Michigan fans may not like to hear this, but the Wolverines’ offense isn’t that much different than Rutgers’.
Each team’s passing game is practically non-existent, so both have been relying on the ground game to carry the offense.
Michigan (2-2 Big Ten, 5-2 overall) has had quarterback problems since Wilton Speight went down with an injury. Fifth-year senior quarterback John O’Korn hasn’t been as reliable, and he threw for a total of just 224 yards in his last two games with a 54 percent completion rate.
His counterpart, Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno, has thrown for just 176 yards and completed 50 percent of his throws in his last two games against Illinois and Purdue.
Regardless of the comparisons, neither team’s passing games are producing. Those struggles have kept Michigan out of playoff contention and kept Rutgers from even competing in the Big Ten.
That’s why both sides lean on their tailbacks.
The Wolverines ran the ball on 64 percent of their plays against Indiana and Penn State. Rutgers was even more one dimensional in its last two games, running the ball 73 percent of the time.
While the level of talent might differ, the strategies have been the same: Run. Run. Pass if needed. And then run more.
From a defensive perspective, that means the Wolverines’ linebackers can expect a bigger role.
“I relish any time you can have linebackers and guys playing downhill and tackling and hitting the football,” said linebackers coach Chris Partridge. “It’s a challenge now. We need to make sure we stop the run, because their running game is going to open up the pass.
“… It’s a challenge to stop their running game for sure. Their running backs are pretty good now. They’re downhill. They’re physical. We need to make sure we tackle and match their violence and intensity.”
Partridge complimented Rutgers’ group of tailbacks Wednesday. Similar to Michigan — again — the Scarlet Knights have three players who contribute most at the position.
Gus Edwards leads Rutgers with 487 yards and five rushing touchdowns, and splitting downs behind him are Robert Martin at 278 yards and two touchdowns and Raheem Blackshear at 216 yards and three touchdowns.
Rushing defense duties fall mostly on Michigan’s linebackers: sophomore Devin Bush, sophomore Khaleke Hudson and fifth-year senior Mike McCray. The pair of sophomores are two of Michigan’s fastest defensive players, and it will be up to them to stuff the box when Rutgers runs up the middle and race to the sidelines when the Scarlet Knights try to beat them on the edge.
They’ll also have to spy on Rescigno. While he’s been ineffective connecting with his receivers, the Michigan native poses a threat as a runner as well. Rescigno took over the starting job at Rutgers a few weeks ago after Kyle Bolin threw for just 56 yards against Ohio State.
“(Rescigno has) got some legs, and he can run a little bit,” Partridge said. “I know he’s a Michigan guy, so he’s going to be all fired up to come here and play here.”
If Rescigno decides to take off on the run, Bush and Hudson will have to chase him, but when he stays in the pocket, it’s on Michigan’s defensive line to keep him contained.
New Jersey native Rashan Gary — like the rest of teammates — has been watching film of Rutgers this week. The sophomore defensive end also said that nothing in particular stood out because of how much it mirrors the Wolverines’ offense.
“It’s an offense that we see almost every day in practice,” Gary said. “It’s kind of similar to it, not much that we see differently.”
Rutgers may be a different opponent, but its offense has a familiar feel. That should put Michigan at an advantage heading into this weekend.