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Posts Tagged ‘Pat Fitzgerald’

Big Ten Media Days: Word clouding the Big Ten coaches

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014


All 14 Big Ten coaches got 15 minutes apiece at the podium in front of the assembled media in the Hilton Chicago on Monday. Each delivered an opening statement and then fielded a few questions. Typically, there isn’t much news to come out of these sessions. It’s more of a time to drum up excitement about the upcoming season and tout all the things they’re excited about. Every coach has fantasies about Big Ten titles this time of year and doesn’t want to reveal too much, so to spice things up a bit we took an idea that we really liked from the SEC SB Nation blog Team Speed Kills and applied it to each of the Big Ten coaches’ speeches.

We used Wordle to spit out a word cloud for each coach based on the transcript from his 15 minutes at the podium. The bigger the word, the more often it was used, so you can get an idea of what each coach places the most emphasis on. As a Maize and Go Blue exclusive, we also scrubbed away the coach speak and translated what each coach was really saying.

Brady Hoke – Michigan

Hoke

There must be something wrong with this thing. “Tremendous” doesn’t fill the entire page. Neither does “Well…” or “Fergodsakes”. And contrary to popular belief in Columbus and East Lansing, although “think” was his most-used word today, Hoke does “think” about more than just donuts. He didn’t even mention them once in his 15 minutes. But I wouldn’t blame him if he did. There’s a great donut shop a short walk from the Hilton.

Urban Meyer – Ohio State

Urban

I THINK we’re GOING to be GOOD you GUYS. Good enough to have a grand total of zero Big Ten titles and zero bowl wins in my first two seasons. You know what else is good? This Chicago pizza. Have you guys ever had this stuff? It’s JUST so cheesy and…deep. So much better than that other stuff.

Mark Dantonio – Michigan State

Dantonio

You know, we had a GREAT season last YEAR and it was all because of that one GAME when we beat Michigan. The way THINGS are GOING, we’re number ONE in the state as far as FOOTBALL is concerned. Oh, we won the Rose Bowl? Well, we beat Michigan. Where’s the threat?

Bo Pelini – Nebraska

Pelini

I THINK my cat is enjoying himself up in the room. As soon as I’m done talking about FOOTBALL, I’m GOING to take him to see a LOT of Chicago THINGS. It will MAKE his day. You know, it’s LOOKING like he’s the secret ingredient to the TEAM’s success this season. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.

James Franklin – Penn State

Franklin

I’m REALLY EXCITED about this PROGRAM. I THINK it’s GOING to be much easier than it was in the SEC. THINGS aren’t really comparable as far as facilities are concerned, but hey, it’s an OPPORTUNITY and I can’t wait to meet Sandy Barbour woman.

Gary Andersen – Wisconsin

Andersen

I’m glad to begin my second YEAR at Wisconsin. We don’t hear much about Brigham YOUNG around here and that’s always a GOOD thing. These cheese-loving folks are about as GOOD as it GETs. You know, the Packers have that tradition where they let the KIDS give the PLAYERS bike rides, and with the YOUTH we have I THINK that’s a good POSITION to take with this TEAM.

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

Fitzgerald

I THINK it’s so GREAT that you GUYS haven’t asked about unions yet. We just want to play FOOTBALL. I’m not GOING to talk about the WAY our former QUARTERBACK tried to hurt our PROGRAM last YEAR by trying to unionize. These guys are a TEAM, not employees. LOOK, I won’t talk about it at all.

Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

Ferentz

It’s CERTAINLY a GREAT YEAR for Big Ten Media Days with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. I’ve been coming to this THING for 16 YEARS and it has gotten stale. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve GOT some GOOD coaches in this conference but I THINK Kyle and Randy have what it takes to spice things up a little bit, kind of like Greg Davis and Phil Parker did for me in Iowa City last season.

Kevin Wilson – Indiana

Wilson

Wait, we can’t JUST PLAY offense in the Big Ten? Why didn’t you GUYS tell me that three YEARs ago? My boy Rich Rod told me that’s how you succeed in this conference. I’m starting to THINK he was just pulling my chain. I had to bring in a new defensive coordinator this offseason and he’s GOING to have to get the job done. Go big or go HOME, right?

Jerry Kill – Minnesota

Kill

I’ve GOT this program trending in the right direction, getting BETTER each YEAR, and I THINK that will continue. Have you guys seen that brown jug thing? My KIDS were asking about it, but I’ve GOTTA say, I don’t think that thing actually exists. If it does, our PLAYERS are going to GET it DONE this season. Oh, who am I kidding?

Randy Edsall – Maryland

Edsall

Crabcakes and football. That’s what MARYLAND does! We’re GOING to win the BIG East…I mean ACC…I mean American Athletic Conf…wait, what conference am I in now? Big TEN! That’s right. I THINK I’m gonna need Kirk to show me around.

Tim Beckman – Illinois

Beckman

FOOTBALL! We’ve got lots of PLAYERS, man. But with Scheelhaase gone we need a new QUARTERBACK, so this offseason I set up shop in Tallahassee when I heard Famous Jameis might be in trouble. I really WANT that guy. But it didn’t work out. Anyone else have sanctions going on this YEAR?

Kyle Flood – Rutgers

Flood

This is a cute city you midwestern folks have out here. I mean, REALLY, it’s cute, but it doesn’t compare to the BIG city we have in my part of the country. Chicago has one FOOTBALL team, New York have two, and you know what: they play in Jersey, home of RUTGERS, the school that started football.

Darrell Hazell – Purdue

Hazell

Alright you GUYS. THINGS are GOING just RIGHT for us this YEAR. Have you heard about our 6-foot-8, 400-pound PLAYER? We’ve got the biggest drum and now the biggest FOOTBALL player in the conference. That should guarantee us at least two wins this year.

Somehow: Michigan 27 – Northwestern 19, 3 OT

Saturday, November 16th, 2013


(USA Today Sports)

In a driving wind and rain along the shores of Lake Michigan, a Michigan offense that struggled to move the ball with any consistency for 60 minutes suddenly came alive in overtime.In the first extra period Devin Gardner connected with freshman tight end Jake Butt for the first touchdown of the game by either team. After Northwestern responded with a touchdown of its own, and then a field goal on its next possession, Michigan answered with a field goal. In two overtime periods both teams topped their regulation point totals.

Michigan started with the ball again in the third stanza and found the end zone once again, this time on a 5-yard run by Gardner. Forced to go for two, Michigan was able to convert as Gardner ran it into the left corner. Michigan’s defense held the Wildcats and the Wolverines escaped Evanston with an ugly but much-needed victory.

Final Stats
Michigan Northwestern
Score 27 19
Record 7-3 (3-3) 4-6 (0-6)
Total Yards 337 304
Net Rushing Yards 137 141
Net Passing Yards 200 163
First Downs 26 18
Turnovers 0 1
Penalties-Yards 1-15 3-20
Punts-Yards 6-255 6-180
Time of Possession 27:20 30:22
Third Down Conversions 2-of-18 5-of-19
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 2-23 5-40
Field Goals 4-for-5 4-for-4
PATs 1-for-1 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-5 4-of-4
Full Box Score

But the game would have been over in regulation if not for a controversial play in the final seconds. Michigan was trying to drive down the field to tie or win the game, trailing 9-6. After converting two fourth downs, Gardner connected with Jeremy Gallon for 16 yards on 3rd-and-23. But Gallon was tackled in bounds. Michigan’s field goal unit sprinted onto the field. Luckily, holder Drew Dileo was already on the field on the previous play and slid into position. Kicker Brendan Gibbons didn’t mark off his steps as a kicker normally would, but instead lined himself up approximately where he should be just as the snap went to Dileo. Gibbons booted a line drive through the uprights for the improbable game-tying 44-yard field goal as time expired.

It can certainly be argued that Gibbons – and possibly others – weren’t set when the ball was snapped, but the play stood and the game went to overtime. Credit should be given to the coaching staff for having the field goal unit ready to spring onto the field with no timeouts remaining.

Michigan may not have needed the heart-stopping field goal if Hoke had kicked a field goal to tie the game at nine on the previous drive. Instead, he chose to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the Northwestern 4-yard line. Gardner was tackled for a loss of one  and Northwestern took over.

Michigan started the game on offense and looked good marching 63 yards on 12 plays, but the drive stalled in the red zone and the Wolverines had to settle for a field goal. After opening with completions of 17 yards to Gallon and 13 yards to Devin Funchess, Al Borges turned to freshman running back Derrick Green who started instead of Fitzgerald Toussaint. Green rushed for eight yards and then three to pick up the first down. After a Gardner run for eight, Green again picked up three yards and a first down. De’Veon Smith then came in and picked up seven and then five to put Michigan 1st-and-goal.

Derrick Green rushed for 79 yards on 19 carries in his first career start (MGoBlue.com)

For the remainder of the first half, Michigan was unable to move the ball. The next four drives went 28 yards, one yard, 20 yards, and eight yards and Michigan went into the locker room trailing 6-3.

The third quarter was much of the same with Michigan’s three drives going 12, 39, and 27 yards. Northwestern wasn’t much better, but was able to put together a 10-play, 77-yard drive that ended in a field goal to take a 9-3 lead.

At the beginning of the fourth, Michigan downed a punt on the Northwestern 1-yard line. The Wildcats were only able to move the ball two yards on the next three plays and had to punt it back to Michigan. But Brandon Williams’ punt into the strong wind was shanked and went out of bounds at the 11-yard line, just an 8-yard punt. Michigan was in prime position to capitalize, but the Wolverines managed just a field goal. It pulled Michigan within three at 9-6, setting up the crazy sequence of events on the final two possessions.

Michigan finished the game with 337 total yards, its best offensive performance since setting a school record against Indiana four weeks ago. After being held to negative rushing yards in back-to-back games, the Wolverines ran for 137 on 45 carries.

Gardner finished 24-of-43 for 226 yards and a touchdown. Green led all backs with 79 yards on 19 carries – an average of 4.2 yards per carry. Smith added 41 yards on nine carries, averaging 4.3. Gallon became the first Michigan receiver since Mario Manningham in 2007 to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. He caught 10 passes for 115 yards. Funchess added seven receptions for 61 yards. James Ross led the way defensively with 11 tackles and a sack.

It was anything but pretty, but it assures Michigan a winning record for the season and could give the team back some of the confidence it lost the last two weeks. The Wolverines travel to Iowa City next Saturday to face an Iowa team coming off a bye week and then host unbeaten Ohio State to close the regular season on Nov. 30.

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.

Prediction

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 (NUSports.com)

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 8

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013


1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Iowa 34-24 This Week: Saturday vs Penn State (4-2, 1-1), 8pm, ABC

Fans in the Horseshoe got an unexpected scare on Saturday when the reeling Hawkeyes forced the Buckeyes to rally in the fourth quarter to stay undefeated. Though the Ohio State defense yielded three passing touchdowns, Braxton Miller’s efficiency through the air was enough to overcome that, as the junior completed 22 of 27 passes for two touchdowns.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 56-32 This Week: Bye (11/2 at Iowa)

The Melvin Gordon show was on full display in Champaign this weekend as the running back scored three times and totaled 142 yards. James White and Corey Clement jumped in to give Wisconsin a total of six rushing touchdowns on the day and Joel Stave led a turnover-less offense to another easy victory.

3. Penn State (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at #4 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), 8pm, ABC

Following a huge quadruple-overtime win against Michigan on homecoming, Penn State had a bye week to prepare for another huge game in Columbus. If the Nittany Lions can pull another upset on Saturday night then the season will be a success regardless of the current bowl ban. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg will need to be almost perfect for Penn State to have a chance against the Buckeyes.

4. Indiana (3-4, 1-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Michigan 63-47 This Week: Bye (11/2 vs Minnesota)

No matter what happens to the Hoosiers, their offense is always explosive. After dropping 28 points on a Michigan State defense that ranks among the best in the country, Indiana walked into Ann Arbor and scored six touchdowns and 47 points in the rain. Unfortunately, the defense had a record-breaking day en route to allowing 751 yards. Indiana’s fast drives allowed the Wolverines to possess the ball for almost 40 minutes.

5. Illinois (3-3, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #25 Wisconsin 56-32 This Week: Saturday Michigan State (6-1, 3-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Despite scoring 32 points against a top-10 defense, Illinois got blown out by 24 at home on Saturday and remain winless in the conference. No matter how well Nathan Scheelhaase plays, Illinois needs to gain more than 72 yards on the ground and 2.5 yards per carry to control the clock and give their defense a chance.

6. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Michigan State 14-0 This Week: Bye (11/2 vs Ohio State)

Purdue put up its most valiant Big Ten effort on the road this weekend, holding Michigan State to 14 points. It’s impossible to win without scoring, however, and when a bad offense meets a great defense things can get ugly. The Boilermakers had just 66 yards rushing and completed only 14 passes; failing to put anything on the scoreboard.

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1. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 14-0 This Week: Saturday at Illinois (3-3, 0-2), 3:30pm, ABC

Nobody expected Michigan State to get much resistance from the lowly Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday, and despite the meager 14-point victory, there were no surprises. The Spartans had control of the game from the moment they scored their first touchdown, but concerns arose in the bigger picture. The offense failed to score a touchdown on a terrible Purdue defense, and quarterback questions continue to be a problem for Mark Dantonio heading into the most crucial part of the schedule.

2. Michigan (6-1, 2-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Indiana 63-47 This Week: Bye (11/2 at Michigan State)

Coming off a close loss in one of the toughest atmospheres in the nation, Michigan used an offensive onslaught to get back on track. Quarterback Devin Gardner broke Michigan’s total yards record with 584 and helped Jeremy Gallon set the Big Ten receiving yards record with 369. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint woke up and had his best game at Michigan, piling up 151 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan has another week off to figure out what went wrong on defense before traveling to East Lansing to take on in-state rival Michigan State.

3. Nebraska (5-1, 2-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at Minnesota (5-2, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN

Nebraska had an off week in the middle of a three-week stretch in their schedule that includes Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. The Cornhuskers have won the first two of those games handily and haven’t had much competition six games into 2013 besides losing to UCLA 41-21. Nebraska is a top-10 team in terms of points scored and boasts one of the strongest rushing attacks in the conference.

4. Iowa (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #4 Ohio State 34-24 This Week: Saturday vs Northwestern (4-3, 0-3), 12pm, BTN

Despite suffering their second straight conference loss, Iowa looked strong in Columbus and took a tie into the fourth quarter against No. 4 Ohio State. A stagnant offense got back on track after faltering against Michigan State last weekend as Iowa looks to play spoiler in a division that is likely out of reach with two losses.

5. Minnesota (5-2, 1-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 20-17 This Week: Saturday vs #24 Nebraska (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, ESPN

The Golden Gophers were the surprise talk of the Big Ten Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Chicago. Minnesota’s defense led the charge, holding Northwestern to 17 points and forcing three turnovers. James Manuel’s pick six in the third quarter helped cover up for a weak offensive effort.

6. Northwestern (4-3, 0-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 20-17 This Week: Saturday at Iowa (4-3, 1-2), 12pm, BTN

Things have spiraled out of control for Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats after entering the conference schedule with more promise than any other season in recent memory. Northwestern let Minnesota get away with 89 yards of penalties and a 4-of-13 third down conversion rate. Three losses has pushed this team way out of contention for the conference championship, and it will have to overcome the disappointment to become any kind of threat to the rest of the division in 2013.

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Big Ten power rankings: Week 5

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013


1. Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #23 Wisconsin 31-24 This Week: Saturday at #16 Northwestern (4-0), 8pm, ABC

Braxton Miller’s return to the offense was a seamless transition against Wisconsin, which allowed four touchdown passes to the junior quarterback. Urban Meyer has installed his go-for-it-all every play style of offense and Miller embraced that; launching deep balls seemingly every other play. Fortunately his wide receivers are far more athletic than Wisconsin’s secondary and this strategy paid off. Ohio State has now knocked off their only competitor in the Leaders Division and can basically coast to Indianapolis barring losses in both Chicago and Ann Arbor.

2. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #4 Ohio State 31-24 This Week: Bye (10/12 vs Northwestern)

Saturday was the best chance for the Badgers to win the Leaders Division. Now they will have to win out and get help from two Legends teams against Ohio State to have a chance at winning the conference. Wisconsin was resilient in Columbus, mounting a late run that made the final score look respectable, but their vaunted rushing attack was shut down and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis’s heroics weren’t enough to overcome it.

3. Illinois (3-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Miami Ohio 50-14 This Week: Saturday at Nebraska (3-1, 0-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Nathan Sheelhaase continued to dominate the preconference schedule Saturday, throwing as many touchdowns (five) as incomplete passes (19/24). Illinois recorded 601 yards of total offense; 289 on the ground and 312 through the air. This balanced attack makes them a scary matchup for defenses, but unfortunately the Illini will have trouble keeping Big Ten teams out of the end zone.

4. Penn State (3-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at Indiana (2-2, 0-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Though the Nittany Lions were idle in week four, their loss to Central Florida looks a little more acceptable after the Knights pushed No. 12 South Carolina to the brink on national television.  The NCAA also announced that Penn State would have some of their scholarships restored early as a sign that changes had already begun to take place within the football program.

5. Indiana (2-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Penn State (3-1, 0-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Indiana didn’t get a chance to add to their top-10 passing total last week as they joined the majority of the Big Ten in a bye week. When the Hoosiers welcome Penn State to town Saturday expect quarterback Nate Sudfeld to come out firing. Indiana will simply have to win six shootouts this season to get to a bowl game.

6. Purdue (1-4, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to N. Illinois 55-24 This Week: Bye (10/12 vs Nebraska)

If there were a way to drop Purdue to seventh in these rankings it would be a done deal. The 1-4 Boilermakers were embarrassed in West Lafayette in week five, losing to the pride of the MAC 55-24. Northern Illinois completed its nonconference domination of the Big Ten by breaking Iowa’s heart in week one and rolling Purdue on Saturday. Purdue’s schedule might not have another win on it.

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1. Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs #4 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0), 8pm, ABC

Pat Fitzgerald couldn’t have asked for a more conveniently placed bye week as he tries to figure out a way to slow down the No. 4 Buckeyes. The next two weeks will be crucial for the promising Wildcats as they face the top two teams in the Leaders Division. If Northwestern can take down Ohio State on Saturday they could move into the country’s top 10.

2. Iowa (4-1, 1-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 23-7 This Week: Saturday vs Michigan State (3-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Though it was against an unproven Minnesota team, Iowa did something that can often be difficult in the Big Ten: win a road game. Following a devastating loss to Northern Illinois to start the season, the Hawkeyes have won four straight games and completely dominated a previously undefeated Gopher team. Minnesota finished the game with just 165 total yards, 30 of them on the ground. Iowa allowed just 1.1 yards per rush and picked off Philip Nelson two times. With a top-20 defense in the country, Iowa has reestablished itself as a dangerous team in the division.

3. Michigan State (3-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at Iowa (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

The Spartans are exactly who we thought they were. Heading into the conference slate, they boast one of the top defenses in the nation at 13.3 points allowed per game and struggle with offensive inconsistency. The offensive explosion against Youngstown State was proven to be a fluke when Notre Dame held Michigan State to just 13 points in week four.

4. Michigan (4-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Minnesota (4-1, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, a win that looked so good at the time is beginning to lose some of its glamour. After two tough wins against inferior opponents, the last thing Michigan needed was for Notre Dame to drop out of the top 25, but that’s exactly what the Fighting Irish did after their home loss to No. 14 Oklahoma on Saturday. Michigan still has the highest ceiling in the Legends Division, and their tendency to play to the level of their competition gives them a chance to win any game, but consistency needs to prevail. Brady Hoke is undefeated in the Big House since taking over as the top dog in Ann Arbor, and maybe the bye week will help his team get back on track.

5. Nebraska (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Illinois (3-1, 0-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Nebraska has a chance to get their defense solidified early in Big Ten play, as their first three opponents are Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. A formidable rushing attack that has helped the Cornhuskers put up 43.3 points per game so far will allow them to control the clock and avoid turnovers. If the defense can improve (currently 75th nationally) then Nebraska could find itself back in Indianapolis this December.

6. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) – Down 4
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 23-7 This Week: Saturday at #19 Michigan (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Everyone knew the streak had to end sometime for the 4-0 Golden Gophers, but the way Iowa completely halted the Minnesota rushing attack was shocking. An offense that was averaging over 280 yards per game on the ground was held to just 30 on Saturday. Jerry Kill is probably realizing that Big Ten defenses aren’t as porous as those of San Jose State, Western Illinois, New Mexico State and UNLV. If this is a sign of things to come for Minnesota, it’s going to be a long conference season.

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Half of the conference was inactive during week five, but the teams that did play provided little in terms of surprises. Ohio State proved they’re the team to beat in the Leaders Division while Wisconsin played ugly and managed to hang around as they always do. Purdue and Minnesota established themselves as distinct underdogs with embarrassing performances and Iowa jumped back into the mix with a scary rushing attack and stingy defense.

Next week will be much more interesting as Iowa hosts Michigan State and the Buckeyes travel to Chicago.  Minnesota will be the third straight opponent that Michigan expects to blow out as the Wolverines frantically try to create an identity before entering the hostile boundaries of Happy Valley in week seven.

Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin will be the teams that determine the strength of the conference as a whole in 2013. Ohio State will be a national contender, and if two of these four teams can add themselves to the mix then it will help regain the Big Ten’s reputation as a top power conference. The Legends Division race should be fun to watch; it seems to be wide open thus far. In contrast, anyone but the Buckeyes winning in the Leaders Division would be a surprise, and their game in Ann Arbor on November 30th could be the final audition for a trip to Indianapolis or Pasadena. No matter what Michigan does in the weeks leading up to The Game, the Maize and Blue will be tough to beat in the Big House, where they haven’t lost under Head Coach Brady Hoke.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013


1. Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Florida A&M 76-0 This Week: Saturday vs #23 Wisconsin (3-1), 8pm, ABC

Does Ohio State have a quarterback controversy? Unbelievably, Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller may be in a fight for his job after Kenny Guiton’s performance Saturday against the lowly Florida A&M Rattlers. The senior threw for a school record six touchdowns on Saturday, and the Buckeyes won by a score of 76-0. This team has firmly established itself as the squad to beat in the Big Ten so far.

2. Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 41-10 This Week: Saturday at #4 Ohio State (4-0), 8pm, ABC

Wisconsin was the first team in the Big Ten to get a conference win when they throttled Purdue on Saturday. The Badgers failed to have three 100-yard rushers in this game, but made up for it by picking up a total of 388 yards on the ground. At 7.5 yards per carry, the Wisconsin rushing game allowed the offense to dominate the time of possession and run Purdue right out of Madison. Though all five touchdowns were on the ground, Joel Stave was efficient in the passing game going 12-for-19 for 183 yards. This team should be undefeated, and has the best chance to unseat the Buckeyes, and they will attempt to do so this weekend in Columbus.

3. Penn State (3-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Kent State 34-0 This Week: Bye (Sat. 10/5 at Indiana)

Christian Hackenberg finally had a bad game for Penn State, going 13-for-35 and only one touchdown. Even with the freshman’s struggles, the Nittany Lions dominated Kent State 34-0 and go into conference play boasting a strong defense and riding on the coattail of a talented freshman quarterback. Teams traveling to Happy Valley will have their work cut out for them even though Penn State can’t win the conference in 2013.

4. Illinois (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Miami OH (0-3), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Being idle during week four wasn’t the worst thing in the world for a Big Ten week this season. Illinois didn’t join the teams that struggled for the conference this week, as they used their first bye week to prepare for Miami (OH) this Saturday. The Fighting Illini are 2-1 with a loss to Washington and will ride the arm of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase this season because of a weak defense and questionable rushing attack.

5. Indiana (2-2, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Missouri 45-28 This Week: Bye (10/5 vs Penn State)

The Hoosiers got trounced by Missouri at home this week, as the defense continued to give up yards on the ground. Mizzou rushed for 280 yards and the potent Indiana offense couldn’t get on the field enough to keep the team in the game. Unfortunately for Indiana, this game revealed the perfect game plan for their defeat: run the ball and let the clock run to keep the ball away from their offense. With a sieve of a defense, Indiana stands basically no chance to win more than a few Big Ten games.

6. Purdue (1-3, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #24 Wisconsin 41-10 This Week: Saturday vs N. Illinois (3-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Fresh off a strong showing in its loss to Notre Dame, Purdue reverted to old ways on Saturday and dropped the Big Ten opener to Wisconsin. The Boilermakers gained just 180 total yards and one touchdown. Running back Rob Henry had the 22-yard touchdown run, yet still managed to finish the game with seven carries and zero total yards. Things could get even uglier for Purdue during the conference schedule following a 1-3 start. They will take on a Northern Illinois team that beat Iowa earlier in the year in their final preconference game this Saturday.

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1. Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maine 35-12 This Week: Bye (10/5 vs #4 Ohio State)

Maine gave Northwestern more than they bargained for on Saturday, as the previously-undefeated Black Bears outgained Pat Fitzgerald’s team in total yardage. Two defensive touchdowns saved the Wildcats, as Damien Proby and Dean Lowry each returned interceptions for touchdowns. Northwestern’s offense was incredibly one-dimensional as they ran the ball 49 times and threw only 17 passes while still losing the time of possession battle. This team enters Big Ten season as the highest-ranked Legends team in the polls and should be considered the favorite based solely on preconference play.

2. Minnesota (4-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat San Jose State 43-24 This Week: Saturday vs Iowa (3-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

While by no means should fans consider Minnesota a real threat to win the Legends Division, they were the second-strongest team during non-conference play, winning games by an average of 21.75 points and absolutely dominating in the running game. Minnesota’s most recent game against San Jose State was a prime example of how proficient they have been on the ground, as they gained over 350 yards on 67 attempts. If Minnesota finds semblance of a passing threat, they could be very pesky in the Big Ten.

3. Michigan (4-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat UConn 24-21 This Week: Bye (10/5 vs Minnesota)

The Maize and Blue have a very important question to answer during the next two weeks before their conference opener: who are they? The team has dropped in the polls two straight weeks after scares against Akron and Connecticut, two of the worst teams in the country. But does this really mean that Michigan can’t contend for a conference championship? So far, the Wolverines have played to the level of their competition in almost every contest, which means that although some wins may look ugly, they can’t be counted out of any game. Brady Hoke needs to find a way to help the offensive line, which not only has trouble keeping quarterback Devin Gardner protected but also can’t open up any holes for the running game. One the other side of the trenches, the defensive line will have a hard time getting into Big Ten backfields after struggling to do so against Akron and for the majority of the game in Connecticut.

4. Michigan State (3-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #22 Notre Dame 17-13 This Week: Bye (10/5 at Iowa)

Despite looking offensively inept for the first two weeks of the season, Michigan State has looked strong two weeks in a row. Last Saturday they dropped 55 points on Youngstown State and this weekend they proved that their defense is legit. In their first real contest, the Spartans held Notre Dame to 17 points and made a statement that they will be a tough opponent in the Big Ten. If this team can support the defense with even a slightly below-average offense then it could have a chance to play Ohio State in Indianapolis this December.

5. Minnesota (3-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat San Diego State 59-20 This Week: Bye (10/5 vs Illinois)

Following a tough home loss to UCLA, Nebraska bounced back to roll South Dakota State 59-20. The Cornhuskers showcased their potent balanced offense by gaining over 300 yards both on the ground and through the air. Ameer Abdullah lead the charge on Saturday, rushing for 139 yards, one touchdown and an average of over nine yards per carry.

6. Iowa (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Western Michigan 59-3 This Week: Saturday at Minnesota (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

The Hawkeyes have now won three games in a row to establish themselves before conference play. This weekend, Iowa got huge contributions from B.J. Lowery and Kevonte Martin-Manley. Lowery had two interceptions and returned them both for touchdowns while Martin-Manley returned two punts for touchdowns in under a minute! Obviously these types of contributions are unlikely to happen very often, but the past few weeks have restored confidence to a program that expects to play spoiler in the Big Ten.

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Most of the nonconference games are over in the Big Ten with the exception of a few teams that have one more remaining. It was a rough year for the conference as a whole, as only four teams remain undefeated. Wisconsin fans will argue that they should have beaten Arizona State, which is probably true, but many teams showed that their preseason rankings were far too high. Nebraska lost a tough game against UCLA at home, but it was the 38 straight points they gave up that made it look so bad. Teams like Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Iowa look weak this year and take away from the depth that the conference can usually boast, while Minnesota and Penn State remain relatively unproven.

Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin will be the teams that determine the strength of the conference as a whole in 2013. Ohio State will be a national contender, and if two of these four teams can add themselves to the mix then it will help regain the Big Ten’s reputation as a top power conference. The Legends Division race should be fun to watch; it seems to be wide open thus far. In contrast, anyone but the Buckeyes winning in the Leaders Division would be a surprise, and their game in Ann Arbor on November 30th could be the final audition for a trip to Indianapolis or Pasadena. No matter what Michigan does in the weeks leading up to The Game, the Maize and Blue will be tough to beat in the Big House, where they haven’t lost under Head Coach Brady Hoke.

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.

Overview

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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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?

Schedule
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.

Outlook

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.

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.

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

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Justin: Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Chris: Michigan 27 - Northwestern 18

Josh: Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17

Katie: Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24

Matt: Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10

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Average: Michigan 30 – Northwestern 17

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

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

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 27 – Northwestern 18

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17


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

Tyler Scott leads the Big ten with seven sacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10

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

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

The diminutive Venric Mark is always dangerous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24