Michigan will hit the road for the third time this season. This time, the Wolverines head east to take on Rutgers.
Michigan has won seven games in a row against the Scarlet Knights and the maize and blue hold a 7-1 record all time against Rutgers. The last time Michigan went to Piscataway to play Rutgers was in 2020, and the Wolverines won in triple overtime, 48-42.
Last season the Scarlet Knights came to Ann Arbor. While Michigan beat them, it was a tougher task than expected. It was the fourth game of the season and the offense was still trying to gel, but Michigan walked away with a 20-13 victory.
This season, Rutgers started 3-0 before dropping four out of the next five. The Scarlet Knights enter the game 4-4 and are looking to get a monumental upset on Saturday night against Michigan.
Here are our three keys for Michigan to remain undefeated and get a win against Rutgers.
Photo: Isaiah Hole
If you look at red zone efficiency, the Wolverines are almost as efficient as anyone in the country. Michigan ranks 13th in the country scoring 93% of the time when it reaches the opponent’s 20-yard line.
But the maize and blue have had trouble punching the ball in the end zone. Out of the 44 times, Michigan has had the ball in the red zone this season, it has scored touchdowns 28 times. The Wolverines are just an average team in that category. Michigan ranks 58th in the country converting its red zone trips into touchdowns 63.6% of the time.
The good news for Michigan is that Rutgers has allowed 15 touchdowns this season out of 18 attempts its opponent has reached the red zone. The Scarlet Knights rank second to last in the country allowing touchdowns 83.3% of the time in the red zone.
This is a great chance for the Wolverines to get their red zone offense rolling. Michigan stalled three times last week inside the 20 and twice inside the five.
One way to let teams stay in games is to stall drives and kick field goals. Even though field goals should beat Rutgers, this feels like a game that the Wolverines should and will get that red zone offense going.
Play aggressive but not careless
Photo: Isaiah Hole
The other way lesser opponents stay in games is by simply giving them the ball.
Michigan has been sensational this season taking care of the football. The Wolverines are third in the nation with five turnovers. So if this become an issue against Rutgers, it would be quite stunning.
On the flip side, the Scarlet Knights have forced 11 turnovers. That ranks them 75th in the country; Michigan is 110th (eight).
So it’s not like Rutgers is elite by any means of creating turnovers. While Michigan doesn’t want to be careless, it should remain aggressive.
The Scarlet Knights have the 12th-ranked total defense by allowing 295.3 yards per game, but Rutgers has played only two good offenses. Rutgers allowed 45 points to Ohio State and 31 to Minnesota, so that defense can be defeated by offenses with a pulse.
This may be more of a want than a key, but this also feels like a game where Michigan should get aggressive and let J.J. McCarthy throw down the field. The Wolverines’ offense has been run-heavy lately, and McCarthy has been safe with the football by checking it down and throwing more short to intermediate routes.
Let’s see the maize and blue give him a chance to throw some deep shots to his playmakers Roman Wilson and Ronnie Bell.
Get pressure on Gavin Wimsatt
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Rutgers has played three quarterbacks this season, but Greg Schiano announced Gavin Wimsatt would start on Saturday against Michigan.
Wimsatt started the last game against Minnesota. He completed 35% of his throws and had one interception. The sophomore also carried the ball four times for nine yards.
Evan Simon did not play against the Gophers, but Noah Vedral did, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see more than just Wimsatt on Saturday.
When I dug a little deeper into Wimsatt, it’s quite astonishing how poor he has been when he has faced pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, when Wimsatt drops back with a clean pocket he completes 45.2% of his throws and he has thrown a touchdown along with an interception. PFF gives him a respectable 77.7 passing grade when he is kept clean.
But his performance turns south when the sophomore senses pressure. When the pocket breaks down and Wimsatt is under pressure, he is completing 12% of his throws and he has been picked off twice. PFF gives him a 24.0 passing grade when pressured.
Not that Rutgers has a very good offense, it ranks 121st in the country gaining 305.4 yards per game, but keeping pressure on the starting quarterback should make things even easier on Michigan.