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Posts Tagged ‘Kain Colter’

2014 opponent preview: Northwestern

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014


Our last two opponent previews have been about the new kids on the block, Rutgers and Maryland. Today, we take a look at one of the old guards, the Northwestern Wildcats, who we feel will be the fifth-toughest opponent on Michigan’s schedule. Previously, we previewed Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, Utah, Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland.


Date Opponent
Aug. 30 California
Sept. 6 Northern Illinois
Sept. 20 Western Illinois
Sept. 27 at Penn State
Oct. 4 Wisconsin
Oct. 11 at Minnesota
Oct. 18 Nebraska
Nov. 1 at Iowa
Nov. 8 Michigan
Nov. 15 at Notre Dame
Nov. 22 at Purdue
Nov. 29 Illinois

A year ago at this time, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Northwestern program that many assumed was ready to take the next step forward. The Wildcats were coming off a 10-win season and a bowl victory and started the 2013 season ranked for the first time in over a decade. A 4-0 start got Northwestern to 16th in the country heading into a Big Ten opener against fourth-ranked Ohio State. ESPN College GameDay was there for the nationally televised primetime battle.

Instead of pulling off a program-building upset, its was the beginning of the end for Pat Fitzgerald’s 2013 squad. Northwestern held a 30-27 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Ohio State scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to steal the win. From there, the Wildcats lost seven straight, including two in overtime before finishing the season with a  37-34 win over Illinois. Instead of building on the 10-win 2012 season, Northwestern cut its win total in half at 5-7.

Then came the offseason and the circus came to town. Departing quarterback Kain Colter led a unionization push that Fitzgerald strongly opposed. It led to a team vote and brought the nation’s media to Evanston in search of a story that could forever change the landscape of college athletics. Instead of simply focusing on improving through the offseason, Fitzgerald had to keep his players focused on football despite all of the distractions and visions of grandeur. By many accounts, the situation galvanized the team, but while the vote came and went, the result has yet to be announced and could become a distraction once again this fall when the National Labor Relations Board releases the outcome.

If the process really did bring the team together, and if Fitzgerald can keep his team focused through the NLRB ruling, the expectations from last season could come to fruition this fall. Seventeen starters return from last year’s team, including nine on offense, and the Wildcats don’t have to deal with Ohio State or Michigan State this season. Could Northwestern make a run at the Big Ten West title? Let’s take a closer look.


Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
QB Trevor Siemian 6’3″, 210 178-298 for 2,149 yds, 11 TD, 9 INT
RB Venric Mark 5’8″, 175 97 yds (3.1 avg), 5 rec, 48  rec. yards
SB Dan Vitale 6’2″, 225 34 rec, 382 rec. yds, 3 rec. TD
WR Tony Jones 6’0″, 195 55 rec. for 630 yds, 4 TD
WR Christian Jones 6’3″, 225 54 rec. for 668 yds, 4 TD
WR Cameron Dickerson 6’3″, 235 11 rec. for 125 yds, 1 TD
LT Paul Jorgenson 6’6″, 295 12 starts (13 career starts)
LG Geoff Mogus 6’5″, 295 11 starts (11 career starts)
C Brandon Vitabile 6’3″, 300 12 starts (38 career starts)
RG Matt Frazier 6’4″, 290 4 starts (4 career starts)
RT Eric Olson 6’6″, 290 0 starts (0 career starts)

Last season, Northwestern’s offense stormed out of the gate averaging 41.3 points per game in the 4-0 start. A 30-point performance in the loss to Ohio State was good as well, but the offense took a nose dive from there. The Wildcats failed to score more than 24 points in any of its next six games — all losses — and averaged just 13.7 points in that stretch. The 37 points put up in the finale against Illinois brought Northwestern’s season average to 26.2 points per game, which ranked 83rd nationally. The total offense ranked 73rd (399.6 yards per game), rush offense ranked 62nd (172.4 yards per game), and pass offense ranked 71st (227.2 yard per game). That’s a far cry from the way the first five games of the season went and offensive coordinator Mike McCall will have to find a way to sustain the offense through Big Ten play if the Wildcats want any chance of competing.

The major change will be handing the reigns of the offense completely to fifth-year senior quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has spent the past two seasons splitting time with Colter. The do-everything Colter was a freak athlete playing quarterback to keep defenses off balance while Siemian is your more traditional true quarterback with less big-play ability, but also more stable. In 2013, Siemian completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 2,149 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. In that Ohio State game, he completed 13-of-18 for 245 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick and he capped the season with a 414-yard, four-touchdown game against Illinois.

Venric Mark returns from injury as one of the most explosive running backs in the Big Ten

Venric Mark returns from injury as one of the most explosive running backs in the Big Ten

While the offense loses the mobility of Colter, it still has one of the Big Ten’s most electric running backs, Venric Mark. The 5’8″, 175-pound senior was plagued by injuries last season and played in just three games as a result. But when he was healthy in 2012, Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns on six yard per carry, earning second team All-Big Ten honors. Drew rated Mark the sixth-best running back in the Big Ten this fall, though it likely would have been higher if not for the questions about his health.

Mark isn’t alone in the backfield, however. Fellow senior Treyvon Green picked up the slack in Mark’s absence last season, leading the Wildcats with 736 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. At 5’10”, 215, Green is a much bigger back than Mark and creates a nice one-two punch. Then there’s redshirt sophomore Stephen Buckley, who saw limited action in nine games last season and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. In the one game he saw a full workload, he rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries against an Iowa defense that held Michigan to just 60 rushing yards on 29 carries.

Like the backfield, a lot of production returns at receiver, but the one thing the group lacks is explosiveness. Five of the top six receivers from a year ago return, but the only Wildcat that caught at least 10 passes and averaged a respectable yards per catch — Rashad Lawrence (14.9) — is gone. Senior Christian Jones, who led the team with 668 yards and four touchdowns on 54 catches, averaged just 12.4 yards per catch. Fellow senior Tony Jones led the team in receptions (55), finished second in yards (630), and also had four scores, averaged just 11.5 yards per catch. Don’t get me wrong; they’re a good receiving duo — Drew ranked them the sixth- and seventh-best receivers in the Big Ten this fall — but they lack the big-play ability that Stefon Diggs and Deon Long have.

There are a couple of contenders to complement them. USC transfer Kyle Prater, who has been hampered by injuries since he’s been in Evanston, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler were both highly-ranked recruits and if at least one of them can pan out, Siemian will have plenty of options to work with. McCall and Fitzgerald have stated their intention to spread the ball around a lot more this season and superback Dan Vitale, who caught 34 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, will also get plenty of targets. Finally, there’s junior Cameron Dickerson, who caught just 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown last season but is expected to take on a bigger role in the passing game this fall.

The offensive line has a chance to be among the Big Ten’s best with everyone returning. All 60 starts from last season are back with 100 combined career starts between them. The anchor of the line is fifth-year senior Brandon Vitabile, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer a year ago who has started 38 straight games. Drew ranked Vitabile as the eight-best offensive lineman in the conference this fall. Last year’s left tackle, Jack Konopka, who has 25 career starts, may be the odd man looking in as he has been replaced by fifth-year senior Paul Jorgensen, who moves over from right tackle to help protect Siemian. Rising redshirt sophomore Eric Olsen will likely take the spot Jorgensen vacated at right tackle, while Konopka will be the top backup to both of them. At guard, redshirt juniors Geoff Mogus (11 career starts) and Matt Frazier (four) will start on the left and right, respectively.


Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
DE Dean Lowry 6’6″, 265 33 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR
DT Sean McEvilly 6’5″, 290 9 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 QBH
DT C.J. Robbins 6’5″, 285 3 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 PD
DE Deonte Gibson 6’3″, 260 22 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 2 PD
SAM Drew Smith 6’1″, 215 31 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 QBH
MLB Collin Ellis 6’2″, 230 78 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 3 INT, 9 PD
WLB Chi Chi Ariguzo 6’3″, 235 106 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INT, 6 PD
CB Nick VanHoose 6’0″, 190 61 tackles, 5 TFL, 8 PD
CB Matthew Harris 5’11”, 180 36 tackles, 5 PD
S Ibraheim Campbell 5’11”, 205 73 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INT, 9 PD
S Traveon Henry 6’1″, 200 77 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD

Fitzgerald came to Northwestern promising a tough, hard-nosed defense just like he was as a linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s. But last season, Northwestern got pushed around, and while some of that can be pinned on the offensive meltdown in the second half of the season, the defense just wasn’t put to par. It ranked 69th nationally in scoring defense (27.1 points per game), 89th in total defense (423.4 yards per game), 68th in rush defense (167.7 yards per game), and 101st in pass defense (255.8 yards per game).

Senior Ibraheim Campbell is a ball-hawking safety (Michael Bojda, The Daily Illini)

Senior Ibraheim Campbell is one of the top safeties in the conference (Michael Bojda, The Daily Illini)

Fitzgerald’s defensive coordinator, Mike Hankwitz, played at Michigan and was a part of the 1969 Big Ten championship team in Bo Schembechler’s first season. He then served as a graduate assistant for Bo from 1970-72 before moving on. He has been a defensive coordinator since 1982 and has been at Northwestern since 2008.

His first order of business this season will be finding a replacement for the production lost by defensive end Tyler Scott’s departure. Scott led the team with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks and was a second team All-Big Ten selection. The good news is that juniors Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson and redshirt sophomore Ifeadi Odenigbo, a former four-star recruit, are talented and experienced. The three combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2013. The interior of the line is where the questions lie. Former four-star Greg Kuhar, now a redshirt sophomore, worked his way into the rotation late last season and will be needed to play an increased role this fall. Seniors Sean McEvilly and Chance Carter are the presumed starters, but Kuhar and redshirt junior C.J. Robbins are pushing them with good spring performances.

Similar to the situation on the line, the linebacker corps has to replace its most productive player from 2013, but does have solid talent and experience returning. Damien Proby led the team with 112 tackles in addition to five tackles for loss and a sack, but will be replaced by either junior Drew Smith or senior Jimmy Hall. Hall, a converted safety, tallied 36 tackles and an interception last year, while Smith contributed 31 tackles, 4.5 of which went for loss. The returning starters are seniors Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who were second and third on the team in tackles last season with 106 and 78, respectively. Ariguzo had six tackles for loss, two sacks, and a team-high four interceptions, while Ellis had 5.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and three picks.

Northwestern’s secondary was pretty bad a year ago, but has some good playmakers and enough experience returning that it could be a strength this season. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell is one of the Big Ten’s best. Drew ranked him the fourth-best safety in the league. He recorded 73 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and four interceptions last season. His safety mate is junior Traveon Henry, who excels in run support. He notched 77 tackle, four for loss, and one pick. There will be some competition at corner. Redshirt junior Nick VanHoose has 22 career starts and should have one of the spots locked up. Sophomore Matthew Harris started the final five games of last season and will battle with Daniel Jones, who started the season opener in 2013 but blew out his knee and missed the rest of the year, and sophomore Dwight White.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
PK Arthur Omilian 5’11”, 160
P Chris Gradone 6’2″, 190 37.8 avg, 5 In-20, 1 TB, 1 50+
KR Matthew Harris 5’11”, 180 21 ret, 23.0 avg
PR Venric Mark 5’8″, 175 15 ret, 18.7 avg., 2 TD (in 2012)

While Northwestern has returning starters all over the offense and defense, the Wildcats have to replace a very good kicker. Jeff Budzien made 87.3 percent of his field goal attempts the last three years (48-of-55) and if you throw out his 2011 season, he converted 93.3 percent (42-of-45) in 2012 and ’13. He won the Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker of the Year award both years. But now his reliability is gone and Fitzgerald has to find someone to replace him. That will be a battle between redshirt freshman Hunter Niswander and redshirt junior Arthur Omilian. The former was the 12th-ranked kicker in the 2013 class, while the latter served as Budzien’s backup last season. Punter Brandon Williams is also gone, but he averaged just 36 yards per punt. Junior Chris Gradone, who handled punting duties for the final three games last season, will assume the role.

The return game will be led by Mark and Harris. When healthy in 2012, Mark was a first team All-America punt returner, averaging 18.7 yards per  return with two touchdowns. He was less explosive on kick returns, averaging just 19.8 yards, but he’ll still share the job with Harris, who averaged 23 yards per kick return in 2013.


Injuries really hurt Northwestern last season, but in reality, the 5-7 record very easily could have been 8-4 plus a bowl game. The Wildcats lost to Iowa in overtime, Nebraska on a last-second Hail Mary, and Michigan in overtime after the Wolverines converted an improbably last-second field goal in regulation. Five wins should be guaranteed right off the bat — the first three against California, Northern Illinois, and Western Illinois and the last two against Purdue and Illinois. Then they’ll have to fight for wins against a tough middle slate. Mark’s return and more stability at quarterback should certainly help avoid the offensive pitfalls of last season and the overall depth on defense should help them finish games better than they did a year ago. Anywhere between a 6-6 and 9-3 regular season is doable and it will all depend on whether Siemian and Mark can stay healthy.

What it means for Michigan

Michigan has to travel to Evanston for a second straight season, but that’s not as bad as having to travel to East Lansing two years in a row. Michigan always has strong fan support in Chicago, so the environment isn’t as tough. But Michigan and Northwestern have essentially played as evenly as it gets the past two years. A case could certainly be made that Northwestern outplayed Michigan in both despite Michigan winning both, as both required near miracles in the closing seconds of regulation. That’s great motivation for Fitzgerald’s squad. Another close one this year is probably a safe bet.

M&GB staff predictions: Northwestern

Friday, November 15th, 2013

The battle of the bottom two in the Big Ten Legends Division takes place in Evanston tomorrow. A Michigan loss would remove any chance of a winning conference record for the Wolverines this season. A Northwestern loss would make the final two games of the season must-wins simply to get bowl eligible. Something has to give for these two reeling teams. Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Don’t expect Al Borges to open up his playbook just because the team has lost two in a row. He only has to keep it under wraps this weekend and next before he breaks everything out against Ohio State on Nov. 30. Right?

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Chris: The Michigan offense has nothing going for it at the present time. No blocking on the line, no running game, no passing game, and poor play calling. The forecast is calling for rain in Evanston for Saturday afternoon. Not to mention, the Wolverines can’t seem to win on the road and are no longer playing for anything except respect, which is often not enough in November after a tough season. Northwestern isn’t exactly a world-beater either. They’ve lost five straight games. All of this combined looks like a snooze-fest of a game. I’ll take the home team, only because they’re at home.

Northwestern 17 – Michigan 16

Staff Predictions
Michigan Northwestern
Justin 20 17
Chris 16 17
Josh 20 17
Sam 17 20
Derick 24 21
Katie 24 17
Drew 21 17
M&GB Average 20 18

Josh: Aside from a key player suffering a major injury the last two weeks could not have gone any worse. Michigan is officially out of the Big Ten title hunt (though they were essentially out before last week) and are no lock to get a seventh win which would guarantee a winning season. We know the line is young and Borges’ play calling often leaves something to be desired but this is team 134 and we have to accept that. Brady Hoke IS the man for this job and, like him or not, Al Borges is the OC for the forseeable future.

Instead of the usual “Michigan will win if..” what I’d like to do this week is touch on “What I’d like to see” a sort of lowering of the high standards we have for our beloved Maize and Blue. We’ve seen several versions of team 134 throughout the season and who knows which one we’ll from week to week but here are some (realistic) things I’d like to see this week at Northwestern.

On Offense

Scrap the pro-style for now. As we’ve highlighted on this blog (and Nebraska noted last week) Michigan tends to tip its hand on offense, especially when they line up under center. The line’s issues cannot be fixed week to week so the next best thing would be to have a legitimate threat of the run to help open up the passing game. What I’d like to see is a predominantly Shotgun and Pistol offense, or at least as much of it as possible. If the defense has to worry about the run coming from all angles it should, in theory, keep them on their toes and prevent them from bull rushing up the middle so much. Will this fix their ails? Probably not but it’s a good place to start. If Michigan can have a semblance of a running attack it will open up the pass and we all know what Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess are capable of if Gardner has time to throw.

I won’t be greedy here and ask to see a 100-yard rusher, though it would be nice, but just enough of a run game to help the pass and to generate some positive yards, for once.

In case that’s too much to ask (and sadly, it might be) I’d like see some quick short passes instead of the run, stuff like screens and short slants. Plenty of teams use the short passing game instead of a run game and it works. For a team that can’t run the ball but has a solid QB (given time Gardner is a really good QB) the short pass might be what it needs to get the ball moving forward consistently. Which ties into all I really want to see this week..

Go back to basics. We haven’t really seen it all year but I don’t think it’s too much to ask here. Step 1: Dumb down the playbook. Break out the uber-simple KISS playbook, find some plays that work. Step 2: keep running them until the defense stops them. Then find some other variations and keep running those.

Despite a lot of internet sentiment Al Borges is actually a really good OC. It’s rather difficult to call plays when the interior of the offensive line isn’t doing its job. Offensive linemen typically take longer to develop and this squad just hasn’t had that luxury.

Fortunately for Michigan they won’t be facing a very good defense so they should be able to get something going.

On defense

Northwestern has been ravaged by the injury bug this season and isn’t the team we all thought they’d be. However, they still have players capable of making big plays, namely Kain Colter. Michigan has been vulnerable to the big play and Northwestern will be playing with nothing to lose, since well they have nothing to lose. Michigan presents the Wildcats a great opportunity to move one win closer to bowl eligibility and the defense needs to be prepared for their best shot.

Don’t let Northwestern get any momentum. I know that Evanston is a virtual home game for Michigan but there will be plenty of starving Wildcat fans looking to upend a reeling Wolverine squad and get their first conference win.

Get some pressure. On the pass and the run. This line doesn’t have a LaMarr Woodley or Brandon Graham but they are capable of getting some pressure, right? If they can be even just a little disruptive it will take a lot of pressure, no pun intended, off the secondary and Michigan’s offense. I’d like to see, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask, one or two guys consistently in the backfield and maybe a handful of TFL’s.

Capitalize on any opportunities presented. Michigan has missed out on picking off some balls to end drives and missing some tackles have led to bigger plays. Stick to fundamental football and then make the most of the opportunities. There will be balls up for grabs and ball carriers not holding on the way they should, it just happens. Michigan needs to take advantage of those opportunities. Getting some stops and a turnover, or two, will swing the momentum in their favor and help the offense gain some confidence.

On Special Teams

It’s too bad Matt Wile’s punting can’t count as an offensive stat. Anyway, this will be what it always is; win the field position game. I don’t know what else to say here that I don’t say every week so I’ll leave it at that.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Northwestern 20 – Michigan 17

Derick: Unfortunately, things have started to spiral out of control for Michigan after the blowout loss in East Lansing.

The offense has finally found some consistency, but it’s in the form of a negative running game. The last thing Brady Hoke needed was to take his young team on the road while mired in a two-game skid.

Northwestern hasn’t been much better during the Big Ten season, but so far this team has failed to play a strong game away from Ann Arbor.

Somebody has to win this game though, and Michigan needs to step up and settle things down. I think Michigan will get a win when it needs it.

Michigan 24 – Northwestern 21

Katie: Michigan at Northwestern. Two teams that started off looking better than the season has played out. Both are at the bottom of the Big Ten Legends Division, and the Wildcats haven’t yet won a conference game. But that doesn’t mean Northwestern is going to roll over and let the Wolverines make it to an even 3-3 in Big Ten play. This Wildcat team played the Buckeyes to within 10, lost to Iowa in OT, and lost to Minnesota and Nebraska by a combined 6 points. Northwestern hasn’t had much go its way, and as Michigan fans we shouldn’t sneer. Akron, UConn, ND, those games could have be losses. And Indiana played us for about all we were worth.

The way the coaching has been at the Big House and away, it’s not improbable that Michigan could suffer its third loss in a row. Northwestern is back in Evanston after two tough defeats on the road, and is looking to break into the win column with Michigan. With the condition of Michigan’s run game, ranked 96th in the nation in yardage, the lack of pass protection and passing ability in crucial moments, that could very well happen.

As if the line of 2 and a half didn’t make calling which way this game will go any harder, the allowed points just seems to be saying the same thing. Northwestern is 62nd in points against, and Michigan, 61st. So, I’m going to have my hands over my eyes watching this one, hoping that Michigan doesn’t turn out to be that guy who goes into the basement after the murderer. Dumb, and predictable.

Michigan 24 – Northwestern 17

Drew: Last week, I wrote that Michigan would lose to a shorthanded Nebraska only if it had not mentally moved past the debacle in East Lansing. Thirteen points, minus-21 rushing yards, 15 tackles-for-loss allowed, and seven sacks allowed against the 70th-ranked defensive unit later, I can safely say that the Wolverines let Michigan State beat them twice.

And now, for all intents and purposes, the 2013 season is over, at least by Michigan standards. There will be no Big Ten championship, no Legends Division championship, and no BCS Bowl. After finishing with only two conference losses in Brady Hoke’s first two years, U-M already has suffered three this season with three conference games remaining that may add to that total. To top it off, the Wolverines have a sub-.500 conference record for the first time under Hoke.

The only thing left for Michigan to do is to stop the bleeding before Ohio State comes to Ann Arbor, likely bringing with it a 23-game winning streak. The first chance to do this is tomorrow against Northwestern—another underachieving Legends Division school. The Wildcats—thought by many to contend for a Big Ten championship this season—are winless in conference play and have been bitten by the injury bug. There is no better opportunity for Michigan to hop back on the tracks.

Yet, despite this, Michigan is an underdog to Northwestern—a team on a five-game losing streak—for the first time in the history of the series. To put this in perspective, the Wildcats were not even the favorite in 2008 when they had a 7-3 record and U-M was 3-7. This is a historic low for the Wolverines. But when one considers Michigan’s offensive woes the past two weeks and its 5-7 record in true road games under Hoke, it is not farfetched that many expect Michigan to lose tomorrow.

I predict that Michigan’s defense will be able to keep Northwestern in check. NU’s offense has been atrocious in conference play, ranking 11th among Big Ten teams in scoring offense and total offense. The question will be whether Michigan’s offense can pull out of its funk. The Wildcats have a knack for forcing turnovers, intercepting the most passes in the nation, but U-M has maintained the best turnover margin in Big Ten play. But it will not matter if Michigan cannot generate more than 200 total yards—a feat it has not achieved since October.

I think Michigan will win and end its skid, but I have been unable to peg this Wolverines team correctly since I joined Maize & Go Blue staff. The only thing I can predict with certainty is that Michigan fans’ frustrations and concerns will not be alleviated afterwards.

Michigan 21 – Northwestern 17

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Northwestern game preview; Monday’s First Look: Northwestern, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) compared this year’s Michigan offense to 2008.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, staff predictions from Sippin’ on Purple and something about the funny names on Michigan’s roster. I’m sure you can guess which ones they choose as the “best” name.

Michigan-Northwestern game preview

Friday, November 15th, 2013

With three weeks left in the season Michigan finds itself on a downward spiral, losers of their last two and three of the last four, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Two road games and a date with undefeated Ohio State remain. Following last week’s loss to Nebraska, with the team’s main goal – the Big Ten championship – out of reach, Brady Hoke issued the new goal: win ten games. The only way that goal can be achieved is by winning the last three and the bowl game.

Quick Facts
Ryan Field – 3:30pm EST – Big Ten Network
Northwestern Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (8th season)
Coaching Record: 54-44 (all at Northwestern)
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall (6th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz (6th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (5-3, 3rd Legends)
Last Meeting: U-M 38 – NW 31 OT (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 53-15-2
Record in Evanston: Michigan leads 20-7
Record at Ryan Field: Michigan leads 19-7
Current Michigan Streak: Won 2
Last Michigan Win: 2012

It all begins with Northwestern tomorrow in what figures to be a rainy and windy contest along the shores of Lake Michigan. The forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of showers and 20 miles-per-hour wind with gusts up to 33 mph, which is not a good formula for Michigan’s struggling offense. But Northwestern has plenty of struggles of its own.

Northwestern won its first four games of the season, climbing as high as 16th in the national rankings. But then Ohio State came to town and kicked off the Wildcats’ freefall. In front of a national audience with ESPN College Game Day on site, Northwestern played the Buckeyes tough but ultimately fell 40-30 when Ohio State scored 14 points in the final six minutes of the game. It was certainly a respectable showing for Pat Fitzgerald’s squad that showed they belonged among the Big Ten’s best.

But what happened over the course of the next four games proved otherwise. A week after nearly topping the Buckeyes, Northwestern traveled to Madison and was soundly beaten 35-6 by Wisconsin, managing just two field goals and giving up more than 500 yards of offense. A week later the Wildcats dropped a home contest to Minnesota. Losses to Iowa and Nebraska followed, and suddenly a team that was 4-0 in the non-conference was now in the Big Ten cellar.

The last one was the toughest to swallow for Northwestern players, coaches, and fans alike because the Wildcats had the game in the bag until Nebraska scored on a last second Hail Mary. Now, Northwestern has to face Michigan, a team that used a Hail Mary of its own to beat the Wildcats a year ago. That has surely been on their minds leading up to this game and Fitzgerald would love nothing more than to stop the skid by avenging last year’s loss in the Big House.

Let’s take a look at the Wildcats.

Michigan defense vs Northwestern offense: When Northwestern has the ball

During the four-game winning streak to start the season Northwestern’s offense averaged 41.2 points per game. But that number has plummeted to just 17.4 during the current five-game losing streak. Remove the Ohio State game and it drops to just 14.2 in the last four weeks. To be fair, the stunning difference coincides with a rash of injuries including star running back Venric Mark, who led the Big Ten in all-purpose yards and was named second-team All-Big Ten a year ago.

Mark’s absence is bad enough, but could have been made up for if it were the only injury. But the piece-meal backfield has seen injuries to everyone. Senior Mike Trumpy and freshman Warren Long missed the Nebraska game, fellow freshman Stephen Buckley suffered a season-ending knee injury, leading rusher Treyvon Green missed the Iowa game, and jack of all trades Kain Colter missed the Minnesota game and was re-injured against Iowa. Green and Trumpy will carry the load tomorrow.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian has taken the majority of the snaps while splitting time behind center with Colter. He has completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions. But he has been wildly inconsistent. Against Ohio State he completed 13-of-18 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. But he went just 13-of-34 for 163 against Wisconsin and 4-of-13 for 36 yards and an interception against Nebraska.

Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune had this to say earlier this week: “It certainly appears Siemian has lost confidence, perhaps because of offensive line breakdowns, pick-6s and drops.” Sound familiar?

Colter, meanwhile, is the dual-threat quarterback. He has completed 58-of-74 (78.4 percent) for 545 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. He’s also the team’s second leading rusher with 409 yards on 94 carries. In Week 3, he rushed for 106 yards on just 15 carries. Two weeks ago, he ran the ball 23 times against Nebraska for 86 yards.

Like Michigan State and Nebraska, Northwestern doesn’t have one standout receiver, but instead shares the ball with a bunch of different guys. Tony Jones leads the Wildcats with 38 receptions for 492 yards and four touchdowns, but also missed the Nebraska game. Over one-third of his receiving yards occurred in the Week 2 game against Syracuse in which he caught nine passes for 185 yards and a score. Junior Christian Jones has 31 receptions for 389 yards and two touchdowns. At 6’3″, he’s the tallest of the Wildcat receivers. Senior Rashad Lawrence has caught 19 passes for 307 – he had eight for 149 against Ohio State – and sophomore Dan Vitale has 26 catches for 298 yards.

Michigan offense vs Northwestern defense: When Michigan has the ball

Northwestern’s defensive front has also suffered from key injuries. Top tackle Sean McEvilly has missed considerable time, but is slated to play tomorrow, while tackle Will Hampton, who started the last four games in place of McEvilly but has also been banged up will also play. Ends Dean Lowry and Tyler Scott have also missed snaps. The latter finished second in the conference with nine sacks in 2012, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten. He’s currently tied for fifth with five sacks.

At linebacker, Northwestern is led by Chi Chi Ariguzo and Damien Proby who are tied for second in the conference with 79 tackles apiece. Both were named honorable mention All-Big Ten last season. Ariguzo is also tied for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions.

The secondary features talented strong safety Ibraheim Campbell, who also has four interceptions. Fellow safety Traveon Henry is typically good at not giving up the big play, but was the goat on Nebraska’s Hail Mary two weeks ago.

The defense is a unit that ranks right around the middle of the pack or bottom third nationally in most statistical categories: 62nd in points allowed, 70th against the run, 97th against the pass, 81st in total yards, 92nd on third downs, 51st in sacks. But as we saw last week, the current state of Michigan’s offense has the potential to make any defense look good.

The other third: Special teams

Senior kicker Jeff Budzien leads the Big Ten in field goals per game, having made 14-of-16 with a long of 43. Senior punter Brandon Williams has booted 50 punts for an average of 37.1 yards, which doesn’t rank in the top ten in the conference. In the return game, Jones handles punt returns, though he has only returned three all season for an average of 7.3 yards. True freshman cornerback Matthew Harris is the main kick returner and averages 24.8 yards per, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten, just ahead of Dennis Norfleet.


At this point, I’m not even going to attempt to predict what I think the offense will do. Michigan’s offense has been bad enough the last two weeks and now it gets the added element of rain and wind. It will probably explode for 500 yards and 50 points at this point now that we have all given up hope. But the likely outcome is an ugly, soggy, low-scoring game. I trust Greg Mattison’s defense to slow down Northwestern’s offense and give Michigan’s offense enough room to pull out the win.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 16

First Look: Northwestern

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Two straight losses in which Michigan’s offense looked completely inept have left Michigan fans wondering where another win is going to come from. This week, the Wolverines hit the road to face the only other Legends Division foe that is in worse shape – Northwestern.

The Wildcats have dropped five straight since starting the season 4-0. Heading into their Oct. 5 matchup with Ohio State, Northwestern was ranked 16th. ESPN College Gameday made the trip to Evanston and billed the game as the one that could trip up the Buckeyes. Instead, Ohio State won 40-30 and Northwestern has continued to slide ever since. A 35-6 defeat to Wisconsin the next week was comparable to Michigan’s loss to Michigan State. The three games since have all been close: a 20-17 loss to Minnesota, a 17-10 overtime loss to Iowa, and a 27-24 loss to Nebraska on a Hail Mary.

Neither team has any conference title hope remaining, but there is still plenty on the line. Northwestern must win two of its final three to become bowl eligible and with a showdown with Michigan State next week this is the better opportunity to pull one out. Michigan is already bowl eligible but with a trip to Iowa, where Michigan always struggles, and then a home tilt with Ohio State remaining, the Wolverines likely see this as the best opportunity to at least secure a winning season. So what’s more likely? Let’s take a look at how the Wildcats compare.

Northwestern Statistics & Michigan Comparison
N’westernMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 28.0 | 35.1 T73 | 31 26.0 | 25.9 62 | 61
Rushing Yards 1,7001,218 1,513 | 969
Rush Avg. Per Game 188.9 | 135.3 47 | 97 168.1 | 107.7 70 | 13
Avg. Per Rush 4.5 | 3.2 4.1 | 3.2
Passing Yards 1,8942,250 2,248 | 2,185
Pass Avg. Per Game 210.4250.0 82 | 51 249.8 | 242.8 97 | 88
Total Offense 3,5943,468 3,761 | 3,154
Total Off Avg. Per Game 399.3 | 385.3 74 | 83 417.9 | 350.4 81 | 22
Kick Return Average 22.4 | 22.6 51 | 44 18.9 | 22.0 28 | 73
Punt Return Average 7.3 | 6.9 76 | 82 3.8 | 7.6 15 | 58
Avg. Time of Possession 28:2632:28 95 | 21 31:34 | 27:32
3rd Down Conversion Pct 40% | 42% 66 | 55 43% | 41% 92 | T76
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 32-166 | 26-190 118 | 105 19-127 | 18-132 T51 | T57
Touchdowns Scored 30 | 40 30 | 26
Field Goals-Attempts 14-16 | 12-18 9-15 | 18-23
Red Zone Scores (34-35)97% | (32-38)84% 2 | T55 (27-30)90% | (26-30)87% 107 | 91
Red Zone Touchdowns (21-35)60% | (26-38)68% (19-30)63% | (16-30)53%

Much of Northwestern’s downturn has been a result of injuries. During their bye week this past Saturday, head coach Pat Fitzgerald said that if they would have played they would have been without 13 injured players and several others would have been limited. No team in the Big Ten has been hit harder by the injury bug.

A large part of Northwestern’s success last season was a result of just the opposite: avoiding injuries. Only two teams in the country (Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State) had fewer starters miss games due to injuries than the Wildcats. This season, they’re making up for it.

Electric running back Venric Mark has played just one full game all season and is likely headed for a medical redshirt. Versatile quarterback/running back/receiver Kain Colter has missed time. The Wildcats lost starting cornerback Daniel Jones to a season-ending knee injury and the team’s best defensive tackle, Sean McEvilly has played only three games. Linebackers Collin Ellis and Jaylon Prater, safety Jimmy Hall, cornerback Nick VanHoose, defensive tackle Will Hampton, defensive ends Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry, receiver Tony Jones, and running backs Treyvon Green, Mike Trumpy, Stephen Buckley and Warren Long all would not have played this past Saturday.

Pat Fitzgerald has had to deal with a rash of injuries that have derailed Northwestern's season (

Their statuses for the Michigan game will be determined in the coming days, but it’s safe to say Michigan won’t be facing the same Northwestern team that started the season.

With the injury disclaimer in mind, there isn’t much that this Northwestern team is very good at this season. The running game ranks 47th nationally and that’s the highest-ranked unit on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. And even that ranks just eighth in the Big Ten with an average of 188.9 yards per game on the ground. Heading into the Michigan State game two weeks ago Michigan’s running game ranked 49th nationally, averaging 183.9 yards per game and no one considered it to be anything to write home about.

The Northwestern passing game is even worse, ranked 82nd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 210.4 yards per game. In five of nine games, Northwestern has finished with less than 200 passing yards, four of those with less than 140. Against Nebraska two weeks ago Northwestern completed just 8-of-21 passes for 81 yards.

Northwestern averages 28 points per game which ranks 73rd nationally and ninth in the Big Ten. But since conference play has started, the Wildcats have averaged just 17.4 points per game. The primetime showdown with Ohio State was surprisingly one of Northwestern’s best offensive showings of the season. The Wildcats scored 30 points and racked up 437 yards of offense including 343 through the air. But that was before many of the injuries.

Defensively, Northwestern hasn’t fared well in either phase, but has been slightly better against the run. The Wildcats give up 168.6 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 70th nationally and ninth in the Big Ten. Ohio State rushed for 248 yards and Wisconsin gained 286 on Northwestern’s run defense.

The pass defense is one of the worst in the country, ranking 97th nationally and 11th in the conference. Only two opponents, Minnesota and Iowa, have thrown for fewer than 200 yards against Northwestern and the Gophers threw it just 14 times all game.

As far as intangibles go, Northwestern is second in the nation in red zone scores, having scored on 34 of 35 red zone trips. The Wildcat defense, however, is 107th nationally in the red zone, allowing opponents to score 90 percent of the time. Northwestern converts 40 percent of its third downs (compared to Michigan’s 42 percent) and ranks 92nd nationally by allowing a 43 percent conversion rate on third downs (compared to Michigan’s 41 percent). If you think Michigan’s 26 sacks allowed are bad consider the 32 that Northwestern has given up, which is the most in the Big Ten and 118th nationally.

Perhaps the best phase of the game for Northwestern this season is its kick and punt coverage units which rank 28th and 15th in the nation, respectively. By comparison, Michigan ranks 73rd and 58th.

Northwestern will be hungry for its first conference win of the season and looking to avenge last season’s improbably loss to Michigan in which Devin Gardner found Roy Roundtree on a bomb in the closing seconds to set up a game-tying field goal. Michigan then won in overtime. But depending on which injured players are able to suit up Michigan could be facing a shell of the Northwestern team that started the season.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Rating
Trevor Siemian 102-181 1,349 7 6 125.1
Kain Colter 58-74 545 4 3 150.0
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
Treyvon Green 94 612 8 55 6.5
Kain Colter 94 409 4 33 4.4
Mike Trumpy 61 270 2 28 4.4
Venric Mark 31 97 0 23 3.1
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Tony Jones 38 492 4 47 61.5
Christian Jones 31 389 2 36 43.2
Rashad Lawrence 19 307 0 67 38.3
Dan Vitale (FB) 26 298 2 53 33.1
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Damien Proby (LB) 48 32 80 5.0-16 (1INT) 1.0-6
Chi Chi Ariguzo (LB) 50 29 79 4.5-6 (4INT) 1.0-2 (1FR)
Tyler Scott (DE) 24 10 34 9.0-48 (1INT) 5.0-33 (1FR)
Deonte Gibson (DT) 9 10 19 6.0-24 2.0-15
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Jeff Budzien 16 14 43 30 30
Punting Punts Yds Avg. TB In 20
Brandon Williams 50 1,856 37.1 5 14
Full Stats

Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #16 Northwestern 40-30 This Week: Bye (10/19 vs Iowa)

Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes earned their top-five ranking on Saturday by storming into Chicago and beating Northwestern 40-30 on national television. In potentially the biggest game in recent program history, the Wildcats shut down star quarterback Braxton Miller but couldn’t quiet the Ohio State running game. Hyde showed how dangerous the balanced Buckeye offense can be by rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Though the defense gave up over 400 total yards, Ohio State took care of a tough road challenge and remains the top team in the Leaders Division.

2. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs #19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Following a loss in Columbus, Wisconsin had a bye week to prepare for Northwestern during week six. The 3-2 record is deceiving for the Badgers considering the manner in which they lost both games. Wisconsin was one final drive away from forcing overtime against Ohio State and the questionable clock management by officials cost them the game against Arizona State. Though the gap between the two is considerably large, Wisconsin seems to be the second-toughest team in the division.

3. Indiana (3-2, 1-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Penn State 44-24 This Week: Saturday at Michigan State (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

The Hoosiers had an impressive showing in their Big Ten opener, dropping 44 points and 486 yards on the Penn State defense. Indiana continues to showcase an explosive offense, controlling the ball for under 25 minutes yet managing to score on seven separate drives. Nate Sudfeld leads a formidable passing attack that put up 336 yards through the air on Saturday. The most welcome sight for Indiana fans was the 150 yards on the ground, which gave the offense a balanced attack through running back Tevin Coleman. In order to have a real chance to win the division, the Hoosiers will have to better control the clock and hide a porous defense.

4. Illinois (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 39-19 This Week: Bye (10/19 vs Wisconsin)

Illinois lost their conference opener to Nebraska by allowing well over 300 yards on the ground. With star quarterback Taylor Martinez sitting out, the Illini had a chance to challenge Nebraska on the road. Unfortunately, the defensive line forgot to show up. Ameer Abdullah shredded Illinois with 225 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and gave the rest of the Big Ten a nearly-full-proof template of how to dominate the Fighting Illini.

5. Penn State (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Indiana 44-24 This Week: Saturday vs #18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0), 5pm, ESPN

It was a unique recipe for disaster in Indianapolis for Penn State: they dominated the time of possession, gained over 400 yards and their freshman quarterback had three touchdowns to zero interceptions. Alas, the Nittany Lions lost by 20 to Indiana. Penn State players already know they can’t go to a bowl game this season, and so far their play hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant one anyways.

6. Purdue (1-4, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Nebraska (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Boilermakers took a much needed hiatus Saturday after losing two straight games by 31 points. In week seven the drubbings should continue, however, as Purdue welcomes a hot Nebraska offense to West Lafayette.


1. Michigan (5-0, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 42-13 This Week: Saturday at Penn State (3-2, 0-1), 5pm, ESPN

The Wolverines shoot up the rankings after finally showing that the offensive line can produce a running game. Though the rushing numbers don’t jump out, the offense was consistently able to pick up first downs on the ground and avoid negative plays for the first time in 2013. As a result, quarterback Devin Gardner ended his nine-game interception streak and used play action and bootlegs to pick up two total touchdowns and complete 13 of 17 passes. If the defensive line can manage to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks Michigan will be in business.

2. Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Illinois 39-19 This Week: Saturday at Purdue (1-4, 0-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Cornhusker offense is the real deal. Similarly to when Kenny Guiton starred in Columbus, the Nebraska offense went off against Illinois with Taylor Martinez on the sideline. Ameer Abdullah allows Nebraska to control the trenches and the clock; which he showcased with over 200 rushing yards on Saturday. When Taylor Martinez returns to the field this offense is one of the best in the country.

3. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #4 Ohio State 40-30 This Week: Saturday at Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Wildcat fans took a tough loss Saturday night with the eyes of the nation on Ryan Field. In the first half, Northwestern looked poised to upset the powerhouse Buckeyes, but they fell apart at the end and allowed four touchdowns in the final 20 minutes. Venric Mark couldn’t get going against Ohio State’s defense and the entire offensive load fell on the shoulders of quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter. The two signal-callers answered with 343 yards on a 81 percent completion rate, but couldn’t match the 40 points Ohio State dropped on their defense.

4. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Iowa 26-14 This Week: Saturday vs Indiana (3-2, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Michigan State went into Ames, Iowa to face a team that was feeling extremely confident off of a four-game winning streak. Then they hit the brick wall that is Michigan States’ defense. Iowa failed to pick up a first down in the first 20 minutes of the game and besides back-to-back touchdowns late in the second quarter, couldn’t move the ball at all. The Spartans held Iowa to 23 total rushing yards.

5. Iowa (4-2, 1-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Michigan State 26-14 This Week: Bye (10/19 at #4 Ohio State)

The Hawkeyes put themselves back in the picture with four wins to follow an opening loss, but for a team that was a long shot to win the division in the first place, it has to win home games to have a chance. Unfortunately, Mark Weisman, who had been carrying the offense, disappeared and Iowa couldn’t move the ball. It’s a real uphill battle for the Hawkeyes following this loss.

6. Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #19 Michigan 42-13 This Week: Bye (10/19 at #19 Northwestern)

Just when the Golden Gophers were starting get excited, they hit a two-game losing streak and find themselves in last place in the Big Ten. Between the now-struggling offense and Head Coach Jerry Kill’s frequent game day seizures, Minnesota has too many issues to count.


2013 opponent preview: Northwestern

Monday, August 12th, 2013

The fifth-toughest opponent on the schedule really shows how tough Michigan’s schedule is this season. The Northwestern Wildcats enter the season with soaring expectations thanks to 12 returning starters. But they rank just fifth in our opponent countdown, ahead of Akron, Central Michigan, UConn, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State.


Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job building the Wildcats program (Terry Gilliam, AP)

For 64 years, the Northwestern football program stared down an embarrassing streak similar to that of the most famous team the Wildcats share a city with. Like the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908, Northwestern hadn’t won a bowl game since the very first one it ever played in – in 1948. Nine straight bowl losses – two in overtime – hung over the program, but optimism remained due to the transformation head coach Pat Fitzgerald was making in Evanston.

Northwestern finally broke through in convincing fashion, topping SEC foe Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. That means that for the first time in a long time the Wildcats will enter a season with momentum – and it’s not likely to stop there. Fifteen returning starters give Fitzgerald one of the most experienced teams in the Big Ten and make the Wildcats a contender to win the Big Ten title – something that hasn’t been done since 2000.


Of the 15 returning starters, eight are on offense, most notably the quarterback tandem of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Colter is the more athletic of the two, having spent time at receiver in 2011, where he caught 43 passes. Last season, he took over the starting quarterback job, which he ended up sharing with Siemian. He completed 68 percent of his passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, but was even more effective with his legs, rushing for 894 yards on 5.3 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns.

Siemian, meanwhile, was the better passer, throwing for 1,312 yards and six touchdowns. But he’ll have to improve his completion percentage this season for the Wildcats to continue to improve. While the two-quarterback system worked pretty well last season, Fitzgerald will need to make sure there’s enough balance between the two that the offense isn’t predictable.

The backfield may be where the Wildcats’ best player resides. Venric Mark is the league’s top returning running back after a 1,312-yard season that ranked fifth in the Big Ten. His yards per carry of 6.1, however, led all running backs and was second only to Denard Robinson’s 7.2. Senior Mike Trumpy is his backfield mate and is capable of gaining yards as well, as evidenced by his 106-yard performance against Boston College last season.

Good depth returns at the receiver position with the top three all back for more. Slot receiver Christian Jones led the team with 35 receptions and 412 yards, while Tony Jones led the group with four touchdowns. Rashad Lawrence ranked second on the team in receptions with 34, though none went for six points. He’ll be expected to increase his production in his senior season. Superback Dan Vitale caught 28 passes – two for touchdowns – as a true freshman, including a nine-catch, 110-yard outing against Michigan State.

The offensive line is the one area of concern for the Wildcats after the graduation of left guard Brian Mulroe – a second-team All-Big Ten selection, – left tackle Patrick Ward, and right guard Neal Deiters. Center Brandon Vitabile has started the past two seasons and will become the leader of the group, while right tackle Jack Konopka figures to slide over into the left tackle spot. Fitzgerald has been recruiting the line well and will look to plug in some of that depth. Geoff Mogus, Matt Fraizer, and Shane Mertz will all compete for the remaining spots.


Northwestern’s defense was hot and cold last season, ranking third in the conference against the run, allowing just 127.6 yards per game, but dead last against the pass, giving up a whopping 250.5 per contest. Fortunately, three starters return in the secondary, including safety Ibraheim Campbell, who ranked seventh in the Big Ten in passes defended, and cornerback Nick Van Hoose, who picked off three passes and recovered three fumbles. The other returning starter is Daniel Jones, who took over the starting job for the Minnesota game and maintained it for the rest of the season. At the vacant safety position, sophomore Traveon Henry looks to fill the void after a strong spring.

The best player on the Wildcat defense is likely defensive end Tyler Scott. The junior tied Ohio State’s John Simon for the most sacks in the conference in 2012 (nine), including two in the Gator Bowl. Fitzgerald signaled him out after the spring as “taking (the) next step,” which could be a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. But how much help will he have along the line?

Date Opponent
Aug. 31 @ California
Sept. 7 Syracuse
Sept. 14 Western Michigan
Sept. 21 Maine
Oct. 5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 @ Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 @ Iowa
Nov. 2 @ Nebraska
Nov. 16 Michigan
Nov. 23 Michigan State
Nov. 30 @ Illinois

Former four-star recruit, Ifeadi Odenigbo, hopes to grab the other starting end spot, though he’ll have to fight off Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson. Regardless, all should be in the rotation and will give Northwestern a solid pass rush. It’s the middle of the line that is the question. Sean McEvilly started 10 games last season and Will Hampton also has starting experience.

Two of the three starting linebackers are back, led by Chi Chi Ariguzo, who broke out with 10.5 tackles for loss and a Big Ten-best four fumble recoveries a year ago. Senior middle linebacker Damien Proby is also talented. He finished seventh in total tackles (112), but sat out the spring with an injury. Collin Ellis and Drew Smith will battle it out for the other outside starting spot.

Special Teams

Jeff Budzien returns as Northwestern’s kicker. The senior made 19-of-20 field goal attempts with a long of 44. It was good enough to earn co-Big Ten Kicker of the Year honors along with Nebraska’s Brett Maher. Punter Brandon Williams has three years of starting experience. He ranked seventh in the Big Ten with a 39.9-yard average.

Mark is the league’s best punt returner. He returned two for touchdowns last season, earning first team All-America honors in that regard.


Northwestern travels to California for the season opener and if the Wildcats come away with a win, they should be unbeaten when Ohio State comes to Evanston on Oct. 5. They also host Michigan and Michigan State, but the conference schedule didn’t give them any breaks with trips to Wisconsin and Nebraska. If the pass defense is better than last season, Northwestern can contend for the Legends division title, but a more realistic goal should be to continue the bowl-winning momentum.

What it means for Michigan

Michigan heads to Evanston to culminate a brutal three-week stretch with Michigan State and Nebraska preceding the Wildcats. Win all three and Michigan should win the Legends, but it will be far from an easy task. Michigan basically stole the game last year in Ann Arbor, so Fitzgerald’s squad will have this once circled on their calendar for revenge.

The Wolverines have had success in Evanston over the years with so many alums living in the Chicagoland area and turning Ryan Field into a de facto home game. Northwestern is hoping its new “purple pricing” ticket-selling module will keep some of tickets from winding up in the hands of the maize and blue, but that’s unlikely to stop Michigan fans from flooding Evanston, especially if the Legends division title is within reach. Michigan should have enough offensive firepower to win a shootout.

Michigan 38 – Northwestern 31 (OT): Roundtree’s heroics propel UM

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

On a day when a trio of tackles were honored as legends, it was a receiver that made the biggest play. Roy Roundtree has become a big play legend in his own right while donning Desmond Howard’s legends jersey and has now been on the receiving end of two of the most improbable comebacks in Michigan history.

Michigan 38 – Northwestern 31 (OT)
Final Stats
38 Final Score 31
7-3, 5-1 Record 7-3, 3-3
419 Total Yards 431
133 Net Rushing Yards 248
286 Net Passing Yards 183
21 First Downs 27
2 Turnovers 1
2-26 Penalties – Yards 8-75
3-154 Punts – Yards 4-164
25:32 Time of Possession 34:28
7-of-10 Third Down Conversions 8-of-16
0-of-0 Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2
2-21 Sacks By – Yards 1-2
1-for-1 Field Goals 1-for-1
5-for-5 PATs 4-for-4
5-for-5 Red Zone Scores – Chances 4-for-5

When Michigan got the ball back at its own 38 with 18 seconds remaining, J.T. Floyd told the offense that the defense did its part and now it was up to them. Devin Gardner launched the ball downfield and Roundtree tipped it in the air and caught it from his knees at the Northwestern 9-yard line with eight seconds left. Brendan Gibbons hit the 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 31.

In overtime, Michigan got the ball first and went right back to Roundtree. A 17-yard reception put the ball inside the 10 and after a pair of Fitz Toussaint runs to the Northwestern one, Gardner faked the handoff and rolled to the right for the touchdown. After the game, Gardner credited Al Borges with the call.

“That was a play call by Coach Borges; it was a great call,” Gardner said. “When I saw how tight they were, I was like ‘this is the best call possible’ and I basically walked into the end zone.”

Northwestern took over needing a touchdown to force a second overtime, but on 4th-and-2, Kenny Demens hit Tyris Jones at the line of scrimmage to seal the deal.

The game was a lot closer than many expected, with both teams fighting to keep their respective Big Ten title hopes alive. Northwestern struck first with a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive after forcing Michigan to punt away its first possession. But Michigan matched the Wildcats with a 10-play, 78-yard drive of its own, capped off by a Gardner 8-yard touchdown run. On the run, Gardner appeared to have nowhere to go around the 5-yard line, but pump-faked the defender which gave him just enough space to dive for the pylon.

Michigan appeared to be ready to score again on its next possession as Toussaint broke a 50-yard run inside the NW 10-yard line. But a hit from behind popped the ball loose and Northwestern recovered at its own three.

The Wildcats moved the ball to the 49, but Jibreel Black sacked Colter and knocked the ball loose. Michigan recovered at the Northwestern 37.

Roundtree's acrobatic catch saved the game (photo by

At the beginning of the second quarter, Michigan struck again, this time a 10-play, 37-yard drive punctuated by a Thomas Rawls 1-yard touchdown run. Gardner kept the drive alive with a 17-yard run on 3rd-and-11.

The teams traded punts and Northwestern got the ball back with 1:53 remaining in the first half. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian came in and guided the Wildcats to a game-tying touchdown that covered 56 yards in six plays. The teams entered halftime deadlocked at 14.

In the second half, Northwestern did just what it did on its first possession of the game: march the ball right down the field for a score. The Wildcats went 75 yards on 10 plays as Kain Colter found Dan Vitale for a 23-yard touchdown pass.

Michigan went three-and-out and NW was on the move again. On 3rd-and-goal from the eight, Craig Roh came up with a big sack to force the Wildcats to kick a 34-yard field goal and take a 24-14 lead.

Michigan answered right back with a four-play, 78-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference call on Northwestern on 3rd-and-17. Right after that, Gardner found Jeremy Gallon for a 42-yard play and then dumped the ball off to Toussaint who romped 28 yards into the end zone.

After forcing a NW punt, Michigan went 91 yards on 11 plays to regain the lead. On 3rd-and-6 from the Northwestern eight, Gardner hit Devin Funchess in the end zone. Michigan led 28-24 with 8:45 to play.

But Northwestern wasn’t finished. The Wildcats mounted an eight-play, 66-yard drive to take the lead back. Colter had to come out of the game with an injury and Siemian came in and completed passes of 21 yards and 15 yards. The Wildcats were also helped out by a 15-yards roughing the passer penalty on Brennen Beyer, taking away what would have been 3rd-and-11.

Dennis Norfleet returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Michigan 42, but Gardner was intercepted on the first play. With 3:37 remaining, Northwestern forced Michigan to use its time outs and set up 4th-and-1 from theMichigan 41. Colter was stopped by James Ross just short of the 40, but the measurement awarded the Wildcats a first down and it appeared all of Michigan’s hopes were dashed. NW kept running the ball to work the clock and Michigan forced the punt with 25 seconds remaining, setting up the end-of-game drama that unfolded.

Michigan kept its hopes of winning the Legends division alive while dashing Northwestern’s. For the Wildcats, it was a familiar refrain: blowing late-game leads as they have done so often this year.

Michigan hosts Iowa next week in what will be Denard Robinson’s final game in the Big House. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to play. Brady Hoke said he’s still day-to-day. But as Denard has been on the sideline, the legend of Devin Gardner continues to grow. However, Gardner dismissed any notion of replacing Denard in Michigan’s lineup.

“This is Denard’s team and it’s always going to be Denard’s team until he’s gone,” Gardner said. “He’s done way too much for two games to change that.”

M&GB Pick’em: Northwestern staff predictions

Friday, November 9th, 2012

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.



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


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

Michigan vs Northwestern game preview

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Three games remain in the regular season and Michigan must win all of them to stay in the Big Ten title hunt. And just like last week, the Wolverines might have to do it without Denard Robinson. All week, Brady Hoke has been coy about Denard’s status. When asked about Denard’s status on Thursday morning, Hoke said, “We’ve got a plan in place and we’ve been running through it all week.” When asked again, he replied simply, “I don’t know. The plan is to go out and win a football game.”

Michigan Stadium  –  Ann Arbor, Mich.
12pm EST  –  ESPN

Northwestern Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (6th season)
Coaching Record: 47-38
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz
Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 24 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 53-15-2
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 33-6-2
In Michigan Stadium: 29-6-2
Current Streak: Michigan 1

Michigan did win a football game last week without Denard thanks to a solid performance by Devin Gardner and the receiving corps stepping up. But this week’s opponent, Northwestern, is a better team than Minnesota.

Northwestern enters at 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad holds onto extremely slim Big Ten championship hopes, needing to win out and get a lot of help, so the Wildcats will be fighting for their season. The two losses were at Penn State (39-28) and against nebraska (29-28). In that Nebraska game, Northwestern blew a 12 point lead in the fourth quarter. The seven teams Northwestern has beaten have a combined record of 25-38. So is the 7-2 record indicative of a solid squad, or is it more of a reflection of an incredibly weak schedule? Let’s take a look.

When Northwestern has the ball

Quarterback Kain Colter is a version of Denard Robinson that also plays other positions. Sophomore Trevor Siemian started a handful of games at quarterback to allow Colter to play receiver, but Colter has taken back the quarterback job. He has completed 62-of-89 passes for 517 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. But he’s even more dangerous with his feet. He’s the second leading rusher on the team with 622 yards and 11 touchdowns on 114 attempts.

What’s even more dangerous is his backfield mate Venric Mark who is the Big Ten’s second leading rusher in terms of yards per game (119.7). He has eclipsed 100 yards in six of the nine games, including each of the past three. He had 182 yards against Minnesota and 162 yards on 16 carries against Iowa two weeks ago. He’s only 5’8″ but works perfectly in the zone read offense.

The receiving corps doesn’t have a standout, but has several players that contribute. Seven different players have double digit receptions and six of those have over 100 yards. The leading receiver, Tony Jones, hails from Grand Blanc, Mich. and was high school teammates with Justice Hayes and an AAU basketball teammate with Gardner. Oh, and his cousin is Thomas Rawls. He’ll be looking to impress his home state, but the Wildcat passing game isn’t one to be overly concerned with.

Venric Mark and Kain Colter form a dangerous backfield duo

The offensive line is experienced, led by center Brandon Vitabile and seniors Brian Mulroe and Pat Ward on the left side. They have helped pave the way for the Big Ten’s third best rushing offense. They’ve also allowed just 12 sacks, which is second best only to Michigan’s 10. However, a lot of that is a result of the lack of a passing game.

Northwestern runs a zone read offense that aims to get the playmakers – Colter and Mark – to the edge where they can beat cornerbacks and outside linebackers in space. It’s a fast-paced offense that rarely huddles and will sometimes split Colter out wide with Siemian behind center. Similar to last season’s matchup, the Wildcat offense will probably have some success early in the game before Greg Mattison adjusts.

When Michigan has the ball

Northwestern’s defense is slightly above average at stopping the run, but last in the conference against the pass. As mentioned in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, both Penn State and Nebraska were able to put up gaudy numbers through the air in their wins over NW. In the season opener, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib threw for 482 yards on 66 attempts.

The strength of the defense is the linebacking unit. Middle linebacker Damien Proby leads the ‘Cats with 86 tackles. David Nwabuisi is second with 75 and Chi Chi Ariguzo ranks third with 67. They’re a major reason for the success of the run defense, but they’re don’t excel in pass coverage, which is one of the reasons Northwestern has such a weak pass defense.

The line is led by end Tyler Scott who has a Big Ten best seven sacks to go along with 8.5 tackles for loss, leading the team in both categories. The other end is Quentin Williams who has 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. The guys in the middle are small and don’t make a lot of impact. Brian Arnfelt has three sacks, but Sean McEvilly has one, but that’s about it.

Safety Ibraheim Campbell is the leader of the secondary. He has 67 tackles and loves to come up in run support. The Wildcats have just three interceptions and only one of them is from a defensive back, Nick VanHoose.

The nation’s 108th-ranked pass defense gives up 272.2 yards per game and it’s a good bed Michigan will have success as well.

The other third

Kicker Jeff Budzien has made 11-of-12 this season with a long of 44. His lone miss was over 50 yards, so he’s about as reliable as it gets in the Big Ten this season. He made 6-of-10 last season. Punter Brandon Williams averages 39.9 yards per punt, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten. In the return game, Northwestern is dangerous with Mark averaging 25.1 yards per punt return. He has already returned two four touchdowns this season.


Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 4 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 115, he could pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history. With 219, he could pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in Michigan history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 170 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will tie Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 3 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Like I said yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Gardner to play tomorrow. Northwestern can be torched through the air and if Denard’s throwing elbow is still at all bothersome, Hoke won’t risk the possibility of Denard playing against Ohio State. Michigan is more of a passing threat with Gardner at the helm and with the aggressiveness of Northwestern’s linebackers, he should be able to find a healthy dose of Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, and Devin Funchess underneath. Regardless of who is behind center, expect a big passing day.

Defensively, Michigan will give up some yards in the first half, adjust and clamp down. It will be tough to slow down Colter and Mark, but with no major passing threat to worry about, Mattison can hone in on the run, and he has the advantage of going up against the same type of offense in practice day in and day out.

It will be close through the first half and into the third quarter, but Michigan will be too much for the Wildcats and will keep its title hopes alive.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17


As Michigan has done every game this season, another player (or set of players) will be given “legends” distinction prior to kickoff. This time, it is the Wistert brothers – Francis, Albert, and Alvin – who all wore number 11 in the 1940s. All three were first team All-Americans. One Michigan player will be awarded the number to go along with the previous numbers that have been given out: 47 to Jake Ryan, 87 to Brandon Moore, and 48 to Desmond Morgan. The Wistert brothers played offensive and defensive tackle, so my guess as to which player will get the honor is Quinton Washington, who has stepped up this season and been good off the field.

Bonus: the brothers’ nicknames were Whitey, Ox, and Moose.

Friend vs Foe: Northwestern edition

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we welcome Philip from the Northwestern blog Lake the Posts.  He will provide his perspective on how or why Northwestern can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Northwestern

by Philip

If there is one thing you learn from watching Northwestern football it is that anything is possible on any given day. Except a Northwestern blowout win. Those just don’t happen. In Big Ten play this year, the Wildcats have proven that they can play with everyone on their schedule and that they cannot protect a lead in the fourth quarter. But you have to be good enough to build a lead in order to blow it – at least that is what the optimist in me says.

Northwestern had to do something and while the losses to Nebraska and Penn State still wake me up in a cold sweat, NU did some really nice things to get there that any defense has to be prepared to handle. This season has seen the emergence of Northwestern’s run game, something the team has not really had since Tyrell Sutton in 2005.

Venric Mark is this team’s biggest offensive weapon and his attitude has permeated through this rushing attack. He has already hit the 1,000 yard mark and has breakaway speed. Teams don’t punt to him anymore because his likely to break one at any time. He had an 80-yard run against Nebraska and two 50-yard runs against Minnesota. Despite his small size and speed, Mark is not afraid to dish out a hit and run between the tackles. Don’t be surprised to see him burst through a tiny crack between the hashes and burst forward or to get up from a pile and into a defensive lineman’s face. If you do not have your defense locked onto Mark he will score on you and score on you quickly.

That makes Northwestern especially dangerous in the option game. Kain Colter still does some every-backing here and there, but he is most effective when he runs the option with Mark next to him. Just the threat of Colter opens things up for Mark and the threat of Mark opens things up for Colter, who is a very good decisionmaker in the option and extremely slippery when he is out on the perimeter.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats defense is improved although still a little weak. The run defense has been solid all year and the defensive line and linebackers have been solid. So long as they are making tackles and not overly winded from an offense that cannot stay on the field. The secondary too is improved even though it continues to give up yards in chunks. But the communications issue and generally the deep passes are not there for opposing teams. Northwestern has long not been a team you can overlook, but now that is really true. There is a reason Northwestern is No. 24 in the BCS.

The key for the Wildcats is staying on the field offensively. That has been the offense’s struggle all year and it has led to disastrous results for Northwestern. Coming off the bye week, I suspect Northwestern will feel comfortable with its gameplan and come out with a lot of confidence in its run game led by Kain Colter, with easy passes mixed in to keep the defense off balance. There may be some Trevor Siemian sightings when Northwestern needs a long pass or Colter needs a breather. If he gets into any kind of rhythm passing, this offense becomes downright scary.

More importantly, if the Wildcats are able to sustain drives, the defense is good enough to hold down just about any offense and give the Cats a chance to win the game. If the Wildcats are unable to score points or sustain drives, the defense could get tired and that makes no lead safe.

The case for Michigan

by Justin

This is a game that concerns me probably more than it should, similar to how I felt entering last season’s matchup. Northwestern is probably a better team right now than it was last season and Michigan is arguably slightly worse. Michigan must win to stay in Big Ten title contention, while Northwestern can also say the same, although the Wildcats’ path to Indianapolis is much more narrow than Michigan’s.

The good thing is Northwestern’s strength – an explosive offense – feeds right into Michigan’s strength – a highly-ranked defense. The Wildcats rank 13th nationally in rush offense, averaging 236.4 yards per game, but just 113th in pass offense. Michigan’s pass defense ranks first in the nation, and likely will remain that way after Saturday, but Greg Mattison has shown the past two years the ability to slow down a one-dimensional offense. Against big, pro-style offenses like Alabama that are equally as dangerous with the run and pass, the defense is vulnerable. But when he can gear up to stop the run, the defense responds.

Kain Colter is a fantastic athlete, but the NW offense is similar to Michigan’s, relying heavily on the zone read, albeit at a faster pace. Mattison has done well to slow down these types of offenses, if not at first, but at least after making adjustments throughout the game.

Northwestern hasn’t yet faced a really good defense this season, and the two good ones it did face, Penn State (26th) and Nebraska (31st), resulted in losses. Penn State limited Northwestern to just 247 total yards (112 rushing), while Nebraska held NW to 180 yards rushing. Both are well below the season average. There’s no reason to think Michigan’s defense can’t do the same.

But where Michigan will win is on the other side of the ball. Northwestern’s total defense ranks 60th nationally and 35th in points allowed per game, giving up almost a touchdown more than Michigan. While the rush defense is respectable, the pass defense gives up 272 yards per game. Matt McGloin torched the Wildcats for 282 and Taylor Martinez did so for 342. This is where I think in this game, given the health of Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner might present the better matchup. It’s kind of blasphemous to say so, and I still think Michigan can win whether Gardner or Denard starts, but Gardner presents a better passing game, especially with Denard’s ailing throwing elbow.

Of course, no one outside of The Fort knows the status right now, so until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume Denard will be the starter. If so, I believe he can have a game similar to what he did last year against Northwestern (337 yards and two touchdowns passing, 117 yards and two touchdowns rushing) and similar to Martinez’s performance a couple weeks ago.

I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see some Gardner regardless of Denard’s health, but expect a closely contested first half with Michigan pulling away in the second. It won’t be as high scoring ast last year’s meeting in Evanston, but there’s no reason Michigan should lose. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s game preview and staff predictions for a more in depth analysis.