Michigan at Northwestern
Saturday, Sept. 29. Time: 11:00 am CDT
TV: Big Ten Network
radio internet coverage.
Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Michigan
by Jonathan Hodges
Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) comes back to Evanston to play at home for the
4th time this month against the Michigan Wolverines (2-2, 1-0) in a
rare early day game (11:00) appearance (NU has not played Michigan in
an 11AM start at Ryan Field since the mid-90s as both the 2003 and 2005
games were at night and the fabled 2000 game was a 2:30 start which
went into the evening hours). Many 'Cats fans knew NU would have
a rough stretch of games at the end of September, but unfortunately
that stretch started earlier than expected with the tough loss to Duke
and got ugly last week with the drubbing at the hands of Ohio
State. Meanwhile, Michigan, which will play its first away game
of the season against NU, has seemingly turned it around from its early
0-2 start where it gave up 35.5 points a game and is coming off of a
2-0 stretch where it has given up an average of 4.5 points per game and
no touchdowns. The question for both NU and Michigan is which
team will show up on Saturday?
During the first 3 games, the NU offense was rather effective with
Bacher passing for over 200 yards in all 3 games (including over 300
against Duke), but its deficiencies were highlighted against OSU who
kept NU's offense off the board all day. In fact, Northwestern
never entered (or even got close to) the red zone - managing only a
meager 120 yards of offense (all passing). The Buckeyes employed
constant blitzing to throw off Northwestern's pass-heavy attack,
meanwhile sacks and ineffective runs by Conteh stymied NU's ground
game. Through the 'Cats' current 2 game losing streak everyone
has seen that NU's offense cannot handle the blitz. Expect Carr
to take advantage of this and step up the pass rush all day long.
Sutton's ankle injury (apparently a high ankle sprain - which typically
keeps players sidelined for some time) will most likely keep him out
again, despite his continued presence as the starter on NU's
2-deep. His loss will once again hurt NU's (non-existent) rushing
game, which is something the Wildcats will need to try to counter the
constant blitzing. Until Northwestern proves it can overcome the
blitzing with either effective blocking and a solid game plan, expect
the same results as the past couple games.
On defense, NU was once again exposed. The first half/second half
numbers are even more startling, with NU giving up 22.3 points/game in
the first half and 5.0 points/game in the second half. Of course
those numbers are skewed by OSU's conservative play in the second half
of the game since they racked up so many first half points, but still
the fact is that teams know they can be aggressive early and rack up a
big lead on the 'Cats. Expect Michigan to do the same - they saw
all of those play action TD passes that OSU threw and don't think for
one minute Carr wasn't licking his chops. And if the secondary
makes a point of staying deep, expect to see Hart carry the ball early
and often for long distances. RB Hart already seemingly carried
Michigan on his back to victories over Notre Dame and a tough PSU squad
(at least defensively), so expect to see a ton of carries from
him. Carr usually plays conservatively against NU and I wouldn't
expect anything different on Saturday - lots of Hart carries - and if
NU plays like it did last week lots of yards given up.
NU's special teams were the only positive point, up until the horrid
punting performance against Ohio State. The usually rock-solid
Demos had a bad game, but then again he is a redshirt freshman kicking
out of the endzone at Ohio State against a Buckeye squad who was
foaming at the mouth most of the game, so I'll cut him some
slack. NU did have its first kick/punt TD return of the
Fitzgerald era as Simmons took the opening 2nd half kickoff 99 yards
for the score, so hopefully NU will be able to get that type of return
off of a punt (assuming that they can force more than one punt in an
entire game). Despite the poor punting and poor kickoff blocking
during the first half last week (where we saw a McManis concussion),
NU's special teams are more than capable of keeping the 'Cats in the
game and hopefully they can put together a solid game overall.
Last year the 'Cats played Michigan rather close on the road in a 17-3
loss on a cold, rainy day, and that was against a #2 ranked squad, and
that was with 5 turnovers and a running game that was stopped
cold. While NU has seemingly taken a step back over the last 2
games and a win over Michigan remains a long shot, the 'Cats are more
than capable of making this a game assuming the glaring errors over the
past 2 weeks can be corrected. Despite my long term dislike for
the Wolverines and my desire to see NU beat them again (the only
victory I have seen over Michigan by NU was the historical 2000
contest), I can't see NU winning this game unless the 'Cats find a way
to completely change things around from the way they've been playing.
Line: Michigan by 16.5
Who Should Win: Michigan, especially the trends in the play of both
teams continue - NU on a downslide and Michigan on an upswing.
OSU gave Michigan a perfect game plan for this week which it should be
able to execute well: run with a few play action passes for big yardage
on offense and blitz on defense. Northwestern has shown thus far
it cannot deal with that strategy, and until the 'Cats can overcome it,
Michigan should be sitting pretty.
Upset Factor: If Northwestern can: effectively block and effectively
spread the ball around the field (including downfield passes and a good
running game) and find a way to contain Hart while not giving up huge
passes, the 'Cats could stay in the game. NU will also need solid
all-around special teams play and turnovers to bounce in its favor in
order to think about the upset. Most of this relies on the
preparation by the Northwestern coaching staff, and hopefully they can
correct the problems that have beleaguered the 'Cats over the past 2
What to Look For:
Michigan Offense/NU Defense: RB Michael Hart. The senior will be
handed the ball early and often. NU must find a way to stop
him. Michigan will also need to throw the ball (at least once in
a while), and Northwestern will need to get to the quarterback -
whether it be freshman Mallett or Henne (who is still recovering from
an injury). It could be a long day if NU cannot get pressure up
front and if Hart can pick up yards by the bunch. Oh, and NU's
defense has to keep NU in the game in the first half, otherwise it
could get ugly... again.
Michigan Defense/NU Offense: They have seemingly turned the corner over
the past 2 games, although it is becoming obvious that they faced 2
poor offenses over that span. No doubt they will put the pressure
on Bacher and force NU to get the ball off quickly and to throw deep
passes. Northwestern must take advantage and come up with a
strategy to truly spread the ball across and down the field (that
includes running the ball), while the OL must improve its
blocking. If the 'Cats can manage to do that at least some of the
time, they should be able to move the ball.
- Ryan Field is apparently close to a sellout, and if the rest of the
tickets are sold by gametime, it will mark NU's 4th consecutive year
with a home sellout. Also, it would be the first 11AM sellout
since prior to 2000. Also, the undergraduate students are back on
campus so this will mark the first game of the season with a true
gameday atmosphere (despite being the 5th game of the season).
- NU is even on turnover margin on the year after the Ohio State game (good for 55th in the country).
- Northwestern's total offense has dropped substantially after the
sub-par showing last week and now is ranked at 72nd in the nation with
368.5 yards/game, with the scoring offense also taking a hit as well
which now stands at 95th in the country with 21.0 points/game.
- The 'Cats sack woes continue, NU's defense ranks 111th in the country
with 0.75 sacks/game and the offense has allowed 3.0 sacks/game, good
for 103rd nationally.
- The only fumble lost by NU this season was Bacher's during the OSU game that was returned for a TD.
Eddie Simpson (LB): questionable (leg), he did not dress against OSU
but reports have him improving this week so it's possible he would make
it into the game - he does not appear on this week's 2-deep.
Tyrell Sutton (RB): questionable (ankle), he did not dress against OSU
and reportedly has a high ankle sprain which will make his return
challenging - once again he remains as the starter on this week's
2-deep. [Editor's note: as of this preview posting Thursday evening, Sutton is not expected to play vs. Michgan.]
Sherrick McManis (CB/KR): questionable (concussion), although reports
have him sitting out early this week and returning to practice on
Ramon Diaz (OL), Gerard Hamlett (DB), Andrew Brewer (WR): out for season.
Prediction: Northwestern 17 - Michigan 35
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