Posts Tagged ‘Pat Fitzgerald’
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read our preseason preview here.
Michigan kept its Big Ten title hopes alive by doing exactly what it was expected to do: beat Minnesota. The quest continues this Saturday against another Legends division foe that has its own, albeit unlikely, championship hopes. Northwestern enters 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the conference. The two losses came at the hands of Penn State and Nebraska, and because of that loss to the Cornhuskers, Northwestern has to win out and needs Nebraska to lose twice more to win the division.
In all reality, Northwestern should have beaten Nebraska, just like Michigan State should have done this past Saturday. The Wildcats held a 12 point lead in the fourth quarter, but let it slip away. Otherwise, this Saturday’s game would be even bigger for both teams. Can Michigan keep it’s hopes alive, or will Northwestern put an end to them? Let’s take a look.
|Northwestern 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison|
|Northwestern | Michigan||Rank||Opponent||Rank|
|Points Per Game||30.4 | 28.8||52 | 60||22.3 | 16.8||35 | 13|
|Rushing Yards||2,128 | 1,808||1,092 | 1,289|
|Rush Avg. Per Game||236.4 | 200.9||13 | 28||121.3 | 143.2||23 | 44|
|Avg. Per Rush||5.3 | 5.0||3.5 | 3.7|
|Passing Yards||1,461 | 1,606||2,452 | 1,309|
|Pass Avg. Per Game||162.3 | 178.4||109 | 105||272.4 | 145.4||107 | 1|
|Total Offense||3,589 | 3,414||3,544 | 2,598|
|Total Off Avg. Per Game||398.8 | 379.3||67 | 82||393.8 | 288.7||60 | 7|
|Kick Return Average||15.9 | 22.4||116 | 53||20.0 | 21.7||38 | 68|
|Punt Return Average||21.0 | 8.9||3 | 57||3.3 | 6.3||11 | 49|
|Avg. Time of Possession||29:08 | 30:35||80 | 48||30:52 | 29:25|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||46% | 48%||25 | 16||39% | 34%||57 | 31|
|Sacks By-Yards||19-130 | 11-99||52 | 105||12-69 | 10-78||24 | 18|
|Touchdowns Scored||34 | 31||24 | 15|
|Field Goals-Attempts||12-13 | 14-17||11-13 | 15-21|
|Red Zone Scores||(32-35) 91% | (28-31) 90%||8 | 14||(26-32) 81% | (22-26) 85%||56 | 87|
|Red Zone Touchdowns||(22-35) 63% | (17-31) 55%||(17-32) 53% | (11-26) 42%|
The main thing that sticks out of the stats is Northwestern’s run game which ranks 13th nationally and third in the Big Ten behind Nebraska and Ohio State. The reason for the success is the two-headed monster of running back Venric Mark and jack of all trades Kain Colter. Mark trails only Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell in yards per game (119.7) and is second only to Denard Robinson in yards per carry (6.5). Colter has carried the ball 114 times for 622 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While the run game is highly successful, the passing game leaves much to be desired. Averaging just 162.3 yards per game through the air, Northwestern is last in the Big Ten. Quarterback Trevor Siemian has completed just under 59 percent of his passes for 931 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. But after underwhelming performances against Penn State and Wisconsin, it was Colter who regained the quarterback position against Iowa on Saturday. He threw just nine passes, completing six of them, but one of those completions was a 47-yard touchdown. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but he will likely be under center this Saturday.
Sounds a big like Michigan, right? Good run game, lackluster passing game, explosive dual-threat quarterback. Well, what about their defense?
Northwestern boasts a solid rush defense, allowing just 121.3 yards per game, which ranks 23rd nationally and fourth in the Big Ten. The best rushing offense the Wildcats have faced, Nebraska, was held to 68 yards below its season average. However, the ‘Huskers lit up the NW pass defense with 342 yards through the air. And that leads us to the Wildcat weakness and the main discrepancy between Michigan and Northwestern: pass defense.
Northwestern gives up an average of 272.4 passing yards per game, which is last in the Big Ten and 107th nationally. This also likely plays into the good rush defense numbers, but any way you slice it, there’s room to pass on the Wildcats. Last season, Denard passed for 337 yards on NW – the second best passing game of his career.
Linebacker Damien Proby leads the team, and ranks fourth in the conference, in tackles with 86, while fellow linebacker David Nwabuisi ranks ninth in the Big Ten with 75. They’re a large part of why the run defense has been so good. Defensive back Ibraheim Campbell ranks 12th in the conference with 67, which gives NW three players with more tackles than Michigan’s top tackler, Desmond Morgan. Of course, tackles don’t tell the whole picture. Defensive lineman Scott Tyler leads the Big Ten with seven sacks.
An area of concern for Michigan should be in the return game. Mark averages 25.2 yards per punt return and has already returned two for touchdowns this season. He hasn’t had as much success on kick returns, but he’s still dangerous any time the ball is in his hands and Michigan hasn’t been great at covering kicks this season.
It will certainly be a tougher game than this past Saturday, but it’s another game that Michigan should win. Michigan now carries the nation’s second longest home winning streak and will need that to continue in the Big House on Saturday to stay in contention for Indianapolis.
The fourth installment of our preseason opponent preview series brings the fourth easiest (or ninth-toughest) opponent on the schedule, the Northwestern Wildcats. Previously, we introduced, from easiest to not-so-easiest, UMass, Minnesota, and Illinois.
Northwestern is still trying to break through under Pat Fitzgerald. The former linebacker has guided the Wildcats to four straight bowl games and a 34-29 overall record over the past five seasons. He inked a 10-year deal last May, meaning he has a home in Evanston for as long as he wants. But with just 11 starters returning (five on offense, six on defense), he has his work cut out if he wants to avoid repeating last season’s disappointing losing record.
How do you progress when your quarterback, who finished his career as the all-time Division 1 leader in completion percentage and ranks in your top five in most passing categories, graduates? For Northwestern, the answer is to plug in an even more talented and versatile quarterback who already has experience.
Dan Persa completed nearly 73 percent career passes and was hyped as a Heisman Trophy contender before missing several games last season. The injury opened the door for Kain Colter to gain valuable experience. He played extended minutes in three games and finished the season with a 67 percent completion rate for 673 yards and six touchdowns to just one interception. But he did the most damage with his legs, leading the Wildcats in rushing with 654 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 43 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns. This year, he gets the chance to step out of Persa’s shadow and take the reigns of the offense behind center.
Having another talented playmaker is a good place to start and Colter has one in five-star receiver Kyle Prater. The USC transfer will instantly become one of the top receivers in the Big Ten. At 6’5″ and 215 pounds, he’ll be a tough matchup for any defensive back. But he’s not the only weapon Colter will have. Receivers Demetrius Fields and Christian Jones also return, as does running back Treyvon Green who had a good freshman campaign last season. Running back Mike Trumpy returns from a torn ACL, and how well he has recovered will determine whether he’s the starter.
The big question mark offensively is the line, which struggled throughout the spring. It has to find a replacement for left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald loves competition and will have all summer and fall camp to determine a solid five.
Defensively, Northwestern faces some questions despite returning six starters. The line looks to be pretty good with returning ends Tyler Scott and Quentin Williams. Redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson and sophomore Chance Carter both shined in the spring game leaving many in Evanston excited about their possibilities. Similarly, the linebackers are experienced, with Damien Proby, David Nwabuisi, and four others pushing for time. Incoming freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo is one to watch. He’s a four-star from Centerville, Ohio who ranked ninth nationally at the linebacker position and held offers from Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, Stanford and many more.
|Sept. 1||@ Syracuse|
|Sept. 15||Boston College|
|Sept. 22||South Dakota|
|Oct. 6||@ Penn State|
|Oct. 13||@ Minnesota|
|Nov. 10||@ Michigan|
|Nov. 17||@ Michigan State|
The biggest are of question on the defense is the secondary, which lost three starters from the conference’s third worst pass defense. Safety Ibraheim Campbell is the only one who looks to have a starting spot secured. A host of others are battling through inexperience, poor play, and mental mistakes for the remaining spots. Corner Daniel Jones started in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, but after him, the dropoff is severe.
Punter Brandon Williams and kicker Jeff Budzien both return, though the latter connected on just 60 percent of his field goal attempts last season. Kick and punt returner Venric Mark is a speedy threat in the return game. His 15.9 yards per punt return led the Big Ten last season and ranked third nationally.
All four non-conference games are winnable and then the Wildcats open conference play with Indiana, a beleaguered Penn State, and Minnesota, so they could jump out of the gates hot. But the schedule is back-loaded and with so many questions defensively and the need for playmakers to emerge on offense, six or seven wins are the most Northwestern will reach in 2012.
What it means for Michigan
The game falls late in the season, right after Michigan plays Minnesota. It’s Michigan’s first time back in Ann Arbor after road contests at Nebraska and Minnesota, so it falls in a good spot. Northwestern does get an extra week to prepare for Michigan, but it’s in the Big House. The Colter to Prater connection is worrisome, especially since Michigan doesn’t have tall defensive backs, and the Wildcats should be able to put up some points this season, but there’s no way they can slow down Michigan that late in the season. A year ago, Northwestern hung tough in the first half before Greg Mattison adjusted the defense and shut the Wildcats down in the second. This season’s game should be closer to the second half than the first.
Michigan took to the road for the first time this season and found itself staring in the face of adversity for the first time since the Notre Dame game. A poor first half turned into a 10 point halftime deficit, but Michigan was able to make the necessary halftime adjustments to dominate the second half. The Wolverines outscored Northwestern 28-0 in the second half for a 42-24 victory.
Northwestern got the ball to start the game and Dan Persa got started quickly, hitting a receiver in stride for a gain of seven. After an incomplete pass, Persa got drilled by Kenny Demens and threw a bad incompletion to go 3-and-out.
Michigan opened much like it did last week, with Denard running and then bringing out a new formation with Devin Gardner under center and Denard in the slot. Denard went in motion and got the ball on an end around. On 3rd-and-7, Michigan looked as though it was going to have to punt, but Denard threw a deep ball to Junior Hemingway who jumped up and pulled it down for a gain of 48 yards. Northwestern left a defender in to spy on Denard, trying to contain his running ability but leaving the field open for Michigan to get the ball downfield. A 2nd-and-goal play-action pass led to a touchdown for tight end Steve Watson who was wide open. The drive went eight plays for 74 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern opened up its ensuing drive throwing the ball again. This time, Persa’s pass was tipped at the line by Ryan Van Bergen. Unfortunately for Michigan, Craig Roh laid a hit on Persa but it was a bit late and the officials marched off 15 yards. Kain Colter lined up at quarterback on the next play and ran the option and Jordan Kovacs leveled the back on the pitch. Persa hopped back in for the next play and hit a swing pass to Jeremy Ebert for 13 yards. In an attempt to get its best athletes on the field Northwestern lined Colter up at receiver and Persa just missed him on the next play. After a 32 yard pass play and a check down to the running back, Colter took a triple option keeper to the house, juking Kovacs out of his shoes in the process to tie the game at seven.
Michigan got the ball back and Denard connected on a big gainer on a play action pass to Hemingway. Two plays later, Denard made a bad throw off his back foot that was picked off by NW’s Ibraheim Campbell and returned 31 yards.
Again, Northwestern got its athletes in on offense in unconventional ways as return man Venric Mark lined up in the backfield. He took the option pitch for a first down. Colter came back in at quarterback a few plays later and the triple option to the running back went for a big 24 yard gain to the Michigan 11 yard line. Two plays later, Persa pitched the ball on the option and the player waltzed virtually untouched into the end zone to put NW ahead 14-7.
At this point, it looked as though Northwestern was going to run the option all day. The defense had no answer for the option plays thus far and looked completely lost with these new wrinkles the Wildcats were throwing at it.
On its next drive, Michigan showed a good mix of run and pass, though the passing game was not working as well as Borges would probably like but it was keeping the defense honest so far. A few overthrows are keeping the offense from really getting it going. On the first play of the second quarter, Denard threw a bad pass on a fake quarterback draw and it was picked off again by Campbell.
The Wildcats were forced to punt after a Kenny Demens sack and false start penalty put them in 3rd-and-18, which they couldn’t convert.
Michigan couldn’t get anything going on its next drive as Denard kept getting stuffed at the line on his designed runs and his passes were a bit high for his receivers.
After a good return by Mark, Northwestern took over at its own 41 yard line. A few plays later, NW went for it on 4th-and-short. Persa pitched it on the option but Kovacs was there to blow it up in the backfield. That was just the play the defense needed to get some confidence.
The offense took advantage of it. After a 4th-and-short conversion of its own during the drive, Jeremy Gallon went 25 yards untouched into the end zone on a play action screen pass a few plays later to tie the game at 14 apiece.
The excitement was short-lived as Northwestern burned Michigan with the no huddle, uptempo pace and scored as Colter pitched it on the option and the back went in untouched once again. Michigan still had no answer for the option, and it was beginning to look like the defense of the last few years.
After Michigan turned it over on another bad throw that was picked off, Northwestern moved down the field inside the 10 yard line. After some clock mismanagement and a dropped pass in the end zone, time ran out on the half. But as Lee Corso likes to say, not so fast my friend. An official review put two seconds back on the clock and Northwestern kicked a field goal to go up 24-14.
Stats were pretty much even in the first half aside from Michigan’s three turnovers, which had killed the team to that point. Last season I would have given up hope that the coaches would make any defensive adjustments and get in gear. This time around, I had faith in Mattison and Hoke and knew it would be a different story the second half.
Michigan took the opening drive of the second half and marched down the field in eight plays. The big plays of the drive both went to Roy Roundtree as he caught a 16-yarder on 3rd-and-11 and a huge 57-yarder to set up 1st-and-goal on a play-action pass. Denard still wasn’t throwing great balls, but his receivers, Hemingway and Roundtree, were doing a great job of going up and making plays much like in the Notre Dame game. Three plays later, Denard scored on an option keeper while running right out of his shoe. Michigan pulled within a field goal, 24-21.
After a three-and-out featuring a Van Bergen hit on Persa which forced an incomplete on third down, Michigan took over. Denard dropped the snap but to picked it up and ran for 25 yards, somewhat reminiscent of the first carry of his career in 2009, in which he took his own fumble 43 yards for a TD. This one didn’t go for a score, but Devin Gardner decided to get in on the scoring action as he took a play action naked bootleg to the pylon for six. Michigan had clearly grabbed the momentum in the game and it didn’t look like it was going to give it back. The drive covered 80 yards in 12 plays and took six-and-a-half minutes off the clock to put Michigan ahead 28-24.
Michigan got the ball back quickly once again after Brandin Hawthorne picked off a tipped pass. The play was reviewed and I thought for sure it was an incomplete catch but the call was upheld. At this point you had to think everything was going to keep going Michigan’s way. And it did. Michael Shaw took a run to the right at the start of the fourth quarter and punched it in for 21 straight Michigan points. Michigan now had a 35-24 lead.
They say when it rains it pours, and it started to pour for Northwestern as safety Thomas Gordon stripped the ball away from Ebert a few plays into the drive and recovered it himself. However, Northwestern got back some of the momentum as it blocked a Brendan Gibbons 47-yard field goal attempt.
Northwestern mixed up its personnel again as we saw Colter and Mark in at receiver and running back. A 3rd-and-5 pass was knocked out of the receivers hands by freshman Blake Countess and Northwestern was forced to go for it on 4th-and-5. Jordan Kovacs came on a blitz and absolutely wrecked Persa as he hit him high. Persa lost his helmet but didn’t go down. He moved around a bit to his right and threw it incomplete.
Pat Fitzgerald was livid as he thought, and replays clearly showed, that Kovacs ripped off Persa’s helmet and it should have been a face mask penalty. The officials declared that after Persa lost his helmet the play was dead at that point, and Michigan got the ball. As if the call wasn’t bad enough for Northwestern, Pat Fitzgerald made it worse, taking an unsportsmanlike penalty and giving Michigan 15 more yards to start the drive at the Wildcat 38.
After a missed false start on 3rd-and-short and another jump ball grabbed by a Michigan receiver on another third down, Denard took it in from the 5-yard line. For those of you not paying attention that made it 28 straight points for Michigan and a 42-24 lead after being down 10 at the half.
With the game all but over, Northwestern still played like it mattered, which you’d expect from Fitzgerald-coached team. The Wildcats moved the ball through the air but the thing I take away from their last drive is a sack by our friend “Big” Will Campbell. He’s shown signs of life so far when he’s had his chances but he’s not yet an every down lineman. Hopefully he can be by next year when we’ll really need him. Colter was stopped just shy of the goal line on the last play of the game to preserve Michigan’s second half shutout.
Michigan dominated the second half, and aside for the 78 yards gained in garbage time at the end, held the Wildcats to virtually nothing. Michigan finished with 541 yards of total offense, including 362 passing, and converted 14 of 17 third downs. Michigan also uncharacteristically committed five penalties and three turnovers, but still won convincingly to set up a huge showdown this Saturday in East Lansing.
Last week, for the second straight week, we all underestimated Michigan. Josh was the closest (for the second consecutive week), predicting a 49-6 victory, while Justin wasn’t far behind, picking 42-17. For the win, Josh wins the awesome singing and dancing gopher and his own un-painted brown jug. He’s now tied with Chris with two apiece, while I’m right behind with one win.
This week, we’ll be vying for Prince’s Purple Rain album and a sweet 2002 Northwestern media guide. I mean, who doesn’t want that to re-live NW’s 3-9 record that year to remind us that we suffered that just a couple years ago?
A win over Northwestern will give Michigan twice that many wins already and make the Wolverines bowl eligible. So who thinks we can win? Come on everybody, raise your hand now.
Justin (1): After watching Northwestern on tape and reviewing the matchups, I’m not quite as worried about this one as everyone else is. Northwestern is a quality football team, but has some holes defensively, and a quarterback not at full strength.
Dan Persa, last season’s First-team All-Big Ten quarterback, returned from injury last week, but still left the game with soreness. A major part of his game is running the football, but with the foot injury, he’s not going to be quite as dangerous in that aspect.
Compound Persa’s injury with a torn ACL that put starting running back Mike Trumpy out for the rest of the season, and Northwestern isn’t as dangerous offensively as it should be.
Michigan’s defense still isn’t a Michigan defense from the 1990s or early 2000s, but it’s not the all-time worst defense that we saw the past three seasons either. It’s inching closer to the former and will try to pressure Persa into mistakes.
Offensively, Michigan should be able to move the ball. Maybe not quite as well as against Minnesota last week, but at least the way it did against San Diego State two weeks ago. Northwestern gave up 395 rushing yards to Army two weeks ago (on 75 carries) and 391 passing yards to Illinois last week. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, Michigan will move the football.
The Wildcats will likely stack the box and try to stop the run game, forcing Denard Robinson to beat it with his arm. Look for offensive coordinator Al Borges to get Denard comfortable early with a short passing game before unleashing more of a vertical passing game. But don’t get me wrong; Michigan will still run the football until Northwestern proves it can stop it, which I’m not entirely convinced it can.
It will probably be close in the first half as the two teams feel each other out, but if there’s one thing this new coaching staff has shown it knows how to do, it’s make adjustments. Michigan will take over in the second half and cruise to a sixth-straight win, setting up a huge showdown in East Lansing next Saturday.
Michigan 38 – Northwestern 17
Josh (2): Northwestern is 2-2 and hasn’t really played anyone good yet. They’ve also been without stud quarterback Dan Persa most of the year. Persa did come back for most of last week’s game against Ilinois and was 10-of-14 for 123 yards, four touchdowns and no picks before he came out with a sore Achilles’.
Northwestern still managed to blow a 28-17 lead heading into the fourth and gave up 21 points to the Illini during the final quarter to end up falling 38-35.
Persa is set to play against Michigan and reports are that he’s “healthy,” whatever that means.
The Wildcats are a completely different team without Persa, not to say backup quarterback Kain Colter is bad, but he doesn’t give them the experience and talent that Persa does.
Assuming Persa plays the whole game, this could be a tough one for Michigan to win – but the key word is “could.” Persa is an accurate passer and can get out of the pocket and make things happen as well. Michigan has struggled to generate consistent pressure with their front four this season, but they have shown marked improvement from week-to-week. Persa will be the first true test for this defense; he is by far the best passer they will have faced and won’t be prone to turnovers and/or bad decisions like Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees was.
However, despite Persa’s ability, he’s not 100 percent and he did aggravate his Achilles’ last week, so getting him moving around might prove to be very bad news for Northwestern. Look for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to dial up some creative blitzes to get Persa moving around and testing out that Achilles’.
Northwestern’s defense has given up 420 yards per game – 245 passing and 175 rushing. One of those games was against our friends at Army who never pass, but did manage to rack up 381 rushing yards. In two of their other three games, they gave up 325 yards on average against the pass.
Pat Fitzgerald will have his team ready to play and they won’t make many mistakes. They’ve only turned the ball over twice all season, but they will still give up chunks of yardage and Michigan has shown an incredible ability to put points on the board once they’re in the red zone.
Michigan should be able to rack up the rushing yards on a bad run defense, but since Michigan hasn’t shown a consistent ability to pass the ball, NW will probably focus on stopping Denard from running wild. But, they couldn’t stop Army’s one-dimensional attack and gave up a ton. I feel like I’ve made this comparison before, so I don’t see them shutting down Denard, Fitz Toussaint, and Vincent Smith.
Denard is not a horrible passer but he is not a great one either. I’ve actually lost a bit of confidence in his abitlity to pass as the season has worn on, although it could be just the playcalling. However, Denard seems to have gained some confidence in himself with offensive coordinator Al Borges’ creative new playcalling against Minnesota last week.
If Borges can keep calling the short-to-medium range throws, Michigan should be in good shape.
Considering that Northwestern’s number one running back is now out for the year, how well Persa plays will be the determining factor for the outcome of this game. If he plays well, this one could be a barn-burner. If he plays only average, then I don’t think they’ll be able to do enough to beat us. Again, Persa is NOT 100 percent, so that could spell trouble for the Wildcats.
If Michigan can force turnovers AND capitalize on them, they should win this game going away. If they cannot, it could be a long night for the Wolverines.
Western Michigan’s Alex Carder was supposed to pass all over this defense and so was San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley. Persa is much better than both of them, even at less than 100 percent. I think in the end Persa will play well, but Michigan will keep pace, nab a key turnover or two, and win a shootout that comes downto the end.
Michigan 38 – Northwestern 34
Matt (0): I think this game has me most concerned. Although Northwestern’s record is a mere 2-2, it is Michigan’s first away game, and Dan Persa is the real deal. However, Michigan’s defense is trying extremely hard – and has been rather successful – proving that they are the real deal as well.
I look for Denard Robinson to be Denard Robinson, running all over the field, tossing a few touchdowns, and tossing a few picks. I also look for Devin Gardner to play a little bit like he did last week, although I think Northwestern will pose more of a threat, so thinking outside of the box won’t happen as much.
Vincent Smith will continue to campaign to be Michigan’s starting running back, and the defense will force two costly turnovers, one in the red zone.
Michigan 38 – Northwestern 24
Chris (2): After a comfortable September at home, the Wolverines go on the road for the first time this season. There, they will face a Northwestern team coming off of two straight road losses against Army and rival Illinois.
The Wildcats had 16 returning starters to begin the year, but starting quarterback Dan Persa is just now coming back from an Achilles’ tendon tear which he suffered at the end of last season, and starting running back Mike Trumpy is out for the season with a torn ACL.
They won their first two games against inferior opponents Boston College and Eastern Illinois. They are averaging 28.8 points per game offensively behind an offense that has been mostly focused on the running game with Persa out. Now, with Persa in and Trumpy out, that focus may change to the pass.
Defensively, Northwestern is giving up 24.3 points per game, something that bodes well for Michigan’s high-powered, high-scoring offense. I believe that the Michigan offense has the advantage in all position categories, although the Michigan offensive line may face a slight test from the Northwestern front seven consisting of five seniors with starting and/or playing experience.
In this game, I like the fact that Northwestern has never faced Denard Robinson in person, as they did not play the Wolverines in 2009 or 2010. It’s one thing to see Robinson on film; it’s entirely another thing to go against him in person.
In this game, I like Michigan to continue with its strong offensive performance from last week and run the ball effectively. Northwestern will likely put eight men in the box to try to take away the zone-read and rely on their four senior defensive backs to play man-to-man against Michigan’s wide receivers. Despite this, I like Michigan to score enough to win this game.
On defense, this will be a tough test for Michigan. If Persa is more healthy as is being reported, Northwestern will try to spread out the Michigan defense to create good matchups. We will see just how much the Michigan secondary has improved in this game. To counter this, I expect the Michigan defense to try to put a lot of pressure on Persa. Persa is not mobile right now with that tender, repaired Achilles’ tendon, and if the defense can get him uncomfortable, it will take the pressure off the secondary and help Michigan win this game.
I expect Northwestern to come into this game upset-minded and hungry for a win. This game will likely be back-and-forth, but I expect Denard and the offense to be too much for the Northwestern defense to handle for 60 minutes.
Michigan 34 – Northwestern 24