For the first time this season, the No. 4 Michigan football team will hit the road. Though this week’s game at Rutgers (0-2 Big Ten, 2-3 overall) isn’t nearly as challenging on paper as the Wolverines’ most recent matchup against then-No. 8 Wisconsin, Michigan will finally find itself in an unfriendly environment.
Rutgers kept it close in a 14-7 loss to Iowa two weeks ago but was steamrolled at Ohio State last week, 58-0.
Michigan hasn’t looked past Rutgers as a true opponent, and when redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight was asked if the perceived rivalry was comical, he responded that it wasn’t funny at all.
The Daily breaks down the Wolverines’ first road game of the season:
Michigan rush offense vs. Rutgers rush defense
Michigan’s running backs rushed for 11 first downs against Wisconsin and accounted for one of its two touchdowns. The Wolverines average 210 rushing yards per game under the leadership of senior running back De’Veon Smith, who has 325 yards through five games. Freshman Chris Evans and redshirt junior Ty Isaac have also made an impact on the running game, accounting for three and two touchdowns, respectively.
After Central Florida stacked the box against Michigan’s running backs, fans were worried about rushing ability, but since then, the Wolverines have proved they have what it takes to carry the team if the passing game fails. Smith has outmuscled plenty of tackles, and will likely do the same against the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers has allowed even more yards on the ground than through the air this season. On average, the Scarlet Knights allow 227 rushing yards per game, and that doesn’t bode well for their matchup with the Wolverines.
Michigan should be able to run through Rutgers over and over on Saturday. It could be a long day for the Scarlet Knights if they don’t find a way to stop Smith, Isaac and Evans.
Michigan pass offense vs. Rutgers pass defense
Just five games in, Speight has already thrown for over 1,000 yards and is completing 63 percent of his passes. Against Wisconsin, he made some risky throws but proved not to crumble under pressure when he hit fifth-year senior wide receiver Amara Darboh for a 46-yard game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Michigan fans shouldn’t be concerned with the ball in Speight’s hands, but his targets should instill even more confidence. Darboh, fifth-year senior Jehu Chesson and senior tight end Jake Butt have combined for 797 receiving yards this season, and all three are capable of making those types of game-winning plays.
Speight has said many times that all he has to do is get the ball near them — even in pressure situations — and he trusts they’ll get the job done.
Rutgers struggled to stop Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, allowing him to go 21-for-29 for 238 yards. The Scarlet Knights have allowed 982 yards through the air this season, and that certainly doesn’t help in their matchup with three of the best receiving targets in the Big Ten.
Michigan has the edge in the passing game, and by halftime, it will likely be up big. After the break, the Wolverines will probably play it safe and stick to the ground game for the rest of the night.
Rutgers rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Neither side of Rutgers’ offense is very good, but the Wolverines will see more of a threat from its run game. Running back Robert Martin leads the group with 398 yards and one touchdown that came on an 80-yard run. Wide receiver Janarion Grant leads the group with three rushing touchdowns, but his season ended when he was injured against Iowa. Running back Justin Goodwin will be the next biggest threat, averaging 4.5 yards per run.
Fortunately for Michigan, its run defense has looked better and better each game. Under leadership from fifth-year senior defensive end and co-captain Chris Wormley, the line held Wisconsin to just eight first downs and 71 net yards rushing Saturday. The group has already tallied 20 sacks this season, and with the recent returns of senior defensive end Taco Charlton and defensive tackle Bryan Mone from injury, the line will only continue to get better.
The defensive line is equipped to handle some of the best running games in the country, and it won’t have a problem in Piscataway.
Rutgers pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
It’s difficult to imagine Rutgers having any success through the air with Michigan’s talented duo of senior cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling. Combined, the two have six interceptions and seven pass breakups. The Wolverines have allowed just 677 passing yards this season, good for ninth in the nation.
The Scarlet Knights have struggled mightily in the passing game, grading out at 117th in the country in passing yards on a 47.4 percent completion rate. Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano went 3-for-12 for 33 yards at Ohio State, and backup quarterback Tylin Oden didn’t do any better, completing none of his four attempted passes.
Wide receiver Jawuan Harris was the only Rutgers player to have any success in Columbus, catching three passes for 33 yards.
With Stribling and Lewis keeping things locked down for Michigan, the Scarlet Knights should probably be conservative in their passing attempts.
This category would have easily fallen in Michigan’s favor two weeks ago, but after fifth-year senior Kenny Allen missed two field goals from inside 44 yards and sophomore kicker Ryan Tice missed another one from 40 yards out against Wisconsin, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh reopened the kicking competition this week. It’s possible that highly-touted kicking recruit Quinn Nordin will make his first-ever appearance for the Wolverines against the Scarlet Knights, and if so, Allen may be out of his starting job.
Michigan has still had success blocking both punts and kicks this season, though, blocking three and altering even more. The Wolverines’ ability to get in the way, even on extra point attempts, gives them the edge.
To make matters worse, leading punt returner Grant won’t be available to challenge the Wolverines, but the always-threatening Jabrill Peppers will still be returning punts for Michigan.
This offseason, Rutgers fans attempted to start a rivalry with Michigan when Harbaugh started recruiting heavily in New Jersey. The state became fed up that the Wolverines are taking away its top talent, including freshman defensive end Rashan Gary, the No. 1 high school recruit in the nation. To rub more salt in the wound, Peppers also hails from the state.
Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for the nine New Jersey natives on Michigan’s roster. They’re collecting their teammates’ tickets for their family and friends (Gary says he has about 30), and it’s likely that the Wolverines will have a large Michigan contingent at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday.
Prediction: Michigan 48, Rutgers 6