No. 4 Michigan looks to keep rolling as it heads to Rutgers

Wolverines running back Karan Higdon (22) celebrates after he scores a touchdown in the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium.Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Xchange

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Michigan will look to continue its dominance over Rutgers when it travels to Stadium on Saturday.

This is the fifth meeting between No. 4 Michigan (8-1, 6-1 Big 10) and Rutgers (1-8. 0-6), with the Wolverines leading the series, 3-1. Michigan has won the last three match-ups after dropping the inaugural meeting in 2014 — the first season for Rutgers in the Big Ten.

The last time coach Jim Harbaugh’s team traveled to New Jersey, it came away with a whopping 78-0 decision in 2016, scoring touchdowns on 11 of their 18 possessions, setting a team record with nine rushing scores.

Rutgers coach Chris Ash said he didn’t think Harbaugh was running up the score.

“I don’t think they did anything out of line,” Ash said. “You know, our job is to stop somebody and that’s what we’ve got to do. You guys can go back and reflect and look at what’s happened in the past, the last time they were here.

“It is what it is. You know, nobody did anything out of line. It’s our job to play better, and that’s what we need to do this Saturday.”

Michigan claimed its third straight victory over a ranked opponent following a 42-7 win against Penn State last week. The Wolverines have allowed an average of just 99.0 passing yards in those three games and a completion percentage of 33.8 percent. In all games, the Wolverines have returned four interceptions for touchdowns, while surrendering only six touchdown passes.

The Scarlet Knights have dropped eight straight games since their 35-7 win over Texas State on opening day. Rutgers is 8-29 in the Big Ten since joining the conference in 2014. It has played mistake-free in its last two games. The last time the Scarlet Knights played three-straight turnover-free games was in 2009 against Florida International, Maryland and Texas Southern.

Rutgers true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski will no doubt be tested. He has thrown the most interceptions (15) in the FBS, completing just under 50 percent of his passes. Sitkowski has shown signs of improvement, having not thrown an interception in last 70 passing attempts.

The Scarlet Knights will also have a difficult time mounting a sustainable ground game against a Michigan defense ranked eighth in the nation, allowing just 93.9 rushing yards a game. Ash’s offense is 129th in the country, managing just 15.3 points a game.

Running back Raheem Blackshear leads Rutgers and ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 98.44 all-purpose yards per game. He had a career-high 200 all-purpose yards at Wisconsin (162 receiving, 38 rushing last week.

Michigan has allowed fewer than half as many sacks (14) as the defense has generated (29). The offense has gained 20 or more first downs in seven games this fall and their top two rushers, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, have combined for 1,214 yards on 223 carries (5.4 avg.) and scored 10 rushing TDs despite both players missing four total games due to injury.

Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson has completed 67.2 percent of his passes (134-of200) for 1,667 yards and 14 TDs in nine starts. He has also gained 187 rushing yards on 51 attempts this season with two rushing touchdowns.

He ranks 19th nationally in completion percentage and 16th in pass efficiency (157.1 rating)

“I think all quarterbacks are tough, in my opinion,” said Harbaugh. “That’s a physically demanding position. But there’s no question in my mind, he brings a level of focus and toughness, mental toughness, a level of intensity to the position that few do.

“We ask him to do something and he delivers, over and over again. A great feeling to have a quarterback like that.”