Michigan (6-2) barely escaped defeat on the road last week at Minnesota where a goal-line stand was needed as time expired to beat the Gophers 29-26. The Wolverines now head into a matchup with a reeling Rutgers (3-5) team that has lost two straight games by a combined score of 97-17.
When the two teams met last season, it was Rutgers who came out on top with a narrow 26-24 victory in the first-ever matchup between the two programs. Both teams come into Saturday looking much different than a year ago.
Rutgers at Michigan
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -22.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who starts at QB for Wolverines?
Michigan starting quarterback Jake Rudock was knocked out of the game against Minnesota last week during the second half after a late slide resulted in a hit to the head from a Gopher linebacker. Rudock did return to the sidelines but displayed visible pain while pacing around and was unable to come back into the game. Backup quarterback Wilton Speight came on in relief and led the Wolverines on the game-winning drive capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jehu Chesson in the waning moments. During his weekly radio show on Monday, head coach Jim Harbaugh stated Rudock did practice with the team the previous two days, but his status remains in question for Saturday. Regardless of which quarterback starts, look for Michigan to lean heavily on the run against a rush defense in Rutgers that has already allowed 20 rushing touchdowns in 2015.
2. Leonte Carroo
Rutgers' star wide receiver Leonte Carroo missed last week’s matchup vs. Wisconsin with a nagging ankle injury, and has been deemed questionable by head coach Kyle Flood leading up to this week. "I'm just not medically cleared yet. When the doctors medically clear me, then I'll be out there," Carroo said to the media on Monday. "I've just got to wait, day-by-day. It's only Monday, so we'll see." It would be an understatement to say that Carroo is critical to the success of the Scarlet Knight offense. In the five games in which Carroo has played in this season, Rutgers averages 36.3 PPG. In the three games he sat out — just 13.3. Carroo playing will give Rutgers at least a puncher’s chance of pulling the upset.
3. Fresh Peppers
Michigan’s multi-dimensional star freshman Jabrill Peppers was on the field for 92 plays last week against Minnesota. Normally a rover on defense, Peppers played outside at cornerback, in the slot at nickel, safety, quarterback, receiver, punt and kickoff returner. For the first time against Michigan State three weeks ago, Peppers was featured on offense and wound up forcing Mark Dantonio to use two timeouts to make sure the defense was fully aware of the personnel on the field. Against Minnesota, Peppers was used once again in the wildcat formation when Rudock went down to provide the stagnant offense with some sort of spark. Count on the Michigan staff getting Peppers onto the field any way they can as he is one of the best overall athletes on the entire roster.
As mentioned above, Rutgers fields a much more competitive team when Leonte Carroo is on the field, so his status for Saturday could play a crucial role in how close this game winds up being. Without Carroo, the Scarlet Knights do not have the additional weaponry on the outside to matchup with the physical corners for the Wolverines. Michigan will load the box on stopping the run, forcing the turnover-prone quarterbacks for Rutgers to beat them. The Wolverines should control this game from start to finish and notch their seventh win of the season in comfortable fashion.
Prediction: Michigan 27, Rutgers 13
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.