdon is No. 11 nationally and No. 2 in the Big Ten with 963 rushing yards. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor leads the country with 1,363. Higdon is No. 9 nationally in yards per game (120.4).

Given the likely game script, Higdon and Michigan’s other running backs should see plenty of action. Rutgers is one of the worst team’s in the country when it comes to stopping the run, allowing 234.3 yards on the ground per game (120th nationally). There’s a possibility that two or even three backs top the 100-yard mark.