Can Rutgers provide any resistance against a Michigan team that is clicking on all cylinders?
There may not be a more lopsided matchup in college football than what will take place this weekend between the Michigan Wolverines (8-1) and Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-8). Remember what happened the last time the Wolverines travelled to Piscataway? The infamous 78-0 beatdown where Rutgers had just six yards of offense in the entire first half. Part II is a very real possibility on Saturday.
Michigan is clicking on all cylinders heading into Week 11 after handing Penn State its worst loss of the season with a 42-7 drubbing. If you want to nitpick, the special teams needs some improvement as noted by the coaching staff this week, but offensively and defensively, the Wolverines are dominating opponents on both sides of the ball.
As for Rutgers, last week was one of its better performances of the year as it limited Wisconsin to just 10 points in the first half before the Badgers pulled away late. Maybe something to build off? The home stretch doesn’t get much easier for the Scarlet Knights as they close the year with Penn State and Michigan State.
Michigan at Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -40
Three Things to Watch
1. Ground and pound
In 2016, the Wolverines rushed for 481 yards and nine touchdowns as a team against Rutgers. In 2017, they rushed for 334 yards and four touchdowns. Heading into the 2018 matchup, Rutgers ranks 120th in the nation, allowing 234 yards yards per game on the ground. Conversely, Michigan is 30th in the country in rushing, averaging over 5 yards per carry as a team. Anyone want to take a guess what the game plan will be on Saturday? In a game where it will be of utmost importance to keep your quarterback upright and healthy, expect to see a number of different Michigan running backs toting the rock, including Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, fullback Ben Mason and walk-on Tru Wilson.
2. Signs of improvement
If Rutgers football is to make waves in the Big Ten in the future, true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski will have to be at the forefront. It’s been a difficult introduction to Big Ten football for the first-year QB as he now leads the country in interceptions with 15 but is now currently on a streak of 70 passing attempts without one. Sitkowski arguably had his best performance of the season last time out against the Badgers, completing 51 percent of his passes for 261 yards and a touchdown. The former four-star prospect will be tested on Saturday against the No. 1 pass defense in the country in the Wolverines.
3. Glimpse of the future
With the score likely out of reach in the second half, many Wolverine fans will get a sneak peek at what is to come in 2019 and beyond as we can expect the younger players to get an extended look on Saturday. With backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey now out for the season with a shoulder injury, Michigan needs to figure out who will be the next man up in the rotation. Brandon Peters is the favorite given his experience, but keep an eye on true freshman Joe Milton who has already been used this year in some sub-packages because of his mobility and is said to have the strongest arm on the team. Christian Turner, a former three-star recruit out of Georgia, displayed glimpses of explosiveness in the win over Central Michigan earlier in the year and could be the running back of the future with Higdon being a senior. Because of the new four-game redshirt rule instituted by the NCAA this year, these freshmen can play on Saturday without losing a season of eligibility.
This is a “name your score” type game for the Wolverines as they should face very little resistance from this Rutgers team on Saturday. By halftime, expect many of the Michigan starters to have their shoulder pads still in the locker room and get ready to be introduced to some players that have barely seen the field in 2018 as the score should be well in hand by that time. The Wolverines just need to get out of this weekend healthy as they have bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks.
Prediction: Michigan 48, Rutgers 3
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.