clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michigan opponent preview: Rutgers 2018

Michigan is going to win.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

In the five years before Greg Schiano arrived at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights sported an 11-44 record. Basically, they were the 1990s version of Kansas (6-39 the last four years).

In his 11-year tenure, Schiano muscled the program into six bowl games, including five wins. Expectations raised to the point where three bowls in four years for Kyle Flood wasn’t cutting it.

Chris Ash is now the head sensei in Piscataway, and as of this date the program is even worse than it was pre-Schiano.

An offense never ranking higher than No. 125 per S&P+. Outscored by Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State by a total of 442-30. 7-26 in less than three seasons.

It begs the question: Is it fair for Rutgers to be in this conference?

You feel for people like On The Banks’ Aaron Breitman when he says: “I can honestly say no fan base has given Rutgers a harder time than Michigan fans.”

There are several examples of formerly strong programs becoming pitiful. Now it’s Kansas — who destroyed Rutgers 55-14 this year, by the way. Before, it was Colorado or Syracuse.

While those teams once thrived in power conferences, Rutgers has been dropped into the Big Ten East to linger in ineptitude. There’s a reason Temple was kicked out of the Big East in 2005. There’s a reason high school teams play in different divisions.

Rutgers shouldn’t have to play the Wolverines or Buckeyes. But due to the New York media market, here we are.

MOTO (Master of the Obvious)

No. 4 Michigan (8-1, 6-0) at Rutgers (1-8, 0-6), 3:30 p.m. at Stadium


Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network (TuneIn)

Line: Michigan by 39.5 (Bovada)

Series: Michigan leads the series 3-1, and has split to trips to New Jersey. Brady Hoke’s final team fell 26-24 in the first meeting.

Jim Harbaugh’s three teams have outscored Rutgers 162 to 30. In 2017, he was forced to pull John O’Korn in a tie game for Brandon Peters, who steadied the ship in a 35-14 victory.


Accuweather says 45 degrees and sunny, but also 20 mph swirling winds. Just another reason to run on almost every down.

Michigan offense vs Rutgers defense


Numbers-wise, Ash’s pass defense is coming along. It averages only 180 yards allowed per game.

Over its last four contests, opposing offenses have mustered just 120 yards through the air. The only problem? Those same offenses decided to gash the defense with the run instead.

Freshman corner Avery Young was forced into action for the injured Blessuan Austin early, and has responded with six deflections. Austin was a former honorable mention All-Big Ten.

Damon Hayes and Isaiah Wharton also rotate at corner, combining for three picks. Safety Saquan Hampton is the leader of the backfield, earning two interceptions and breaking up nine passes.

The pass rush offers little assistance, ranking No. 96 in adjusted sack rate at only 4.9 percent per drop back. Freshman end Mike Tverdov leads with four sacks, while sophomore Elorm Lumor trails just behind with 3.5.

Michigan’s offensive line only cedes 1.56 sacks a game, good for No. 35 nationally.

Newly-minted Davey O’Brien semifinalist Shea Patterson will likely not even bother airing it out, instead opting to hand off to Karan Higdon and friends.

Should he need to throw, he’ll have plenty of time to uncork passes to a deep receiving corps, now reinforced by Tarik Black.

Advantage: Michigan


Since a 35-7 victory over Texas State in the opener, these are the rushing yards allowed by Ash’s defense (with opponent’s S&P+ run offense ranking).

  • Ohio State: 225 yards (No. 88)
  • Kansas: 405 yards (No. 90)
  • Buffalo: 182 yards (No. 84)
  • Indiana: 163 yards (No. 66)
  • Illinois: 330 yards (No. 6)
  • Maryland: 290 yards (No. 32)
  • Northwestern: 128 yards (No. 111)
  • Wisconsin: 317 yards (No. 1)

Overall, this is the No. 114 rush defense in the country per S&P+. With Ed Warinner’s line creating holes for the No. 16 ground attack, this looks like a day for Higdon and company to approach 400 yards.

Michigan leaned on Higdon for 158 yards on 18 totes in last year’s meeting.

Senior linebackers Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts are the leading tacklers with 57.5 and 47, respectively. They combine for seven TFLs, as they opt more to read and react.

The interior defensive line is anchored by 304-pound Kevin Wilkins and 298-pound Joe Bateky — both seniors. The former is a solid run defender, tallying 4.5 TFLs and 6.5 run stuffs among his 27.5 total tackles.

Tyreek Maddox-Williams was expected to be of a blitzer at outside linebacker, but his speed suffered from an ACL tear in Aug. 2017. He only has three TFLs among his 25 stops.

The real question for this matchup? How many carries will it take for Higdon to break 1,000 yards? One? Two?

Advantage: Michigan

Michigan defense vs Rutgers offense


See those big blue bars, and nub-like red ones near the bottom? That’s Don Brown’s pass defense against freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski’s pass attack.

It’s been a nightmare season for Sitkowski. He’s coughed up 15 interceptions, while mustering only 1,100 yards and four touchdowns. In fact, last week’s performance versus Wisconsin was the first he managed to throw more scores than picks.

He does have two weapons in his aerial arsenal. Running back Raheem Blackshear heads the team in catches and yards with 35 for 316. He’s a safety valve who occasionally runs flat routes from the H-back position.

Devin Bush will draw that sideline-to-sideline assignment.

At receiver, the only dangerous option is sophomore Bo Melton out of the slot. His numbers — 25 for 216 — would be more with more accurate quarterback play. He can beat Tyree Kinnel or Josh Metellus sporadically on slants.

Tight end Jerome Washington averages nearly 20 yards a catch.

After the last three games, it’s beyond imagination to think the Scarlet Knights will find success through the air.

Advantage: Michigan


There’s no lack of talent in Ash’s backfield.

Blackshear leads with 100 carries for 437 yards. Jonathan Hilliman — a 225-pounder who transferred from Boston College once A.J. Dillon arrived — excels in short-yardage, pounding his way to six touchdowns.

Freshman Isaih Pacheco chips in 318 yards, and also executed a halfback pass for 39 yards.

Despite this, the Scarlet Knights rank near the bottom in rushing S&P+ (No. 125). The line barely gets push, and with the abject passing game, teams load the box.

Don Brown will likely do the same with his No. 4 rush defense.

Advantage: Michigan


Kicker Justin Davidovicz has converted on 8-of-10 field goals with a long of 52.

Quinn Nordin remains the only weakness from the last month for the Wolverines. He’s missed four of his last seven attempts.

Rutgers trots out Adam Korsak at punter. He’s understandably been busy with this offense, booting 59 punts for an average of 43.1 yards.


Michigan wins. Shocker.

The bigger questions include, but aren't limited to:

  • Who’s the backup quarterback now with Dylan McCaffrey hurt?
  • Which running backs look like viable options next year to replace Higdon?
  • Will Jim Harbaugh try to replicate the 78-0 slaughter from 2016, or call off the dogs well before it gets out of hand?

When these are the questions right before facing a Big Ten team, it’s time to start thinking whether that team is Power Five material.

Michigan 57, Rutgers 3