A 39-point spread between 2 Power-5 FBS teams says a lot about how a season is going, no matter which side of it the team is on. (Spoiler alert…Michigan is on the good side of this line.)
The 8-0 Michigan Wolverines are in control of their own destiny. Vegas odds-makers also expect them to control things this Saturday against the hapless Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
But strangely, the O/U total is dropping like a rock while the point spread grows wider. “Under” results are usually correlated with upset bids…but not this time.
Who: Michigan Wolverines at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
When: Saturday, October 28th, 3:30 PM EST
Where: HighPoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Lines: Michigan (-39) at Rutgers (+39) / O/U Total: (48)
Michigan’s rousing success in 2018 can be largely attributed to the arrival of transfer QB Shea Patterson, who has looked great under the tutelage of head coach Jim Harbaugh. The junior has passed for over 1,600 yards, 14 TDs and only 3 INTs – certainly the stats of a game-manager, but a quality game-manager…something that Harbaugh has dreamed of having for a long time.
The Wolverines’ only loss came in Week 1 to a very good Notre Dame Fighting Irish team.
The hype about Patterson has overshadowed another key player, senior RB Karan Higdon. The stocky RB has 963 yards, good for 11th in the nation, to go along with 7 rushing TDs.
The defense is full of NFL talent, led by junior DL and predicted 1st round pick Rashan Gary. Gary has modest numbers, posting just 2 sacks and 24 tackles. But the 6’5, 283 pound lineman eats up blocks and opens up room for LBs like fellow juniors Devin Bush and Josh Uche. Bush leads the team in tackles with 56 and Uche leads in sacks with 7, not a bad number at all in this era of mobile and fast-releasing QBs.
The team has a +5 turnover margin and is a Big Ten leader in point differential, using a crushing run defense to wallop Penn State 42-7 last week.
Can the Scarlet Knights compete with that? Absolutely not, but they only need to show a few signs of life to challenge the point spread.
It’s not as if the hosts have had a tremendously difficult schedule to deal with every week. Rutgers is 1-8 on the season, with the lone win coming in Week 1 against Texas State. The Knights got beat up by Kansas (in football, not basketball) and Buffalo, and were beaten handily by unheralded Illinois. They are dead last in the nation in points per game with 15.3 and near the bottom in both rushing and passing yards.
To say QB Artur Sitkowski has struggled would be an understatement. He is a freshman, but he has 4 TDs to 15 INTs for the 2018 campaign to go along with a completion percentage under 50%. Any non-developmental (read: upperclassman) with those kinds of numbers would probably be cut, or at least asked to “Sitkowski” on the bench.
Head Coach Chris Ash is in his 3rd season and is 7-26 during that time. Does anyone smell something burning? Oh yes…it’s the coach’s chair.
Rutgers is not fairing much better on defense. The Scarlet Knight D ranks near the bottom in points allowed per game and rushing yards surrendered. The pass defense is remarkably solid for a team giving up so many points, but then again, teams that are blowing the Knights away don’t need or attempt to pass very often.
The SB Nation blog “On The Banks” burns Ash for disregarding the program’s fanfare, such as a potential anniversary celebration of the 1st college football game (Rutgers vs Princeton) 149 years ago, and the needless elimination of spring awards:
Of course, fans want Ash and the team focused on the task ahead, especially one as daunting as facing a Michigan team that has arguably the best defense in the country. However, Ash’s response flared up my annoyance with how he has approached history and tradition with Rutgers football since his arrival.
Just a few months on the job in 2016, Ash announced he was eliminating the annual spring awards given to players. We criticized Ash for it and wondered whether it was a temporary thing or permanent? The awards honored Frank Burns, former quarterback and the most successful coach in Rutgers history, as well as Mark Mills and Douglas A. Smith, two former players that died from brain conditions. While all three awards began between 30 and 40 years ago, they became part of Rutgers tradition. Ash cited not wanting to give awards so early in his tenure, which made some sense. However, those former players memories attached to those awards haven’t been reassigned, as well as the awards themselves, have not returned two and a half years later.
Some Rutgers fans must be starting to wonder if the university can terminate the coach, re-hire him and then fire him again on the same day, just for the heck of it.
Rutgers is collapsing, and Michigan will look like Wisconsin of a couple years back on the ground in this one. Take the Wolverines to cover, and consider a bet on the Over (48) as this one should be in garbage-time early.