For the Michigan football team, the theme of this week was preventing one loss from turning into two.
Using a home game against Rutgers to bounce back from a blowout loss doesn’t sound like a particularly tall task, but the 20th-ranked Wolverines (2-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) could use a dominant showing. After its flaws were exposed on the national stage against Wisconsin, U-M had quite a bit of soul searching to do.
Don Brown’s once-feared defense is barely a top-50 unit this season, while Josh Gattis’ highly-anticipated up-tempo offense has fallen short of expectations. Following this week, six of Michigan’s next eight matchups will come against teams that are currently ranked or have been at one point this season. A victory over a Big Ten bottom-dweller this Saturday won’t be season defining, but it could be exactly what U-M needs at this point.
So, how can the Wolverines right the ship against the Scarlet Knights?
Establish a downfield passing attack
There’s no better time to get Shea Patterson rolling than just before the schedule gets tougher. Under Gattis, Michigan ranks 12th in the Big Ten in points per game (26) and 11th in total offense (364 yards per game). As concerning as though ranks may be, Rutgers’ defense is allowing 27 points per game and 393 yards per game. There very well may not be a better matchup in the conference to exploit.
The Scarlet Knights’ secondary has been torched by the likes of Iowa and Boston College, meaning it likely won’t have an answer for the highly-touted receiving trio of Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black, along with productive slot receiver Ronnie Bell. With tight end Sean McKeon doubtful to play, expect Nick Eubanks to play an even larger role in the passing game.
Pile on the points early
Against Army, U-M saw what happens when an underdog hangs around for too long. The Wolverines trailed for most of the game and survived a would-be game-winning field goal from the Black Knights as regulation expired en route to a double-overtime victory. If this is going to be the week Michigan gets back on track, it’ll need to bring the offensive fireworks from the start.
If the game gets out of hand early, expect to see quite a bit of the Wolverines’ freshmen. Receivers Mike Sainristil and Cornelius Johnson, defensive tackles Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith and defensive back Dax Hill all have a chance to earn more playing time with solid performances. If Patterson gives Michigan the cushion it expects, there’s a chance sophomore quarterback Joe Milton will take the reins in the second half with junior Dylan McCaffrey recovering from a concussion.
From a standpoint of talent and athleticism, Michigan has what it takes to overwhelm the Scarlet Knights. With a promising season already hanging in the balance, the Wolverines will come out determined to get back on track ahead of a challenging remaining schedule. Expect to see quite a bit of fine-tuning and auditioning in the midst of a potential blowout.
Final: Michigan: 42, Rutgers: 10