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M&GB Pick’em: Northwestern staff predictions

November 9th, 2012 by Justin Potts


Last week, none of us expected Denard to miss the entire game, but regardless it went about as expected. Katie picked up her first win of the season, nearly getting the score exactly right. Her 38-13 prediction was just three off of the 35-13 result. The rest of us were all close as well. This week, Michigan returns home to face Northwestern. Denard’s status is up in the air once again, but that shouldn’t change the outcome too much in this one.

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

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Justin: Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Chris: Michigan 27 - Northwestern 18

Josh: Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17

Katie: Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24

Matt: Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10

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Average: Michigan 30 – Northwestern 17

Justin (1): Northwestern will put up its best effort, but Michigan will be too much in this one regardless of who pilots the offense. Look for more passing than usual, especially if Devin Gardner is behind center. Big games from Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, or Devin Funchess are in the crystal ball. The Wildcats will hang tough into the third quarter before Michigan seals the deal.

Check out the game preview, Friend vs Foe and First Look for more.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Chris (2): Northwestern enters this game with two losses (both in the Big Ten) and, like Michigan, is looking for help to make it to the Big Ten Championship.  If they lose on Saturday, their chances of winning the conference are gone.  Similarily, Michigan is also needing a win to stay in contention for the Big Ten title.  However, the Wolverines only need Nebraska to lose one of its remaining games for them to make it to Indianapolis.  So there is a lot on the line for both teams.

The strength of this Northwestern team is its rushing offense.  They are ranked 13th nationally in total rushing behind Junior running back Venric Mark and dual threat quarterback Kain Colter.  The passing game is a different story, however.  The Wildcats rank #113 overall.  So given this, the key for Michigan will be to stop Northwestern from moving the ball on the ground.  I see Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison committing a safety down into the box to provide some extra run support and force Northwestern to the air where the Michigan defense excels.

Defensively, Northwestern is right in the middle of the pack in the NCAA total defense rankings at 60th.  They do give up over 3 touchdowns per game and a lot of yardage through the air.  This should bode well for either Michigan quarterback that starts the game.  We know that Devin Gardner throws a nice ball and if Denard Robinson’s elbow is healthy, he will benefit from a young secondary which has been susceptible to the big play.  Michigan will need to run the ball to win though.  As we’ve seen with these guys, relying on only the pass to win is not a winning strategy.  A good mix of run and pass should open up more plays and help move the ball down the field for the Wolverines.

Colter doesn't pass often, but completes a high percentage (photo by Nam Y. Huh, AP)

On another note, expect an aggressive defensive game plan from Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, especially after seeing some of the holes which both Nebraska and Minnesota exposed in the Michigan offensive line.  The line must play better than they have the last two weeks and keep the pressure from reaching either Denard or Gardner in the backfield before they can make a play.

I expect this game to be close as both teams are fighting for their seasons.  I expect that the Michiagn defense will give up some points, but not more than what the much weaker Northwestern defense will.  Northwestern will play on emotion and look to try to create some big turnovers to give their offense some extra possessions.  But in the end, Michigan will win.

Michigan 27 – Northwestern 18

Josh (2): Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job in Evanston and Northwestern is not the pushover they once were. However, Michigan still has the better team and better coaching staff. Under Hoke Michigan is undefeated in the Big House and that trend should continue.

Northwestern doesn’t pass the ball much (just under 140 yards per game) but they have a versatile QB in Cain Kolter and they can run the ball very well. Kolter does not present the same type of threat Denard does but he is deadly with the ball nonetheless. His backfield mate, Venric Mark, is built from the Vincent Smith mold; small and quick but with more strength than you’d think.

It is yet to be determined if Denard will resume his duties in the backfield, but Devin Gardner is a capable backup and it shouldn’t matter which QB takes the field. If I had to guess, I’d say Gardner gets the nod as Hoke rests Denard for another week just to be safe. If that is the case look for Borges to try to air it out. This Northwestern defense allowed Taylor Martinez to go 27/39 for 342 yards and while improved he is not considered a great passer. Thomas Rawls should play more of a role as Michigan is still looking to get someone other than Denard going on the ground.

Michigan needs to win this game to stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title game. Nebraska has Penn St. at home today, Minnesota next week and must travel to Iowa to end the season. Not the toughest road, but anything can happen.

Michigan takes control of this game late and pulls away in a closer than expected battle.

Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17


Matt (2): This game is going to be a good one. It scares me a little. To tell you the truth, it has scared me since the beginning of the season. I knew Northwestern would be good this season. Pat Fitzgerald is doing good things there. He’s a good coach. I knew he’d be able to build them up and make them a player in the Big Ten, something that Northwestern hasn’t been in a while.

Tyler Scott leads the Big ten with seven sacks

Northwestern has only lost two games this season. One to Penn State at Beaver Stadium, and one to Nebraska in Ryan Field. Of course we all know who Michigan has lost to, so let’s not even go there…

Michigan is ranked a little higher in passing than Northwestern, but the Wildcats are ranked higher in rushing. Northwestern has a duo of running backs that are really tearing up defenses. However, Michigan’s defense has turned into a beast this season. After playing horribly against Alabama, and not great against Air Force, our D has really stepped up. I don’t see it being any different this Saturday.

I think that Northwestern will come out being able to move the ball a little at the beginning of the game, but Michigan’s defense is going to wear them out. No matter how many running backs they want to use.

A big question about this game is, will Denard Robinson play? Last week we heard he was going to play. However he did not. Devin Gardner started in his place…and kicked some serious Golden Gopher tail. I heard Denard is day-to-day, which could mean anything. Will we see him Saturday? Not sure. But honestly, if Devin Gardner has to take the snaps as quarterback again, you won’t hear me complaining. But that’s just me.

Michigan comes off of an awesome victory against Minnesota, come into the Big House pumped, take down one of the best in the Big Ten, and never looks back. I predict Michigan will shut down Northwestern’s offense, only allowing a few scores.

Michigan by 25. And they are starting to get pumped for The Game in Columbus…

Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10

Sam (1): This Saturday’s Michigan-Northwestern football game is one big question mark as far as I’m concerned. Sure, Michigan has more talent overall, is the home team, and is playing for a conference championship. At the same time, however, Northwestern is a tough team to figure out, Denard Robinson’s status is up in the air, and the Wildcats won the last matchup between these two teams at the Big House back in 2008.

Still, the oddsmakers give the Wolverines nearly a double-digit edge for this weekend, perhaps because of Northwestern’s inability to close out the big game. And while Northwestern sits at 7-2 overall, with one loss coming at Penn State and another in a one-point heartbreaker against Northwestern, the best team they have beaten is one of Indiana, Vanderbilt, or Iowa – certainly no powerhouses this season. Nebraska and at Penn State are not bad losses for an average team by any means, but the fact that Northwestern blew fourth quarter leads in both of those games raises serious question marks about their ability to stay with and finish off better opponents.

The diminutive Venric Mark is always dangerous

Pat Fitzgerald’s team is quarterbacked by the dual-threat speedster Kain Colter, who has actually run for 100 yards and eight touchdowns more than he has thrown for. The likely reason for that, however, is Northwestern’s other quarterback, Trevor Siemian, who has attempted almost twice as many throws as Colter has but doesn’t have the legs to scare the defense. Fitzgerald will often utilize both of these guys on the field at once to maximize their speed of play and to give defenses a couple drastically different looks using the same exact personnel. Expect more of Colter than Siemian throughout, but I think we will see a decent dose of each.

In the backfield, the cat-like Venric Mark has been remarkable for the Cats, running for 1,072 yards on 166 carries (6.5 ypc) and nine touchdowns. As you may have guessed by now, Northwestern is a team that will keep the ball on the ground, having attempted exactly 150 more rushes than passes through nine weeks. Interestingly, their yards per attempt running (5.3) and passing (5.78) are very similar, hinting that Fitzgerald does a great job of spreading the field. In a running-spread offense, the point is to neutralize defenders and win the numbers game when pounding the rock, which Northwestern has clearly succeeded at so far. More yards per attempt passing would be ideal, but Northwestern just doesn’t have that go-to guy on the outside.

Four receivers for Fitzgerald have recorded at least 200 yards through the air, but no one has more than 266 yards or 26 catches, both fairly low numbers through nine games. Obviously the advantage in using this approach is that defenses need to focus on stopping the run first and cannot key in on any receiver when Colter or Siemian drop back to pass, but the disadvantage is that there isn’t that one reliable guy that can be counted on every night to have a serviceable game.

For Michigan, the receiving woes are quite familiar, as Jeremy Gallon leads the team with merely 22 receptions for 390 yards. The next-leading receiver is Devin Gardner with 16 catches. And Gardner will probably be throwing the balls instead of catching them this Saturday.

The big if for the Wolverines couldn’t be more obvious. If Denard Robinson can safely go, Michigan should have no problem running the ball, and the run should clear up the passing lanes a little bit. If Robinson cannot play, Gardner will step in at quarterback and likely throw and handoff a majority of the time despite his athletic ability because the coaches will do everything in their power to keep him protected; an injury to Gardner in the case of Robinson’s absence would likely see the non-fictional Jack Kennedy taking snaps.

Gardner, of course, will hand the ball off plenty, but the running backs haven’t exactly been a strength for the Wolverines either, as the once-touted Fitz Toussaint has yet to eclipse 100 yards a game, senior Vincent Smith averages just 2.8 yards per carry, and the remaining backs behind them are wildly unproven. This game plan could get very interesting very fast.

Pat Fitzgerald hopes to keep his Wildcats in Big Ten title contention (photo by Terry Gilliam, AP)

With all the uncertainties, a prediction is hard to come up with, but I suppose it’s a requirement to write for this blog. Northwestern has done an above-average job of stopping the run this season and only gives up a tick more than 22 points per game, but Michigan’s defense will be the difference in this game. Neither Colter nor Siemian are big enough passing threats to keep Michigan from stacking the box and slowing the effectiveness of the run. If Denard is back, Michigan has the game in hand going into the fourth quarter. If Gardner is quarterback, this game will come down to the last 10 minutes. Either way, Michigan wins.

Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17

Katie (1): This is where things get interesting. Nebraska and Michigan are tied for first in the Big Ten Legends division, but Michigan, having lost to the Huskers, needs to stay at one loss and see their rival at the top of the standings lose one of its next three conference games. This could very well be a problem if Nebraska goes to 5-1 this weekend by beating Penn State. After that they face a weak opponent in the Golden Gophers before going on the road to Kinnick Stadium to go up against a mediocre Hawkeye team that will likely be looking to play spoiler, and perhaps fighting to remain bowl eligible. That’s also saying that Michigan will finish the season with three more wins against Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State, which makes the loss to Nebraska look more and more like the crack that eventually leads to the breaking of the dam, and the washing away of the dream of a conference championship.

But there are still three weeks left of football to be played, and anyone who watches the top 25 rankings knows just how much can happen in one week, let alone three.

Northwestern is 7-2 (3-2) with losses to Penn State and Nebraska. They have yet to play a ranked team, and have built a record on beating Vanderbilt (the academic pride of the SEC), South Dakota, and a down and out Boston College team.  However, their offense has been able to put up at least 21 points in every game.  Defensively they have three linemen and a safety who all have more than 65 tackles, a pretty impressive statistic even when considering the caliber of teams they have faced.  It’s those assessments that is likely why Northwestern has clawed its way into the AP polls at number 24.

The Wildcats also play two quarterbacks, and seem to do it relatively well.  Mark Venric, their running back, has gone over a thousand yards on the season and has scored nine touchdowns, and their four top receivers are all over two hundred yards.  Other than having a glorified running back as a QB who makes up much of our offense, Michigan fairs about the same statistically.  However, with Hoke being tight lipped about who the starter will be in this weeks game, my vote is for Gardner who showed real determination and poise, albeit against Minnesota.  It can’t be natural to switch position from game to game, and I want to give credit where it is due.  That being said I think that either player will be able to do well under the helm, but as for passing ability I wouldn’t put the ball back in Denard’s hands just yet.  I want to see what Gardner can do, especially when there seems to have been an agreement that he could shift back to the quarterback position next year.  An offensive struggle seems to be in the cards this week.

This one should be close, and as the schools are academic rivals as well as athletic this match up should be fun to watch.

Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24