Posts Tagged ‘Tyler Scott’

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.

Michigan vs Northwestern game preview

Friday, November 9th, 2012


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

Michigan Stadium  -  Ann Arbor, Mich.
12pm EST  -  ESPN
______________

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

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

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

When Northwestern has the ball

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

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

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

Venric Mark and Kain Colter form a dangerous backfield duo

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

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

When Michigan has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

The other third

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Notes

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

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