After last season’s “M00N” game between Michigan and Northwestern — which may have been the worst game of the season to watch as a fan of either team — and both teams’ 5-7 finishes, most didn’t expect such a hyped-up meeting this season. But that’s where we find ourselves five weeks into 2015 as Northwestern stands 5-0, ranked 13th nationally, and Michigan is 4-1, ranked 18th. It’s one of just two games across the country featuring two ranked teams — Utah versus Cal is the other — and the winner gets to make a case for being a major Big Ten title contender. Let’s take a first look at how the two teams compare.
|Northwestern Team Stats & Michigan Comparison|
|Northwestern | Michigan||Rank||Defense||Rank|
|Points Per Game||25.4 | 27.8||89 | 74
||7.0 | 7.6||1 | 2|
|Rushing Yards||1,244 | 1,007||587 | 357|
|Rush Avg. Per Game||248.8 | 201.4||14 | 35
||117.4 | 71.4||26 | 5|
|Avg. Per Rush||4.4 | 4.9
||3.7 | 2.3|
|Passing Yards||711 | 956||650 | 563|
|Pass Avg. Per Game||142.2 | 191.2||118 | 96||130.0 | 112.6||7 | 3|
|Total Offense||1,955 | 1,963||1,237 | 920|
|Total Off Avg. Per Game||391.0 | 392.6||79 | 77||247.4 | 184.0||5 | 2|
|Kick Return Average||31.6 | 24.8||3 | 32||18.7 | 17.8||32 | 19
|Punt Return Average||12.0 | 8.7||38 | 62||-1.6 | 7.5||2 | T63
|Avg. Time of Possession||33:43 | 34:20||11 | 6
||26:17 | 25:40
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||49.0% | 42.0%||10 | T46
||20.0% | 19.0%||2 | 1
|Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards||4-24 | 5-43
||T13 | T17
||9-51 | 11-83
||T71 | T45
|Touchdowns Scored||14 | 17
||3 | 5
|Field Goals-Attempts||10-13 | 6-8
||5-7 | 1-3
|Red Zone Scores||(14-17) 82.3%|(16-17) 94%||74 | 12
||(6-10) 60%|(5-6) 83%||T6 | T71|
|Red Zone Touchdowns||(5-17) 29.4%|(12-17) 71%||(1-10) 10%|(4-6) 66.7%|
Michigan and Northwestern are nearly identical statistically so far this season with great defenses and average offenses. Michigan’s offense averages 2.4 more points and 1.6 more total yards per game than the Wildcats, but Northwestern has a seven percent better third down conversion rate. Northwestern gains more of its yards on the ground (47.4 more per game) but Michigan averages 49 more passing yards per game. One area in which Michigan has excelled is putting the ball in the end zone when it’s in the red zone. Michigan has punched it in 12 of 17 times, while Northwestern has done so just five of 17 times. Against good defenses, that might make the difference.
Defensively, Northwester and Michigan are No. 1 and 2 nationally in points allowed per game, with the Wildcats allowing 0.6 points fewer. But Michigan’s defense ranks second nationally in total defense, allowing 63.4 fewer yards per game, and Northwestern’s defense is just 26th nationally against the run, allowing 46 more rushing yards per game than Michigan’s defense does. The two are also the top two defenses in the country in stopping third downs with Michigan allowing just 19 percent conversions and Northwestern 20 percent.
While Jake Rudock hasn’t produced much this season, Clayton Thorson has done even less with his arm, throwing for 245 fewer yards. But he’s also thrown for half as many interceptions as Rudock. Northwestern has a workhorse at running back in Justin Jackson, who has nearly doubled De’Veon Smith’s rushing yards — although Smith missed the last game due to injury — but the Wildcats also have three other ball carriers with at least 137 rushing yards. Only Smith and Ty Isaac have that many for the Wolverines. At receiver, Michigan has the advantage, especially with Jake Butt, and on the offensive line, Michigan has a 98 to 61 advantage in career starts.
Both teams have great defenses, but Michigan’s defensive production seems to be spread out among more contributors, while Northwestern’s is a bit more centralized to its starters. Almost across the board, Northwestern’s starters have more tackles than their Michigan counterparts, but as a team, Michigan has recorded 40 tackles for loss to Northwestern’s 31 and 11 sacks to Northwestern’s nine. Michigan suffered a huge loss on Saturday when defensive end Mario Ojemudia went down with an Achilles injury, leaving Royce Jenkins-Stone big shoes to fill.
Overall, it’s about an even a matchup as one can find, at least on paper. Michigan opened as a 12-point favorite according to Las Vegas, but that number is sure to come down as Saturday approaches. Stay tuned for more coverage throughout the week.