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Game Preview: Michigan travels to take on improved, competitive Rutgers team

2016 feels like a long time ago.

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Rutgers v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Well, here we are.

Usually, a Michigan Wolverines game week against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights comes with the question of how much they will win by, not if they will win. Such is 2020, where both of these teams entering this contest on three-game losing streaks that have looked very different.

That’s a far cry from a few short seasons ago when Michigan went into Piscataway and stomped Rutgers by a score of 78-0.

For Michigan, a 49-24 win over Minnesota feels like ages ago in a game where they were able to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Rutgers started the season with a win over the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing that was fueled by seven forced turnovers.

While neither team has found itself in the win column since that opening week of the year, the nature of the losses have looked different. Michigan has looked completely hapless since it beat the Golden Gophers and has found itself searching for answers. Despite what Jim Harbaugh would tell you, the body language has not been great and there is a lot of doubt that shows up in the game film. Nobody can argue there is not some talent currently being wasted. Rutgers, on the other hand, is far from talented. They are probably two or three years away from being talented. But hell, they fight and compete on every down.

That’s a testament to Greg Schiano, the only man in the modern era who has had any shred of success coaching one of the worst power five football programs in the country. There’s probably not a single position group on the field on Saturday where Rutgers can say they have the advantage, but we all know that they will be ready for a bar fight.

Rutgers has beaten Michigan only once in six games since joining the Big Ten, but that win came under circumstances that mirror a lot of the things we are seeing now with the Wolverines. Saturday night provides a primetime spotlight for the Scarlet Knights against a program in Michigan that feels like it might be teetering at the moment. The guys in Maize and Blue are going to have to be ready to play and finally apply some of those good practices they have been talking so much about to Saturdays.

Last week’s loss to Wisconsin was one that had to see a variable change somewhere for Michigan. It might come this week in the form of a quarterback change, as Cade McNamara has been given the opportunity to supplant Joe Milton this week in practices. We will have to wait until the game to see who is going to get those first reps and this is easily the biggest storyline of the week. It stands to reason that a whole heck of a lot of other position battles might be reopen this week.

Michigan wins if: They play a decisive, clean football game. There is no reason they should lose this type of contest given the talent they have on both sides of the ball. Even when they get down to the two-deep due to injuries, it should be more than enough to beat Rutgers. Getting the run game going (and giving a back the opportunity to get hot) is critical.

Rutgers wins if: The Wolverines continue their downward trend and can’t recover from an early punch in the mouth. Bo Melton having success over the top of the defense and Noah Vedral getting the ball out quickly are certainly thinks to keep an eye on.

Prediction: Michigan 31, Rutgers 23

I expect Michigan to make this much more difficult on themselves than it needs to be, which has been the case all year. In theory, this should be a get-right game. If they don’t win this one, the content around here might get a lot meaner.

Game Info

Teams: Michigan Wolverines (1-3) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-3)

Date: Nov. 21, 2020

Location: SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Television: Big Ten Network (Mark Followill, James Laurinaitis and Elise Menaker on the call)

Streaming: YouTube TV, Hulu, FuboTV (free trial link here)

Radio: 950 AM in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, see affiliate stations here

Spread: Michigan -10.5, over/under 55 points (Vegas Insider)