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M&GB Staff predictions: Penn State

October 10th, 2014 by Justin Potts


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Michigan has lost three straight games and 10 of its last 14 dating back to last year’s Penn State game. Many fans are planning a protest of kickoff and more than 150 former players are coming to town in solidarity of the current team. Can Team 135 rally around the adversity and pull off the magic that it created in the previous two Under the Lights games? Or will Penn State hand Michigan a fourth straight loss, essentially ensuring a third losing season in seven years? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 24 23
Sam 21 20
Derick 20 24
Josh 17 38
Joe 14 30
M&GB Average 19 27

Justin: Christian Hackenberg will get his yards like he does every week against a Michigan pass defense that made Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning a week ago. But the Penn State offense has had trouble finding the end zone this season, instead settling for field goals. Kicker Sam Ficken has attempted more field goals than any other kicker in the conference.

Michigan’s offense will struggle to move the ball on the ground against a Penn State defense that leads the nation in opponent yard per carry (1.99), especially without Derrick Green. Penn State has allowed two of five opponents to break 100 yards and both of them barely got there. The most an individual rusher has gained against the Nittany Lions is 51 yards by Rutgers running back Paul James. So don’t expect De’Veon Smith to have a big game. It will be up to Devin Gardner to make the right decisions through the air and pull the ball down and run when there is space. Penn State is vulnerable over the middle, so look for Jake Butt to be targeted often.

Overall, I expect a fairly low-scoring affair. Penn State will win the yardage battle, but if Michigan can force them to settle for field goals, that won’t matter. Michigan will play with a spirited effort in a home game under the lights with 150-plus former players behind them for support. Michigan pulls it out by a hair.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 23

Sam:When will this nightmare end? I don’t think anyone could have predicted this football season would get this bad this fast, but here we are at 2-4 and 0-2 in conference play. Sure, Hoke may still believe that there’s a chance to add to those 42 Big Ten championships, but do his players? Does anyone?

Heading into the season, tomorrow’s Under the Lights game was supposed to be the big shebang. Now I think most Michigan fans are just hoping that prospective recruits aren’t watching. Penn State is not good…as in very bad not good. They eked out a three-point win at Rutgers (something Michigan barely failed to do) and got trounced by a Northwestern team that seemed like it was also very not good until last week they proved that they were maybe not that bad not good by beating Wisconsin at home.

Anyway, I am excited about a couple things. We all know who our quarterback is, and it seems like Michigan is starting to deploy Gardner a little bit as a running weapon, and I think De’Veon Smith and Justice Hayes should fill in for Derrick Green’s unfortunate season-ending injury nicely. I really thought the defense had top-10 (overall, not Big Ten) potential this season, but that unit has really let the team down over the past few weeks. Penn State is also coming off a bye that makes things a little more interesting.

Lastly, can we please get Devin Funchess the ball? PLEASE?!

I actually like Michigan to pull it off at home this week in a game that will only be fun because it’s close.

Michigan 21 – Penn State 20

Derick: With three straight losses to average opponents, the 2014 season has started to slip away from Brady Hoke and his 115 sons. Michigan has lost in a variety of ways during the stretch, struggling to score against Utah and Minnesota and falling apart in pass coverage against Rutgers.

The most important matchup to watch Saturday night is perhaps the most talented quarterback in the conference against one of the most underperforming cornerbacks in the conference. Christian Hackenberg has taken the reins of this Penn State offense as a sophomore, and he will likely throw toward Blake Countess all game. Countess allowed all three touchdowns against Rutgers, so his play will likely be the most important factor for the defense.

Michigan will battle hard against a night game crowd, but the PSU offense will outlast the Wolverines for a win.

Penn State 24 – Michigan 20

Josh: Well, I really don’t know what to say anymore. This team is bad, very bad. The good news is Penn State doesn’t look all that great either, although their record is much better than Michigan’s. Last week we saw some fight in this team and were it not for a catch that was ruled not a catch (and they even reviewed it!) Michigan may have pulled out a win. Alas, it was not to be. I would love to see this team come out with some fight again and I expect them to come out pumped up. It’s a night game and they’ll be sporting some hideous uniforms that shame the classic Michigan maize and blue, but I digress.

Tesm 135 will come out hyped and ready to play. Sadly, they are quite possibly the worst-coached team in the country, have a starting cornerback who is routinely beat deep (Countess gave up all 3 touchdowns last week) and face Christian Hackenberg and his rocket arm. It’ll be close for a quarter or two then the floodgates will open and then we can officially kiss a bowl game goodbye (I never thought they’d beat Michigan State or Ohio State, and I KNOW they won’t now). This will be the third losing season in the past seven years, after going 33 years without a losing season. Sad days for Michigan football and it will get worse as I expect several of the 2015 commits to jump ship with uncertainty surrounding Hoke and Co., though I’m not sure why there’d be uncertainty, the odds of Hoke keeping his job are slim to none. How many days until basketball?

Penn State 38 – Michigan 17

Joe: I am having a tough time with the predictions lately as it’s starting to get a little depressing. I wanted to focus on the running game with Derrick Green last week and that turned out to be a curse. The defense has sprung a leak and is not able to stop anyone at the key point in games. I fear that this may get even worse when Michigan faces off against a quarterback averaging over 300 yards a game in Christian Hackenberg. Granted, he has not thrown a touchdown pass in three straight games and is tossing in a few interceptions along the way, but he still scares me. He carved us up last year and unfortunately, I expect the same this week. The defense is injured and seems to have lost a lot of confidence that it had in the early going. Without a solid running game, I think the Nittany Lions offense can run and pass at will and will put pressure on Gardner to keep up from the get go. This could spell doom if the offenssive line continues to let guys waltz on through. As much as I would like to predict a big Wolverines victory, I will go with Penn State.

Penn State 30 – Michigan 14

Michigan-Penn State game preview

October 10th, 2014 by Justin Potts


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Prior to the season most assumed that if Michigan could get by Notre Dame in South Bend in Week 2, tomorrow’s showdown with Penn State would be a huge game. In a season in which all three rivals are road games, the night game against Penn State — the first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium history — was supposed to be the marquee game on the home slate.

Instead, Michigan has lost three in a row, four of its last five, and 10 of its last 14 dating back to last year’s matchup with Penn State. When Michigan traveled to State College last Oct. 12, the Wolverines were 5-0, ranked 18th nationally, and Penn State was just 3-2 and coming off a 44-24 loss to Indiana. What a difference a year makes.

UM-PennState-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7 p.m. EST – ESPN2
Rutgers Head Coach: James Franklin (1st season)
Coaching Record: 28-16 (4-1 at Penn State)
Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan (1st season)
Defensive Coordinators: Bob Shoop (1st season)
Brent Pry (1st season)
Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: PSU 43 – UM 40 3OT (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 10-7
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 5-3
Current Streak: Penn State 4
Last Michigan Win: 2007 (UM 14 – PSU 9)

At this time last year, there were certainly concerns after Michigan squeaked by Akron and UConn, but the vast majority of the fan base was still on board. Now, exactly a year later, the Michigan family is fractured. After a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally on the Diag two weeks ago, some students and fans have planned a boycott of kickoff tomorrow in order to project an empty stadium on the national televised broadcast. On the other side of the coin, more than 150 former players are descending upon Ann Arbor in a show of support for the current team.

Penn State, meanwhile, started the season 4-0 before getting stomped at home by Northwestern, 29-6 two weeks ago. In that game, Northwestern’s defense held Penn State to just 266 total yards, 50 rushing, and only two field goals. Not exactly the first home Big Ten game that first-year head coach James Franklin envisioned.

Penn State opened the season with a  26-24 win over Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland on a last-second 36-yard field goal. The Nittany Lions returned to the states with a sluggish 21-3 win over Akron that wasn’t really put away until the fourth quarter, and then scored 13 unanswered second half points to hand Rutgers its first Big Ten loss, 13-10. In Week 4, Penn State got its first convincing win of the season, rolling over UMass 48-7, but UMass is 0-6 and just yielded Miami (Ohio) its first win in 22 games. So while Penn State has a better record than Michigan and beat the only common opponent so far, Rutgers, the gap between the two teams is very minimal.

Like Brady Hoke, Franklin has his own share of issues to deal with stemming from a sexual assault case at his previous stop, Vanderbilt. That Franklin had to testify again on Wednesday is surely not the kind of distraction he wanted heading into a road night game against a team fighting for its postseason life.

Michigan has lost its last four to Penn State after winning nine straight from 1997 to 2007. Last season’s meeting took four overtimes and three Brendan Gibbons missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime to decide the outcome. So what is in store tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the match ups.

Michigan defense vs Penn State offense: When Penn State has the ball

Offensive coordinator John Donovan has been with Franklin for a while. At Vanderbilt, he put together three of the top four offenses in program history with a school record 4,936 total yards in 2012. That was also the first season in school history in which the Commodores averaged 30 or more points per game. He still has work to do at Penn State with an offense that currently ranks 96th nationally in points per game (22.8), 72nd nationally in total offense (407.8 yards per game), 25th in passing (306.8 yards per game), 113th in rushing (101.0 yards per game), and 104th in sacks allowed (14).

Christian Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten is passing yards per game, but has just four touchdowns and six interceptions and a quarterback rating lower than Devin Gardner (Alex Goodlett, Getty Images)

Christian Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten is passing yards per game, but has just four touchdowns and six interceptions and a quarterback rating lower than Devin Gardner (Alex Goodlett, Getty Images)

He has a great piece to build around in sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg who is going through a bit of a sophomore slump so far this season, but has all the tools to be a star for years to come. After finishing third in the Big Ten with 246.2 passing yards per game last season, Hackenberg has raised that number to 295.4 through the first five games of 2014, second only to Illinois’ West Hunt. But despite the yards, Hackenberg has thrown just four touchdown passes and six interceptions. His touchdown per pass attempt ratio of 48.8 is second-worst among the conference’s top 10 passers, behind only Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian (58.7). For comparison, Devin Gardner’s ratio is 24.0. Hackenberg’s six interceptions are also the second-most among the top 10 passers, better than only Rutgers’ Gary Nova (seven). In terms of efficiency, Hackenberg ranks 10th in the Big Ten, two spots behind Gardner.

Hackenberg has been held below 200 passing yards just once through five games, but that was in the blowout of UMass when he attempted just 23 passes and the Nittany Lions rushed for 228 yards. He has eclipsed 300 yards in three of five games with a high of 454 in the opener against UCF. But his completion percentage has gone down in each game, from 68.1 to 61.1 to 56.8 to 52.2 to 48.9. In that most recent game, the loss to Northwestern, Hackenberg completed 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. His quarterback rating for the game was 84.8, lower than any game Devin Gardner has had this season.

Hackenberg has a pair of good receivers in redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton and redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis. Hamilton leads the conference in receptions per game (7.2) and ranks second in yards per game (100.4). He has caught 36 passes for 502 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown pass. Lewis is tied for third in receptions per game with Devin Funchess (5.8) and ranks third in yards per game (99.0). He has caught 29 passes for 495 yards and one score. Tight end Jesse James is the only other pass catcher with double-digit receptions. The junior has caught 15 passes for 178 yards and leads the team with two touchdowns.

While the passing game is racking up yards, the running game is second worst in the Big Ten, ahead of only Illinois, averaging 101 yards per game, and has the worst yards per carry (3.1) in the conference. Senior running back Bill Belton hasn’t even sniffed 100 yards, his best performance being a seven carry, 76-yard, two touchdown game against UMass. He carried 10 times for 16 yards against UCF and 15 times for 36 yards against Rutgers. He is the team’s fourth-leading receiver, however, with 14 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch and fifth-year senior Zach Zwinak are the other ball-carriers with 133 and 105 yards, respectively. Lynch has been much more efficient, doing so on just 18 carries (7.4 yards per carry), but Zwinak, who is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, is tied with Belton for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.

The starting offensive line has been the same all season with the exception of right guard against UMass when redshirt sophomore Derek Dowrey got the start instead of redshirt sophomore Brian Gaia, who moved from defensive tackle this season. The leader of the line is redshirt junior left tackle Donovan Smith, who has 25 career starts. He’s by far the most experienced member of the line. Left guard Brendan Mahon and right tackle Andrew Nelson both redshirted last season and center Angelo Mangiro is a first year starter who served as the top reserve the last two years. The group ranks 13th in the Big Ten and 104th nationally in sacks against (14), and as mentioned above, hasn’t paved the way for much of a running game at all.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Despite a struggling offense, Penn State’s defense has been one of the best in the Big Ten and the nation so far this season. Like Donovan, co-defensive coordinators Bob Shoop and Brent Pry were with Franklin at Vanderbilt, where they guided the Commodores to Top 25 defenses all three seasons. Last season, Shoop’s defense ranked 10th nationally with 30 forced turnovers, and in 2012, it ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense. This year, the two have Penn State’s defense ranked 10th in scoring defense (14.6 points per game), ninth in total defense (288.8 yards per game), second in rush defense (60.2 yards per game), 58th in pass defense (228.6 yards per game), and eighth in red zone defense (11-17, 65 percent).

Mike Hull and the Penn State defense rank second nationally against the run (Jason Piotkin, York Daily Record)

Mike Hull and the Penn State defense rank second nationally against the run (Jason Piotkin, York Daily Record)

Much of the reason the defense is so good this season is because it’s an experienced group with only one full-time starter that has less than three years in the program, outside linebacker Brandon Bell, a true sophomore. While he has started all five games, he’s the least productive linebacker of the group with just 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and an interception. Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Mike Hull finished fifth in the Big Ten last season with 9.1 tackles per game in conference play and currently leads the Nittany Lions with 53 total tackles and leads the conference with 10.6 tackles per game. He also has 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. The other starting linebacker is redshirt sophomore Nyeem Wartman, who missed the Northwestern game two weeks ago with an arm injury. Still, he’s the third-leading tackler on the team with 20 tackles, and will be back in the lineup tomorrow. True sophomore Von Walker filled in for Wartman against Northwestern and finished with three tackles, while true freshman Jason Cabinda also saw his first extended time and recorded eight tackles. But that’s about it for depth.

The defensive line is a big reason Penn State has been so stout against the run, holding opponents to a Big Ten and national best 1.99 yards per carry. Redshirt junior three-tech Anthony Zettel leads the team with seven tackles for loss and three sacks and ranks fourth with 17 total tackles. The nose tackle is mammoth redshirt sophomore Austin Johnson, who at 6’4″, 313-pounds, has 15 tackles and 2.5 for loss, but more importantly, draws consistent double-teams. The ends are senior C.J. Olaniyan and redshirt junior Deion Barnes, who have a combined 29 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and four sacks.

The secondary is a group that has been around a while, led by junior cornerback Jordan Lucas, who leads the team with four pass breakups to go along with 17 tackles, one for loss, and one sack. He will likely draw the main coverage responsibilities on Devin Funchess. However, Doug Nussmeier would be smart to try to get Funchess matched up on the other corner, junior Trevor Williams, who isn’t nearly as good, although he does have two picks. Senior safety Ryan Keiser, a former walk-on, is the team’s second-leading tackler with 23 and also has an interruption and three passes defended, while fellow senior strong safety Adrian Amos has two picks and three passes defended.

Special teams: The other third

Senior kicker Sam Ficken is one of the best in the conference. He made 29-of-44 (65.9 percent) in 2012 and ’13, including a school record 15 straight, and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. He began this season in dramatic fashion with a 36-yard game-winner as time expired to beat UCF, his fourth field goal of the game. He’s 10-of-12 on the season, leading the Big Ten with an average of two made field goals per game. He also has a big leg, having made a 54-yarder last season.

Redshirt freshman punter Chris Gulla averages 38.3 yards per punt, which ranks outside the top 10 in the conference. Of his 19 punts, six have been downed inside the 20, seven have been fair caught, four have gone for more than 50 yards, one has been blocked, and only one has gone into the end zone for a touchback.

The return game is average nationally, led by fifth-year senior safety Jesse Della Valle, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 10.5 yards per punt return. True freshman kick returner Grant Haley ranks 10th in the conference with an average of 22.0 yards per return. Punt and kick return coverage is an area where Michigan could hope to take advantage of as Penn State ranks 100th nationally, allowing 12.0 yards per punt return, and 111th nationally and 12th in the Big Ten, allowing 24.7 yards per kick return.

Prediction

The first two night games in Michigan history, against Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013, both produced thrilling victories for the Wolverines, and Michigan hopes the bright lights can do the same tomorrow. The team has its back up against the wall, but will get a boost of confidence that it has been lacking from a big group of former players who will form a “welcome line” on the field for t he current team. As Howard put it, “former players told me that the ‘current players need to know we are here for them even if nobody else is.”

Last year’s matchup produced a high-scoring, four-overtime shootout, but neither team is setting the world on fire with its offense this time around. Michigan will have trouble moving the ball against Penn State’s defensive front, especially without running back Derrick Green, who is out for the season with a broken clavicle. It will be up to De’Veon Smith to carry the load, but only two opponents have topped 100 yards against Penn State so far — Rutgers with 102 yards and Northwestern with 103. Rutgers’ Paul James is the only individual running back that has topped 50 yards (51). So it will be up to Gardner to make the right decisions in the passion game. Penn State’s defense is vulnerable over the middle, so look for Gardner to hook up with Jake Butt often.

Defensively, it’s hard to see Michigan slowing down Hackenberg and the Penn State passing game, considering the Wolverines made Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning last week. But while Hackenberg will get his yards like he has all season, Penn State has struggled putting the ball in the end zone, and Michigan will hope to force Ficken, who has attempted more field goals than anyone else in the conference, to kick often. In addition, this game provides a great opportunity for Michigan’s defensive line to have a big game, putting pressure on Hackenberg and forcing him to make mistakes.

Michigan’s offense has been pretty good in the first quarter this season, and Penn State’s inability to score touchdowns make it hard for the Nittany Lions to come back, although they did come back from a 10-point second half deficit against Rutgers. If Michigan can score a touchdown or two on its first two or three possessions, I like the Wolverines’ chances in this one. But if Michigan falls behind by halftime, it will be very hard to come back against such a strong defense. I’ll go with the Big House night game magic in this one and take a narrow Michigan win.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 23

Final Look: Rutgers

October 9th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Taco Charlton vs Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

I’m beginning to change up the Final Look to dive a bit more into the advanced stats to give us a better and more in-depth look at the previous week’s game. This will be a work in progress as it takes much more time than the way we previously did it, so bear with me. I have removed the top plays section and added an advanced stats section. This is the part that will be fine tuned each week with the hopes that by next season I’ll have it down pat.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Rutgers
57 Total Plays 70
 27.7 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.7) 25.7
11 Possessions 11
5 Scoring Opportunities 6
 4.8 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 4.3
 74.5% Leverage Rate (68.4%) 54.5%
 47.3% Success Rate (42.2%) 39.4%
 28.6% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.7%) 43.3%
 53.7% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.5%) 36.1%
 37.5% Success Rate Passing (40.7%) 39.0%
 53.3% Success Rate Rushing (43.6%) 40.0%
1 Turnovers  0
21.3 Equivalent Points 28.3
0.37 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.40

I’m working to expand this section in the future, and hoping to put in some work to go back and calculate the previous games this season as well as last season so I can draw comparisons between this year’s offense and last year’s. The stats and formulas used are from Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.

As you can see from the advanced stats above, Michigan had 13 fewer plays than Rutgers, but had slightly better starting field position, scored more points per scoring opportunity (a first down inside the opponents 40 or a touchdown scored from outside), had a better leverage rate*, a better success rate**, a better success rate on standard downs, and a better success rate rushing. However, Rutgers won the turnover battle, even though it was only 1-0, and it was turned into a touchdown. Rutgers also had a full touchdown more equivalent points.

*Leverage Rate: Standard downs/(Standard downs + passing downs)
**Success Rate: 50% of necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down
***Passing Down is considered 2nd & 7 or more, 3rd & 5 or more, 4th & 5 or more

Let’s take a look at the Five Factors.

Five Factors
Michigan Stat Rutgers
5.7 Yards Per Play 6.8
 47.3% Success Rate 39.4%
27.7 Avg Starting Field Position 25.7
4.8 Points Per Opportunity 4.3
-1 Turnover Margin +1

So Michigan won three of the five factors, but lost the game by two points. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play
- Rutgers +1.1 = 86.2 percent chance of winning

Success Rate
- Michigan +7.9% = 76.2 percent chance of winning

Average Starting Field Position
- Michigan +2 = 54.1 percent chance of winning

Points Per Opportunity
- Michigan +0.5 = 51.8 percent chance of winning
- However, despite having a lower points per opportunity, Rutgers had more scoring opportunities (six compared to five), which equates to a 64.8 percent chance of winning

Turnover Margin
- Rutgers +1 = 64.5 percent chance of winning

Football Study Hall weighs Yards per Play at 35 percent, Success Rate at 25 percent, Field Position and PPO at 15 percent each, and Turnover Margin at 10 percent. Rutgers won Yards per Play (35 percent) and Turnover Margin (10 percent) outright, and also slightly won PPO because they had more opportunities (15 percent). Added together, that equates to a 60 percent overall chance of winning, which they did.

Drive Chart
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*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics, Dash indicates direction of drive, Green dash = scoring play, Grey = punt, Red = turnover, Pink = missed field goal, Black = end of half or turnover on downs, Shaded line = special teams or defensive touchdown

The numbers game

5,351: Devin Gardner’s career passing yards after throwing for 178 yards against Rutgers, putting him in a tie for seventh with Tom Brady on the career passing list

624: Devin Gardner’s career pass attempts, passing Brian Griese and Jim Harbaugh for eighth on the career list

37.5: Jake Ryan’s career tackle for loss total, passing Mike Hammerstein (1981-85) for 15th on the career list

77.8: Devin Gardner’s pass completion percentage in the first quarter so far this season (28-of-36)

Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

October 8th, 2014 by Derick Hutchinson


Power Rankings_header

Big Ten conference play is in full swing and last week saw its first big-time matchup of the season with Michigan State and Nebraska. It also saw Rutgers get its first ever Big Ten victory and Northwestern pull off its second upset in as many weeks. Here are this week’s rankings.

East Division
1. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #19 Nebraska 27-22 This Week: Sat at Purdue (3-3, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

In maybe the biggest conference matchup of the season on Saturday, Michigan State took down Nebraska, the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten, to cement itself as the runaway favorite to win the conference. Michigan State is one win over Ohio State away from likely playing in the first college football playoff.

2. Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 52-24 This Week: Bye (10/18 vs Rutgers)

Many thought Maryland’s talented defense would give the Buckeyes a battle last weekend, but the Terps couldn’t hold up against Urban Meyer’s resurgent squad, and OSU blew Maryland out of its own building 52-24.

3. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Michigan 26-24 This Week: Bye (10/18 at #15 Ohio State)

Rutgers picked up its first conference win as a member of the Big Ten with a close victory over a reeling Michigan team on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights are 5-1 halfway through this season.

4. Penn State (4-1, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Michigan (2-4, 0-2), 7pm, ESPN2

Penn State took a week off after an awful loss to Northwestern at home. The Nittany Lions will travel to Ann Arbor for a chance to get back on track this weekend in the first ever Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium.

5. Maryland (4-2, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #20 Ohio State 24-52 This Week: Bye (10/18 vs Iowa)

Just when Maryland was gaining some momentum, Ohio State ended the modest two-game winning streak by putting up 52 points on the “vaunted” Terrapin defense.

6. Indiana (3-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat North Texas 49-24 This Week: Sat at Iowa (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Indiana finished up the non-conference season a week later than most, smashing North Texas at home 49-24.  This weekend will bring a challenge as the Hoosiers travel to Iowa City.

7. Michigan (2-4, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Rutgers 24-26 This Week: Sat vs Penn State (4-1, 1-1), 7pm, ESPN2

It’s disappointing for Michigan fans that perhaps the team’s most complete effort of the first half of the season came in a loss to Rutgers. Turnovers, third down defense, consistency in the rushing game, field goal kicking, and any semblance of a kick return weapon are among the qualities lacking for the Wolverines thus far.

BIG East Week 6

West Division
1. Northwestern (3-2, 2-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat #17 Wisconsin 20-14 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, BTN

Northwestern’s resurgence since Week 2 has been one of the most shocking developments in the Big Ten. One week after waxing Penn State on the road by 23, the Wildcats took down the mighty Wisconsin Badgers to take an outright lead in the West.

2. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #10 Michigan State 22-27 This Week: Bye (10/18 at Northwestern)

Michigan State handed Nebraska a tough first loss of the season Saturday night, after the Cornhuskers failed to show up for much of the first three quarters of the game. But MSU is the most talented group in the conference, so Nebraska still owns the inside track to a rematch in Indianapolis.

3. Iowa (4-1, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-10 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (3-2, 0-1), 12pm, ESPNU

Week 6 was a resounding success for Iowa. Though the Hawkeyes had the week off, they sat at home and watched both Wisconsin and Nebraska drop their first conference games of the season.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Northwestern 14-20 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (3-3, 0-2), 12pm, ESPN2

A quiet trip to Evanston turned very ugly for Wisconsin as it dropped its first conference game after scoring just 14 points. The Badgers rushing attack hasn’t been enough to manufacture points in important spots this season, and now the West Division favorite has fallen to 3-2 overall.

5. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Northwestern (3-2, 2-0), 12pm, BTN

Minnesota took an extra week off to celebrate the return of the Little Brown Jug. The 4-1 Gophers welcome the first-place Wildcats to town this weekend.

6. Purdue (3-3, 1-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Illinois 38-27 This Week: Sat vs #8 Michigan State (4-1, 1-0), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Purdue took perhaps its only chance at a Big Ten victory this season and ran with it Saturday, topping Illinois on the road 38-27.

7. Illinois (3-3, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Purdue 27-38 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

A tough start to the season got much worse Saturday when Illinois fell to Purdue at home to remain winless in the Big Ten. A quick glance at the remaining schedule raises the distinct possibility that Illinois could finish 3-9.

BIG West week 6

Tailgate Tuesday: “Brady” back ribs

October 7th, 2014 by MmmGoBluBBQ


TailgateTuesday_banner-Week7

Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly collaboration with Joe from MmmGoBluBBQ. These will be posted each Tuesday throughout the season and each recipe will be themed around that week’s opponent. 

Previously: Hot-’n-Fast pulled pork with Carolina mustard slawIrish stout pepper beefSpatchcock RedHawkGrilled RavioliSmoked “Land of 10,000 Lakes” Catfish, pork loin with mustard glaze.

Well, this season isn’t quite going as planned, but let’s not allow it to ruin our Saturday afternoon quest for the perfect BBQ. When I am having a bad day/week/month, one thing always cheers me up. Okay, two things. I love an icy cold “barley pop” along with a great rack of baby back ribs. For the purpose of this recipe, let’s call them Brady back ribs. You can choose which “Brady” works best for this recipe. I’ll go with that guy up in New England. My good buddy Bob is from Pennsylvania and is a huge Penn State fan and says that ribs are the only thing they cook at their tailgates. Bob is a good pal, so I trust he wouldn’t lead me down the wrong BBQ path. Here is my GO TO when smoking a few racks. And get this: no sauce needed!!!!

Ingredients:

• Baby Back Ribs
• Worcestershire Sauce or Tobasco
• Apple Juice or Apple Cider
• Rub – (equal parts kosher salt, granulated white sugar, dark chili powder, Montreal steak seasoning). Add some cayenne for some heat (optional)

Directions:

Set up the smoker or grill for indirect heat at 250 degrees. I like to use pecan wood for my ribs. Any good fruit wood goes well with pork and can be substituted. This cook will go for about 4-5 hours overall. Select a meaty rack with some fat. FAT IS FLAVOR.

Remove the membrane from the back. Use a butter knife to pry loose an edge and then grab some paper towel to help peel it back. This little thing is slippery, so the paper towel really helps!!

Once the membrane is removed, I like to apply a little worcestershire sauce or tabasco sauce to help add flavor and hold the rub. Mustard also works, but I chose Worcestershire sauce for this one. Apply rub on both sides. I use a few tablespoons per side. Once the rub is applied, let it set for about 30 minutes.

Ribs 1-2-3

Once your smoker/grill is at 250 degrees, it’s time to add the wood chunks and add the rack. This will go for about two hours before you even think about peeking.

After two hours, we can take a “peeky” look. They should start to darken up and get a little crusty. This is a good thing.

Once we hit the three hour mark, I like to spray with a little apple juice to add some moisture. It also adds some nice apple flavor which goes great with pork.

After about four hours, they start to get a nice shiny glaze because of the sugars and juice combining. The crust has firmed up and has a bit of a crunch to it. Yumm!!!! Depending on the temperature you were cooking at, they might be done. I’ve had baby backs finish in as little as four hours and as many as six. BBQ is done when it’s done. Simple as that.

Ribs 4-5-6

The apple juice really adds a nice flavor and a nice look to the ribs. I also decided to throw on some stuffed japs, better known as “ABT’s” or Atomic Buffalo Turds. Not a bad combo!

Once I hit five hours, it was time for the bend test. If they bend nearly in half, they are done. No need to check for internal temp with ribs. The bend test never fails. Notice how they bend nearly in half. The crusty top will start to split a little. This is another good sign.

Let cool for about five minutes and then it’s time to slice ‘em up. I like to flip them over to see where the bones are. The meat has started to pull back on the bones a little. Another sign that they are done. The pink ring on the ribs are because of the smoke penetration into the meat. A badge of honor for pitmasters. :)

These ribs were crusty on the outside and super juicy in the middle. I almost ate the entire rack by myself. This is a winner and easy to do. Give it a shot. Thanks for stopping by.

Ribs 7-8-9

For more great recipes, photos, and barbecue ideas, follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq. And don’t forget to check out his site, MmmGoBluBBQ, for recipes, product reviews, and more.

First Look: Penn State

October 6th, 2014 by Justin Potts


FirstLook-PennState

The third Under the Lights game is coming up on Saturday, but unlike the previous two, the excitement surrounding Michigan football has turned into apathy and consternation. A team that entered the season with hope and promise has struggled to a 2-4 start and hasn’t beaten a power-five team in regulation in nearly a full calendar year. This week, Penn State comes to town for the first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium history. The Nittany Lions enter with a 4-1 record, 1-1 in the Big Ten, with wins over UCF, Akron, Rutgers, and UMass, and a loss to Northwestern. Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Penn State compare through the first six weeks of the season.

Penn State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Penn StateMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 22.8 | 22.3 96 | 101
14.6 | 22.8 10T51
Rushing Yards 505 | 1,085 301 | 601
Rush Avg. Per Game 101.0 | 180.8 113 | 55 60.2 | 100.2 2 | 12
Avg. Per Rush 3.1 | 5.0
2.0 | 2.9
Passing Yards 1,534 | 1,039 1,143 | 1,292
Pass Avg. Per Game 306.8 | 173.2 25 | 107 228.6 | 215.3 58 | 38
Total Offense 2,0392,124 1,444 | 1,893
Total Off Avg. Per Game 407.8 | 354.0 72 | 100 288.8 | 315.5 9 | 19
Kick Return Average 22.1 | 18.0 48 | T111 24.7 | 19.6 111 | 48
Punt Return Average 8.0 | 7.8 64 | 68 12.0 | 15.2 T100 | 114
Avg. Time of Possession 33:04 | 30:54 20 | 43
26:56 | 29:06
3rd Down Conversion Pct 44.0% | 42.0% 44 | 67
34.0% | 36.0% 36 | 51
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 14-72 | 12-82
104 | T74
13-88 | 12-110
T37 | T65
Touchdowns Scored 12 | 17
9 | 15
Field Goals-Attempts 10-12 | 5-9
4-7 | 11-12
Red Zone Scores (16-20) 80% | (15-15) 100% 77 | T1
(11-17) 65%(17-19) 89% 8 | 98
Red Zone Touchdowns (8-20) 40% | (13-15) 87% (7-17) 41% | (10-19) 53%

Michigan and Penn State’s offenses are similarly bad at scoring points — Penn State averages a half point more — but that’s about where the similarities end. While Michigan’s offense is balanced — 180.8 rushing yards and 173.2 passing yards per game — Penn State’s is extremely pass heavy. The Nittany Lions have half as many rushing yards as Michigan, but 50 percent more passing yards despite playing one less game. And Penn State is averaging 54 more total yards per game than Michigan. So basically, Penn State is decent at moving the ball, but not very good at putting points on the board.

Hackenberg’s passing totals have gone down every game so far this season. In the opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, Hackenberg threw for 454 yards and a touchdown. The next week against Akron, he threw for 319 and three touchdowns. Against Rutgers, it was 309. Against UMass it was 236 and one score, and against Northwestern it was down to just 216. And while he has thrown for a lot of yards, he has just four touchdown passes — one fewer than Devin Gardner — and six interceptions. In fact, his quarterback rating (122.2) is lower than Gardner’s (128.4.).

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 UCF W 26-24
Sept. 6 Akron W 21-3
Sept. 13 at Rutgers W 13-10
Sept. 20 UMass W 48-7
Sept. 27 Northwestern L 6-29
Oct. 11 at Michigan
Oct. 25 #15 Ohio State
Nov. 1 Maryland
Nov. 8 at Indiana
Nov. 15 Temple
Nov. 22 at Illinois
Nov. 29 #9 Michigan State

The running game has failed to top 100 yards in three of the five games and barely surpassed 100 in one of the others. The only game in which Penn State had success on the ground was against UMass when the Nittany Lions rushed for 228 yards on 5.1 yards per carry. Penn State managed just 57 yards on 28 carries against UCF, 64 yards on 33 carries against Rutgers, and 50 yards on 25 carries against Northwestern. Remember how bad Michigan’s running game was last season? Through five games it had 385 more rushing yards than Penn State has through its first five games this season. Yes, Penn State’s passing game is better than Michigan’s was, but Michigan averaged 4.4 yards per carry through the first five, while Penn State is averaging just 3.1.

Part of the problem is the offensive line which has given up 14 sacks, two more than Michigan has allowed in one less game. That hurts the rushing totals and also affects the passing game by not giving Hackenberg time to throw.

Another big reason the offense is averaging just 22.8 points is that it settles for a lot of field goals. Penn State has scored on 16 of 20 trips in the red zone, but only half of those were touchdowns. The other eight were field goals. Michigan, meanwhile, has had trouble getting to the red zone, but has converted 13 of 15 red zone appearances into touchdowns with just two field goals.

On the other side of the ball, Penn State has the best defense Michigan has faced so far this season. The Nittany Lions rank 10th nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 14.6 points per game, 8.2 more than Michigan. Only two of five opponents have scored more than 10 points against Penn State so far this season. Central Florida scored 24 in a losing effort in Week 1 and Northwestern scored 29 two weeks ago.

The rush defense is Penn State’s calling card so far, holding opponents to just 60.2 yards per game, which is second-best nationally behind only Louisville’s 58.3. Only Rutgers (102 yards) and Northwestern (103 yards) have broken 100, while two opponents have averaged negative yards per carry. UCF rushed 29 times for 24 yards and UMass rushed 28 times for just three yards. What a week for Michigan to lose its leading rusher, Derrick Green, for the season.

On the other hand, the pass defense is worse than Michigan’s, allowing 228.6 yards per game through the air. However, Penn State held Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova — who just shredded Michigan’s defense — to just 192 yards, no touchdowns, and five interceptions. And while the Nittany Lions have given up a lot of yards through the air, they have allowed just two passing touchdowns all season.

One area in which Penn State is not very good is kick and punt coverage. PSU is allowing 24.7 yards per kick return — five more than Michigan allows — and 12 yards per punt return. Those numbers rank 111th and 100th nationally.

Penn State will be a stern test for Michigan this week and this game is a must-win for the Wolverines to have any hope of reaching the postseason. Perhaps the Big House lights will spark the same type of magic as the previous two Under the Lights games.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
Christian Hackenberg 113-195 1,477 4 6 295.4
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Bill Belton 49 189 3 24 3.9
Akeel Lynch 18 133 1 46 7.4
Zach Zwinak 37 105 3 18 2.8
Christian Hackenberg (QB) 35 34 0 17 1.0
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
DaeSean Hamilton 36 502 0 51 100.4
Geno Lewis 29 495 1 79 99.0
Jesse James (TE) 15 178 2 44 35.6
Bill Belton (RB) 14 129 1 24 25.8
Chris Godwin 9 79 0 14 15.8
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Mike Hull (LB) 32 21 53 2.5-6 1.0-5 (1 FF)
Ryan Keiser (S) 16 7 23 0-0 0-0 (1 INT, 3PD)
Anthony Zettel (DT) 11 6 17 7.0-26 3.0-18 (1 FR)
C.J. Olaniyan (DE) 6 7 13 4.5-18 2.0-13
Adrian Amos (S) 8 3 11 1.0-1 0-0 (2 INT)
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Sam Ficken 10 12 42 12 12
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Chris Gulla 19 728 38.3 6 4
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Penn State in the coming days.

Derrick Green out for season

October 6th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Derrick Green vs Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

For those who thought Michigan has already hit rock bottom, today is proof that it can get worse. Brady Hoke announced in his Monday press conference that starting running back Derrick Green will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a broken clavicle late in the game on Saturday, leaving an already struggling offense without one of its few bright spots.

Green leads the team with 471 rushing yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry through six games. Despite a six-carry, six-yard performance against Minnesota in Week 5, Green was on pace to become Michigan’s first 1,000-yard running back since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011. He had two 100-yard games, 170 yards against Appalachian State and 137 against Miami (Ohio).

De’Veon Smith, who split carries with Green, will assume the starting role the rest of the season and third-down back Justice Hayes will see an increased workload. Smith has 282 yards on 47 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. The Rutgers game was the only game this season in which he has received double-digit carries (10). Hayes has 19 carries for 101 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and five receptions for 47 yards. Sophomore Drake Johnson will also likely get more carries.

Michigan (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) hosts Penn State (4-1, 1-1) this Saturday at 7 p.m. EST in the first ever Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium.

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Penn State

October 6th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to MEKMichigan for his first win of the season. His point deviation of 38 was the lowest of any contestant so far this season and was 13 points better than TheZachster. MEKMichigan tied with chris12qb and MacNCheese for the closest to Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo’s receiving yards (73), just three away. He was third-closest to Gardner’s total yards (218), fourth-closest to the total receiving yards by everyone except Devin Funchess (107), fourth-closest to Michigan’s longest run (26 yards), and second-closest to Michigan’s third-down conversion percentage (36 percent). He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Tooty_pops was the only one to correctly predict Michigan’s third-down percentage. Kfarmer16 was the closest to Michigan’s longest run, only one away. Hazel Parker‘s perdition of 103 yards was the closest to Michigan’s receiving yards by everyone except Funchess. Thezachster and new contestant Quentin Tedesco both predicted that Devin Gardner would record 215 total yards, so they were the closest at three away.

No one correctly predicted the final score, although 15 of the 25 contestants predicted Rutgers to win. The average score was Rutgers 23 – Michigan 20.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

Michigan returns home to face Penn State (4-1, 1-1) this Saturday in a nationally televised night game. The Nittany Lions are coming off a bye week and a 29-6 loss to Northwestern two weeks ago. Here are this week’s questions:

Jersey Short: Rutgers 26 – Michigan 24

October 5th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Michigan at Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

A trying week for the Michigan football program following a loss to Minnesota, complete with a concussion controversy that gained national mainstream media attention, a student rally calling for the firing of athletic director Dave Brandon, and increased calls for Brady Hoke’s head, was bookended with yet another loss. This time, the Wolverines came up just short in a 26-24 defeat at Rutgers on Saturday night.

It was the first ever meeting between the two oldest schools in FBS and it resulted in the first ever Big Ten Conference victory for the team that won the first ever college football contest over the school with the most wins in college football history.

Michigan started the game with a nine-play, 57-yard drive that stalled on the Rutgers 22-yard line. But Michigan managed three points on a 39-yard Matt Wile field goal. Rutgers countered with a seven-play, 58-yard drive and a 35-yard field goal to tie the game at three.

UM-Rutgers-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Rutgers
Score 24 26
Record 2-4, 0-2 5-1, 1-1
Total Yards 336 476
Net Rushing Yards 158 74
Net Passing Yards 178 402
First Downs 18 18
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 3-30 9-85
Punts-Yards 4-190 3-146
Time of Possession 29:14 30:46
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 8-of-16
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 2-21 3-18
Field Goals 1-for-2 2-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 3-of-3
Full Box Score

Michigan went three-and-out and Rutgers went 47 yards in eight plays and took a 6-3 lead on a 45-yard Kyle Federico field goal. But Michigan responded with the first touchdown of the game. Devin Gardner kicked off the drive with a 23-yard pass to Devin Funchess and then the two connected for eight yards. Three plays later, Gardner lofted the ball up across the middle and Jake Butt made a one-handed catch for 20 yards to give Michigan a first-and-goal at the Rutgers five. Gardner tried to sneak it in, but was stuffed. On second down, Gardner ran to the right and outran the defense to the end zone giving Michigan a 10-6 lead.

After trading punts, Rutgers took over on its own 20-yard line. Quarterback Gary Nova found a wide open Andrew Turzilli for an 80-yard touchdown catch and run. Michigan blocked the extra point and Rutgers led 12-10.

Michigan couldn’t do anything with its next possession and punted it back to Rutgers, who took possession at their own 12. Nova connected with Desmon Peoples for 33 yards on the first play, but Michigan’s defense held strong to force fourth-and-10. Rutgers ran a fake punt, but Michigan stopped it for a loss of two yards and took over on the Rutgers 43. Six plays later, De’Veon Smith scored from a yard out and Michigan regained the lead, 17-12.

Rutgers got to work with 1:43 remaining in the half and marched right down the field. Facing third-and-goal at the Michigan 7-yard line, Nova dropped back to pass. But Frank Clark shot through the middle untouched for a sure-fire sack. However, Nova shooed him away with a stiff-arm and found John Tsimis in the end zone to put the Scarlet Knights ahead 19-17 and re-take the momentum heading into the half.

Neither team was able to score in the third quarter, but on Michigan’s second possession, Gardner was intercepted at the Rutgers 41. The Scarlet Knights capitalized, going 59 yards in 10 plays, and capping it off with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Turzilli.

Michigan wasn’t dead yet, however, as offensive coordinator turned to the run game to pound the ball down the field. Derrick Green ran for eight yards, eight yards, and 21 yards to get to the Rutgers 32. Gardner rushed for eight and Smith five giving the Wolverines a first down at the 19. Gardner rolled to his right, eluded several defenders and raced into the end zone to pull Michigan within two at 26-24 with 9:17 remaining.

Michigan’s defense forced a punt and got the ball back hoping to drive the field for a game-winning score that could take some of the heat off the program. Smith rushed for nine yards and then four for a first down. Gardner hit Khalid Hill for a 12-yard gain, and two plays later, connected with Funchess for 17. On third-and-eight at the Rutgers 38, Gardner completed a pass to Amara Darboh on the right sideline. Darboh took two steps and dove out of bounds just past the first down marker. But as he hit the ground, the ball squirted out and the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Hoke challenged and it was upheld, giving Michigan a fourth-and-eight from the Rutgers 38 instead of first down at the 28. Hoke elected to attempt a 56-yard field goal, but Wile’s kick was blocked, allowing Rutgers to run out the clock for the victory.

Rutgers finished the game with 476 total yards, 402 through the air. Both of those numbers are the most Michigan has allowed this season and the most Rutgers has gained this season. Michigan gained 336 yards with a balanced effort of 178 through the air and 158 on the ground. Gardner completed 13-of-22 for 178 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed 10 times for 40 yards and two touchdowns. Green led the way on the ground with 74 yards on 12 carries, while Smith had 31 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Funchess caught five passes for 71 yards, while Jehu Chesson caught two for 34.

Michigan has now won just three of its last 12 games and hasn’t beaten a power-five school since topping Northwestern in triple-overtime last November 16. The two teams Michigan has beaten since then — Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio) — are a combined 2-9 this season with one of those two wins coming against an FCS school (Campbell) and the other just a one-point victory over 0-6 UMass.

The Wolverines fall to 2-4 on the season and 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967. The Wolverines return home to face Penn State (4-1, 1-1) at 7 p.m. EST next Saturday.

Michigan-Rutgers game preview

October 3rd, 2014 by Justin Potts


Game Preview_Rutgers_banner

It has been a trying week for the Michigan football program after a loss to Minnesota — just the fourth in 46 years — and the controversy that has followed from a hit taken by quarterback Shane Morris that resulted in a concussion. It has been talked about not only on ESPN, but NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, Good Morning America, 60 Minutes, and more. For the players and coaches, Saturday can’t get here soon enough, but the big question is whether the team can use the adversity as a galvanizing force or whether the distractions will sink the team even further.

UM-Rutgers-small-final
Quick Facts
High Point Solutions Stadium – 7 p.m. EST – BTN
Rutgers Head Coach: Kyle Flood (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 19-12 (all at Rutgers)
Offensive Coordinator: Ralph Friedgen (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Rossi (1st season)
Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)
Last Meeting: 1st meeting
All-Time Series: 0-0
Michigan in New Jersey: Michigan leads 2-0
Brady Hoke vs Rutgers: 0-1 (Ball St. lost 52-30 in 2008)

The road has been a thorn in Hoke’s side since he arrived in Ann Arbor and that’s just where the team is headed this week. Perhaps it can become a place of calm away from the circus that Ann Arbor has become. The venue, however, will be anything but calm, as Rutgers announced its second sellout of the season and just the fifth since 2009. It’s also a night game and has been denoted as this season’s “blackout game”, which means although small compared to the Big House (52,454 capacity), High Point Solutions Stadium will be electric.

It’s the first ever meeting between college football’s two oldest FBS programs. Michigan calls itself Team 135 because this is the 135th season of Michigan football. But Rutgers began playing in 1869, 10 years earlier, known then as the Queensmen. Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in the first game and then lost to Princeton 8-0 a week later. Those were the only two games played between the only two college football teams at the time, and both claim a national title.

Head coach Kyle Flood is in his third season at Rutgers and his third straight season in a different conference. The former offensive line coach and assistant head coach under Greg Schiano took over in 2012 when his predesessor left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first season, Rutgers tied for first in the Big East, but the caveat would be that four of the eight teams in the conference shared the title, all with 5-2 records. Rutgers had a chance to win it outright by beating Louisville in the final week, but the Cardinals won 20-17 and ultimately earned the conference’s BCS berth. Rutgers then lost to Virginia Tech 13-10 in the Citrus Bowl. Flood shared Big East Coach of the Year honors with then-Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

Flood lost both of his coordinators following the 2012 season and brought in former Kansas State head coach Ron Prince to run the offense. After a 52-51 overtime loss at Fresno State to open the season, Rutgers won four straight, including a four-point win over Arkansas and a 55-52 triple-overtime thriller over SMU. But then the wheels fell off. They went 2-6 the rest of the way with a 29-16 loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl to end the season.

Prince’s time in Piscataway would be short-lived as he jumped to the Detroit Lions following the season, and Flood replaced him with former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. Flood also fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, who had been promoted from linebackers coach prior to the 2013 season, and promoted special teams coach Joe Rossi. Needless to say, Flood has faced plenty of turnover in his short tenure thus far and hopes the move to the Big Ten will provide more stability.

Rutgers comes into this game with a 4-1 record, but is still looking for its first Big Ten win. Penn State came to New Jersey and beat the Scarlet Knights 13-10 in Week 3 in their first ever Big Ten contest. Rutgers has wins over Washington State (41-38), Howard (38-25), Navy (31-24), and Tulane (31-6). Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Rutgers offense: When Rutgers has the ball

Friedgen’s offense currently ranks 66th nationally in scoring (30.2 points per game), 67th in total offense (416.8 yards per game), 56th in rushing (176.2 yards per game), and 63rd in passing (240.6 yards per game). They also rank 73rd in third-down conversion percentage (40.3).

Gary Nova threw five interceptions against Penn State but has just two in the other four games (Mel Evans, AP)

Gary Nova threw five interceptions against Penn State but has just two in the other four games (Mel Evans, AP)

Quarterback Gary Nova has been a hot and cold quarterback his entire career and that’s no different this season. He has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,197 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But five of those interceptions came in a 13-10 loss to Penn State, a game in which he completed just 15-of-30 passes and no touchdowns. Aside from that game and a Week 4 win over Navy in which Rutgers rushed for nearly 300 yards, Nova has thrown for an average of 285 yards with 10 touchdowns and just to picks in the other three games.

Like Michigan with Devin Funchess, Nova has one very good receiver to throw to and a bunch of others. Junior Leonte Carroo is already just three yards short of his 2013 season total with 475 receiving yards on 25 receptions and five touchdowns. He has had two 100-yard-plus games, including a six-catch, 140-yard, three-touchdown performance last week against Tulane. The only other player on the team with double-digit receptions is sophomore Janarion Grant, who has 10 catches for just 90 yards. Fellow sophomore John Tsimis has nine for 110 yards and two scores, while senior Kansas transfer Andrew Turzilli is second on the team in receiving yards with 182 yards on just four catches. His total is aided by a 93-yard touchdown. Junior tight end Tyler Kroft entered the season as one of the Big Ten’s best, but has been held without a catch in three of the first five games and played just six snaps last week due to an injury. He should be healthy and ready to go tomorrow, however.

The Rutgers offense took a huge hit when starting running back Paul James tore his ACL against Navy two weeks ago. He had 363 rushing yards (5.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns to go along with 120 receiving yards and two more touchdowns prior to his injury. Last season, James rushed for 868 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing four games with a leg injury. This is a huge loss to the Scarlet Knight offense. In his place is 5’8″, 175-pound sophomore Desmon Peoples, who has 288 yards (4.3 yards per carry) but no touchdowns so far this season. His production has picked up since James went down, as he is averaging 82.5 yards, but just 4.1 yards per carry the past two weeks. Fellow sophomore Justin Goodwin filled in for James in the four games he missed last season, but moved to cornerback in fall camp. He started the season opener and recorded an interception, but switched back to his old position in Week 3. In two games played at running back the past two weeks, Goodwin is averaging 93 yards and 4.9 yards per carry.

The offensive line is an experienced unit that returned all five starters from last season with 99 career starts between them.

Michigan offense vs Rutgers defense: When Michigan has the ball

The defense returned just five starters from last season and currently ranks 66th nationally in scoring defense (30.2 points per game), 80th in total defense (408.8 yards per game), 49th in rush defense (130.4 yards per game), and 105th in pass defense (278.4 yards per game). And while the Rutgers defense allows opponents to convert third-downs 43.4 percent of the time (91st nationally), it leads the nation with 21 sacks.

Tackle Darius Hamilton leads Rutgers with 3.5 sacks and will be a big test for Michigan's offensive line (Rich Kane, Icon SMI)

Tackle Darius Hamilton leads Rutgers with 3.5 sacks and will be a big test for Michigan’s offensive line (Rich Kane, Icon SMI)

A year ago, Rutgers had the fourth-best rush defense and fourth-worst pass defense in the country. The disparity isn’t so stark through the first five weeks of this season, but as you can see from the rankings above, the Scarlet Knights are still much more adept at defending the run than the pass. The sack yardage certainly helps the rush defense numbers, but it also shows that when they can’t get to the quarterback, they’re vulnerable through the air.

The defensive line is anchored by junior tackle Darius Hamilton. The 6’4″, 255-pounder has 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss so far. Joining Hamilton in the middle is nose guard Kenneth Kirksey, who has nine tackles and one for loss. Fifth-year senior David Milewski and redshirt junior Djwany Mera are the ends. Milewski has three sacks and six tackles for loss, while Mera has a half sack.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Steve Longa is the leading tackler with 37 in addition to 1.5 for loss and one sack. The strong side linebacker, redshirt junior Quentin Gause, has 27 tackles, three for loss, and a sack, while the middle linebacker, sophomore L.J. Liston and senior Kevin Snyder, have a combined 27 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Fifth-year senior strong safety Lorenzo Waters is the leader of the secondary with 24 tackles, four for loss, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. Fellow fifth-year senior Gareef Glashen is one starting cornerback and has 29 tackles, one interception, and leads the team with seven passes defended. The other corner spot is a rotation between sophomores Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, and freshman Dre Boggs. The three have combined for 22 tackles, two for loss, and two passes defended.

Special teams: The other third

Junior kicker Kyle Federico has converted 6-of-8 field goals with a long of 42. He made 12-of-18 last season with a long of 48. Junior Tim Gleeson and redshirt junior Joseph Roth have shared the punt duties, averaging 40.8 and 37.2 yards per punt, respectively. Gleeson’s total ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

Grant is the main return man for both kicks and punts. He’s averaging 20.5 yards per kick return and seven yards per punt return, although Rutgers has just three punt returns all season.

Prediction

Michigan received a big send off from the coaches and athletes of other Michigan teams as they left for New Jersey. With all the animosity swirling around the program after its third loss of the season and a concussion controversy, perhaps the one place Brady Hoke has struggled to win the most — the road — can serve as a rallying point and a springboard for the rest of the season.

Something tells me Devin Gardner will come into the game with a renewed purpose, similar to what we saw when he came in in relief of Shane Morris in the fourth quarter last week. We know he’s capable of putting up big numbers, and the Rutgers secondary provides a great opportunity to get back on track. But he will need protection from the nation’s leader in sacks.

Defensively, Michigan will need to find a way to put pressure on Nova and force him into the mistakes he is prone to make. The loss of James puts more pressure on Nova and the young running backs to step up. If Michigan’s offense doesn’t put the defense in tough positions, it should be able to hold Rutgers offense in check.

When all is said and done, I’m not confident in the line being able to protect Gardner well enough to allow the offense to sustain drives, especially since Rutgers’ defense has been pretty good against the run. Expect a close, back and forth game that goes down to the wire, but Michigan comes up just short. I hope I’m wrong.

Rutgers 24 – Michigan 20