Preview: Rutgers 2015

Submitted by Brian on November 6th, 2015 at 2:03 PM


WHAT Rutgers at Michigan
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN 3:30 PM Eastern
November 7th, 2015
THE LINE Michigan –24.5
TICKETS From $48
PARKING Limited availability from $20
WEATHER partly cloudy, 0% chance of rain, 50s dropping to 40s

Should have saved grumpy cat for this week.

Parking note sponsored by Park 'n' Party, which is your fancy same-place-all-the-time tailgate headquarters. They tell me they're now expanding into catering and equipment so they can accommodate all levels of commitment. They also say that if you wait you will not get parking and then you will wander the earth doomed for all time have to explain this to your spouse. Seriously, they sold out for MSU and OSU is on the way.


Rutgers isn't good at football. Nor are they good at cloak and dagger attempts to raise a player's grades, keeping that player and several others from committing a series of robberies, recruiting, basketball, public relations, and most other things.

Playing Rutgers is an opportunity to reflect on the pure hypocrisy of not paying the players when people like Jim Delany have done everything in their power to make slightly more money, which generally goes to Jim Delany and people like him.

Run Offense vs Rutgers


Steve Longa is a prime tacklist for Rutgers

Michigan has really struggled in this department thanks to a confluence of factors. With literally no downfield passing game, safeties sit just behind the linebackers. In their first year in a new system—and for a few people a new position—Michigan commits too many mental errors in blocking for efficiency. The tailbacks get only what is blocked and sometimes a good deal less than that.

Add it up and it is very bleah when a wide receiver isn't loping downfield virtually uncontested. Surprisingly, that's happened enough that Michigan has shiny number in the fancy stats—26th. That makes little sense when all of their peripheral factors are average at best, but here we are. One thing they have going for them: they've actually played a lot of good to very good rush defenses.

Rutgers is not that. In Rutgers they find the most pliant rushing defense they've run across since UNLV. The Cable Subscribers lost star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton for the year, and the floodgates opened:

  • Penn State: 41 rushes, 330 yards
  • Michigan State: 37 rushes, 122 yards
  • Indiana: 34 rushes, 163 yards
  • Ohio State: 49 rushes, 281 yards
  • Wisconsin: 38 rushes, 209 yards

With the exception of Michigan State's rickety OL all teams not named Norfolk State and Kansas have sandblasted the Rutgers rush D, which is 108th in S&P+.

Rutgers is seriously undersized, with only one guy approaching 300 pounds on the DL. With three freshmen starting in the secondary when a rush gets to them they blow it a lot. Rutgers does a ton of slanting and shifting and blitzing in an effort to conceal their inability to stand up to the opposition, and that is reasonably effective—they stuff a lot of plays. Linebacker Quentin Gause has 9 TFLs; guy Seth always drafts in Draftageddon Steve Longa has 4. It's just what happens once the opposition gets past the first wave that alarms.

Michigan figures to let 'er rip on Drake Johnson this week after he got yards while the other guys did not, but De'Veon Smith and others will also feature. With Rutgers one of those aggressive gap-shooting defenses expect a return of the misdirection and trapping that were largely shelved against Minnesota's read and react unit.

This probably won't be great because Michigan's problems are frequently opponent invariant, but so are Rutgers's. Michigan should bust some 15-20 yarders and have an encouragingly productive day.



Pass Offense vs Rutgers


Kiy Hester is mostly just here because he has a cool name

The last section mentioned that three of the four starters in the secondary are freshmen. The robbery thing hit that unit hard. This is reflected in the stats. Rutgers is giving up 8.7 YPA; in two of their last three games they've given up 11+(!). Indiana and Washington State threw for more than 450 yards each.

S&P+ loathes the Rutgers pass defense as well, ranking them 122nd of 128 teams. Rutgers is also deep into the triple digits in sack rate, which probably has as much to do with the fact that they can't cover anyone as the defensive line. Seth, for a sad reason related to you know what, tried to argue that Kemoko Turay should get a star in the FFFF lineup card despite the fact he's a bench player. The reason issued is that he leads the team in sacks. He does. He has two.

This is the worst pass defense Michigan has faced or will face all year. Ace:

The safeties were just bad. Cioffi took several terrible angles to the ball; he's the safety on the far side on this Clement touchdown:

That was far from an isolated incident, and Cioffi also had a handful of passes completed in front of him when he looked late to react to what he saw in coverage. Strong safety Kiy Hester came up and laid a couple impressive hits, but he also had his problems.

Can they do anything about that? Well… probably. This is not the same as MSU, which was a damaged secondary hiding behind a fierce rush. This is a complete and total breakdown in all aspects, so even if Michigan has no deep passing game there should be guys running open who Rudock can locate thanks to the amount of time Rutgers opponents are afforded.

I still have no expectation that Rudock will complete a long pass; Michigan will try. More likely they'll hit something short that breaks long because the secondary is off picking flowers.


Run Defense vs Rutgers


Josh Hicks is more of a grinder; he is your current leader at RB

Rutgers has decent numbers overall but there's a major catch: four of their opponents to date are Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, and Indiana. They have done well against those opponents. Against PSU, OSU, Wisconsin and MSU they had one long run when MSU's secondary busted and a bunch of pain. I think we can assert that Michigan is on the latter end of things.

Rutgers has super weird numbers: they're 90th in rushing S&P, 94th in line yards, and first in power success rate. The only thing I can figure is that power success isn't opponent adjusted and the vast majority of Rutgers's opportunities to convert short yardage have come against the Norfolk States of the world.

This is mostly an offensive line problem. Rutgers has a solid stable of backs ranging from grinders to Paul James, an impressive combo of size and speed. Ace:

Josh Hicks really impressed me on the field goal drive; he made some sharp cuts and reliably churned out yards after contact:

The problem, as you can see, is he often has to make those sharp cuts in the backfield, and when Carroo isn't on the field opponents can get away with loading up the box—there really weren't any opportunites to break runs big. Robert Martin is a similar runner to Hicks; Paul James boasts an impressive size/speed combination—if someone is going to find a way into the open field, it's probably him. Despite the general lack of production in this game I found myself envying Rutgers' running back situation, which was not something I expected.

The line is pretty much a disorganized shambles. With Laviano not a threat to run the ball it's difficult to see how Rutgers moves the ball on the ground with any regularity. If they get something it'll probably look like their performance against Michigan State, where one of their backs turns a small error into a big one.

That's not to say they won't try. Rutgers ran on literally every first down last week and most of the second downs. They ran out mostly heavier personnel, which seems… suboptimal.

Michigan's rush defense has been lights out all year; Minnesota had the best outing just last week thanks in part to a thoroughly odd deployment of James Ross at buck, some zone read troubles, and uncharacteristically substandard linebacker play. It doesn't seem like any of those things should recur, but things happen in football games—Rutgers will probably hit a couple things. That should be about it.


Pass Defense vs Rutgers


daddy was a werewolf

Despite the last two weeks this is the best unit Rutgers has by some distance.

First, the bad news: star wide receiver Leonte Carroo has had a rough year, first getting suspended for a couple games and now battling an injury. Rutgers issues NFL-style injury reports; Carroo was questionable this week. As of yesterday it did not seem like Carroo was likely to go:

Carroo missed the Wisconsin game. Things did not go well.

Hayden Rettig is Rutgers’ backup quarterback. Rettig replaced starter Chris Laviano, and promptly posted a QBR of 2.9. And somehow, this was an improvement over Laviano’s 2.7.

…Laviano was legitimately atrocious, going 4 of 14 for 31 yards (2.2 YPA) with no touchdowns and a pick. When you factor in rushes/sacks, Laviano’s 19 touches gained a total of 11 yards. That’s approximately two Subway sandwiches per pass attempt.

Carroo's currently averaging over 15 yards a target (that thanks in part to a suspension and injury schedule that saw him re-emerge from hibernation to torch Michigan State and go back underground when decent secondaries came to town). Michigan would probably do the thing where they have Jourdan Lewis shadow him across the field, but as we saw against Minnesota teams can motion to make that matchup disadvantageous or difficult to maintain.

Carroo is real good and not having him would be a blow, but don't expect them to live or die on his presence. Outside of last week, QB Chris Laviano has been okay. He had solid outings against MSU, Indiana, and Penn State. OSU wiped him out and Wisconsin threw him in a dumpster, but those games are only two datapoints in an otherwise productive sophomore season (65% completions, 7.7 YPA). Rutgers is 23rd in passing S&P+, doesn't give up many sacks, and has two guys other than Carroo averaging 8.8 yards a target or better.

Rutgers also has a very talented little guy in Janarion Grant, a slot receiver you may remember from such events as "that jam Blake Countess missed so badly that Grant got a 50-yard angle route" last year. Grant's impact has been surprisingly limited given the nature of the Rutgers team—you'd figure he'd be targeted at least a few times a game on screens and whatnot. Instead he's averaging barely over two offensive touches a game over Rutgers's last five games. This isn't a great matchup for him to increase that number, what with Peppers lurking.

Michigan showed some holes last week against the Gophers, mostly when opponents got WRs matched up on the Michigan safeties. That could recur with a relatively deep Rutgers WR corps, but Michigan has been a very good passing defense all year and so much of Minnesota's success was aimlessly hurling balls downfield and getting lucky. While I don't expect Michigan to completely halt the Rutgers passing offense neither will it be able to sail up and down the field.


Special Teams

Rutgers has been middling. They give up a return on about third of their punts and are giving up 12 yards when that happens. That's not a couple big returns skewing things—Rutgers gives up yards consistently. Because this is how they punt:


Peppers should have opportunities to bust one. Ditto on kickoffs, as kickoff specialist Chris Gough is only getting touchbacks 24% of the time. Rutgers has covered kicks well so far, but Peppers is sui generis.

Rutgers is very good at returns. Janarion Grant has two KO touchdowns and a PR touchdown; this is not a game where Michigan should screw around with popup kickoffs.

Kyle Federico, the kicker, has limited range—see above where the KO specialist can't get the ball to the endzone—and is a bit wobbly. He's 6/9 on the year and was 16/21 a year ago; he's missed three extra points.

Michigan reclaimed the top spot in the FEI special teams ranking after last week's Peppers-and-Blake-O'Neill show. I mean, you know what to expect: excellent punting, few returns to cover, Peppers ripping off chunks of yards.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • It becomes clear that every ball thrown into coverage is going to be maleficently directed into the hands of the opposition.
  • Rudock is in not so much mode.
  • Michigan can't run against a brutally bad rush D.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Peppers doin' thangs.
  • Drake Johnson is suddenly, obviously the best available back by a wide distance.
  • Rutgers shows up as real bad Rutgers

Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline 5; +1 for They Did Push MSU To The Wire, –1 for Yeah But How Much Does That Even Mean, +1 for Decent To Good Passing Attack Coupled With Last Week's Jitters Makes Me Nervous, –1 for Nothing Else About Rutgers Does, –1 for Especially Their Dumb Punt Formation, –1 for Peppers Coming Out Party Continues, –1 for Hurst Glasgow Wormley Henry Godin)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for We Cannot Argue They Should Be Ejected From The League If We Do Not Beat Them, +1 for Not Completely Impossible To Win The Division, +1 for They Are A Shambles And I Would Be Sad, +1 for Seriously This Is A Four-Score Spread, +1 for I Seriously Dislike Julie Herrmann)

Loss will cause me to... apply lethal levels of spray tan to self.

Win will cause me to... petition to kick Rutgers out of the Big Ten.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Michigan wins.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Michigan has a 100 yard rusher.
  • Peppers scores a non-offensive touchdown.
  • Speight gets the fourth quarter.
  • Michigan, 29-7


SF Wolverine

November 6th, 2015 at 3:44 PM ^

I see a fast start, fast finish and lots of TFLs for the defense.  Time to start to put it all together.  But, I agree that NO WAY DOES RUDOCK PASS T FOR 30 YARDS IN THE AIR.



November 6th, 2015 at 3:54 PM ^

Rutgers deserves a 72-7 type beat down.  Honestly, I'd love it if we would run the score up on them after last year's game.  

But I think realistically, we could see a 28-10 type win and a pretty big meltdown on the live blog about how awful we are. 


November 6th, 2015 at 4:37 PM ^

I can remember in the days before I joined here commenting on your recap videos regularly. The best were the ones for Notre Dame. Did the receiver step on the line? Did the clock run because a Domer player touched the kickoff before it went into the endzone? God they would get incensed. Man, good times. Not a lot of videos to be made come mid October or into November, but hey September was a blast.


November 6th, 2015 at 5:03 PM ^

Unfortunately, the good times were too rare. It's a really crappy timed coincidence that Michigan football took it's downward spiral to hell when I got my account started.

Last week, I was looking through my massive library of games and I saw the wins I saved from the RichRod and Hoke years. I then asked myself, "why am I saving these?"

Am I ever going to want to relive games like a 42-37 win over mighty UMass, 42-35 win over Indiana, those stupid UConn and Akron games where you just KNEW that we were screwed once conference season started. Or that 67-65 win over Illinois...even though I was at that one. M00N? Or the clown show in Evanston the prior year?

I'll keep the few rivalry wins, the Sugar Bowl and a few games from 2011 but I think every other win from 2008-2014 needs to be scrapped. I really have no desire to see those again.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

Ecky Pting

November 6th, 2015 at 5:19 PM ^

A Peppers non-offensive TD would be sa-weet! I'm not expecting it will be on a KO, since in all likelihood Rutgers will only be kicking off once.  Since Rutgers features the dumbpunt formation, with ample opportunities to exercise it, a punt return TD seems almost assured!


November 6th, 2015 at 6:25 PM ^

Defense and special teams will help us take a 31-3 lead at halftime. Wilton will get to play in the second half and he will do a great job. Final score may be 70-13, if Wilton plays as well as I think he can by hitting some deep passes which will open up the run game in the 2nd half.


November 6th, 2015 at 7:03 PM ^

Anyone have one? I don't see the game listing at all in the DC area. Seems to defeat the whole point of adding Rutgers to the BiG if they aren't going to let us watch our team destroy them!