Of the 34 remaining unbeaten FBS teams, two will meet this Saturday when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-0) travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines (3-0). This will be the eighth meeting between the two teams since Rutgers' arrival to the Big Ten, with the Wolverines narrowly escaping last season's 48-42 victory in triple overtime. In the five meetings prior to that, Michigan had outscored Rutgers 256-37.
With both teams looking vastly improved through the early portion of this season, should we expect another tightly contested matchup as we saw a year ago, or will it be much of the same with a dominant Wolverines victory? Saturday should give us a better indication of both team's outlooks for the rest of the season.
Rutgers at No. 19 Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan -19
When Rutgers Has the Ball
Rutgers didn't get to 3-0 playing a flashy brand of football, that’s for sure. The Knights rank 98th in the country in total offense, averaging 351 yards per game, and are in the bottom half of the Big Ten in both passing and rushing offense. So what do they do well? The Knights are one of just three teams that have yet to turn the ball over while forcing eight turnovers from opponents. The Wolverines are one of those teams without a giveaway to this point too. Only two teams nationally — Navy and ULM — have committed fewer penalties than Rutgers this season as well, so the Scarlet Knights are playing clean football that clearly has an impact on the win-loss column.
Numbers are up everywhere for starting quarterback Noah Vedral, who is completing 72 percent of his throws, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, and has four touchdowns with zero interceptions, which were a huge problem for him a year ago. Rutgers has yet to get the ground game on track, averaging just 3.31 yards per carry, but does have 10 rushing touchdowns — seven of which belong to backups. It could be tough sledding on Saturday against a Michigan defense that is holding opponents to under four yards a rushing attempt with just a single rushing touchdown surrendered.
When Michigan Has the Ball
It was as impressive a performance as we've seen in recent years from the Wolverines last week against Northern Illinois, outgaining the Huskies 606 to 208 in the 63-10 blowout victory. The transitive property isn't an exact science, but this is the same NIU team that defeated Georgia Tech in Week 1 — a team that nearly took Clemson to overtime this past weekend. An indication of how good Michigan is? The Wolverines continue to mash opponents on the ground, leading the country at 350 rushing yards per game behind the duo of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, who already have combined for 11 rushing touchdowns. Entering this week, there are 117 FBS teams with fewer touchdowns on the ground.
If there has been a spot lacking with the Michigan offense, it's been a passing game that is averaging just 164 yards through three games. Losing their No. 1 receiver in Ronnie Bell to injury hasn't helped, but the Wolverines offered no real threat through the air in the first two weeks with quarterback Cade McNamara attempting just 27 combined passes. The Michigan starter only threw 11 passes against NIU last Saturday, but he did average 17 yards per attempt, including a long bomb to junior Cornelius Johnson. Having that on film to show opponents Michigan can stretch the field when needed will help down the road.
Rutgers will hang around because the Scarlet Knights play a smart brand of football under head coach Greg Schiano and typically don't beat themselves. They don't give opposing offenses short fields by turning the ball over and they stop the run — both necessary components to beating a team like Michigan. The bad news for Rutgers? The Wolverines are doing all those same things, just at a higher level. Knights put up a fight in the first half before the home team comfortably pulls away late behind a dominant rushing attack.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Rutgers 14
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— 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.