Michigan Wolverines Football: Previewing Michigan vs. Rutgers With A Scarlet Knight Insider
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Previewing Michigan vs. Rutgers With A Scarlet Knight Insider

TheWolverine.com caught up with Rutgers insider Richard Schnyderite of The Knight Report to gather some insight on the Scarlet Knights (3-0) ahead of their game with the Michigan Wolverines (3-0) Saturday (in Ann Arbor, Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC).

Schnyderite discussed the team's strengths on each side of the ball, provided his final score prediction and more.

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Rutgers Scarlet Knights football wide receiver Bo Melton
Rutgers Scarlet Knights football wide receiver Bo Melton posted six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown against Delaware last week. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Rutgers' Projected Starters On Offense

• Senior QB Noah Vedral — The Nebraska transfer has completed 58 of his 81 pass attempts (71.6 percent) for 606 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Last year against Michigan, he went 29-for-43 passing for 381 yards and three scores.

• Junior RB Isaih Pacheco — He leads the team with 152 rushing yards and three scores, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and 50.7 yards per contest.

• Senior WR Bo Melton — The Biletnikoff Award watch list member paces the club with 20 catches for 227 yards and two scores, while averaging 11.4 yards per reception. He lines up at outside receiver on 82.4 percent of passing snaps, per PFF.

• Senior WR Shameen Jones — The primary outside receiver opposite of Melton has hauled in seven catches for 44 yards.

• Junior WR Aron Cruickshank — The slot receiver ranks second on the squad with 10 catches for 72 yards. He shines at punt and kick returner, having just been named Big Ten Co-Special Teams Player of the Week after totaling 151 all-purpose yards against Delaware, including a 62-yard punt return touchdown.

• Senior TE Jovani Haskins — He has caught three passes for 38 yards and one score, the go-ahead touchdown against Syracuse. His 59.9 overall PFF grade is considered below average, but his run-blocking mark of 68.4 is fourth on the offense among players who have seen 100 or more snaps.

• Senior LT Brendan Bordner — The converted defensive lineman has started five career games on the offensive line. He has allowed four quarterback hurries and posted a poor PFF grade of 42.1 on the year.

• Junior LG Cedrice Palliant — He has started in 10 games at left guard for the Scarlet Knights, after transferring from Monroe College ahead of the 2020 campaign. He is the team's best pass blocker, with an 82.9 PFF rating in the category.

• Senior C Nick Krimin — The sixth-year player has made 27 career starts on the offensive line and has registered a 51.9 overall PFF rating this season.

• Junior RG Reggie Sutton — He has started 13 career contests and racked up an All-Big Ten honorable mention nod last season. This year, he has generated a 68.3 overall PFF grade and 76.4 pass-blocking mark (third on team).

• Freshman RT Hollin Pierce — He is slated to make his third career start, and has recorded a 70.4 pass-blocking grade, which ranks fourth on the team. His overall mark of 60.2 slots 20th among Scarlet Knight blockers.

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Rutgers Projected Starters On Defense

• Junior DT Mayan Ahanotu — He has registered five tackles, including 1.5 stops for loss and a strip sack. His 82.5 overall PFF grade paces the team, with his 81.4 pass-rushing rating slotting second.

• Senior NT Julius Turner — The 2020 honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree has accumulated nine stops, including four tackles for loss and two sacks, and one quarterback hurry. His 80.8 pass-rushing grade is the third-highest on the defense and his 76.7 overall mark checks in fourth. PFF has credited him with 15 pressures on the quarterback.

• Senior DE Mike Tverdov — Another 2020 honorable mention All-Big Ten standout, he has recorded one tackle, which occurred behind the line of scrimmage, and one pass breakup.

• Senior DE CJ Onyechi — His nine tackles (with one sack) are the seventh-most on the squad. He has also added one forced fumble and one quarterback hurry, while posting a 68.7 overall PFF grade (10th on the unit).

• Senior LB Olakunle Fatukasi — The 2020 first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media tops the club with 31 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks, with one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.

• Senior LB Tyshon Fogg — The two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention honoree has compiled 10 tackles, including one stop for loss, and a quarterback hurry.

• Senior CB Tre Avery — The 2020 third-team All-Big Ten selection has registered 10 tackles and one interception. According to PFF, the Ohio State transfer has allowed eight receptions on 16 targets for 108 yards while mostly lining up against the opposition's slot receivers.

• Senior CB Patrice Rene — The sixth-year player and North Carolina transfer has missed the first three games of the season, but is closer to being healthy according to head coach Greg Schiano. With freshman Max Melton, who has started all three contests, suspended and likely to miss the game, Rene may make his Scarlet Knight debut. At North Carolina, he totaled 103 tackles, with four stops for loss, two interceptions, 12 pass breakups and one forced fumble.

• Junior CB Kessawn Abraham — His three pass breakups are the second-most on the squad, and he has added seven tackles. His 75.9 PFF coverage grade tops the team, while he's yielded just three receptions for 47 yards on 13 targets.

• Junior S Christian Izien — The 2020 All-Big Ten honorable mention pick ranks third on the team with 13 tackles, including 1.5 behind the line of scrimmage, while adding three pass breakups. Per PFF, he has allowed two receptions for 21 yards on three targets, despite being in coverage 97 times this year.

• Junior S Avery Young — The 2020 All-Big Ten honorable mention selection transitioned from cornerback to safety this offseason. He has recorded the second-most tackles on the team (18), with one sack and one forced fumble. In coverage, he has yielded two receptions for 26 yards on five targets.

Rutgers' Top Strength On Offense

"The biggest strength would probably be the playmakers that Rutgers has at the receiver position," Schnyderite explained. "Everyone knows senior wide receiver Bo Melton is a dangerous threat with the ball in open space — he has been the team’s leading receiver in all three games so far.

"However, they have others who can also be dangerous in space, such as junior Aron Cruickshank, who doubles as a dangerous special teams threat, senior Shameen Jones, who was second on the team last year in receiving yards with nearly 400 in nine games, or even senior transfer Brandon Sanders, who had three receptions for 84 yards and a score versus Delaware recently."

The primary job of senior signal-caller Noah Vedral is to spread the ball out to those weapons, and to do so in a timely fashion. According to PFF, Vedral gets rid of the ball in 2.43 seconds on average, with 66 of his 81 attempts coming either behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of it.

"The entire goal of this spread-like offense is basically to get the ball in these guys' hands as quickly and as often as possible, then let them use their playmaking abilities to take it to the house," Schnyderite said.

Rutgers' Biggest Weakness On Offense

Rutgers ranks 74th and 77th in run blocking and pass blocking, respectively, per PFF, a big reason why the unit has struggled, according to Schnyderite. The Scarlet Knights have produced just 351 yards per outing (98th in the country). They have put up 41 points per game (21st), albeit against low-level competition, with their strength of schedule slotting 112th, according to ESPN.com.

"This is an easy one, as the offensive line has been the biggest weakness of the Scarlet Knights offense year in and year out," Schnyderite said. "They’ve been up and down in terms of pass blocking so far this year, with their best game yet coming last week against Delaware. However the run blocking has been pretty bad so far and they haven’t been able to create many lanes for guys like junior running back Isaih Pacheco, sophomore running back Aaron Young or even freshman running back Kyle Monangai.

"On top of it all, the unit still has yet to be complete as the staff has rotated between three different offensive tackles (Raiqwon O’Neal, Brendan Bordner and Hollin Pierce) and has had a different combo of those three in each of the first three games this season."

Rutgers' Top Strength On Defense

The Scarlet Knights have been disruptive defensively, ranking 11th in the land with 8.7 tackles for loss per game, led by a linebacking corps that has produced at a high level.

"This is a tough one as the defensive backs have looked really good so far this year, but I’ll lean towards the linebacker corps. The Scarlet Knights boast two pretty good ones in senior 2020 Butkus Award Semifinalist Olakunle Fatukasi and senior former four-star Tyshon Fogg, to go along with senior one-time Michigan player Drew Singleton.

"You also have to watch out for freshman linebacker Mohamed Toure, who led the team in sacks (4.5) last year and has been back and forth between edge rusher and linebacker."

Rutgers' Biggest Weakness On Defense

The Scarlet Knights can get after the passer, averaging 4.7 sacks per game, a mark that ranks fourth in the nation, and are yielding just 145.7 yards per contest through the air. But there are questions about the run defense, which slots 45th nationally and has given up 113 yards per clash.

"The run defense is a real concern still, especially after last season," Schnyderite said. "In the Big Ten-only schedule last year, the Scarlet Knights gave up 206.4 rushing yards per game. Now so far this year, that number has dropped considerably (113 yards per game), but they did just give up 127 rushing yards on only 15 carries to Delaware’s starting running back Dejoun Lee, so the concern is still there for defensive coordinator Robb Smith."

Schnyderite's Final Score Prediction

"I don’t see the Scarlet Knights stopping this dominant run game that the Wolverines have put together early on in the season, and on top of that, the Wolverines' defense is not too shabby themselves and will more than likely give Rutgers' O-line some fits," Schnyderite prognosticated. "I’m going with the Wolverines and the points."

Prediction: Michigan 35, Rutgers 13


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