Eyes on the Enemy: Rutgers

By Theo Mackie ,

Football

(Andy Shippy)

Well, it was a nice three weeks of writing previews about potentially competitive games but this week, Michigan travels to Rutgers and will, therefore, not be playing a competitive game.

Frankly, there’s not much else to say here. The Scarlet Knights actually pulled out a 26-24 win in the teams’ first ever matchup back in the Wolverines’ 5-7 2014 season. Since then, it’s been a bleak affair for Rutgers, with 33 and 21-point defeats sandwiching a 78-0 thrashing in Piscataway in 2016.


Last time Michigan traveled to Rutgers, it wasn’t pretty. (Design by Mikey Designs/The Wolverine Lounge)


This year’s edition could end up looking awfully reminiscent of that 2016 showing. The Scarlet Knights come in looking for their first Big Ten win (here’s a hint: they won’t get it), while Michigan is one of the hottest teams in the country, riding an eight-game win streak into this week’s CFP top four.

Rutgers has lost its past eight games by an average of 23.9 points, highlighted by a 41-point loss to 3-6 Kansas and a 29-point home defeat to Buffalo.

The Scarlet Knights’ most impressive performance of the season came two weeks ago, in an 18-15 loss to Big Ten West leader Northwestern. That game exhibited Rutgers’ one strength — its pass defense — as it limited Wildcats’ quarterback Clayton Thorson to 150 yards on 17/34. Thanks to every other aspect of the Scarlet Knights’ game, though, that won’t be much of a concern for the Wolverines.

Their rush defense is allowing 233.8 yards per game on the ground — a tantalizing proposition for Karan Higdon, who has run for over 100 yards in seven straight games and will be looking for his first 200-yard output on Saturday.

The bigger issue for Rutgers, though, is its offense. This is where it gets fun if you’re a Michigan fan.

By now, you have probably know the term, ‘a Rutger’ that has been gained popularity in college football social media circles over the past few years. If not, I’ll break it down for you. Essentially, it is when one team’s point total is higher than the other team’s yardage total — possible variations include a passing Rutger, a rushing Rutger, and an overall Rutgher. The term is believed to originate from the Wolverines’ aforementioned shellacking of the Scarlet Knights in 2016.

Michigan’s 78-point explosion doubled Rutgers’ 39-yard output as it outgained the Scarlet Knights 600 to 39. Rutgers went 0-for-17 on third down, 2-for-18 for five yards through the air, and managed less than one yard per rush attempt.

Given the Scarlet Knights currently rank 111th in rushing yardage and 199th in passing yardage and the Wolverines’ defense is top-10 in both categories, all three variations of the Rutger remain very much in-play on Saturday. When asked about Rutgers’ strengths on Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh could only point to its kickoff coverage. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, their last kickoff might come on the opening play of the game.

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson scores a touchdown in the first quarter against Penn State. (Photo by Andy Shippy)

From a personal standpoint, junior quarterback Shea Patterson is unlikely to have a trademark day, with both game-script and a respectable Rutgers’ passing defense working against him. But Higdon — along with junior running back Chris Evans — and the entire Wolverines’ defense are likely set for days to remember.

Two years ago, Michigan headed to Piscataway as 26.5 favorites and still beat the spread by 51.5. Perhaps learning its lesson, Vegas is giving the Wolverines 39.5 points on Saturday.

Covering by 51.5 this time would give Michigan a 91-point win. Somehow, that doesn’t seem impossible.


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