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First Look: Our bitter rival, Rutgers

October 25th, 2017 by Justin Potts


Michigan had a tough task going into Happy Valley to face No. 2 Penn State in front of a whiteout and a national primetime audience. But they were thoroughly embarrassed by a score of 42-13, tying for the worst loss in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Now, the Wolverines get a chance to take out their frustrations on a team they beat 78-0 a year ago. Since Saturday, national pundits and rival fans have enjoyed throwing around the stat that Michigan is currently tied with Rutgers for fourth place in the Big Ten East. The Scarlet Knights have won two straight Big Ten games, ending a 16-game conference losing streak dating back to the first Big Ten game of 2015. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Rutgers & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
22.6 103rd 25.1 89th PPG 23.6 51st 18.6 22nd
1,174 1,213 Rush Yds 1,115 739
167.7 62nd 173.3 55th Rush/Gm 159.3 61st 105.6 11th
4.3 4.1 Rush Avg 4.5 3.2
935 1,314 Pass Yds 1,574 1,110
133.6 121st 187.7 97th Pass/Gm 224.9 71st 158.6 5th
2,109 2,527 Total Off. 2,689 1,849
301.3 122nd 361.0 97th Total Off./Gm 384.1 62nd 264.1 5th
14.8 127th 19.9 90th KR Avg 16.8 11th 14.0 2nd
10.4 32nd 8.1 56th PR Avg 9.4 91st 8.3 79th
31:11 42nd 33:10 11th Avg TOP 28:49 26:50
35% 98th 32% 110th 3rd Down% 30% 22nd 23% 1st
6-49 11th 23-151 118th Sacks-Yds 7-36 122nd 22-156 12th
21 19 TDs 19 16
4-6 (67%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 11-13 (85%) 6-10 (60%)
19-23 (83%) 72nd 19-20 (95%) 8th Red Zone 21-22 (95%) 125th 14-17 (82%) 65th
15-23 (65%) 8-20 (40%)  RZ TD 12-22 (55%) 11-17 (65%)
1.52 122 1.82 103 OFEI/DFEI 1.88 60 0.96 6
20.7 117 26.2 85 S&P+ 22.8 33 17.5 14

Rutgers still isn’t anywhere close to competing for the Big Ten East, but in Year 2 of the Chris Ash era they are ahead of where they were last season. The offense is one of the worst in college football — yes, even worse than Michigan’s — but the defense is halfway decent.

Rutgers ranks approximately midway nationally in nearly every defensive statistic. Their 51st in scoring defense (23.6 points per game), 62nd in rush defense (159.3 yards per game), 71st in pass defense (224.9 yards per game), and 62nd in total defense (384.1 yards per game). They’re 60th in DFEI, which measures defensive efficiency adjusted for strength of opponents faced. But they’re all the way up to 33rd nationally in defensive S&P+, which measures play-by-play data of five factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. By comparison, Michigan’s defense ranks 14th in S&P+, so not much ahead of Rutgers.

Does that mean Rutgers’ defense is in the same league as Michigan’s? Absolutely not. But they are better than their stats indicate. They held Purdue to 12 points in a 14-12 win this past Saturday — the same Purdue team that Michigan let score 10 points — and it took Purdue until 25 seconds remaining to score their first touchdown of the game (they failed the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game). They held Washington to 30 points — their second-lowest output this season — and Eastern Michigan to 13 points — their lowest of the season.

But before we get carried away praising a Rutgers defense, let’s also consider that they haven’t faced the toughest schedule to date (as noted by the DFEI ranking). Yes, they hung with Washington into the third quarter, but that was the first game of the season which can always be unpredictable. The only other S&P top-50 teams they’ve faced are Purdue (48th) and Ohio State (1st). And the Buckeyes soundly beat the Scarlet Knights 56-0, nearly matching their 58-0 score from 2016. Ohio State piled up 628 total yards, averaging 6.2 yards per play. Illinois passed for 308 yards two weeks ago and Purdue, despite scoring just 12 points, piled up 474 total yards, so in the last three weeks Rutgers is allowing an average of 499 yards per game. If ever there’s a week for Michigan’s offense to taste some success it’s this one. On the other hand, if the offense struggles, it will truly be time to worry.

On the other side of the ball, Rutgers ranks 103rd nationally in scoring (22.6 points per game), 62nd in rushing (167.7 yards per game), 121st in passing (133.6 yards per game), and 122nd in total offense (301.3 yards per game). Yes, only seven teams nationally rank worse in total offense than Rutgers.

Interestingly, Rutgers actually averages more rushing yards per game than Penn State did entering the Michigan game last week. But much of that is inflated by a 326-yards performance against Morgan State, which ranks 74th nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in rush defense. Against FBS competition, Rutgers is averaging just 141.3 rushing yards per game, which would rank 89th. Except for a 274-yard rushing game against Illinois’ 107th-ranked rush defense, Rutgers hasn’t topped 131 yards on the ground. They managed just 68 yards on 2.4 yards per carry against Nebraska and 2.9 yards per carry against Ohio State.

The passing game is even worse. Rutgers hasn’t reached 200 passing yards in a game this season and has been held below 100 twice. In the last three weeks, they’ve averaged just 93.7 passing yards per game while completing just 45.6 percent. By comparison, Michigan’s passing offense the last three weeks is averaging 140.7 passing yards per game and 50.6 percent completions. That’s how bad Rutgers’ passing game has been.

If there’s one bright spot for the Rutgers offense it is the fact that they’ve allowed just six sacks through seven games, a figure that ranks 11th nationally. That’s 17 fewer sacks than Michigan’s offensive line has allowed.

As you can see, Rutgers is slightly improved over last year and has a decent defense and an offense even worse than Michigan’s. Given all that has transpired this season I wouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s result, but anything but an easy Michigan win this Saturday should definitely be cause for real, legitimate concern.