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Rutgers welcomes No. 4 Michigan to HighPoint.com Stadium

Week 11 in college football will feature a matchup between two teams that could not have had pollar opposite seasons thus far when the Rutgers football team sets foot onto HighPoint.com Stadium tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. to take on No. 4 Michigan.

But, in a way, both teams' seasons have mirrored each other.

After a season opening win against Texas State, the Scarlet Knights (1-8, 0-6) have gone winless in their last eight games. On the other side, the Wolverines (8-1, 6-0) are riding an eight-game winning streak after suffering a hard-fought season opening loss to No. 3 Notre Dame.

Both teams have even had the same bye week.

That means Rutgers has lost every week that Michigan has won — a trend that will either continue tomorrow or come to a screeching halt, turning the college football world on its head. But, for the Knights to pull off the unthinkable, they will have to play perfect and even that may not be enough.

“Michigan is an outstanding football team, they’re playing for a lot right now and we are too. We’re playing a lot for our program and our goal is just go out and play the best we can play and we’ll see what happens when it’s over,” head coach Chris Ash said.

A big reason that the Wolverines have had so much success this season is their defense, specifically their defensive line. The unit has sacked the opposing quarterbacks 29 times this season — tied for eighth in the country. 

Michigan also ranks 10th in total rushing yards allowed with 845 yards — a measly 2.8 yards per carry. 

“They’re the best defensive line that I’ve seen this year and one of the best ones that I’ve seen in a long time,” Ash said. “... They get after the quarterback, they stop the run, they’re just relentless with their effort.”

What’s worse is that the Wolverines’ pass defense is even better, having allowed 1,101 yards in the air this season — just one more yard than true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski has thrown this season.

Overall, Michigan’s defense ranks first in total yards (1,946) and fifth in total points allowed (122).

Rutgers has only scored 138 points all season which puts the Knights dead last in that category. Their 2,492 total yards is second to last while their passing yards (1,372) and rushing yards (1,120) rank them 121st and 113th, respectively, out of 130 teams. 

In other words, Rutgers doesn’t match up well.

“Right now our goal is just to play better football. We have a goal of playing our best football here down the stretch and that’s what we want to try to do,” Ash said.

But the game shouldn’t be a low-scoring affair either as the Wolverines have scored 330 points all season — the best offense the Knights have seen since week two at Ohio State in which they allowed 52 points. 

Of the 36 offensive touchdowns Michigan has scored, 20 of them have come on the ground. The Wolverines have six players with at least one rushing touchdown which plays right into the hands of a Rutgers rushing defense that has struggled to limit the explosive plays, giving up 21 rushing touchdowns of its own.

Luckily for the Knights, they seem to be currently playing their best football of the season right now. After almost squeaking out a win against Northwestern, Rutgers went on the road against Wisconsin and finally got something going on offense away from home.

Sitkowski had his best game of the season against a tough opponent and sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear broke through as a receiver, leaving questions on whether he could or should be converted as a slot receiver.

“The consideration is putting him in position to get the ball as much as we can, whether that’s at running back or that’s at slot receiver,” Ash said. “... as we continue to improve at running back with Isaih (Pacheco) and Jonathan Hilliman back (and) healthy that might give us the opportunity to do that …”

In regards to the offensive line that has struggled protecting the quarterback this season, it did not allow a sack against the Badgers. The Knights will need to rely heavily on the O-Line to be able to put some points on the board. 

Tomorrow’s game will also serve as Military Appreciation Day as Rutgers will honor those who have served and continue to serve to protect our country. 

“That’s a special day for our program. I think Rutgers does a great job of celebrating and showing appreciation in honoring the people that service and our team wants to do that also,” Ash said.

In what has been a disappointing season, the Knights hope to finish strong and to get some momentum and positivity for next season, but a win to spoil a conference rival’s season wouldn’t hurt.

“Our focus is about us playing cleaner and getting better,” Ash said.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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