Preview and predictions: Michigan football vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

·7 min read

Head coach: Greg Schiano
Current record: 3-0
All-time series: 6-1 favoring Michigan

Preview

Rutgers is 3-0. Don’t rub your eyes, but it’s the first time since 2012 that such is the case for the Scarlet Knights.

For the most part, Rutgers is doing what it’s doing on defense. Like Michigan, it hasn’t played much of anybody. Syracuse is always a wild card, but Temple and Delaware aren’t teams that were likely to contend with any competent Power Five program. It cannot be dismissed that the Scarlet Knights handled business, because in many years, especially under Chris Ash, it would have entered this game, at best, at 1-2.

Rutgers has the eighth scoring defense, 15th total defense, 15th passing defense and 49th rushing defense. It’s fourth in sacks and 13th in sacks allowed. It’s second in the country in disallowing offenses to convert on third down. The Scarlet Knights are second in the country in turnover margin, which, with the offense having yet to produce a turnover, is a product of the stellar defense. Basically, it’ll be Michigan’s strengths on offense vs. Rutgers’ strengths on defense, considering the Wolverines are adept at rushing, scoring, protecting the quarterback, and not turning the ball over.

Star cornerback Max Melton is out for the game after being suspended due to an arrest involving a paintball gun. He led the team with four passes broken up, but his counterparts in the secondary, Kessawn Abraham and Christian Izien, each have three. Melton had two of the team’s three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. The defense has also attained four fumbles this year, so beware the defense as a whole (special teams also has one). Melton is responsible for one of the fumble recoveries, but so has star linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi and defensive lineman CJ Oleyechi. Fatukasi is the team’s leading tackler with 31 — second in the conference and 11th in the nation. Abraham was Melton’s backup at corner, so he has some experience, but his opposite, Tre Avery, leads the corners with 10 tackles — so he was the one targeted more.

Offensively, Noah Vedral returns as the starting quarterback and he’s eighth in the conference in passing, averaging 202 yards per game. He’s thrown four touchdowns and, as noted, no interceptions. Bo Melton is his primary target by a long shot, as he has 20 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Aron Cruickshank is his second favorite target with 10 receptions and 72 yards. Brandon Sanders is averaging 22-plus yards per catch with 4 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jovani Haskins rarely gets involved in the passing game with 3 catches. While Rutgers is 41st in scoring offense, it isn’t lighting the world on fire in passing — nor is it in rushing. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 144.33 yards per game on the ground, 81st in the country. Isaih Pacheco leads the team, averaging 15 carries for 51 yards each week. Vedral will keep the ball approximately seven times per game, so the Wolverines have to be on the lookout for quarterback runs, which plagued them a bit against NIU. The Scarlet Knights are averaging a meager 3.31 yards per carry — but against the teams they’ve faced, that would be close to averaging a first down on three carries.

Avery Young and Aron Cruickshank should be feared in the return game. Rutgers is ranked 23rd in kick returns and eighth in punt returns. Michigan, as has been the case against Rutgers for some time, should be on high alert on special teams.

Last thing: Rutgers already has a road win at Syracuse, so that’s worth noting.

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Predictions

In the battle between two unbeatens, both will enter The Big House unblemished, while one leaves with a loss. Rutgers appears to be the real deal this year, but it’s still unclear what that means now that it’s into the Big Ten schedule. We now know it won’t lose games laughably in nonconference as it once had, and it likely won’t lose every conference game, but are the Scarlet Knights ready to actually contend for the conference right now? That seems unlikely, but a win on Saturday would indicate that it certainly could make some noise in Greg Schiano’s second year.

Here is how WolverinesWire’s Isaiah Hole and Trent Knoop expect the game to go.

Trent Knoop

It feels really weird to say that both Michigan and Rutgers are undefeated at the time of playing each other in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights are a much improved team from last year — especially on the defensive side.

Michigan, however, is one the of the most dynamic offenses in all of football. The Wolverines have the best rushing attacks in all of football, led by Blake Corum. The quarterback play for Michigan has been solid with Cade McNamara being behind center — he has yet to throw an interception in his collegiate career.

With Rutgers not having its best defensive back this week, things should get easier for McNamara and the passing attack. It could be another big day for the Wolverine offense.

Predictions

  • McNamara throws three touchdowns

  • Michigan forces the first turnover of the year from Rutgers

  • Michigan 42, Rutgers 17

Isaiah Hole

Honestly, I don’t completely know what to expect here, but much of that has to do with Rutgers. To some degree, I’m buying what the Scarlet Knights are selling. They’re playing sound defense and getting a ton of turnovers. The latter isn’t necessarily sustainable, but we’ll see if Michigan can stem the tides on that front, given that it hasn’t turned the ball over yet either.

Like every team Michigan has played thus far, Rutgers is better at defending the pass more so than the run. However, with Max Melton out, the jury is out for this game. That said, I don’t think that the Scarlet Knights defense is as daunting as Washington — I know many people think that the Huskies are some terrible team, and while that looks to be true offensively, it’s certainly not defensively. With that in mind, I can’t fathom that the game plan will be to run the ball 56 times. I expect to see perhaps the same balance we saw in Weeks 1 and 3. Expect Michigan to pass around 17-20 times total while running the rest of the time.

On the other side of the ball, Rutgers’ offense doesn’t particularly scare me. It has weapons in Bo Melton and Isaih Pacheco and Vedral is certainly competent, but we’ve also seen anemic performances on that front, as well. I’m not sure that this is the game where we’ll see the Wolverines’ defense truly come out — I think Macdonald is holding back for bigger games like Wisconsin, Penn State, MSU and Ohio State — but we may see a little more multiplicity in this game if Rutgers moves the ball on the first drive — which I expect to see.

Overall, this will be a tougher matchup than most envisioned in the preseason, but given Michigan’s talent level, I think the result will be similar to the 2017-18 games in the series.

I do want to note that I nailed both of my predictions last week (another 300-yard rushing game and the defense getting its first INT) so we’ll see if the same thing happens again this week.

Predictions

  • Michigan rushes for more than 300 yards for the fourth-straight week (until a team stops it, I’m predicting it)

  • Rutgers scores on its first and last drives, but that’s it

  • Michigan 35, Rutgers 14

List

Predicting every Big Ten college football game in Week 4

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