Rutgers at Michigan. 3-0 vs. 3-0. You don’t see that every year in this series. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said” Michigan is back to being Michigan” and he realizes this is a ‘prove it’ game for Rutgers to show they’re trending in the right direction in Big Ten play.
To get further insight into the Scarlet Knights we spoke with SB Nation’s On the Banks’ Aaron Breitman. You can find the conversation below in both podcast and transcript form.
What have you seen from Rutgers this year? What have you liked?
I think defensively, they look improved. They have the most production returning back in the Big Ten. It was over 90% of the productions back, we lost two starters on the entire team from last year. Every team in the Big Ten had a lot of returning starters back, but Rutgers did have the most.
I think what was important for that, with the coaching staff still relatively new — this was their first true off season due to COVID the year before. Having an actual spring, having an actual training camp, I think has paid dividends. You’ve seen an experienced team really take care of business the first three weeks and it really wasn’t even close. Even the Syracuse game, they were really in control, most of that game, and defensively, they really showed up against Syracuse, who we think is a good running team.
There is some concern after Delaware that the run game did cause them some problems. They gave up three big runs, which is obviously a major concern going into Michigan. But overall, very consistent and really the most inspiring thing I think is clean football. They have zero turnovers through three games and they’ve committed seven penalties. Rutgers is a type of team that can’t allow mistakes to come into play because they just don’t have the talent or depth to be able to compete with a team like Michigan making mistakes. Being able to play clean football, if they can continue that in Big Ten play, I think it gives them a real shot to be competitive overall this season.
Offensively, there’s some names that Michigan fans have already seen, RB Isaiah Pacheco, QB Noah Vedral — how are those guys doing this year? How is the offense churning? WR Bo Melton, he’s had a good year to this point with 20 receptions, 227 yards, two touchdowns.
I would say that they started a little slow even, believe it or not. You score 61 points against Temple, but a lot of that was really due to the defense. They had five takeaways. Rutgers I think had six scoring drives of 30 yards or less due to great field position. They obviously were able to take advantage of that but pass protection has been a major issue. The offensive line has certainly been a sore spot. I think the most concerning aspect of the team coming into this season. And I don’t really think they’ve done much to alleviate that concern when you’re mixing and matching seven or eight guys — trying to find the right combination in September, obviously not an ideal situation.
Vedral struggled a little bit in that Temple game, played pretty even against Syracuse, but didn’t really have a lot of time to throw down field, and then really aired it out against Delaware. Obviously an FCS team, but a semi-final playoff team from the spring, ranked number six coming in. It was it a quality FCS school and Vedral really looked amazing. So can he continue that? I think a lot of it is gonna come down the offensive line and Rutgers being able to establish the run.
Pacheco has been up and down. He looked better against Delaware but he really hasn’t had that explosiveness we expected. I think there was real hope coming in that this would be his best season. And although he’s been fine, we haven’t seen him really kind of have a breakout moment yet. Perhaps he could relive that 80-yard touchdown against Michigan from a few years ago. Obviously this is a big game, specifically for him to be able to show up and make an impact.
Rutgers defensively, they are No. 14 in total defense, passing yards allowed they rank 15th. Team passing efficiency defense, they rank No. 6. However, some breaking news on Tuesday morning that cornerback Max Melton, cornerback, Chris long have both been suspended after being arrested for aggravated assault and possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose. Some paintball incident. The bottom line is Melton was a good player for Rutgers. This year he already has two interceptions, four pass breakups, a blocked punt, a fumble recovery. The guy was all over the field. My question to you is twofold — how is this going to impact Rutgers defense as a whole? And does Rutgers have the depth at secondary to replace this production?
Great questions. The Melton news is certainly a blow. He’s been really good this year. He played as a true freshman right away last season had some ups and downs, but you certainly saw the potential there. I would say of anyone this year has gotten off to as good of a start as anyone on the team, the stats that you mentioned.
Rutgers has been thin in the secondary. This is certainly a huge concern going in. Patrice Rene, a transfer from North Carolina, who has yet to play — he’s been injured. Schiano isn’t really big on giving much injury details or updates. We’re not sure of his status other than I don’t think it will be long term. I think there is a chance that he could play this Saturday, but again, it would be his first game with Rutgers.
You have Tre Avery at cornerback, Kessan Abraham. You also have Avery Young who’s moved to safety, that’s played cornerback for several years for Rutgers. They have some options to kind of move things around. Christian Izien has been great at safety as well. But overall, once you start getting past that two deep, Rutgers really doesn’t have any experience in the secondary. And I think that’s obviously a huge concern depending on how long Melton is out, whether it’s even this week or longer than that.
I think the biggest concern with Rutgers this entire season is that their two deep is as good as it’s been in a long time. But once you start having an injury, suspensions, depth is a major concern at a lot of position groups. And secondary is probably right up at the top.
What are your thoughts on Michigan and how do you think they stack up against Rutgers in relation to Rutgers’ strengths and weaknesses?
I think that Michigan’s strength is definitely a concern for Rutgers in terms of Rutgers run defense — they allow 4.5 yards per carry. Major, major weakness. And then this year, the first two games, they look good against the run, not so good against Delaware. Michigan leading the nation in rushing, over 300 yards a game, all three games. I think they look really solid. Even though maybe Northern Illinois, was not a bad team, they really made easy work with that. I think Michigan’s looking really good.
I’m certainly concerned about the Rutgers rush defense against Michigan. And I think now with a secondary having some depth issues, I think McNamara could certainly have a big game as well. Rutgers, the other thing with their defense is that while they’ve been good, one of the problems over recent years has been getting worn down in Big Ten play. The offense is really going to have to establish the run for Rutgers to stay competitive. Otherwise, I fear, in the third quarter, that Michigan will continue to pound the run game and Rutgers defense is just going to get worn down.