ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Check the line of Michigan versus Rutgers. Wait a minute, it doesn’t matter. The No. 4-ranked Wolverines should beat the Scarlet Knights by five touchdowns, at a minimum, this Saturday in Piscataway.
Tight end Jake Butt and receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, along with quarterback Wilton Speight, should be more than enough to put the Scarlet Knights defense on its heels. Michigan’s New Jersey connection, led by do-all Jabrill Peppers and defensive tackle Rashan Gary, should help put exclamation points on the soon-to-be blowout/road homecoming.
Yeah, a cocky prediction. But not one that’s unwarranted. Not one that’s a stretch. Ohio State, the No. 2-ranked team in the country, just rang up a 58-0 win this past weekend over Rutgers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten). Expect the same from Michigan (5-0, 2-0), which has scored 45 or more four times this year.
Pretty cut-and-dried, here. But for the sake of being thorough, let’s go ahead an examine exactly how the Wolverines’ safety nets — their receiving corps — and Jersey influence could own the rivalry with Rutgers.
Michigan has spread the field a few times this season. An ever-evolving asset, the Wolverines’ aerial force should flex on the Big Ten’s worst scoring defense (32.5 PPG) and middle-of-the-road passing defense (196 YPG). Let’s account for total production from Speight’s safety nets: Five touchdowns from Darboh and three from Butt. None yet from Chesson, but it’ll happen.
Speight has thrown 10 touchdown passes, so it’s relatively easy to predict those guys having their way against an inconsistent secondary.
“I guess I’ve just popped open for Wilton sometimes, and he’s found me,” said Butt, a senior has 22 catches — including several stabilizing, drive sustaining connections with Speight — through five games. “It’s not just me. You look at how Darboh came through a bunch of huge plays for us Saturday (game-winning 46-yard TD vs. Wisconsin). Jehu’s coming through…”
Despite accounting for 58 of 92 completions, there are more than those three guys. Grant Perry, a sophomore, has contributed with six catches and a touchdown — plus his efforts on special teams.
“Our running backs are catching the ball and running the ball out of the backfield,” said Butt, who listed contributing factors to pass-catchers’ success. “It’s all little things. Some people might say, you know, one person or another person who’s playing (well)… who is the comforter for Wilton. But everyone’s playing a role in that.”
A diplomatic and true team-first answer, sure enough.
With that said, expect Darboh, Butt and Chesson — and might as well mention Perry — to account for roughly 90 percent of the passing game’s production. Really, they’ll probably account for the majority of the offense — it all depends on how Michigan plays the game, but the air show should stuff the stat sheet.
They provide ample benefits for their rising quarterback.
“High production and they provide a lot of benefit to our entire football team — to our offense specifically, as they did last year,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said during this week’s Big Ten conference call. “I think those three accounted for most… in the high 90s-percentage of catches and yards.
“I think this year, it’s been more distributed than it was last (year). So how much benefit? A lot.”
New Jersey Drive
Peppers, a former Paramus Catholic star, leads the charge for Jersey-bred Wolverines. Expect Michigan to let Peppers run wild Saturday against Rutgers. Wildcat? Maybe. Plenty of returns, as Michigan will undoubtedly force several three-and-outs, and plenty of defensive stops.
Colorado felt Peppers’ presence — he tilted the game in so many ways. Rutgers could get that, times two or three, Saturday against Michigan. The redshirt sophomore already has 246 kick-return yards and 95 punt-return yards. Plus that 54-yard punt-return touchdown against the Buffaloes — a true highlight reel play.
Despite being a true freshman, Gary has already evolved into one of Michigan’s top defensive linemen. If he stays on his current path, he’ll be a three-year star for the Wolverines. Once upon a time, the former Paramus Catholic superstar was recruited by Rutgers, which fell off the radar once Gary’s recruitment progressed.
Given the opponent, and the fact that a lot of Gary’s friends and family — including his mother — will be in attendance, Gary could be in line for a quick career-high in tackles and/or sacks. One would assume that he’s more than ready to get started, but he insisted Tuesday that Saturday is just another one on the schedule.
“I think we attack every game the same,” Gary said. “And that’s just to come out and perform and show the world why we want to be the best defense — and why we are the best defense — in the nation.”
New Jersey Wolverines
Grant Newsome lived in Virginia, but he prepped at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
Others: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus Catholic), Rashan Gary (Paramus Catholic); Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Paramus Catholic); LB/special teams coach Chris Patridge was once the head coach at Paramus Catholic; Cheyenn Robertson (St. Peter’s); Greg Froelich (Deerfield Academy); Michael Dwumfour (DePaul Catholic); Kareem Walker (Depaul Catholic); Joe Beneducci (West Morris Mendham); and Ron Johnson (Camden).