Preview: Rutgers 2016 Comment Count

Brian October 7th, 2016 at 12:58 PM


WHAT Michigan at
WHERE Cable Subscribers Stadium
Piscataway, NJ
WHEN 7 Eastern
October 8th, 2016
THE LINE Michigan –29.5
TICKETS From $81
WEATHER overcast, mid 60s
slight chance of rain
Many numbers herein courtesy Pro Football Focus.


Rutgers has been hammered 48-13 by Washington and 58-0 by OSU this year. The beatings will continue even if they managed to hang close with Iowa.

Run Offense vs Rutgers


Hamilton: now DT sized. Still very good.

This is a spot at which it's difficult to reconcile PFF's grading and Bill Connelly's fancystats with regular old numbers. Run defense is a relative strong point for the Cable Subscribers—38th in S&P+—for reasons that are obscure. They did hold Washington to three yards a carry in the opener. Unfortunately for them, things have gotten steadily worse since: 3.9 YPC for Howard, 5.2 for New Mexico, 5.1 for Iowa, and finally 7.7 for Ohio State. At this rate they'll be giving up 15 yards a carry by the end of the season. They're 13th in the Big Ten in YPA allowed, one one-hundredth of a yard in front of Purdue.

Meanwhile, Ace points out that the Washington stats are deceiving:

Washington put up 24 points in the first quarter, added a kickoff return touchdown in the second, and basically closed up shop—their two second-half scores were on punt and interception returns. While the Huskies were able to throw at will—an even ten yards per attempt—they managed only 100 yards on 28 non-sack carries.

So the S&P number has some explaining to do.

Anyway: PFF likes their defensive line quite a bit. Darius Hamilton, their star DE/DT, is still around. He's grading out as a plus player against both run and pass, very much so on the ground. They rotate seven defensive linemen even after DE Quanzell Lambert got knocked out for the year. PFF thinks three of them are good to very good and one is about average; even if the other three guys aren't so great this is better than you'd expect for a team that's struggled so much in plain old yards per carry.

By way of explanation, PFF hammers all three starting linebackers. Trevor Morris, Deonte Roberts, and Greg Jones all carry significantly negative grades; they're positive in coverage, generally, and bad to very bad on the ground. No one on this defense touches the astoundingly poor grades for the offense, but nonetheless that LB level is a major liability and one Michigan is well-suited to exploit with their various misdirection plays. Compounding matters was a helmet-to-helmet hit Jones took from Morris last week. He is unlikely to play.

Hamilton will pose problems for the interior of the line. He is good enough to disrupt plays on his own, and he's apparently surrounded by some other guys who can play a bit. While this figures to be a walkover, there's a significant chance the ground game looks iffy, at least until someone pops through the line and nobody's there to clean up. Could be a day where a bunch of disappointing gains are offset by multiple romps for 30+ yards. 

KEY MATCHUP: WHOEVER THE NEW GUY IS versus A SENSE OF RISING PANIC. Whether it's Kugler or Bushell-Beatty who draws into the lineup all eyes will be on him in an attempt to discover how boned we are thanks to the Newsome injury.


Pass Offense vs Rutgers


Wharton is an up and comer

This will hopefully be a game to get healthy for Wilton Speight. While PFF likes the defensive line it's mostly because Rutgers guys have stuffed up some runs. (I guess?) Hamilton is the only meaningfully positive guy as a pass rusher. They've got 11 sacks, seven of which came against Howard and New Mexico. They're 86th in adjusted sack rate.

On the other hand they have some nice coverage pieces. Free safety Kiy Hester is a notable outlier in a secondary that PFF otherwise thinks is pretty good. CB Isaiah Wharton is a +3.1 in coverage despite being a true sophomore who was a two-star recruit; fellow sophomore Blessuan Austin is in the same range, although he's a poor run defender. Safety Anthony Cioffi has been good against both run and pass.

This hasn't added up to much statistically: Rutgers is 12th in the Big Ten in YPA allowed and got bombed by UW to the tune of ten yards an attempt; their other three D-I opponents have all been around 7.0. Rutgers did hold CJ Beathard and Iowa to a 52% completion rate and 162 yards overall, so they're capable of making things tough to some extent.

So this should be a situation where Speight has a reasonable amount of time to find guys in small windows. His ability to do that seems to vary by the week; ditto his ability to avoid throwing into coverage. The absence of Jones, the Subscribers' best cover linebacker, may open things up for Jake Butt—those LBs are going to be all over the place in this game and play action figures to bust guys open for big chunks.

KEY MATCHUP: WILTON SPEIGHT versus HIMSELF. Many of Speight's issues the past couple weeks have been opponent-invariant. Improvement comes from within.

Run Defense vs Rutgers

Kansas v Rutgers A2f24UqKbBkl

Meet Robert Martin, the only non-horrendous thing about RU's ground game

Rutgers is gonna die.

If you're not into the whole brevity thing, they're averaging 2.9 yards a carry in their games against Washington, Iowa, and Ohio State. They're 85th in rushing S&P+. Michigan is second. Their left tackle is probably going to miss the game. That tackle is the only player PFF grades out meaningfully positive as a run blocker on their entire offense. They have a guy with a –15.2, and he's the OL with the most snaps of anyone.

Tailback Robert Martin is doing what he can to offset the suck all around him; PFF has him +2.7 as a runner, and Ace liked him reasonably well:

Under the circumstances, however, I thought running back Robert Martin did quite well with what he was given—which, for the most part, wasn't much. OSU held him to 40 yards on 13 carries with a long of 13. When provided a sliver of space, though, Martin made the most of it:

Martin also had a couple nice backside cuts in this game. He's not a make-you-miss guy in the open field, but he has solid vision and grinds out yards after contact.

This is the part of the preview where I tell you various things about the opposition team and etc., etc., etc. But they're just gonna die.

KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN versus BUSTS. That's how Rutgers gets yards.

Pass Defense vs Rutgers


Only good player in this department is a 5'10" freshman baseball player

Rutgers is also gonna die here.

Janarion Grant, their best player, is out for the year. PFF rates every receiving target in the red and has a massive negative grade for QB Chris Laviano. They're completing 47% of their passes for 5.3 YPA and are coming off a 3/16 performance against OSU. They've given up 11 sacks already. They're 111th in passing S&P+. Michigan is 1st.

If there's anything of interest here it's freshman WR Jawuan Harris, who PFF does rate positively as a receiver—some awful run blocking brings him into the red. He's a slot averaging 18 yards a catch and could be an issue if he gets matched up on a safety at some point. Whether Rutgers can protect long enough for that to matter is dubious.

There are some opponent-invariant things to watch out for. Michigan has cut down on the busts the past couple weeks and would like that trend to continue. Guys have had a tendency to pop open over the middle, something that even Rutgers might have a shot at exploiting since those throws are generally the easiest if they're available. Michigan would like to continue their recent streak of excellent QB containment, as well.


Special Teams

Grant's out and there goes much of the danger in the Subscriber special teams. They've had one punt return for zero yards since; their main KOR guy in his absence is somehow averaging 13 yards an attempt. While Michigan's vulnerable to returns if Kenny Allen doesn't get off a boomer, Rutgers isn't particularly likely to rip off a big one.

Rutgers punting situation is horrendous. Sophomore Michael Citron is averaging 38 yards a kick despite having few or no pooch attempts and has seen 15 of his 33 non-touchback punts returned; Washington ripped off a touchdown in the opener. They've managed to contain returners decently since. Meanwhile, RU has one touchback on a kickoff this year. Peppers will get 5-10 return opportunities.

New kicker David Bonagura is 6/7 on the season.  This is advantage: Rutgers. Probably the only one.

Michigan's main concern is obviously getting their field goal kickers back to functional. Last week they were 0/3, dropping Allen to 4/8 on the year. Ryan Tice came in and missed his only attempt. Going on press conferences, Tice will probably get the call first. Freshman Quinn Nordin is back and practicing after not being available early in the season and is another possibility, especially on long FGs.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Michigan shows up to a bunch of magnets and a teddy bear on the field.
  • Another player goes down clutching his knee.
  • The moon explodes.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Wilton Speight gets healthy and back to his UCF performance.
  • It's a passing down.
  • Also if it's another down.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; –1 Their Only Good Player On Offense Is Out, –1 for This Offensive Line Is Going To Be Set On Fire, –1 for Also Their Left Tackle Is Out, +1 for Their Burning Hatred Will Cause Them To Play Out Of Their Minds, –1 for Hahahahaha No Nevermind, –1 for They've Played A Couple Top Five Teams Already And We Know What Happens.)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Some Stakes On This Season Yessir, +1 for Losing To 30 Point Underdogs Is Generally Bad For My Sanity, +1 for Scheduling A Satellite Camp At Exactly The Same Time Michigan Did Is Such A Rutgers Move, +1 for Maybe Repeated Blowouts Can Shame Them Into Leaving The Conference, +1 for I Drove On The New Jersey Turnpike This Summer And It Caused Me To Lose All Faith In Humanity.)

Loss will cause me to... why the hell would I set this time machine to 2014 anyway I am so bad at time machines.

Win will cause me to... meh.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Michigan wins by a lot.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Laviano does not finish the game. He throws two picks, one returned for a TD.
  • Peppers gets an offensive touch for absolutely no reason in the second quarter that he scores on.
  • Michigan, 59-0



October 7th, 2016 at 1:08 PM ^



Worry if...

  • Michigan shows up to a bunch of magnets and a teddy bear on the field.
  • Another player goes down clutching his knee.
  • The moon explodes.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Wilton Speight gets healthy and back to his UCF performance.
  • It's a passing down.
  • Also if it's another down
So I start laughing out load at the bolded portion of the write-up and a guy near me turns and says "what's so funny?"  I say " the Michigan-Rutgers game preview" which makes zero sense to him or anyone else within earshot of that statement here in northern Ohio.


October 7th, 2016 at 2:56 PM ^

I knew about this game before, but I hadn't realized it was a total sham. Playing a team that discontinuted their football program prior to the season hardly counts as a real game. That wikipedia article said the former student manager was coach and he recruited his fraternity brothers to play on his team....soooo, what's the SECOND highest scoring game of all time??


October 7th, 2016 at 1:16 PM ^

Whether it's Kugler or Bushell-Beatty who draws into the lineup all eyes will be on him in an attempt to discover how boned we are thanks to the Newsome injury.

you have a wonderful economy with words.   


October 7th, 2016 at 1:24 PM ^

Hmmm... conjuring...cogitating... would the Moon exploding REALLY be a worrisome thing?

My instant takeaways.

1.  No more tides.  Good riddence, because they are SO confusing.  Water level should be water level, not, you know, "it's this level now, but at 4 am it'll be different, then at noon it'll be back.."  Ugh who came up with tides in the first place.

2.  Moar rocks.  If moonrocks rain on the earth, we'll have more stuff for building things.  Isn't that good?

3.  Hahaha you alien saps, NO MOON TO HIDE BEHIND ANYMORE.  We'll see your alien invasion spaceships from farther away, we know you'll pop out of hyperspace too far away and your evil sith lord boss will choke you and replace you with your sappy underling.

4.  Sneaking around at night will get a LOT easier without moonlight.

So where's the worry?

Lucky Charms

October 7th, 2016 at 2:28 PM ^

maybe we, as a society, would be happier:



We've had 12 people on the moon. Ever since we've done that, you hear about people who get upset about little things in their life and they blame the fact we've been on the moon for their problems, as if there's a possible tie-in, you know? Like if their phone cord is all tangled up. "They can put a man on the moon, but they can't make a damn phone cord that won't bunch up...they can put a man on the moon!" maybe if we never did that, they'd be happy, huh? "Isn't that phone cord driving you crazy?" "oh, nah."

"We haven't even had a man on the moon yet. Why would I let something like this bother me? "

-Brian Regan