Rutgers' Chris Ash: Michigan 'Playing As Good As Any Team in the Country'

Rutgers' Chris Ash: Michigan 'Playing As Good As Any Team in the Country'

Football

Rutgers' Chris Ash: Michigan 'Playing As Good As Any Team in the Country'

It’s a daunting matchup on Saturday, but not so much for the road team — at least, so say the statistics.

Rutgers has just one win on the season, dispatching Texas State in the season opener. Since? Eight straight losses.

Weirdly, the team the Scarlet Knights are about to face are on the opposite end of the spectrum, as Michigan lost the season opener at Notre Dame and has since rattled off eight straight wins, with all but one being in convincing fashion.

Rutgers head coach Chris Ash acknowledges the challenge his team faces on Saturday, with a surging Wolverines team coming to town, a team that just took down three straight ranked opponents — the first time that’s happened in the Big Ten since 1997, when a national champion Michigan team did the same.

For Ash, he sees a team in maize and blue that’s playing as well as anyone in the country.

“Looking ahead to Michigan – it’s a very good football team,” Ash said. “Right now, they’re playing with a lot of confidence. Probably playing as good as any team in the country. In the years that I’ve coached against Michigan, it’s probably one of the best teams that they have had in the way that they’re playing on both sides of the ball.

“So, it’s gonna be a tremendous challenge, and great opportunity for us to try and improve against a great opponent here on Saturday.”

While last season’s matchup between the two Big Ten East foes was a closer affair — Michigan won 35-14 — it’s impossible to escape the memory of the last time that the Wolverines traveled to Piscataway.

It ended up being a 78-0 romp in favor of the maize and blue, a game where a team with national championship aspirations not only shut out the Scarlet Knights in front of a night game home crowd, but didn’t allow a first down until midway through the fourth quarter.

This Michigan squad might be even better than the one that showed up that evening, however.

In 2016, the Wolverines had the nation’s No. 1 defense — as it does now — but it allowed 261 yards-per-game. This year? 216.2. Rutgers, then, had the nation’s No. 128th offense (dead last in all of college football, and this year’s team is no different, ranked 128 out of 130, and getting 8 yards less per game, at 276.9. The Knights are also dead last this year in scoring offense, slightly worse than the outfit that was 127th out of 128 teams in 2016.

On the other side of the ball, the Rutgers defense does have the 20th-rated pass attack, but struggle against the run, allowing 234.33 yards-per-game.

A week after all the talk of revenge and running up the score, as Penn State did to Michigan last year, with the Wolverines returning the favor this year, Ash doesn’t see a problem with Michigan putting up 78 points the last time it was in Piscataway.

“I don’t think they did anything out of line,” Ash said. “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. What nobody did was out of line. It’s our job to play better and that’s what we need to do this Saturday.”

So, with a moribund offense, Ash, with a freshman quarterback in Artur Sitkowski, will attempt to permeate a Michigan defense that has made its opposition in recent weeks look absolutely silly.

As a defensive guy himself, Ash sees a Michigan outfit that’s playing at the highest level. And with the depth and experience the Wolverines bring in, it presents, well, a challenge.

“Well, it starts (they’ve) got a bunch of players,” Ash said. “They’ve got guys that have been playing for awhile also. It’s a talented group, it’s a veteran group. They’ve been playing together for quite some time. They play fast, they’re physical, they don’t make a lot of mistakes. They capitalize on offensive mistakes and usually make you pay if you do that.

“They’re an impressive group to watch.”

On the other side of the ball, where the Wolverines are different than in the previous two years is that they have a star quarterback in Shea Patterson, who’s as efficient as just about any other quarterback in the conference, coming in third behind OSU’s Dwayne Haskins and Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey.

While Ash is on high alert for Patterson’s ability with his arm and legs, the offensive attack the Wolverines bring to the table starts up front with the offensive line.

“He’s a good player,” Ash said.  “He brings a different dynamic to their offense with his ability to run. I think they’re improved in a lot of areas, not just in the quarterback position. I think Ed Warinner has done a nice job with their offensive line. They’re playing well on the O-line. They’ve got great skill players. On the outside, Peoples-Jones is a great receiver, Higdon is a great running back. You put all of that together – good offensive line, good quarterback play and good skill players on the outside – you get good results. That’s why there’s so (many) points they’ve been able to score.”

Michigan and Rutgers are set to kick off at HighPoint Solutions Stadium at 3:30PM EST on Saturday, with the game being broadcast on Big Ten Network.

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