Michigan Post Game
by Jonathan Hodges
Northwestern responded in a big way on Saturday by taking a 16-7
halftime lead over a tough Michigan squad and keeping that lead into
the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as NU fell to UM by a final
score of 28-16.
Unfortunately four turnovers in that 4th period doomed the 'Cats as the
Wolverines capitalized on two of those miscues taking the ball in for
TDs on drives of only 16 and 26 yards. All in all, CJ Bacher was
responsible for all 5 of NU's turnovers with 3 interceptions and 2
fumbles - although the 2 fumbles and one interception came while he was
under heavy pressure in the backfield, and another interception was a
pass deflection off of a receiver. In the end, though, it was the
turnovers that killed the Wildcats' chances at a victory.
Offensively, Northwestern did very well in the first half, scoring on 3
of its first 4 drives of the game, and on the day NU had 417 yards of
total offense, including 289 in the air from Bacher (on 22-42 passing)
and 115 on the ground from Conteh (including his 49 yard scamper for
NU's only TD of the day). The 'Cats moved the ball quite well
between the 20s on Michigan, although the last 4 drives of the game
(fumble, interception, interception, fumble) will be what fans will
remember - NU had its chances to retain the lead and/or retake the lead
but gave the ball away every time. While Bacher did an excellent
job of running the offense earlier in the game and even running the
ball on a few gutsy plays, the five turnovers cost NU the game.
NU's OL did an admirable job early in the game as CJ had all day to
throw, but later in the game began to break down leading to the
aforementioned turnovers plus 4 sacks totaling -29 yards. Some of
that can probably be attributed to the fact that Michigan did not
really blitz much until late in the game - although if one saw any of
Northwestern's last 2 games they would realize the blitz is a major
weakness of the offense.
On defense, one must give the 'Cats a lot of credit - Michigan's
go-ahead and final touchdown scores came on a very shortened field
following NU turnovers. On the Wolverines' first drive of the
day, which ended in a TD, NU actually stopped UM on 4th down but was
called for a facemask penalty which gave UM the chance to score.
Also, NU's defense had a couple of great holds deep in their own
territory which led to 2 missed Michigan field goals - including one in
the 4th quarter that kept Northwestern in the game. Also, they
kept Hart to 106 yards on 30 carries as UM seemed determine to run the
ball but unable to come up with the type of game they wanted.
Great individual performances included Gill, who racked up 10 tackles
including NU's only sack on the day, Kadela who keeps notching up the
tackles (with 9 on the day), and McManis who broke up 2 passes
(including one that was close to an INT) and had 7 tackles.
Unfortunately the great defensive effort wasn't enough as the offense's
turnover issues didn't give them much of a chance. Areas that
could still use a lot of improvement are the pass rush - even when NU
had guys deep in the backfield they could not put sufficient pressure
on the QB - and generating turnovers, as the 'Cats were not able to
turn the momentum when it really would have helped.
The final aspect of the game - special teams - NU did a pretty solid
job. The special teams player of the game has to be Amado
Villareal who remains perfect on the season in the kicking department
(he went 1/1 XPs and 3/3 FGs on the day including a career long 49 yard
kick) as on the season he is 7/7 on FGs and 11/11 on XPs. Demos
did an average job punting and kicking on the day - although he had one
kickoff go for a touchback and one punt inside the 20, he did have some
poor punts (especially a directional punt early in the game and one
that sailed into the end zone) as well as a kickoff out of
bounds. He has shown brilliance earlier this season so hopefully
he can develop more consistency. Finally, in the returns
department, Simmons looks like someone who should be back there on
every kickoff as he took one back 52 yards to give the 'Cats a shot
late in the game - in addition to his 99 yard TD return from last
week. On punts, NU saw its longest return of the year as Ward
returned 3 punts for a total of 25 yards with a long of 14.
Overall, although Michigan seemingly played conservative and didn't
seem to do anything too special, the 'Cats put up a fight and had a
solid lead until the 4 turnovers late in the game sealed their
fate. After last week's physical domination by OSU, though,
Northwestern responded very well and showed that they can play a
physical ball game with anyone and that the defense can also respond
(holding UM to 7 points in the first half after averaging 14+ points in
the first half in its first 4 games).
Player of the Game:
UM QB Chad Henne, 18-27 193 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT: he started the game with
a TD drive and left after apparently aggravating his knee injury, but
came back in during the 2nd half to lead the Michigan comeback.
Credit must be given to him for leading his team to the win, especially
given the fact that Hart was stopped cold for most of the day.
Solid NU Performances:
Amado Villareal (PK): 3/3 on FGs - including a career long 49 yarder, 1/1 on XPs. Perfect on the year.
John Gill (DL): 10 tackles, 1 sack - he's the real deal and hopefully can fire up the rest of the line going forward.
Sherrick McManis (CB):
2 pass break-ups (one almost an INT), 7 tackles - he finds a way to get
in on a lot of plays and even after coming off of a concussion
contributed a lot of good hits on defense.
Ross Lane (WR): 6
catches for 87 yards including multiple clutch 3rd down throws
(including a 3rd and 10 from NU's own 1 yard line). This guy has
great hands and should be the go-to-guy on any big play.
Overall Physical Play:
NU was in this game all the way and gave Michigan all they could handle
- it was the turnover that killed NU, not its style of play. Keep
up the effort and the wins will come.
What to Work On:
Offensive Flow/Run-Pass Mix:
We saw one drive when NU picked up 3 straight first downs on running
plays (with Conteh and Roberson) yet on the next set of downs we saw 2
incomplete passes and CJ scramble out of bounds for a loss when he was
looking to pass. We've seen very few drives this year when NU has
effectively mixed up the play-calling all the way down the field and
into the end zone - instead many of the drives on Saturday were cut
short by incompletions or running into a wall of defenders. This
is something that has to be worked out between OC McGee and QB Bacher.
Defensive Pass Rush:
NU had only one sack on the day, and generally the Michigan QBs had all
day to throw. Obviously Henne was slightly impaired with his knee
ailment, but NU never got close to taking him down, even when the blitz
was on. The fact is that NU's front 4 must generate more
pressure, and unfortunately that's something I don't think the 'Cats
will be able to change in the middle of the season. Gill has been
the only consistent factor there, and while Mims has logged a couple of
solid games, we have heard almost nothing from Ngene, Wootton, or
Protecting the football:
Thus far, NU did a reasonably good job of holding onto the football,
but 5 turnovers are inexcusable. Obviously interceptions come
when a team passes as much as NU has been this season. But the
fumbles and getting rushed into throws that turn into INTs are just
unacceptable - a sack may be a drive killer, but it won't necessarily
give the opponent a short field. If one remembers last season, NU
lost to Michigan 17-3 in a game when the 'Cats had 5 turnovers and
multiple chances to stay in the ball game.
- Injuries: Seeing
the flock of NU players without pads coming onto the field before the
game and after halftime was disheartening. Guys I saw out who
would have otherwise been contributors were: Sutton, Simpson, Kwateng,
Jeske, Yarbrough, and Smith. Also, Belding came out during the
middle of the game (although he went back in), and Koehn came out and
later had his arm in a sling without pads. With so many major
contributors out things become worrisome, especially with 7 games left
to play. Hopefully all of the 'Cats heal and can see the field
again this year.
- Colby Cushion:
The notorious 10 yard cushion given to opposing WRs on the outside by
NU cornerbacks was in full effect and UM coach Carr did everything he
could throwing those quick passes to the outside receivers in order to
pick up a good 5+ yards almost every time. While this may be
necessary given the fact that NU had a lot of guys in/close to the box
in order to stop the run (which worked well this week), it doesn't show
a lot of confidence in the defensive backs and basically gives the
opposing QB someone who is always open and cuts down on NU's chances
for picking up an interception.
- Screen Passes:
Northwestern's offense seems unable to set up a screen pass - either
the blockers don't block, Bacher can't deliver the ball to the right
spot, the intended receiver can't catch the ball, or the play just
blows up. The plays are typically inserted at the right spot to
be effective but NU just can't make it happen a lot of the time.
This is especially disheartening given the fact that these are the
types of easy catches that should be on par with running the ball.
- Designed QB Runs:
During the first 4 weeks of the season Bacher seemed afraid to run with
the ball - only tucking it when he had wide open field ahead of him
(which yielded some very positive results on a few of his runs).
This game NU inserted a lot of option plays and designed QB runs around
the corner or up the middle. A great example was a QB run around
the right side - on one play he was stopped for only a short gain, but
he ran the same play later for more yardage. It is vital that
this be a part of the offense in order to give Northwestern more
offensive threats. Of course, CJ must also take better care of
the football in the backfield.
- Big Plays: NU
did a pretty good job capitalizing on the big plays that it got - the
first play from scrimmage which was a 64 yard pass completion (thanks
to Ward who got almost all of that as yards after the catch - and his
insight to get up and run with the ball after UM failed to actually get
him to the ground while attempting to tackle him) which really put the
wind in NU's sails, and the 'Cats' only TD of the day which was on
Conteh's 49 yard run (he did a nice job of eluding the chasing
- Penalties: Once
again NU seems to be on track, racking up only 2 penalties on the day
for a total of 16 yards. Unfortunately, that first penalty hurt -
it was a 15 yard facemask penalty after NU had stopped Michigan on 4th
down on the first UM drive of the day (which later led to a TD).
Northwestern must continue to play disciplined but tough football - not
getting behind the chains because of penalties really helped the 'Cats.
- Red Zone: NU did
a nice job in the red zone: Michigan went 4-7 in the red zone (although
2 were the missed field goals), while NU went 2-2. Unfortunately,
Northwestern was not able to reach the end zone in either one of its
trips inside the 20 while all 4 of UM's scores from the red zone were
- 3rd Downs:
Northwestern's D did an admirable job of getting off the field on 3rd
downs - as it held UM to 7/17 (and 1/2 on 4th down - with the one
conversion being thanks to the penalty). Meanwhile, NU's offense
did not fare as well, going 7/18 as they faced quite a few 3rd and long
plays and were unable to convert many of them.
- 2nd Half Offense:
While NU had its big come from behind win over Nevada featuring a lot
of 2nd half offense, since then the NU O hasn't been able to put many
points on the board at all. Against Duke, NU had one TD in the
second half, and against OSU its only points came from special
teams. And of course in this game, NU had zero points in the
second half - with its last 4 possessions going for turnovers.
Although it was a tough loss, especially considering NU had the lead
and momentum in its favor for much of the game, it was encouraging to
see the effort from the 'Cats. The team played a very physical
and strategically-sound ball game for the most part and was in it the
whole way. Turnovers are difficult things to predict, especially
in a pass-heavy offense, and as we saw, a couple of miscues can lead to
a huge swing in momentum that unfortunately for NU led to a loss.
Northwestern responded to last week's showing, though, and there are
definitely opportunities for wins going further into the Big Ten
schedule - given that NU continues to show improvement on the field.
Previous jhodges commentary
jhodges' commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of HailToPurple.com.