ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At Rutgers, there’s no rest for the weary.
A week after a 58-0 drubbing by No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, the Scarlet Knights (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten Conference) return to New Jersey to face No. 4 Michigan (5-0, 2-0) — the third top-five team it will face in the first six weeks of the season.
Michigan will take its first road trip of the season and will play in its first primetime game; the Wolverines and the Scarlet Knights kickoff at 7 p.m. Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
Michigan and Rutgers — two of college football’s oldest programs — will meet for only the third time; the series is tied 1-1.
When Michigan has the ball
Expect better pass protection for quarterback Wilton Speight, who was sacked four times last week in a 14-7 win against Wisconsin, but still threw for 219 yards. Michigan will juggle its offensive line because of a season-ending knee injury to left tackle Grant Newsome, replacing him with Juwann Bushell-Beatty.
Michigan faces a team that’s at the bottom of several defensive statistical categories in the Big Ten. Rutgers is last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (32.4 points) and total defense (423.8 yards). Rutgers is also last in rush defense (227.4 yards), which should give the Wolverines an opportunity to maximize their rushers and rushing output, which peaked two weeks ago with 326 yards in a 49-10 win against Penn State.
When Rutgers has the ball
The Scarlet Knights’ output against Ohio State was anemic — and not just the goose egg they left on the scoreboard. Quarterbacks Chris Laviano and Tylin Oden completed just three passes (they finished 3-of-16 passing for 33 yards). Rutgers is also without its top receiver, Janarion Grant, for the remainder of the season, after he sustained a leg injury Sept. 24 in a 14-7 loss to Iowa.
Michigan’s secondary had an outstanding game against Wisconsin with three interceptions, including two by cornerback Channing Stribling. Stribling has five pass breakups as Michigan approaches the halfway mark of the season, while teammate Jabrill Peppers has five quarterback hurries.
Rutgers’ rushing offense, however, is one of its few bright spots. The Scarlet Knights are sixth in the Big Ten (192.8 yards a game), but by comparison, Ohio State leads with 332 rushing yards per game.
Michigan fields plenty of versatility within its special teams, outside of its kicking position, which will be filled this week with possibly a new player. Peppers, in particular, has been Michigan’s top punt returner (20.5 yards, touchdown) and kick returner (31.7 yards), and cornerback Jourdan Lewis has also seen some work on kick returns.
Peppers has 12 punt returns for 246 yards; Rutgers has eight punt returns for 112 yards.
Michigan kickers Kenny Allen and Ryan Tice went a combined 0 for 3 last week against Wisconsin, prompting Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to reopen the competition for the kicking duties this week. Also in that fold is freshman Quinn Nordin, who returns from an unspecified injury.
Rutgers kicker David Bonagura is Rutgers’ leading scorer (31 points).
Harbaugh continues to remind his team of the “championship game” mentality on a weekly basis, that no win and no game has more or less weight than any other. First-year Rutgers coach Chris Ash is trying to resurrect a program that has six wins in the last two seasons. Rutgers continues to go through growing pains under the former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator; earlier this season, the Scarlet Knights trailed FCS opponent Howard 14-0, and gave up 669 yards of offense last week against Ohio State.
An upset seems like a long shot for the Scarlet Knights, whereas a win would be another notch in Michigan’s Big Ten belt before its off week — and before it begins the heart of its Big Ten schedule.
Rachel Lenzi’s prediction: Michigan 49, Rutgers 6
Brandon Justice’s prediction: Michigan 42, Rutgers 0