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Posts Tagged ‘Pat Fitzgerald’

#18 Michigan 38 – #13 Northwestern 0: Wolverines dominate Wildcats in all three phases

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Chesson vs NW(

The coin toss was the only thing Michigan lost on Saturday, but the Wolverines turned even that into a win as Jehu Chesson returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and they never looked back. Michigan recorded its third straight shutout with a  38-0 blanking of 13th-ranked Northwestern.

Michigan scored touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams for the first time in a game since 2003 and held Northwestern’s offense to just 168 total yards while racking up 380 of their own — more than doubling the number Northwestern’s defense entered the game allowing per game.

Final Stats
Michigan Northwestern
Score 38 0
Record 5-1 (2-0) 5-1 (1-1)
Total Yards 380 168
Net Rushing Yards 201 38
Net Passing Yards 179 130
First Downs 21 13
Turnovers 0 1
Penalties-Yards 3-28 5-39
Punts-Yards 5-190 8-280
Time of Possession 37:05 22:55
Third Down Conversions 7-of-14 2-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-23 3-4
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-1
PATs 5-for-5 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Jake Rudock had perhaps his best game of the season, completing 17 of 23 passes for 179 yards, and most importantly, no turnovers. The running game was done so by committee as De’Veon Smith led the way with 59 yards on eight carries, Derrick Green 47 yards on 12 carries, and five others rushed for at least 11 yards as Michigan racked up 201 yards on the ground.

Michigan’s defense held the Big Ten’s third leading rusher, Justin Jackson, to just 25 yards on 12 carries, and Jourdan Lewis padded his claim as one of the nation’s best defensive backs with a 37-yard interception return for touchdown. When all was said and done Michigan scored more points than Northwestern had allowed in the previous five games combined to set up a highly anticipated matchup with in-state rival Michigan State next Saturday.

After Chesson’s touchdown, Northwestern’s offense went three and out and Michigan drove 59 yards on seven plays to take a quick 14-0 lead. On the drive, Smith had an 18-yard rush and Jake Butt a 32-yard reception setting up a Drake Johnson 1-yard touchdown run.

Trying to get back in the game, Northwestern drove 50 yards to the Michigan 25, but Jack Mitchell missed a 42-yard field goal. Michigan responded with a six play 75-yard touchdown drive that featured a 34-yard Joe Kerridge run and a 27-yard pass to Chesson. Rudock scored from two yards out to put Michigan ahead 21-0 with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter.

Michigan piled it on near the end of the first half when Lewis intercepted Clayton Thorson’s 3rd-and-9 pass near the Northwestern sideline and raced 37 yards for the score. Michigan tacked on a 47-yard Kenny Allen field goal on its first possession of the second half and then Derrick Green capped off a 12 play, 66-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with two minutes left.

Game Ball – Offense 

Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
For the first time this season the game ball goes to an entire position group and it’s the big uglies who were impressive all day against one of the nation’s best defenses. From the game’s start, Michigan’s offensive line generated great push against a very good Northwestern defensive front. While no individual running back went off, it was a team effort as nine different players had at least two carries, and five backs and Rudock had at least 11 rushing yards. Michigan totaled 201 rushing yards as a team, 84 more than Northwestern’s defense averages per game, and 4.4 yards per carry against a defense that gave up just 3.7 yards per rush in the first five games. Sure, Northwestern sacked Rudock three times, but it didn’t matter as the damage was done.

Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)

Game Ball – Defense

Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
Willie Henry (2 sacks) and Jabrill Peppers (5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 PBU) could have easily gotten today’s game ball, but Lewis gets the nod for his lockdown coverage and 37-yard interception return for touchdown. Northwestern tried throwing at him with little result and he got the better of Thorson when he picked off the 3rd-and-9 pass and raced 37 yards up the sideline to put Michigan ahead 28-0 in the first half. Lewis has been fantastic all season, but will have his toughest test yet when Michigan State comes to town next week.

Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)

Final Individual Stats
Passing Comp-Att Yds Avg. TD INT Long Sack
Jake Rudock 17-23 179 7.8 0 0 32 3
Clayton Thorson 13-27 106 3.9 0 1 20 2
Matt Alviti 1-3 12 4.0 0 0 12 1
Zack Oliver 1-3 12 4.0 0 0 12 1
Rushing Car. Yards Avg. TD Long
De’Veon Smith 8 59 7.4 0 19
Derrick Green 12 47 3.9 1 10
Joe Kerridge 2 35 17.5 0 34
Justin Jackson 12 25 2.1 0 15
Karan Higdon 8 16 2.0 0 9
Sione Houma 3 13 4.3 0 5
Ty Isaac 2 13 6.5 0 7
Solomon Vault 3 12 4.0 0 15
Jake Rudock (QB) 6 11 1.8 1 13
Jelani Roberts (WR) 1 11 11.0 0 11
Jehu Chesson (WR) 2 6 3.0 0 12
Warren Long 1 6 6.0 0 6
Drake Johnson 2 3 1.5 1 2
Matt Alviti (QB) 3 -2 -0.7 0 5
Clayton Thorson (QB) 3 -4 -1.3 0 3
Zack Oliver (QB) 1 -9 -9.0 0 -9
Receiving Rec Yds Avg. TD Long
A.J. Williams 4 48 12.0 0 16
Jake Butt 3 40
13.3 0 32
Austin Carr 2 39 19.5 0 20
Jehu Chesson 2 26 13.0 0 27
Drake Harris 2 25 12.5 0 13
Cameron Dickerson 2 22 11.0 0 12
Christian Jones 2 22 11.0 0 12
De’Veon Smith (RB) 3 19 6.3 0 10
Amara Darboh 2 11 5.5 0 8
Dan Vitale 1 11 11.0 0 11
Mo Ways 1 10 10.0 0 10
Miles Shuler 1 9 9.0 0 9
Justin Jackson (RB) 1 3 3.0 0 3
Mike McHugh 2 0 0.0 0 2
Clayton Thorson (QB) 1 0 0.0 0 0
Kicking FG Pct Long XP Pts
Kenny Allen 1/1 100.0 47 5/5 8
Jack Mitchell 0/1 0.0 0 0/0 0
Punting No Yds Avg TB In 20 Long
Blake O’Neill 5 190 28.0 2 3 59
Hunter Niswander 8 280 35.0 0 2 47
Kick Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jehu Chesson 1 96 96.0 96 1
Solomon Vault 2 39 19.5 22 0
Jelani Roberts 1 19 19.0 19 0
Marcus McShepard 1 17 17.0 17 0
Punt Returns No Yds Avg Long TD

M&GB staff predictions: Northwestern

Friday, October 9th, 2015


Pat Fitzgerald

Michigan hasn’t allowed a touchdown in more than two games and one of the Big Ten’s worst offenses comes to town tomorrow. Unfortunately, so does one of the best defenses. So what will give? Here are our predictions.

Last season’s low-scoring affair was a product of decent defenses, but mostly just bad offenses and it was tough to watch for fans of either side. Tomorrow’s matchup will also be low-scoring, but that’s because it will be a battle of defensive titans that rank first and second nationally in scoring defense and both in the top five in total defense.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Northwestern
Justin 17 6
Derick 20 13
Sam 17 7
Josh 24 10
Joe 17 7
M&GB Average 19 9

What separates these defenses is that Michigan has held two straight Power 5 opponents to just 105 total yards each in the past two weeks, while Northwestern gave up 359 yards of offense to Ball State. While Michigan’s defense is equally good in both phases, Northwestern is great against the pass, but vulnerable to the run, and that’s where Michigan’s offense excels. No one knows at this point whether or not De’Veon Smith will play, but if he does, expect him to split carries with Drake Johnson to give the offense a nice one-two punch of Smith’s hard-nosed power running and Johnson’s vision and burst. Expect Jim Harbaugh’s offense to allow Jake Rudock to take what the defense gives him with underneath passes all day long and not take many chances against Northwestern’s strong secondary.

Defensively, Michigan will focus on stopping Jackson just as it has done to running backs all season. Thorson completes just 56 percent of his passes and has thrown for 105, 152, 70, 256, and 128 yards in Northwestern’s five games. The 256 was against Ball State’s weak defense and the 152 was against FCS school Eastern Illinois, which means against Power 5 competition, he hasn’t thrown for more than 128 yards in a game. Don’t expect that to change tomorrow.

A low-scoring game is guaranteed with neither offense able to have much success. But Michigan will be able to sustain longer drives and pull out the win.

Michigan 17 – Northwestern 6

Everyone is expecting a low-scoring battle between the top two defensive teams in the nation, and I’m not different.
Michigan’s elite front seven is complemented with a lock-down secondary and should have little trouble with Northwestern’s average offense. But on the other hand, Jake Rudock and the offense are still learning and trying to form an identity. If Rudock takes care of the ball, the Wolverine defense will make a few plays and put the rushing attack in position to score enough points.

If Michigan coughs up the ball three times, the Wildcats will probably walk away from Ann Arbor with a perfect 6-0 record. But I think De’Veon Smith and Amara Darboh will make enough plays to escape with a victory.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 13

Last year, the Michigan/Northwestern game was nothing more than an embarrassing pile of ineptitude that devolved into the notorious “M00N” game. This year, while N00M might be in play, it will be for different reasons, as both defenses are coming off impressive shutouts and appear to be the legitimate class of the conference in that regard. Neither offense has caught fire yet, but I like Michigan’s defense a little more versus Northwestern’s inexperienced offense than vice versa. The Wolverines will put up just enough points to keep the win streak rolling. Give me Michigan by 10.

Michigan 17 – Northwestern 7

The M00N game will now become N00M, at least to start off anyway. I expect this to be a lower scoring game, not as low as last year but it won’t be a shootout by any stretch of the imagination.

From what I can glean off the internet and in limited viewings of Northwestern they are a spread to run team that seems to go to empty sets on 3rd downs (again, this is just what I’ve gathered from other blogs and very limited actual game viewings so I could be way off). They have a decent RB but he isn’t a bruiser so don’t expect any De’Veon Smith type running but he does have some speed and wiggle so look for Michigan to keep him from getting to the outside, especially on RJS’s side (if our D has a weak link it’s gonna be the BUCK spot until someone can prove their worth, until then expect teams to test that side of the field).

They have a RS Frosh QB who’s stats are pretty decent but they are probably misleading as he’s not asked to do much other than dump it off, or so it seems anyway. I don’t think they’ll be able to pound the rock all day against a stout Michigan front so they’ll have to be creative and might take some downfield shots. Unlike in years past I am not too worried about our DB’s getting beat deep all that often so IF the Wildcats manage to hit one deep I doubt they’ll replicate that magic again.

However, I do expect that the quick read offense will help them get some quick, short yardage on numerous occasion as they try to negate the beast that is the Michigan defensive line. While his offense is not scary in the slightest and I don’t think they’ll be able to put up more than 10-13 points, they do have a ‘secret’ weapon in SuperBack (H-back/FB/TE) Dan Vitale and he can move, as well as block. Michigan will need to keep him check as he’s one of those ‘too fast for a LB and too big for a DB’ types, but hey Jabrill Peppers is basically a hybrid SS/LB and dude will hit you, so maybe we don’t worry about Vitale, too much.

Michigan’s offense, while not as exciting as many of us would like, is still hands down better than Northwestern’s so I expect the Wolverines to put up at least 20 points with a good mix of what we’ve grown accustomed to; Smith and Johnson pounding it up the middle (sidenote: I don’t think we see much of Ty Isaac, if any, after his double fumble week against Maryland) and I think this week is the week of Butt. Hm, that sounded weird but whatever. After having been somewhat absent from the offense after a hot, hot start I think the coaches will have more than a handful of plays for Jake Butt and hopefully that will open up the deep ball for Chesson and Rudock. Each week they attempt one or two downfield, so if Northwestern stacks the box to stop our bruising rushing attack this would be an ideal time to FINALLY connect on a deep bomb.

This will be an epic battle til the end between two excellent defenses and two less than stellar offenses. I think the final score won’t be as close as the game was though. In the end the Michigan offense gives them enough and the D holds the NW offense in check. Michigan pulls away in the end and we all look forward to Sparty.

Michigan 24 – Northwestern 10

We are finally getting to the “meat” of the schedule (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Michigan is rolling along and improving each and every week. The defense has quickly become one of the best in the country and will go head to head with another top ranked defense. This should be an old fashioned battle that will be fun to watch.

The stars will need to shine in this one to pull out the big W. Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers will be huge on the back end as they make life difficult for the redshirt freshman quarterback, Clayton Thorson. They have been getting better each week and will continue to dominate. I don’t see them giving up much more than a touchdown in this one.

The offense will need to be careful and control the clock. Jake Rudock has been careful with the ball and should continue to hand the ball off to whomever is in the backfield. Keep the chains moving by using the tight ends and Amara Darboh when it’s available. We can rule out the long ball as that has been nonexistent due to his accuracy issues. Just don’t turn the ball over on offense and make life difficult on the freshman quarterback and we go to 5-1.

Michigan 17 – Northwestern 7

#18 Michigan vs #13 Northwestern game preview

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Game Preview_Northwestern_banner

After last season’s 10-9 snoozefest in Evanston, the thought of a highly anticipated top-20 matchup between Michigan and Northwestern less than a year later was far from most peoples’ minds. And for good reason. Both teams’ 2014 seasons ended with 5-7 records just three weeks after that meeting.

But as one of Week 6’s most anticipated matchups approaches — one of only two games naturally featuring two ranked teams — both Michigan and Northwestern are poised to make a major move toward the Big Ten title.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – BTN
Northwestern Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (10th season)
Coaching Record: 65-53 overall, 31-42 Big Ten (all at NU)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCall (8th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz (8th season)
Returning 2014 Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 5-7 (3-5)
Last Meeting: UM 10 – NU 9 (2014)
All-Time Series: UM leads 56-15-2
Record in Ann Arbor: 34-6-2
Record in Michigan Stadium: 34-6-2
Jim Harbaugh vs Northwestern: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2014 (10-9)
Last Northwestern win: 2008 (21-14)
Current Streak: Michigan 4
Michigan on Homecoming: 88-28-2

At 5-0 and 1-0 in the conference, Northwestern is ranked as high as it has been since 2000, following a wild, 54-51 win over Michigan. The Wildcats shared the Big Ten title with Michigan and Purdue that season and haven’t won it since. Another win over Michigan would make Northwestern the favorite to win the Big Ten West.

Like Michigan, they have a quality win so far this season. In the opener, Northwestern shut down 21st-ranked Stanford for a 16-6 win, holding the Cardinal to just 240 yards of offense and 85 rushing yards. Since then, Stanford is 4-0, averaging 42 points and 506 total yards per game. Northwestern also has a 19-10 win over Duke in Durham and a 27-0 throttling of Minnesota last week. Despite that impressive resume, there is one game of concern, a narrow win over Ball State. The Cardinals gained 359 yards of offense — 181 on the ground — in the Week 4 near-upset.

Michigan holds a 56-15-2 all-time advantage over Northwestern, but the last three meetings were about as close as they could get. In 2012, Michigan trailed by three in the closing seconds, but Devin Gardner completed a Hail Mary to Roy Roundtree, setting up the game-tying field goal. Michigan won in overtime, 38-31. In 2013, Northwestern held a 9-6 lead late in the game, but Michigan pulled off an improbable last-second field goal to tie it. The Wolverines then won in triple overtime, 27-19. Then last year, Michigan carried a 7-0 lead into the fourth quarter before Northwestern kicked a field goal with 7:26 remaining. Michigan responded with a field goal of its own to take a 10-3 lead, but Northwestern scored with three seconds remaining. Instead of going to overtime for the third straight year, Pat Fitzgerald elected to go for two, but Michigan’s defense held strong and broke Northwestern’s heart once again.

Three years of frustration at the hands of Michigan could be redeemed with a win in the Big House tomorrow, vaulting the Wildcats into the top 10. Or Michigan could break their hearts again and make their own jump toward the top 10. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

When Northwestern has the ball

Like Michigan, offense isn’t what has carried Northwestern to a fast start this season. The Wildcats rank 79th nationally and ninth in the Big Ten in total offense (391 yards per game), 14th and first in rushing (248.8 yards per game), 118th and last in passing (142.2 yards per game), 99th and 10th in pass efficiency (114.85), and 89th and 11th in scoring (25.4 points per game).

The main source of offense has been sophomore running back Justin Jackson. His 636 rushing yards rank third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (729) and Indiana’s Jordan Howard (709). Jackson is averaging 127.2 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry on 138 carries. By comparison, De’Veon Smith has just 69 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Jackson has eclipsed 100 yards in four of five games this season, but has just one touchdown.

Junior Warren Long and sophomore Solomon Vault are the backups with about six or seven carries apiece per game. Long is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has two touchdowns, while Vault averages 4.0.

The second leading runner in terms of both yards and carries is quarterback Clayton Thorson. The redshirt freshman from Wheaton, Ill. has 200 yards on 41 carries and leads the team with four rushing touchdowns. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he’s not the traditional mobile quarterback, but he’s mobile enough to pick up yards when needed. He was the sixth-best dual threat quarterback in the class of 2014. Passing-wise, he stands in the bottom third of the conference with 711 yards, four touchdowns, and a 56.6 percent completion percentage. He has eclipsed 150 yards passing in just two of five games this season — one of which was 152 yards — and was held to 9-of-23 for 70 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions by Duke.

The leading receiver is senior super back Dan Vitale, who played for Thorson’s rival high school, Wheaton-Warrenville South. He has 15 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns this season, but most of that production came against Ball State when he caught five passes for 108 yards and both scores. Fellow senior Christian Jones is the only other player with double-digit receptions, with 14 catches for 157 yards but has yet to find the end zone, while junior Austin Carr is a big play threat with 100 yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions. No other receiver has a touchdown or more than 54 yards.

The offensive line has a good amount of experience. Left tackle Geoff Mogus has 27 career starts, and although he missed the Minnesota game with an injury, he’s expected to start tomorrow. Left guard is the main question mark between senior Matt Frazier, who started against Minnesota, and junior Connor Mahoney, who started against Eastern Illinois and Ball State. Frazier is certainly the more experienced with 18 career starts. Junior Ian Park is the center with 13 career starts, while senior right guard Shane Mertz is a new starter this season and junior right tackle Eric Olson has 14 career starts.

When Michigan has the ball

Defense is what Northwestern has made its calling card this season, matching comparably with Michigan in most categories. The Wildcats rank fifth nationally and second in the Big Ten in total defense (247.4 yards allowed per game), 26th and fifth against the run (117.4 yards allowed per game), seventh and second against the pass (130 yards allowed per game), third and second in pass defense efficiency (83.35), and first and first in scoring defense (seven points per game).

Northwestern has a good set of defensive ends in senior Dean Lowry, senior Deonte Gibson, and junior Ifeadi Odenigbo. Lowry leads the defensive line with 4.5 tackles for loss to go along with half a sack. Gibson and Odenigbo lead the team with 2.5 sacks apiece. The interior of the line consists of senior C.J. Robbins and sophomore Tyler Lancaster. Lancaster ranks third on the team with 3.5 tackles for loss and also has a half a sack.

The linebacking corps is led by rising star sophomore middle linebacker Anthony Walker, who has 44 tackles, 8.5 for loss, a half a sack, and two fumble recoveries. His 8.5 tackles for loss ranks third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin’s Joe Schubert and Penn State’s Carl Nassib. Junior Jaylen Prater is a first-year starter at the weak side and has 23 tackles, while senior SAM linebacker, Drew Smith, who started seven games last season, also has 23 tackles in addition to two fumble recoveries.

The secondary is one of the nation’s best with a ton of experience between corners Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris as well as safeties Traveon Henry and Godwin Igwebuike. VanHoose is a fifth-year senior who was an All-Big Ten second team selection by the media a year ago. He has 37 career starts and has nine tackles and five pass breakups so far this season. Harris, a junior, started all 12 games last season and leads the team with three interceptions and six pass breakups this season. Henry, a senior, started 10 games in each of the last two seasons and ranks second on the team with 29 tackles in addition to three for loss and one sack. Sophomore safety Igwebuike started five games as a redshirt freshman a year ago and has 27 tackles and three pass breakups so far in 2015.

The other third

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell has made 10 of 13 field goal attempts with a long of 49. Last season, he made 14 of 18, so he’s solid. Sophomore punter Hunter Niswander, however, ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten with a 38.9-yard punt average. Vault handles the kick return duties and has done so very well so far, averaging 31.6 yards per return, which ranks 14th nationally. He had a 98-yard touchdown return against Duke in Week 3. Senior receiver Miles Shuler is the punt returner with an average of 18.5 yards per return.


Last season’s low-scoring affair was a product of decent defenses, but mostly just bad offenses and it was tough to watch for fans of either side. Tomorrow’s matchup will also be low-scoring, but that’s because it will be a battle of defensive titans that rank first and second nationally in scoring defense and both in the top five in total defense.

What separates these defenses is that Michigan has held two straight Power 5 opponents to just 105 total yards each in the past two weeks, while Northwestern gave up 359 yards of offense to Ball State. While Michigan’s defense is equally good in both phases, Northwestern is great against the pass, but vulnerable to the run, and that’s where Michigan’s offense excels. No one knows at this point whether or not De’Veon Smith will play, but if he does, expect him to split carries with Drake Johnson to give the offense a nice one-two punch of Smith’s hard-nosed power running and Johnson’s vision and burst. Expect Jim Harbaugh’s offense to allow Jake Rudock to take what the defense gives him with underneath passes all day long and not take many chances against Northwestern’s strong secondary.

Defensively, Michigan will focus on stopping Jackson just as it has done to running backs all season. Thorson completes just 56 percent of his passes and has thrown for 105, 152, 70, 256, and 128 yards in Northwestern’s five games. The 256 was against Ball State’s weak defense and the 152 was against FCS school Eastern Illinois, which means against Power 5 competition, he hasn’t thrown for more than 128 yards in a game. Don’t expect that to change tomorrow.

A low-scoring game is guaranteed with neither offense able to have much success. But Michigan will be able to sustain longer drives and pull out the win.

Michigan 17 – Northwestern 6

Five Spot Challenge: Northwestern

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015


Congratulations to brad6923 for winning Week 5 of the Five Spot Challenge. His deviation of 109.6 beat gvanneste by 20 points. He was third closest to Michigan’s third down percentage (29.4 percent), 15.6 away; second closest to Maryland’s second half yards (37), 13 away; and tied for third closest to Michigan’s total rushing yards (198), two away.

Myrick55 correctly predicted Michigan’s rushing yards, while Sustersueblue was just one away and bigboyblue,, dtenpin22, and brad6923 were each two away. Gdub18‘s prediction of 25 yards was just one away from the yardage gained on Michigan’s first possession. Week 3 winner, Freezer566, was the closest to Michigan’s third down percentage, just 10.8 away, while ericcarbs was just one away from Maryland’s second half yards. DBenney09 was the closest — 12 away — to Will Likely’s total return yardage.

For the second time this season a contestant correctly predicted the final score, and for the second time it was the winner, so it didn’t even help. Brad6923 picked Michigan to win 28-0. Seven contestants predicted Michigan to score 28 points, and gvanneste was close with his 28-3 prediction. The 30 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 33 – Northwestern 8.

The weekly results have been updated.

This week, Michigan hosts Northwestern for what is sure to be a defensive battle. Michigan and Northwestern are the top two defenses in the nation through five weeks and both feature below average offenses. Here are this week’s picks.

First Look: Northwestern

Monday, October 5th, 2015


After last season’s “M00N” game between Michigan and Northwestern — which may have been the worst game of the season to watch as a fan of either team — and both teams’ 5-7 finishes, most didn’t expect such a hyped-up meeting this season. But that’s where we find ourselves five weeks into 2015 as Northwestern stands 5-0, ranked 13th nationally, and Michigan is 4-1, ranked 18th. It’s one of just two games across the country featuring two ranked teams — Utah versus Cal is the other — and the winner gets to make a case for being a major Big Ten title contender. Let’s take a first look at how the two teams compare.

Northwestern Team Stats & Michigan Comparison
Northwestern | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 25.4 | 27.8 89 | 74
7.0 7.6 1 | 2
Rushing Yards 1,244 1,007 587 357
Rush Avg. Per Game 248.8 | 201.4 14 | 35
117.4 | 71.4 26 | 5
Avg. Per Rush 4.4 | 4.9
3.7 | 2.3
Passing Yards 711 956 650 563
Pass Avg. Per Game 142.2 | 191.2 118 | 96 130.0 | 112.6 7 | 3
Total Offense 1,955 1,963 1,237 | 920
Total Off Avg. Per Game 391.0 | 392.6 79 | 77 247.4 | 184.0 5 | 2
Kick Return Average 31.6 | 24.8 3 32 18.7 | 17.8 32 | 19
Punt Return Average 12.0 | 8.7 38 | 62 -1.6 | 7.5 2 | T63
Avg. Time of Possession 33:43 | 34:20 11 | 6
26:17 | 25:40
3rd Down Conversion Pct 49.0% | 42.0% 10 | T46
20.0% | 19.0% 2 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-24 | 5-43
T13 | T17
9-51 | 11-83
T71 | T45
Touchdowns Scored 14 17
3 | 5
Field Goals-Attempts 10-13 | 6-8
5-7 | 1-3
Red Zone Scores (14-17) 82.3%|(16-17) 94% 74 | 12
(6-10) 60%|(5-6) 83% T6 | T71
Red Zone Touchdowns (5-17) 29.4%|(12-17) 71% (1-10) 10%|(4-6) 66.7%

Michigan and Northwestern are nearly identical statistically so far this season with great defenses and average offenses. Michigan’s offense averages 2.4 more points and 1.6 more total yards per game than the Wildcats, but Northwestern has a seven percent better third down conversion rate. Northwestern gains more of its yards on the ground (47.4 more per game) but Michigan averages 49 more passing yards per game. One area in which Michigan has excelled is putting the ball in the end zone when it’s in the red zone. Michigan has punched it in 12 of 17 times, while Northwestern has done so just five of 17 times. Against good defenses, that might make the difference.

Defensively, Northwester and Michigan are No. 1 and 2 nationally in points allowed per game, with the Wildcats allowing 0.6 points fewer. But Michigan’s defense ranks second nationally in total defense, allowing 63.4 fewer yards per game, and Northwestern’s defense is just 26th nationally against the run, allowing 46 more rushing yards per game than Michigan’s defense does. The two are also the top two defenses in the country in stopping third downs with Michigan allowing just 19 percent conversions and Northwestern 20 percent.

Michigan-Northwestern starters comparison_Offense

While Jake Rudock hasn’t produced much this season, Clayton Thorson has done even less with his arm, throwing for 245 fewer yards. But he’s also thrown for half as many interceptions as Rudock. Northwestern has a workhorse at running back in Justin Jackson, who has nearly doubled De’Veon Smith’s rushing yards — although Smith missed the last game due to injury — but the Wildcats also have three other ball carriers with at least 137 rushing yards. Only Smith and Ty Isaac have that many for the Wolverines. At receiver, Michigan has the advantage, especially with Jake Butt, and on the offensive line, Michigan has a 98 to 61 advantage in career starts.

Michigan-Northwestern starters comparison_Defense

Both teams have great defenses, but Michigan’s defensive production seems to be spread out among more contributors, while Northwestern’s is a bit more centralized to its starters. Almost across the board, Northwestern’s starters have more tackles than their Michigan counterparts, but as a team, Michigan has recorded 40 tackles for loss to Northwestern’s 31 and 11 sacks to Northwestern’s nine. Michigan suffered a huge loss on Saturday when defensive end Mario Ojemudia went down with an Achilles injury, leaving Royce Jenkins-Stone big shoes to fill.

Overall, it’s about an even a matchup as one can find, at least on paper. Michigan opened as a 12-point favorite according to Las Vegas, but that number is sure to come down as Saturday approaches. Stay tuned for more coverage throughout the week.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Power Rankings_header

The non-conference season is finally (mostly) over. Besides a game each for Penn State and Rutgers, which both have matchups left against Army, the rest of the season will pit Big Ten against Big Ten as the road to Indianapolis officially begins.

So where does the Big Ten rank, now that the judgement period has come and gone? As a conference, the Big Ten finished just 7-8 against other power five teams, losing two of three to the Big 12, splitting 3-3 with the ACC, beating the Pac-12 3-2 and falling in the only Big Ten-SEC battle.

But the difference in the conference this season is the strength of a middle class that’s lagged behind the rest of the country in recent seasons. Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin still bear the flag for the Big Ten, but now they have company on the national stage. Five Big Ten teams went a perfect 4-0 through the non-conference schedule and two of the one-loss teams are ranked in the top 25. It looks like as many as six teams have a chance to win nine games this season.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders are still very, very bad. Purdue managed just one win in the non-conference season after losing to Marshall and Bowling Green and getting bombed at home by Virginia Tech. Maryland has been an embarrassment, falling to Bowling Green and West Virginia by a combined 60 points. Illinois and Rutgers are a combined 5-2 in the non-conference, but neither team played anyone better than Washington State.

The East Division certainly emerged as the stronger half of the Big Ten, despite the presence of Maryland and Rutgers in the cellar. Ohio State and Michigan State hold the top spots in the national rankings and Michigan has morphed into a potential threat under Jim Harbaugh. East teams finished 5-3 against power five teams and 22-6 overall during the non-conference schedule, while the West went just 2-5 against power five teams and 20-8 overall.

In the national landscape, the Big Ten is right there with the Pac-12 and the SEC for top conference in the FBS. The preseason rankings gave the SEC an unearned head start, but that couldn’t save pretenders like Auburn and Arkansas from quickly falling out of contention. Teams like South Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee aren’t where they were expected to be. Without that depth below juggernauts like Alabama and LSU, the SEC’s rein atop college football is vulnerable.

The PAC-12 is headed in the other direction. UCLA and Utah are legitimate top 10 teams, which helps lessen the blow of Oregon’s fall from grace. If Stanford, USC and Arizona can bounce back from early losses, the conference might be the deepest in the nation.

But over the next eight weeks, each conference will turn its attention inward as the battle for conference championships begins. Here’s how the Big Ten stacks up heading into conference play.

East Division
1. Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat W. Michigan 38-12 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Surprise! Ohio State regained the top spot this week with an easy victory over Western Michigan. The 38-12 win was less important to the Buckeyes than Cardale Jones’ bounce back from a two-interception effort against Northern Illinois. Jones threw for 288 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on Saturday to solidify his grip on the starting job. The Broncos couldn’t handle Ezekiel Elliott either, watching him run for 124 yards on just 16 carries. Ohio State gained over 500 yards of offense, but interceptions are still a problem. OSU has thrown the 10th-most picks in college football through Week 4, a surprising number from a team expected to field two All-Big Ten quality quarterbacks. The Buckeyes have an insanely easy path to Indy, with no tough games on the schedule until Nov. 21. But teams like Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois hung around against the Buckeyes, so the top team in the country is certainly beatable.

2. Michigan State (4-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat C. Michigan 30-10 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (1-3), 12pm, ESPN2

The Spartans didn’t fall from the top of the East because of Oregon’s performance; they fell because they struggled to close out another MAC foe. Central Michigan trailed by only a touchdown midway through the 4th quarter before a pair of late Spartan touchdowns sealed the deal. Michigan State struggled to put Western Michigan, Oregon and Central Michigan away during the non-conference season, despite the combined 4-8 record of those opponents. Unfortunately, Oregon’s rapid demise erased the only quality win on MSU’s resume, sapping the luster from its non-conference resume. Connor Cook was solid again in the 30-10 victory Saturday, completing 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Madre London continued to impress, averaging 4.9 yards on 15 carries. Defensively, Michigan state allowed CMU to complete 26 of 39 passes and gain 340 total yards. The Spartans have allowed 396 yards per game and rank just 77th in the country in total defense.

3. Michigan (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat BYU 31-0 This Week: Sat at Maryland (2-2), 8pm, BTN

Don’t look now, but there’s a buzz coming from Ann Arbor. Michigan was the Big Ten’s biggest winner on Saturday, crushing then –No. 22 BYU, 31-0, in the Big House. Jake Rudock led the show on offense, throwing for 194 yards, rushing for 33 more and scoring three total touchdowns. What caused his sudden turnaround? The offensive line. Rudock had more time than he knew what to do with on Saturday and even had time to scramble for positive yards after going through his progressions. Tim Drevno has turned the line into a strength and everybody on the offense – especially De’Veon Smith – is benefiting. Smith turned in his second 100-yard game Saturday, rumbling his way to 125 yards on 16 carries. Smith’s best run came in the second quarter, when he disappeared into the pile only to reappear, spin out of a tackle and dash into the end zone 60 yards later. Amara Darboh was the other offensive hero, making an Odell Beckham-like grab to set up Michigan’s first touchdown and finishing with four catches, 57 yards and a touchdown.

The Wolverines’ defense was even better, holding BYU to 105 yards and picking up that elusive first shutout. Players were frustrated last week when UNLV scored in the 4th quarter to end a shutout bid, but this week they finished the job against a much better offense. Tanner Mangum passed for only 55 yards, while the team’s leading rusher, Adam Hine, got only eight carries for 33 yards. Harbaugh insists the team is still a work in progress, but the improvement since Week 1 has been incredible. If this defense keeps it up, and Rudock takes care of the football, Michigan will have something to say in the East race.

4. Indiana (4-0, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Wake Forest 31-24 This Week: Sat vs #1 OSU (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

In the first three weeks of the season, Indiana knocked off an FCS school and a pair of Conference USA schools by an average of six points to jump out to a fluky 3-0 start. The Hoosiers finally picked up a solid victory Saturday when they went to Wake Forest and earned a road win over a power five team. Jordan Howard put the Indiana offense on his back, running for 168 yards and a score on 33 carries. Nate Sudfeld was steady in the passing game, passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. In the upset of the week, Indiana’s defense held a team under 400 yards, allowing Wake Forest to rush for only 99 on the ground. The Hoosiers are undefeated to begin conference play, but don’t expect that to last long. The defense allows 499 yards per game, which ranks 117th in the nation. That’ll never hold up against a schedule with offenses like Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa on the horizon.

5. Penn State (3-1, 1-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat SDSU 37-21 This Week: Sat vs Army (1-3), 12pm, ESPNU

Christian Hackenberg played his best game since freshman year Saturday when he completed 60 percent of his passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Penn State’s offense, which scored just 21.67 points per game over the first three weeks, exploded for 37 points as the Nittany Lions rolled over San Diego State. Penn State dominated on both sides of the ball, outgaining SDSU 400-242 and recovering three fumbles. Is Penn State a contender or a pretender in the East this season? After an embarrassing loss at Temple to start the year, James Franklin’s team bounced back with three fairly easy wins. The defense, which allowed the second fewest yards per game in the FBS last season, will pace the Nittany Lions as Hackenberg and the offense battle to keep up. If freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who’s already rushed for 373 yards on 42 carries (8.9 yards per carry), can take the reins of the offense away from the passing game, Penn State will be a tough team to play.

6. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Kansas 27-14 This Week: Bye (10/10 vs #2 MSU)

Do I have to rank the last two teams? Yes? Fine, I’ll go with Rutgers at No. 6. The Scarlett Knights are an embarrassment off the field, but they did manage to beat one of the worst power five teams in the country Saturday. Josh Hicks ran all over the Kansas defense, picking up 113 yards and two touchdowns. Rutgers gained over 500 yards of total offense despite turning the ball over three times to the Jayhawks. Kyle Flood’s team already got blown out in their Big Ten opener in Week 3 and probably won’t be favored to win a game until it hosts Maryland in the final game of the season.

7. Maryland (2-2, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to W. Virginia 6-45 This Week: Sat vs Michigan (3-1), 8pm, BTN

If you thought Michigan’s shutout win over BYU was a massacre, just wait until you hear about Maryland’s trip to West Virginia. Week 4 was a total disaster for the Terrapins. A painful, turnover-riddled disaster that, of course, ended with Maryland failing to convert a two-point conversion that would have pulled it within 37. Yes, it was as ugly as it sounds. West Virginia scored touchdowns on its first three drives, none of which lasted more than three minutes. The Mountaineers scored 45 unanswered points to start the game, picking up 601 yards and 37 first downs. The Terrapins only held the ball for about 23 minutes, but that was enough time to throw five interceptions and turn the ball over six times. Caleb Rowe, who took over as starting quarterback after the team’s disastrous Week 2 loss to Bowling Green, threw four picks and completed just 10 of 27 passes. Only Brandon Ross, who gained 130 rushing yards on 15 carries, came to play for the Terps. Maryland needs to get the turnovers under control soon as two strong defensive teams (Michigan and Ohio State) come next on the schedule.

West Division
1. Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 24-19 This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (3-1), 12pm, BTN

Things got a little hairy for the Wildcats Saturday when Ball State hung around until the final drive of a 24-19 Northwestern win. For the first time this season, Pat Fitzgerald’s defense showed a chink in the armor, allowing 359 yards to the Cardinals offense. Riley Neal completed only 14 of 35 passes against Northwestern, but a handful of big plays allowed him to rack up 178 yards and two touchdowns. Ball State also averaged more than five yards per carry against a front seven that was rock solid against Stanford and Duke earlier in the month. But Justin Jackson wouldn’t let the Wildcats’ perfect record go up in flames, leading the team with 184 rushing yards. Clayton Thorson bounced back from a terrible performance at Duke to throw for 256 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The Big Ten opener will be a big one for Northwestern as Minnesota visits Evanston to set up a heavy defensive battle.

2. Iowa (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat N. Texas 62-14 This Week: Sat @ #19 Wisconsin (3-1), 12pm, ESPN

Iowa coasted through a much-needed break Saturday after two straight wins over power five opponents. The offense erupted against North Texas, scoring 48 points on 488 yards. Iowa also returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the second half, polishing off a 62-16 masterpiece. C.J. Beathard continued to dominate under center, completing an incredible 18 of 21 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Canzeri bullied a weak North Texas front seven for 115 yards and four touchdowns, giving him eight scores on the year. There’s no way Beathard will complete over 68 percent of his passes in Big Ten play, but he looks like a definite upgrade at quarterback and an excellent complement to Canzeri. With a strong defense and an offense that’s averaging 37.75 points per game, Iowa is a real threat in the West. But all three games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska are on the road, so the Hawkeyes will have to be just as good away from Kinnick to compete. Perhaps the greatest hurdle comes Saturday in Madison.

3. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Hawaii 28-0 This Week: Sat vs Iowa (3-1), 12pm, ESPN

Wisconsin rolled over its third straight cupcake opponent Saturday, shutting out Hawaii 28-0. Freshman running back Taiwan Deal built on his 84-yard performance in Week 3 with 147 rushing yards on 25 carries. He’s scored four touchdowns for the Badgers this season and looks like the best option in the backfield heading into Big Ten season. Joel Stave enjoyed a typical, steady non-conference season, completing over 66 percent of his passes for 830 yards, seven touchdowns and two picks.  Thanks to an efficient offense and a defense that allowed just three points in the last three games, the road to the West Division title still runs through Wisconsin.

4. Nebraska (2-2, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Southern Miss 36-28 This Week: Sat at Illinois (3-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Nebraska’s rise to No. 4 in the West is more of an indictment on the rest of the division than an endorsement of the Cornhuskers’ body of work. Tommy Armstrong moved past his devastating overtime interception that doomed Nebraska in Week 3 to throw for 368 yards. He also rushed seven times for 63 yards and scored three total touchdowns in the game. Jordan Westerkamp is one of the conference’s toughest matchups at wide receiver, heading into conference play with 26 catches for 351 yards and four touchdowns in four games. Nebraska is looking to score its way through the Big Ten this season after allowing 12 touchdowns over the four games. Turnovers and penalties have also been a major issue during the rocky start. Poor defense, poor ball security and poor discipline is a dangerous recipe against a defensive-minded division.

5. Minnesota (3-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Ohio 27-24 This Week: Sat at #16 Northwestern (4-0), 12pm, BTN

Since coming within a play of knocking off No. 2 TCU in the opener, Minnesota has beaten three weak opponents by a field goal each. This week, the Ohio Bobcats fell victim to the Gophers’ late heroics as a Shannon Brooks touchdown run gave Minnesota the lead with 30 seconds left on the clock. For the first time all season the Gophers got into a rhythm on offense, gaining 268 yards, picking up 24 first downs and scoring three touchdowns. Mitch Leidner threw for 264 yards, but all three Minnesota scores can on the ground – One by Leidner and two by Brooks. Ohio set a new high against Minnesota’s vaunted defense, scoring 24 points but falling short on a Hail Mary pass from the 41-yard line. A delay of game penalty after a time out pushed a potential 53-yard field goal attempt out of range and erased the Bobcats’ chance to tie the game. If the Golden Gophers can only beat Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio by three points, it’s hard to see them competing in the Big Ten.

6. Illinois (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Middle Tenn. 27-25 This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (2-2), 12pm, BTN

In the wake of Illinois’ beat down at the hands of North Carolina, Middle Tennessee State nearly went into Champaign and poured salt in the still-festering wound. Illinois needed a 51-yard field goal from Taylor Zalewski with 2:09 left on the clock to escape the Blue Raiders, thanks to a missed 43-yarder that would have flipped the script with eight seconds to go. The Fighting Illini won their first two games by a combined 93 points, but a 34-point loss to UNC exposed them as frauds. Conference wins will be tough to come by for Illinois this season.

7. Purdue (1-3, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Bowling Green 28-35 This Week: Sat vs at #2 MSU (4-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Ah, yes. The only Big Ten team with a losing record. Purdue capped off a terrible non-conference season with a home loss to Bowling Green, giving up over 30 points for the third time. The Big Ten slaying Falcons passed for over 400 yards and converted 11 of 16 first downs to outlast Purdue in the final seconds of the game. Travis Greene’s 11th carry of the game went for a 12-yard touchdown that capped an 80-yard drive and sealed Purdue’s fate. New starting quarterback David Blough played a solid game, completing 29 of 39 passes for 340 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. The freshman got no help from his running backs, who averaged just 2.4 yards per carry. When it boils down to it, the Boilermakers don’t have much firepower heading into a difficult month of October. The beat down begins Saturday in East Lansing.

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Power Rankings_header

After a disastrous Week 1 (8-6) and an outstanding Week 2 (12-2), the Big Ten levelled out a bit in Week 3, finishing with a 9-3 record in out-of-conference games. Penn State and Rutgers kicked off the conference schedule two weeks early as the Nittany Lions picked up the first official Big Ten win of the season.

But the biggest news of the week came on Sunday, when Ohio State and Michigan State were named Nos. 1 and 2 atop the new AP Poll. Though neither team was dominant over the weekend, they treaded water while the rest of the top 10 crashed and burned. So now the Big Ten has a strong hold atop college football.

With most of the nonconference schedule ending this weekend, it’s nearly time to draw some solid conclusions about the state of the 2015 Big Ten. Here’s where the teams stand after Week 3.

East Division
1. Michigan State (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Air Force 35-21 This Week: Sat vs Central Michigan (1-2), 12pm, BTN

While Ohio State kept its hold on the No. 1 spot in the national polls, it’ll have no such luck in these power rankings. Michigan State underwhelmed in a 35-21 win over Air Force, but the combination of an emotional Week 2 win over Oregon and a first look at the true Triple Option offense makes the Spartans’ lackluster performance more understandable. Connor Cook enjoyed by far his best game of the season, throwing for 247 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. Eight of his 15 completions went to Aaron Burbridge, who picked up 156 receiving yards and three scores. The defense is definitely a concern for Michigan State as the conference season nears. After Western Michigan and Oregon racked up 383 yards and 432 yards of total offense, respectively, in Weeks 1 and 2, Air Force outgained MSU 428-324. Luckily for the Spartans, it doesn’t have to be pretty. If they win the rest of their games by a point each, they’ll find themselves comfortable in the four-team playoff.

2. Ohio State (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat N. Illinois 20-13 This Week: Sat vs W. Michigan (1-2), 3:30pm, ABC

Ohio State, like MSU, struggled against an inferior opponent on Saturday. But Ohio State, unlike MSU, has no good wins to fall back on. The Buckeyes limped to a 20-13 win at home over Northern Illinois, which gained fewer than 200 yards of offense and averaged an awful 2.5 yards per play. The Huskies did not play well, completing just 14 of 31 passes, turning the ball over twice and gaining just 2.6 yards per rush, but had a chance in the final moments to knock off the No. 1 team in the country. Ohio State entered the season with a pair of potential All-Big Ten quarterbacks duking it out for the starting job, but now neither one wants to take it. Cardale Jones looked terrible in the first half, completing four of nine passes and tossing two picks. When J.T. Barrett took over, he was wild as well, completing 11 of 19 for a touchdown and an interception. Ohio State’s defense held NIU to just 190 yards, if the star-studded offense keeps turning the ball over, one of these upset bids is bound to turn into an actual upset.

3. Michigan (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat UNLV 28-7 This Week: Sat vs BYU (2-1), 12pm, ABC

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines flew under the radar this weekend as the winless UNLV Rebels came to town. Michigan’s offense struggled again, scoring just 28 points, but it did rack up 377 yards. Jake Rudock threw his fifth interception of the season and averaged just 5.6 yards per pass as the downfield attack continued to be nonexistent. But Ty Isaac and Jehu Chesson finally made a pair of big plays for the Wolverines, each running down the left sideline for long touchdowns. Chesson’s 36-yard dash put Michigan up 14-0 in the second quarter and Isaac’s 76-yard score came just two drives later. Week 2 hero De’Veon Smith took a step back against the Rebels, gaining just 33 yards on 13 carries. The story for Michigan continued to be the defense, which held UNLV to just seven points and 235 yards. Keith Whitely (13 carries for 29 yards) couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Michigan’s front seven, but the secondary was just as strong, breaking up five passes and intercepting two. Jourdan Lewis returned from a Week 2 concussion to break up four passes in coverage. Since allowing 337 yards to Utah in the opener, Michigan has given up just 373 total to Oregon State and UNLV. The team will face its second ranked opponent of the season Saturday when No. 22 BYU visits the Big House.

4. Penn State (2-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 28-3 This Week: Sat vs San Diego State (1-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Is there something about that Indiana air that prevents teams from playing defense? Only Purdue (106) has allowed more points than Indiana (104) in the Big Ten through three nonconference games. But Indiana has done so against two Conference USA opponents and an FCS team. This week’s shootout came against Western Kentucky, which fell to the Hoosiers despite gaining 568 yards of offense. Quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 484 yards and three touchdowns to mask an ineffective running game (3.2 yards per carry) for the Hilltoppers. Indiana picked up a season high 639 rushing yards, led by Jordan Howard’s 203 rushing yards and Nate Sudfeld’s 355 passing yards. The Hoosiers haven’t played defense for years now, and last year they mustered just four wins all season. They’ll have a chance to reach that mark, and polish off an undefeated non-conference season, at Wake Forest Saturday.

5. Indiana (3-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat W. Kentucky 38-35 This Week: Sat at Wake Forest (2-1), 12:30pm

Penn State dominated Rutgers in the first conference matchup of the season, scoring 21 points in the second quarter and cruising to a 28-3 win. Saquon Barkley paced Penn State with 195 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Akeel Lynch accounted for the team’s third rushing touchdown with a 75-yard dash in the second quarter. Christian Hackenberg put in another uninspiring performance, completing 10 of 19 passes for 141 yards and an interception against a shaky Rutgers defense. Hackenberg has completed fewer than half of his passes this season and has just one touchdown.

6. Maryland (2-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat USF 35-17 This Week: Sat at West Virginia (2-0), 3pm, FS1

Maryland bounced back from an embarrassing home loss to Bowling Green with a comfortable win over South Florida in Week 3. The transition to Caleb Rowe at starting quarterback had its ups and downs. Rowe threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns, but turned it over three times to keep USF in the game. The Terrapins gained over 400 yards on offense and allowed a season-low 17 points. They’ll face a big test Saturday in West Virginia.

7. Rutgers (1-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 3-28 This Week: Sat vs Kansas (0-2), 12pm, BTN

The Scarlet Knights picked up right where they left off Saturday, losing their second straight game and falling to 0-1 in the Big Ten. Rutgers couldn’t get anything going on offense, averaging a terrible 1.3 yards per carry and turning it over three times. Penn State ran for 330 yards against the front seven, leading an anemic offense to 471 total yards. The Scarlet Knights have a great chance to finish the non-conference schedule even as Kansas comes to town this weekend.

West Division
1. Northwestern (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Duke 19-10 This Week: Sat vs Ball State (2-1), 8pm, BTN

Though the opening week win over a ranked Stanford team was the coming out party for this Northwestern team, a road win over previously-undefeated Duke made an even louder statement. Northwestern struggled to move the ball, gaining just 271 yards of offense, but its defense is legit. The Wildcats forced three turnovers and held Duke to 3.8 yards per pass en route to a 19-10 win. Solomon Vault made the big play for Coach Pat Fitzgerald, returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give Northwestern the lead for good. It might not be pretty, but the Wildcats’ defense has passed its first three tests and should lead the way to a 4-0 start Saturday against Ball State.

2. Iowa (3-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Pitt 27-24 This Week: Sat vs N. Texas (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU

While most of the conference hosted teams like Northern Illinois, UNLV and Troy, Iowa returned home to play its second straight power five team. It was a back and forth battle, and Pitt completed off a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with 52 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 24. But a trio of C.J. Beathard runs put the Hawkeyes in Panther territory and Marshall Koehn nailed a 57-yard field goal to seal the deal. Iowa picked off two passes and shut down Pittsburgh’s rushing attack (2 yards per carry) to put itself in position for the walkoff win.

3. Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Troy 28-3 This Week: Sat vs Hawaii (2-1), 8pm, BTN

The Badgers have bounced back nicely from an opening week loss to Alabama, beating Miami (OH) and Troy by a combined score of 86-3. Joel Stave is on cruise control at the helm and completed 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown against Troy. Wisconsin’s offense takes on a whole different look without a 100-yard rusher, but the team did average 5.7 yards per carry behind a stout offensive line. On defense, Wisconsin held Troy to 255 yards, but surrendered 19 first downs and lost the time of possession battle, which is unusual for the Badgers.

4. Minnesota (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Kent State 10-7 This Week: Sat vs Ohio (3-0), 3:30pm, BTN

Week 3 was a major disappointment for Minnesota, which opened some eyes with a near upset of No. 2 TCU in Week 1 and a road win over Colorado State in Week 2. Luckily for the Gophers, an outstanding defensive performance kept a disappointing week from becoming a disastrous week. Kent State gained just 142 yards in the game, going 3-17 on 3rd down and averaging fewer than 2.5 yards per play. On offense, Minnesota was terrible, scoring 10 points, committing three turnovers and eight penalties. Rodney Smith ran the ball 30 times but gained just 73 yards to pace the ground attack. Mitch Leidner completed 17 of 27 passes for 184 yards, but threw a pair of picks that helped Kent State stick around. Jerry Kill’s defense looks like one of the best in the country, but if Leidner can’t lead the offense back to respectability, Minnesota won’t compete for the West.

5. Nebraska (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Miami 33-36 This Week: Sat vs Southern Miss (2-1), 12pm, ESPNN

It’s only Week 3, but Nebraska has already lost a pair of heartbreakers this season. Miami was blowing the Huskers out of the water in the fourth quarter before Tommy Armstrong led three straight touchdown drives (two of which ended in successful two-point conversions) to tie the game at 33 in the final minute. But the 23-0 run ended when Armstrong threw a pick in overtime and the Hurricanes kicked a game-winning 28-yard field goal. Nebraska’s defense really struggled Saturday, allowing 511 totals yards in Miami. If Mike Riley hopes to compete in his first year in the Big Ten, that’ll have to turn around quickly.

6. Illinois (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to N. Carolina 14-48 This Week: Sat vs Middle Tenn. (2-1), 4pm, ESPNN

Illinois could only hide behind weak competition for so long, and North Carolina exposed the Fighting Illini in a big way Saturday. Running back Elijah Hood averaged over eight yards per carry for the Heels and quarterback Marquise Williams rushed for 105 yards of his own as Illinois got steam rolled right out of North Carolina. West Lunt completed fewer than half of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 14.3 as the Fighting Illini scored just twice in the contest. Josh Ferguson was the lone bright spot, rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Illinois will host another cupcake Saturday as Middle Tennessee State comes to Champaign.

7. Purdue (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 24-51 This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (1-2), 12pm, BTN

Purdue couldn’t have looked much worse than it did Saturday against Virginia Tech in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers were outgained by over 200 yards, committed three turnovers and went just 2-15 on third down. Virginia Tech held the ball for over 38 minutes and held Austin Appleby to nine completions on 28 pass attempts. Appleby was a nonfactor on the ground too, rushing 13 times for 11 yards. Purdue is a candidate for an ugly loss in Week 4 as it hosts Bowling Green, a team that already stomped Maryland.

Final Look: Northwestern

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014


Michigan topped Northwestern last Saturday in one of the ugliest offensive games played this season by both teams. The Wolverines get a bye week this week to rest up and prepare for the final two games of the season, of which they must win at least one to gain bowl eligibility. But instead of taking a bye week myself, I decided to torture myself during the by week by diving deeper into the advanced stats from Michigan’s 10-9 win in Evanston. And you get to read it. Luck you.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Northwestern
59 Total Plays 84
 42.2 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.9) 28.1
15 Possessions 14
7 Scoring Opportunities 3
 1.4 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 3.0
 67.2% Leverage Rate (68.2%) 65.1%
 39.7% Success Rate (41.9%) 41.0%
 21.0% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.6%) 24.1%
 48.7% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.1%) 50.0%
 33.3% Success Rate Passing (40.2%) 50.9%
44.1% Success Rate Rushing (43.5%) 21.4%
3 Turnovers 3
14.5 Equivalent Points 12.3
0.25 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.15

As I’ve said before, I’m working to expand this section in the future, and hoping to put in some work to go back and calculate the previous games this season as well as last season so I can draw comparisons between this year’s offense and last year’s. The stats and formulas used are from Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.

Northwestern ran 25 more plays than Michigan but didn’t score until its final two possessions, which went for 19 plays and 14 plays. Michigan had a huge advantage in field position, but didn’t take advantage of it until Tony Jones fumbled a punt and Michigan took possession at the Northwestern 21 and scored two plays later. Michigan had seven scoring opportunities and only scored on two of them, while Northwestern had only three, but scored on two. Michigan had a slightly better leverage rage* but Northwestern had the better overall success rate** on everything except rushing.

*Leverage Rate: Standard downs/(Standard downs + passing downs)
**Success Rate: 50% of necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down
***Passing Down is considered 2nd & 7 or more, 3rd & 5 or more, 4th & 5 or more

Let’s take a look at the Five Factors.

Five Factors
Michigan Stat Northwestern
4.4 Yards Per Play 3.2
 39.7% Success Rate 41.0%
42.2 Avg Starting Field Position 28.1
1.4 Points Per Opportunity 3.0
Even Turnover Margin Even

Michigan won two of the five factors, lost two, and tied one. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play (weighted 35%)
• Michigan +1.2 = 86.2 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 13.2 (Michigan won by 1).

Success Rate (25%)
 Northwestern +1.3% = 59.2 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 3.6 (Northwestern lost by 1).

Average Starting Field Position (15%)
 Michigan +14.1 = 86.7 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 19.9 (Michigan won by 1).

Points Per Opportunity (15%)
 Northwestern +1.6 = 74.7 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 11.4 (Northwestern lost by 1).
However, Michigan had more scoring opportunities (seven to three) and a worse scoring average, which equates to a winning percentage of 64.8.

Turnover Margin (10%)
 Even = 50 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 0 (Michigan won by 1).

Michigan won two — Yards per Play (35 percent) and Field Position (15 percent) — and tied turnover margin (5 percent). Added together, that equates to a 55 percent overall chance of winning, which they did by one point. Northwestern won two — Success Rate (25 percent) and PPO (15 percent) — and tied turnover margin (5 percent). Added together, that equates to a 45 percent chance of winning. They lost by one.

Sometimes the advanced stats show an outlier that can help explain the outcome of a game. But this game was about as even as it gets with neither team having much success offensively, and the advanced stats prove exactly that.

Drive Chart

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics, Dash indicates direction of drive, Green dash = scoring play, Grey = punt, Red = turnover, Pink = missed field goal, Black = end of half or turnover on downs, Shaded line = special teams or defensive touchdown

The numbers game

12: Michigan allowed a season-low 12 rushing yards

150: Michigan rushed for at least 150 yards in back-to-back games for the first time this season

45: Jake Ryan’s career tackles for loss, moving into a tie for sixth in Michigan’s record book with Glen Steele (1994-97)

121: De’Veon Smith rushed for a career-high 121 yards

2: Mario Ojemudia recorded the first two sacks of his career

6: Michigan has won six straight games at Northwestern

732: Devin Gardner passed Todd Collins (1991-94) and Tom Brady (1996-99) for fifth place in career passing attempts with 732

Just enough: Michigan 10 – Northwestern 9

Saturday, November 8th, 2014


Nobody expected an offensive shootout in Evanston, Ill. on Saturday afternoon, and Michigan and Northwestern, both of whom feature offenses in the 100s nationally, lived up to that expectation combining for 19 points and 13 punts in a 10-9 Michigan win.

Northwestern crossed midfield on the opening possession of the game, but a converted 3rd-and-1 with a 10-yards Justin Jackson run, got called back for illegal formation and the Wildcats punted.

Michigan got a quick first down on two Drake Johnson runs, but on 3rd-and-8 from the Michigan 43, Devin Funchess dropped a would-be first down. Michigan punted.

And so the game went, neither offense able to put together anything resembling a long drive. Jake Ryan picked off a Trevor Siemian pass at the Northwestern 47 and Michigan quickly moved into the Northwestern red zone. But De’Veon Smith was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Wildcat 16.

Final Stats
Michigan Northwestern
Score 10 9
Record 5-5, 3-3 3-6, 2-4
Total Yards 256 264
Net Rushing Yards 147 -9
Net Passing Yards 109 273
First Downs 13 18
Turnovers 3 4
Penalties-Yards 5-50 3-10
Punts-Yards 7-267 6-209
Time of Possession 25:49 31:51
Third Down Conversions 1-of-12 10-of-20
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 6-59 0-0
Field Goals 1-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-4 2-of-4
Full Box Score

Midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan took possession at the Northwestern 31 after a short punt and a nine-yard Amara Darboh return. Three plays later, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Matthew Harris. Northwestern gave it right back four plays later when Matt Godin intercepted Siemian at the Northwestern 35. But once again Michigan couldn’t convert. Matt Wile’s 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked and the teams went to halftime locked in a scoreless game, each offense barely over 100 total yards.

In the second half it was Northwestern’s turn to squander a great opportunity. A Michigan fumbled snap on its first possession gave the Wildcats possession a the Michigan 27. But three plays later, kicker Jack Mitchell pulled a 36-yard field goal to the left.

Michigan finally broke through midway through the third quarter thanks to another Northwestern mistake. Tony Jones fumbled a Will Hagerup punt and Michigan recovered at the Northwestern 21. Gardner connected with Funchess for 18 yards and Smith carried it into the end zone on the next play, putting Michigan ahead 7-0.

After forcing a Wildcat punt, Michigan’s offense looked to add more to the tally, but Gardner was picked off by safety Ibraheim Campbell at the Northwestern six. Campbell rumbled 79 yards to the Michigan 15. But yet again Northwestern’s offense imploded. Frank Clark stopped Jones for a five-yard loss on the first play, then back-to-back sacks by Brennen Beyer pushed the Wildcats out of field goal range. On 4th-and-38, Pat Fitzgeraldn had no choice but to punt.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, after forcing a Michigan punt, Northwestern put together its best drive of the game, marching 95 yards on 19 plays, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal to pull within four at 7-3.

Michigan rode Smith and a 16-yard completion to Jake Butt down the field and Wile kicked a 37-yard field goal to put the Wolverines ahead by a touchdown once again with 3:03 remaining.

But Northwestern wasn’t finished, methodically marching down the field with a series of short passes. On 2nd-and-10 from the Michigan 22, Raymon Taylor was flagged for pass interference giving Northwestern a 1st-and-goal at the seven with less than a minute to play. After back-to-back runs by Jackson failed to reach the end zone, Siemian found Jones for a touchdown with three seconds left. Rather than kick the extra point and go to overtime for the third straight season, Fitzgerald elected to go for the win. On the two-point conversation attempt, Siemian rolled out to his right, but Clark was right there waiting for him. Siemian lost his footing and fell to the ground sealing the Michigan win.

After the game, Michigan coaches and players alike said they were prepared for the two-point conversion play. Hoke credited the coaches in the booth for seeing it and the players credited their preparation during the week.

“I knew it was going to be a sprint out once I saw the double motion, and that’s how I went about it,” said Clark.

Ryan agreed, saying, “”We planned for it all week. We knew what they were doing.”

Michigan finished the game with 256 total yards, 147 of which on the ground. Gardner completed 11-of-24 passes for 109 yards and two interceptions, while Smith led the way with 121 rushing yards on 18 carries (6.7 yards per carry). Darboh led Michigan with four receptions for 41 yards.

Northwestern outgained Michigan with 264 total yards, but the Michigan defense held the Wildcats to minus-nine yards rushing thanks to six sacks. Siemian completed 32-of-49 passes for 273 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. After averaging 123 yards per game in his last four, Jackson was held to just 35 yards on 17 carries (2.1 yards per carry). Kyle Prater was the leading receiver with eight catches for 86 yards.

Ryan finished with 11 tackles, half of a tackle for loss, and one pick. Clark tallied seven tackles, two for loss, and one sack, but was a disruptive force for most of the game. Beyer and Mario Ojemudia each recorded a pair of sacks, while Willie Henry added one.

At 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, Michigan heads into its final bye week of the season. The Wolverines host Maryland (6-3, 3-2) on Nov. 22. The Terrapins were off this week and host Michigan State next Saturday. A Michigan win over Maryland would make the Wolverines bowl eligible heading into the season-ending trip to Columbus.

M&GB staff predictions: Northwestern

Friday, November 7th, 2014


Michigan heads to Northwestern tomorrow, the site of their most exciting finish of the season a year ago. The last two meetings between the teams have been controlled by Northwestern, but stolen by Michigan in the closing seconds and overtime. Can Michigan top the Wildcats in regulation this time? Or will Northwestern finally get the best of the Wolverines? Here are our picks.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Northwestern
Justin 20 17
Sam 21 20
Derick 28 13
Josh 20 24
Joe 28 24
M&GB Average 23 20

Justin: Neither team features a good offense and the forecast in Evanston tomorrow afternoon calls for high 30s and wind 15-20 miles per hour. This game has all the makings of an ugly, low-scoring affair similar to last year’s meeting that closed regulation tied 9-9.

Both teams will look to the ground, Michigan hoping the combination of De’Veon Smith’s power and Drake Johnson’s speed can get something going. Northwestern will hope true freshman Justin Jackson can carry the momentum from his last four games in which he averaged 123 yards against four solid defenses. In reality, neither team will string together many long scoring drives and whichever team limits the turnovers will likely win this one.

Two years ago, Michigan needed a Roy Roundtree circus catch on a bomb from Devin Gardner to get into field position for the game-tying touchdown and then won in overtime. Last season, Michigan needed a fire drill 44-yard field goal at the last second by Brendan Gibbons to force overtime and then won in triple overtime. This year it will probably be a Will Hagerup 100-yard fake punt scramble out of his own end zone for a game-tying touchdown and then Michigan wins in quadruple overtime.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Michigan is on a roll, having won two of their last three games. Or, you can also view it as a free fall, with the Wolverines having lost four of their last six.

I tend to take the latter with a little more weight.

Last week, after Athletic Director Dave Brandon was shown the door by President Mark Schlissel, the Maize and Blue showed some life against the miserable Indiana Hoosiers, putting them away comfortably.

But the road has not been kind, and that’s exactly where Michigan will be this Saturday.

Michigan travels to Northwestern for an afternoon game outside of Chicago looking to inch within one game of bowl eligibility, and the Wildcats are struggling mightily as well, coming off three straight losses – two of which weren’t close – and showcasing a quarterback who simply can’t throw.

It should be another hard-to-watch battle, but give me Michigan.

Michigan 21- Northwestern 20

Derick:  A scheduling reshuffle hands Northwestern a chance to get even for kick-gate on their home turf Saturday with the triple-overtime loss on its mind. The Wildcats’ shocking upset over Wisconsin given way to three straight losses, and Michigan is perking up in recent weeks. The Wolverines have to win the next two games to earn an invitation to a bowl game, and I think the relief that came from the end of the Dave Brandon era has them playing with less on their minds. Michigan will top this offensively-challenged Northwestern squad.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 13

Josh: I said before the season I felt this was a potential loss. Not because I thought Northwestern would be any good or that Michigan would be so bad but simply because of luck. Michigan has had some incredibly lucky games against Northwestern and they’ve all gone the way of the Maize & Blue. Numerous dropped interceptions by the Wildcats, miracle catches (Roundtree) and sliding field goal holds at the last second are just plain dumb luck. With the way our season has gone so far I think that run ends this year, basically eliminating Michigan from bowl eligibility. Which I think is a good thing; we cannot wait until end of December to fire Hoke and begin a new coaching search for someone not named Jim Harbaugh (no, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell he leaves the NFL, sorry).

Northwestern 24 – Michigan 20

Joe: And down the stretch they come!!! One thing is for sure. These guys will play hard for their coach, even if it is only for a few more weeks. The goal should be simple. Win two more games and go bowling. I want to believe they have it in ’em to put another solid performance together and get that fifth win, but doing so two straight weeks might be asking a bit much. I think the offense will continue to feed Johnson the ball and see if they can control the clock early. Devin will manage things well throwing the occasional deep ball but will not be able to pull away. This one will be ugly on both sides of the ball and may be tough to watch. Northwestern will slow things down like they did last week and mix in some up tempo every once and a great while. Look for a close game with Michigan pulling it out late.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 24