Game Preview: Rutgers at No. 16 Michigan

ANN ARBOR, MICH. -- Rutgers travels to Michigan for a Saturday clash as underdogs against the Wolverines. Michigan is out for revenge after a season-defining loss in Piscataway last season, and Rutgers nears desperation mode in the battle for a bowl game.

 

Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) vs. No. 16 Michigan (6-2, 3-1)

Time – 3:30 p.m., Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

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

Series – Rutgers leads 1-0

Last meeting – Oct. 4, 2014, Rutgers won 26-24

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (4th season, 26-21); Michigan – Jim Harbaugh (8th season 64-29, 1st at Michigan, 6-2)

Storyline Central

Out for Revenge? – It’s a different coaching staff and the roles are reversed for both Rutgers and Michigan, but last year’s game was a lasting memory for both schools. For Rutgers, it was the first Big Ten win in program history and a field-storming phenomenon. For Michigan, it was the final nail in a coaching change. Those that remain, remember even if they say otherwise in public.

Turf War – Recruiting rivals come and go for Rutgers, but Michigan is as white hot as any in the Garden State. When Rutgers and the Wolverines kick off, plenty of New Jersey eyes will attach themselves to the game. Between Jabrill Peppers, new Michigan staff member Chris Partridge of Paramus Catholic fame and New Jersey’s home team, it becomes an enticing game for the casual fan.

The Third Man – Forget the Peppers recruitment, where Rutgers was not a serious contender after the transfer to Paramus Catholic. The most interesting recruitment story on tomorrow’s field belongs to Jarius Adams. Adams camped at Rutgers and committed in the summer. He kept his options open to some smaller schools, but then Harbaugh made a phone call after he took the job. Adams officially visited both schools. He ultimately stuck with Rutgers and the reward is multiple starts as a true freshman and the No. 3 spot on the depth chart this week.

 

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers Team vs Michigan ATH Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Peppers is a threat in every facet, and after Tanner McEvoy laid the groundwork last week, Michigan gets the same opportunity. Defensively, Peppers is an impact safety and a potential matchup with former Don Bosco teammate Leonte Carroo is a dream match. Offensively, Peppers averages 8.5 yards per touch and another 17 yards per touch on special teams. When No. 5 is on the field, Rutgers has to be ready.

Scarlet Knights win if …

Special Teams Improve Drastically – Rutgers has could be overmatched in all three phases, but the a talent divide did not matter in last season’s 26-24 upset. Special teams won it for Rutgers, with a highlight blocked field goal by Kemoko Turay. The special teams magic is not there this season for the Scarlet Knights, and Michigan has a memorable botch of its own. A Rutgers upset starts on special teams. Janarion Grant, the school’s all-time kick return leader, is coiled and ready to strike.

Wolverines Win if …

They Hit Rutgers Early  – Michigan outscored its opponents 130-40 in the first half through eight games. A fourth-quarter comeback for Rutgers against the Big Ten’s third best total defense is unlikely, so an early strike from the Wolverines could be devastating.

 

KICKOFF PRIMER

 

Impact Player

WR Leonte Carroo – Whether he plays or not, Carroo makes an impact on Saturday. Carroo’s presence on the field changes what Michigan does defensively, and it opens up different attacks for the Rutgers offense. Rutgers needs a play-maker.

Something to Prove

QB Chris Laviano – Lack of play-makers and protection are part of the problem, but so is the execution at quarterback. For Rutgers to be competitive, Laviano needs better accuracy and pinpoint execution against another talented defense.

Looking to Build

DT Sebastian Joseph – The transition from physical specimen to physical football player continues with some impressive space-eating plays for the red-shirt sophomore. The statistics are not there for Joseph – 13 tackles and one sack – but they don’t need to be as a nose tackle.

Freshman to Watch

SS Najee Clayton – Now that Clayton’s red-shirt is not an option, Rutgers needs to get as much as possible out of him in the next four games. Clayton logged his first career tackle on special teams last week. He can expect a bigger role at safety in the future.


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