Game Preview: Michigan at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – It is a blackout Saturday when Michigan travels to Rutgers for a Big Ten brawl. The Wolverines have their own concerns off the field, but also face a hungry Scarlet Knights team looking for their first win as members of the historic Big Ten Conference. Rutgers approaches kickoff with a 4-1 mark under coach Kyle Flood in his third season.

Michigan (2-3, 0-1) at Rutgers (4-1, 0-1)

Time:7:12 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

TV/Radio: Big Ten Network, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: First Meeting

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 19-12); Michigan – Brady Hoke (12th Season, 75-66, at Fourth at Michigan, 28-16)

Storyline Central

  • Home Team Favored? -- Michigan was a heavy favorite heading into the season, but nothing went right for the Wolverines or Hoke leading into tomorrow night’s kickoff. Riddled with distractions including a scorching hot seat for Hoke, on-campus protests and the handling of a concussion to quarterback Shane Morris, Michigan has a lot to block out. But how much is Michigan playing possum to catch opponents off guard? Rutgers showed maturity in bouncing back from a blown lead against Penn State, but has not pulled off a true signature home win in eight years.

  • Sack-tober -- Rutgers leads the Big Ten in sacks going into October, and rattling an already distracted offense early could be the path to victory. Redshirt freshman defensive end Kemoko Turay is no longer a secret, but Tulane and Penn State still struggled in keeping him off of their quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and Tuay both rank among the Big Ten’s best in sacks.

  • Super Nova? -- The senior captain became the school’s all-time leading touchdown passer against Tulane in last week’s blowout. With back-to-back solid games after a bad showing against Penn State, Nova trends in an upward direction. The last time the lights went on in a sold-out stadium, Nova threw five picks to lose against the Nittany Lions. Michigan holds its opponents to 3.0 yards per carry, which means the Paul James-less running game needs the good Nova to show up if the offense wants to put up points.

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo vs Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers

This matchup may not even happen (Peppers is injured and did not dress last week), but it would be fun for all parties involved. Carroo and Peppers were both weapons for Nova out of Don Bosco Prep and two legs of a state championship relay team. The two were friends but did not remain in touch after moving on in different directions. Carroo is the top weapon for the Rutgers offense, especially after the loss of Paul James. Peppers back in New Jersey with two former teammates looking to score on him should make for some fireworks.

Scarlet Knights Win If…

They establish a running game -- Asking Nova to do it all is a risk, and the easiest way around it is with strong starts from co-starters Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin at running back. Peoples and Goodwin worked well against Tulane, but the Michigan run defense is a different level of challenging. The more pressure offensive coordinator takes off of Nova under the spotlight, the better.

Wolverines Win If …

Gardner Goes WVU on Rutgers -- The traditional Rutgers defense does well against dual-threat quarterbacks – unless they played for West Virginia. Athletes like B.J. Daniels, P.J. Walker, Keenan Reynolds and Munchie Legaux, Rutgers shut down. Pat White and Jarrett Brown? Not so much. Gardner officially got the starting nod from Hoke Wednesday, and needs to beat Rutgers with both his arm and feet.


Impact Player

DT Darius Hamilton — The time is now for former the former five-star defensive tackle. Hamilton is borderline unstoppable through five games for Rutgers. The undersized 3-tech is disruptive in the run game and an even bigger problem-causer in the pass rush. Credit Hamilton with a big role in the struggles of Christian Hackenberg against Rutgers, and give him twice as much of the blame in harassing Navy’s run game. Hamilton co-leads Rutgers with six TFLs and is second behind Turay in sacks with 3.5.

Something to Prove

QB Gary Nova — It was ugly the last time Nova played under the lights. Does Nova have what it takes for a signature Big Ten win? The pressure is on Saturday night to prove it. Nova excelled against Tulane and Navy the last two weeks within his designed role. Make it three and a row, and Rutgers is in shape for a memorable night.

Looking to Build

RG Chris Muller — Two straight strong games in run blocking have Muller playing at a high level going into the Michigan game. Muller knocked defenders over against both Navy and Tulane, and Rutgers ran for 455 total yards in the two games. Running efficiently is a must for the Rutgers offense. Things did not go well on the ground against a similar run defense in the Penn State game and the result was 10 points and five turnovers on the night.

Freshman to Watch

OLB T.J. Taylor — Taylor so his most significant practice action to date this week, and prepared to start if sophomore Steve Longa (lower body) cannot go. Taylor is a converted safety still growing into his new position. The pressure could be high for the redshirt freshman, especially against the mobility of Gardner.

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