Michigan football's defense has massive mismatch against awful Rutgers offense

Wolverines have nation's No. 1 total defense

Michigan has owned Rutgers since Chris Ash and Jim Harbaugh took over as the head coaches (Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - When Michigan football entered a difficult three-game stretch against ranked opponents a month ago, there were questions about whether the team's playoff hopes would survive through the first week of November.

But Jim Harbaugh's team rolled through Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, winning all three by a combined score of 101-27. The Wolverines will now ride an eight-game winning streak into a game they're heavily favored to win.

Michigan's defensive dominance

Since Harbaugh took over in Ann Arbor, this matchup has been obscenely one-sided. Highlighted by the 78-0 blasting Michigan put on Rutgers in 2016, the total score from the last three years is 162-30.

Chris Evans dominated Rutgers in 2016, running for more than 150 yards.

This season's meeting might be just another chapter in Michigan's dominance.

Don Brown's defense is on another level this season, holding opponents to 216.2 yards per game, which is 48.5 fewer yards than the second-best defense in the country.

The Wolverines have the No. 5 scoring defense, the No. 8 rushing defense and the No. 1 passing defense. Over the last two games, Michigan held Michigan State under 100 total yards and nearly kept an explosive Penn State offense completely off the scoreboard.

In fact, a shutout might be the only thing left unchecked on the defensive to-do list.

Rutgers' offensive struggles

Saturday will be Michigan's best chance to change that, as Rutgers brings the No. 128 total offense into the matchup. The Scarlet Knights have scored the fewest points per game in the country at 15.3, and rank well outside the top 100 in both passing and rushing offense.

Michigan State is the only other team on Michigan's schedule that ranks outside the top 100 in both scoring offense and total offense. The Spartans needed a fumble inside the 10-yard line and a trick play to get on the scoreboard against the Wolverines.

Quarterback growing pains

True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski is one of the top reasons for Rutgers' struggles. The former three-star recruit is certainly talented enough to play in the Big Ten, as he had scholarship offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue in addition to Rutgers.

But the New Jersey native has been thrust into a difficult position. Rutgers is averaging fewer than 4 yards per carry and lacks dynamic playmakers at skill positions. One positive has been an offensive line that's only allowed 12 sacks in nine games -- second in the Big Ten.

Artur Sitkowski passes against Kansas at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 15, 2018, in Lawrence, Kansas. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Sitkowski's numbers are brutal. He's completed fewer than half his pass attempts for 4.45 yards per attempt. In nine games, he's thrown four touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

Last month he had a game in which he completed twice as many passes to Maryland defenders as he did to his own teammates, finishing 2-16 with eight yards and four picks.

Opposing quarterbacks against Michigan

Sitkowski has been the least effective quarterback in the Big Ten this season, and that doesn't bode well against a defense that has stifled some of the conference's best passers.

Alex Hornibrook, Brian Lewerke and Trace McSorley have been victimized by Brown's elite defense over the last month. Lewerke and McSorley were expected to be two of the top three or four quarterbacks in the conference, and Hornibrook is a third-year starter coming off a 13-1 season.

Alex Hornibrook throws a pass while playing Michigan on Oct. 13, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Hornibrook completed just seven of 20 passes for 100 yards, a touchdown and two picks against Michigan, finishing with a quarterback rating of 0.7.

Lewerke was even worse, completing five of 25 passes for 66 yards and a quarterback rating of 3.3.

McSorley, considered a Heisman Trophy candidate at the beginning of the season, finished five of 13 for 83 yards, an interception and a quarterback rating of 3.5.

Michigan's defensive backs scored as many touchdowns  on pick-sixes as they allowed through the air in those games.

Saturday could be a rough game for Sitkowski.

What to expect

Michigan is expected to beat Rutgers by more than five touchdowns this weekend, but the real battle to watch might be the No. 1 overall defense against the No. 128 overall offense.

The Wolverines have been on a mission to avenge last year's losses, but that won't be a factor this weekend. Maybe it will be a chance for a shutout that motivates them.

Copyright 2018 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All rights reserved.