What to watch for when No. 4 Michigan faces Rutgers
The last time the Michigan football team traveled to Rutgers, the Wolverines earned their largest margin of victory in 76 years.
Two seasons after that 78-0 blowout in 2016, Michigan is once again a heavy favorite over the Scarlet Knights. The line for this Saturday’s contest is one of the largest spreads for a road team in Vegas history.
All week long, players and coaches have talked about how the Wolverines cannot overlook Rutgers. But take a gander at the Scarlet Knights’ schedule and — woof. — it’s ugly. They have suffered a 55-14 loss to Kansas and a blowout at the hands of MAC-member Buffalo. The latter was at home.
Rutgers is the nation’s lowest-graded power five conference team, per ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Lucky for you, The Michigan Daily is sending four (four!) writers and two photographers ten hours East to Piscataway. We’ll have HighPoint.com Stadium covered from Every. Single. Angle. (Well, actually, just the press box and sideline.)
With that in mind, here are four things we think you should watch for Saturday.
A short day for the starters
With the return of junior defensive end Rashan Gary, the Wolverines almost had a completely healthy roster heading into last Saturday’s game. But against Penn State, redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffery broke his collarbone, and sophomore defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon limped off the field with an apparent leg injury.
McCaffery is “probably” done for the season, Jim Harbaugh said Monday. Harbaugh did not provide an update on Solomon.
Avoiding additional injuries should be the Wolverines’ top priority against the Scarlet Knights. The contest’s outcome should not be in doubt for long, and that means opportunities will be plentiful for Michigan’s reserves.
The largest area of intrigue is the backup quarterback position, which will go towards either sophomore Brandon Peters or true freshman Joe Milton. Peters, of course, is the more experienced option, having started four games and thrown for 672 yards in 2017. Milton has yet to throw a collegiate pass — but his 6-foot-5, 234-pound frame and rocket arm have Michigan fans excited about his potential.
Harbaugh said that the new NCAA redshirt rule — one that allows players to see action in up to four games without suffering a year of eligibility — will factor into his decision. Milton has played in one contest thus far.
Regardless, Michigan must keep starter Shea Patterson healthy for as long as he plays Saturday.
More backups to watch
We have not seen much of freshman defensive end Aiden Hutchinson since the season’s infancy. Part of that is because of the emergence of sophomore Kwity Paye and junior Josh Uche, who have combined for nine sacks in the Wolverines’ past five games.
Hutchinson, though, still figures to have a prominent role next year. Saturday will provide another chance to see the prospect in action.
The same is true with offensive tackles Andrew Stueber and Jalen Mayfield — the primary candidates to replace fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty in 2019. Stueber currently has the upper hand on the depth chart, but Mayfield might ultimately have the higher ceiling. Both could see extended playing time against the Scarlet Knights.
Here are other reserves we’re planning to keep an eye on during garbage time Saturday: sophomore cornerback Ambry Thomas, redshirt freshman Oliver Martin and running backs O’Maury Samuels, Hassan Haskins and Christian Turner.
So how about a score prediction?
It’s going to be a lot to a little. Rutgers is the worst team in the Big Ten by a sizable distance, and Michigan has already forced some really lopsided scores this season.
78-0 might be tough to do again, but relenting is not Harbaugh’s style. New Jersey is still a state with loads of high school talent, and the Wolverines will try, if nothing else, to send another recruiting message in the Garden State.
Prediction: Michigan, 52-3.