If you would have told me during the preseason that Rutgers would be tied for fourth in the Big Ten East standings, I would have called you a fool. Yet here we are as Rutgers is tied with Michigan behind three undefeated conference teams in the rankings. What’s even better is Rutgers will have the opportunity to break that tie this weekend, as the Scarlet Knights are set to head to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines in a conference match up. Michigan who totes a 5-2 (2-2) record while Rutgers, who has surpassed expectations, sits at a modest 3-4 (2-2) and is riding a two-game win streak. The Wolverines on the other hand are coming off three straight weeks of shaking performances that has seen them lose two of those three games. They are vulnerable, and this a prime chance for Rutgers to really make waves by upsetting the wounded Wolverines.
I know what you’re thinking, you’re probably pondering the fact that Michigan absolutely murdered the Scarlet Knights to the tune of a 78 point shut out last season. This clearly isn’t the same Rutgers team that took the field last season though. After a shaky start this season, the team has bounced back in a surreal way, and although the wins haven’t been pretty, they’ve got it done. So, what will Rutgers need to do to upset Harbaugh and co.? Let’s talk about it.
First off, Rutgers is going to have to continue finding ways to pound the rock against a stout and elite Michigan defensive front. The Wolverines throw out a slew of guys like Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst, both of whom will be future first round NFL draft picks. Throw in Chase Winovich to that mix and it can turn into a long day for the Scarlet Knights if they can’t get the run going. Gus Edwards is a bull, and has probably been the best addition to this Rutgers squad so far this season, so they need to get him going.
An interesting thing that could put the run game over the edge is if Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill can incorporate read options with quarterback Gio Rescigno, the same way Penn State Utilized Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. McSorley killed the Michigan defense with his legs as all the defenders keyed in on Barkley, rushing for three scores. Rescigno may not be as much of a thrower, but he can definitely use his legs just as well as the Penn State quarterback. Obviously, Edwards isn’t Barkley, but if Kill can replicate what Penn State did while rotating the three-headed monster of running backs at his disposal it will surely open up passing lanes as Michigan stacks the box.
Which brings me to my next point, theres absolutely no way Rutgers is going to beat Michigan being one dimensional. Yes, the running game is key, but only in the aspect that they can use it to open the passing game. Rescigno can throw the ball, pretty averagely, but he can throw it for sure. If Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh decides to start stacking the box, Kill has to make use of his talented but less used receiving core. It’s time to get fancy in the passing game, I’m talking all out baby. Time for Janarion Grant to be used in whichever way possible to create mismatches, motions, jet sweeps, the whole shebang. Tight end Jerome Washington will need to get involved too, that’s another athletic mismatch that hasn’t been used as it should.
Last, but certainly not least, play above average defense. Yes, it’s a given to play defense any game but if there’s a game that can be won specifically on that side of the ball alone, it’s this one. Michigan is pretty much lost on offense in wake of Wilton Speights injury, as they’ve been trying to sticking to the ground game since the quarterbacks injury. It’s faltered though, as starting running back Karan Higdon hasn’t been able to muster much outside of his 200-yard, three touchdown performance against Indiana a few weeks ago. Outside of that, he hasn’t mustered over 70 yards in any game this season. This works into the strength of the Rutgers defense, which has shown capable of limiting opposing runners. Through the air the injured secondary has to come prepared, as they should be licking their chops to face Wolverine quarterback John O’Korn. O’Korn hasn’t been much better since replacing the injured Speight as he’s thrown just one touchdown to four interceptions. There’s even been some talk of redshirt freshman Brandon Peters may get some playing time this week. The Rutgers secondary will need to garner takeaways through the air, which shouldn’t be a problem as they rank second in the Big Ten in interceptions.
Look for the Scarlet Knights to go toe to toe with this ailing Michigan team. This will not be a 78-0 blow out that we saw last season, the Wolverines just lack the offense for that. It’ll be a defensive game, and if Kill can get his offense going, it may be a long night in Ann Arbor. You heard it here first, Rutgers will upset the Wolverines.
Prediction: Rutgers 17 Michigan 14