clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Three key matchups: Michigan at Rutgers

Breaking down they key matchups as Michigan hits the road to take on the Scarlet Knights.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines moved to 8-0 after a dominating home win over the Michigan State Spartans this past weekend to reclaim the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

As Michigan moves forward and looks ahead to Rutgers, let’s take a look at three matchups to watch before the Wolverines and Scarlet Knights take the field this Saturday under the lights (7:30 p.m., BTN).

Rutgers run offense vs. Michigan’s run defense

The one element of Rutgers’ offense that has been somewhat formidable this season has been its rushing offense, which has averaged about 151 yards per game and ranks 66th in the nation.

Quarterback Noah Vedral has missed significant time due to injury this season and even when he has played, the senior quarterback hasn’t been able to provide much of a spark. Freshman Gavin Wimsatt is going to start this weekend for the second straight time, and will be moving forward, so the Scarlet Knights are going to need their running game to be on point in this one to help out the young quarterback.

Their running backs carry the ball nearly 40 times per game as the team averages just under four yards per carry on the ground as a whole. Samuel Brown V has been their most dynamic back so far this season, carrying the ball 86 times for 374 yards (4.3 average) to go along with three touchdowns. Kyle Mongai is the team’s second leading rusher as he has gone for 212 yards on 62 carries and has found the end zone twice on the year.

Expect Michigan’s third-ranked rushing defense to be ready to defend the run as the Scarlet Knights will surely try to utilize the ground game in attempt to eat up clock and stay out of third and long, obvious passing downs if they can help it.

Defensive tackles Mazi Smith and Mason Graham should make a big impact in this game. It should be expected the Wolverines will use a lot of run-based packages and stay big up front unless Rutgers shows it is capable of making some plays in the passing game.

Michigan rushing attack vs. Rutgers run defense

This is the most clear “strength against strength” battle in this game, as Michigan comes into this weekend boasting the fifth-best rushing attack in the nation at 246 yards per game (averaging 5.7 yards per carry). Rutgers ranks 19th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 108 yards per game on the ground and an average of 3.30 yards per carry.

Michigan hasn’t really had any problems running the ball on any defense this season, even against teams with strong fronts and statistically solid against the run overall. Indiana probably did the best job of bottling up Michigan’s rushing attack for awhile, especially in the first half as Blake Corum got one big run early before the defense started to contain the Wolverines on the ground.

Rutgers’ chance to keep this close for any stretch of time will be to keep this a low scoring, low possession game. If their defense is able to slow the Michigan rushing attack and force the Wolverines to punt a couple of times early, that could do a lot for Rutgers’ confidence.

Linebacker Deion Jennings will be a player the Michigan offensive line has to keep an eye out for. He leads the team with 66 tackles while also being able to break up four balls in pass coverage. Defensive back Christian Izien is second on the team in tackles and can crash down into the box to make plays against both the run and the pass.

When Michigan does throw the ball, the Scarlet Knights don’t get to the quarterback often as they have only recorded 12 sacks as a team. However, defensive lineman Wesley Bailey has been a bright spot in that regard, recording 3.5 this season.

Michigan red zone offense vs. Rutgers red zone defense

One of Michigan’s greatest struggles this season, especially the last two games, has been converting red zone trips into touchdowns.

If there is a game to figure that out, this week might be the week to do it. The Scarlet Knights rank last in red zone defense in the nation, allowing 15 touchdowns in 18 trips. The other three trips have translated into field goals, meaning Rutgers allows points 100% of the time its defense gets caught inside its own 20.

The deceptive part of that stat is that allowing teams to reach the red zone 18 times at this point in the season is not a high number. Rutgers’ defense has been very good overall this season, ranking 13th in the country, a testament to the culture head coach Greg Schiano has re-established at the program in being able to play tough football.

That being said, when Michigan does get chances inside the 20 in this game, it must convert, even if the opportunities might be limited.

If the Wolverines’ offense settles for more field goals in this game, it may not matter in terms of the scoreboard, as Rutgers’ offense may not even be able to keep up with that. But it’s an important area to watch moving forward and an area the Wolverines need to get better in over the next several weeks.