Wolverines come back home in search of a much-needed rebound performance against Scarlet Knights
It has been a contentious week for the Michigan Wolverines (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) and their fan base after the drubbing in Madison last Saturday, losing to the Badgers in embarrassing fashion 35-14. Nothing went right for the Maize and Blue. The offense didn't score a point until the second half after the game was out of reach. The defense was gashed from the opening whistle as Wisconsin star running back Jonathan Taylor had more than 200 yards on the ground.
And the end result — a growing list of embarrassing losses against any opponent with a pulse.
For the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-2) there were some definite positives that came out of last week despite a double-digit loss at the hands of Boston College, namely on offense where they racked up just under 400 yards. Quarterback Art Sitkowski had a career day subbing in for injured starter McLane Carter, completing 70 percent of his passes for 300 yards and will get the nod once again this week according to head coach Chris Ash as they hope last week was a breakthrough performance for the former prized recruit.
Rutgers at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -29
When Rutgers Has the Ball
It has been tough sledding for the Scarlet Knights trying to establish the run against the Wolverines in their five previous matchups as Rutgers has averaged just 3.2 yards per attempt. Saturday provides an opportunity for that number to rise exponentially as Michigan has been dreadful defending the run thus far in 2019. The Wolverines are currently ranked 114th in the country in rush defense, allowing 208.6 yards per game on the ground. Facing the likes of Army and Wisconsin can do that to a defense, though, but Michigan has looked vulnerable up the middle with inexperience at both defensive tackle and linebacker.
Good news for Rutgers as their strength on offense resides at running back with the likes of Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco who have combined for more than 600 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. Blackshear, in particular, can cause defenses fits as a versatile weapon that can be utilized all over the field as both a pass catcher and runner. The junior running back already has two 100-yard receiving performances through three games.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Michigan is banged up on offense with its top two quarterbacks dealing with injury, along with the mysterious ailment plaguing starting running back Zach Charbonnet, who was limited to just two carries against the Badgers. Head coach Jim Harbaugh stated in his weekly press conference on Monday that Shea Patterson is designated as "probable" for Saturday’s contest and will likely get the nod with backup Dylan McCaffrey listed as "doubtful" after suffering a concussion against the Badgers.
With the quarterback situation in flux, due to both health and ineffective play, look for the Wolverines to lean on their ground attack against a Rutgers defense that is currently dead last in the Big Ten, allowing 218 rushing yards per game. Should Charbonnet be limited again, look for a heavy dosage of sophomore running back Christian Turner on Saturday.
After winning the first-ever matchup between the two teams back in 2014, Rutgers has been outscored 204-37 in the last four meetings with the Wolverines. While this might be the best shot for the Scarlet Knights to put up some points given how the Michigan defense is performing at the moment, it would be a major surprise if that scoring margin doesn't grow following Saturday's contest. Wolverines win big, but that won't silence the critics as that is what Michigan is supposed to do with an inferior opponent.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Rutgers 13
— 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.