Preview: Northwestern vs. Eastern Michigan
by Jonathan Hodges
(Note: there will be no
commentary this week due to the "short" week).
This Friday night,
Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) travels to a neutral site (Ford Field, Detroit, MI) to
face Eastern Michigan (2-5, 1-2) in the Wildcats' final non-conference bout of
the 2007 regular season. Northwestern is, of course, coming off of two
thrilling OT wins over Michigan State and Minnesota where its offense churned
out a total of 97 points and QB CJ Bacher had 990 yards of passing and 9 TDs in
back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the week performances. Meanwhile, EMU
is on a 3 game slide, but only lost by 6 last week to Ohio and the week prior
gave Michigan a fight before Hart took over to lead the Wolverines to an 11
point victory. The Eastern Michigan Eagles' only wins on the season have come
against Northern Illinois (who are reeling themselves at 1-6) and I-AA/FCS
The key to the game is obviously what will Northwestern be able
to do on defense. If the game turns into another shootout, then a turnover or
stalled offensive drive could make this an interesting game. Alternatively, if
the defense can manage to contain EMU (which should be an easier task than the
previous 2 weeks as Eastern Michigan averages only 288 yds/game, 114th
nationally and 21.3 ppg, 101st nationally) then the game should be a runaway
victory for NU.
On offense, everyone has seen what the Wildcats are
capable of doing the past two weeks. Look for this to continue, but with some
more rushing sprinkled in. Everyone knows that NU can pass the ball so look for
some blitzes to try and keep Northwestern honest, which means the running game
should have some room to run if the ball carrier can reach the second level
(Eastern Michigan ranks 100th nationally in run defense, allowing an average of
199 ypg on the ground). EMU looks slightly better against the pass, ranked 47th
nationally with 211.3 ypg allowed, but that may be skewed due to their poor
performance against the running game. The Eagles average 1.57 sacks/game, which
is 78th nationally - so the NU OL has no excuse but to provide good protection
for CJ Bacher.
A significant factor may be the return of RB Tyrell
Sutton, who reportedly participated in practice this week, but may not see the
field until the following game at Purdue. In any case, it is a promising sign
to see him on the field again and hopefully he will be able to contribute
Finally, to special teams. Everyone can see that Villarreal
needs to start making kicks again - and we all know he can make them after
starting the year 7/7 with a couple long ones mixed in. While NU's kickoff and
punt coverage units haven't given up the big play, they are still giving up more
return yards than desired as the opponents have been moving the ball up the
field a little ways quite well so far. And NU's own return game is still
lacking, with nothing doing against Minnesota - hopefully McManis can find the
stride he hit last year on kickoff returns.
Overall, the major question
mark in this game is can NU's defense be effective at all - even against a lower
tier opponent who hasn't been able to move the ball well much this season? EMU
will score points, but can NU come up with stops and not implode like we saw
during the 2nd and 3rd quarters against Minnesota (allowing 5 straight TD
drives). Also, sacks and turnovers would be nice, but I don't want to ask for
too much (NU ranks 116th with 0.71 sacks/game and 108th with 1 turnover
by 10 (up from Northwestern by 8 at the open).
Who Should Win: Northwestern. Again, this all
comes down to the defense. NU's offense has shown it can put lots of points on
the board and should be able to continue that trend against a mediocre to bad
defense. But, NU's own defense looks even worse and hasn't come up with
turnovers or sacks all year (except when it really matters - see the comeback
over Minnesota or the end of the game against Nevada) and allows yards by the
boatload. If the 'Cats can shut down EMU, the game should be over quickly, but
that is a big if.
Eastern Michigan hung on last year, down by 8 (one score) and the ball in the
final minutes of the game. Despite the fact that their longest drive of the day
was 19 yards they managed to hang in until the very end. This year, they have
obviously seen NU's vulnerability to the run out of the spread (particularly
with the QB) and must be focusing in on that area. They may not be able to stop
the 'Cats' offense, but if they can hang some points on the board and stay with
NU all it takes is one turnover or big play to swing things into their favor.
Oh, and there's the fact that even the traditional power schools keep getting
upset this year - with at least one top 10 team losing every week so far this
season, so in the year of the upset anything can happen (yeah yeah, remember
What to Look
Michigan Defense: Yards, points, and lots of both. The biggest question
is if McGee will stick to his gunslinger Bacher or will resort to more of a
ground attack. My bet is that we'll see another aerial assault, and even though
EMU is weak against the ground NU will stick with its pass-first strategy.
Sutton may not see the field, but Conteh/Roberson will get the ball a lot
between those screen passes (if they are actually caught), swing passes, and a
few runs thrown in for good measure. Guys to watch out for from EMU include DB
Ryan Downard who has 4 INTs on the year, LB Daniel Holtzclaw who is 6th in the
nation in tackles, averaging 11.57/game, and DL Jason Jones who is 2nd
nationally averaging 2 tackles for a loss/game.
Northwestern Defense/Eastern Michigan Offense:
Will NU's defense be able to stop anyone? If so, this is the week to start, as
EMU's offense hasn't been overly impressive this year. The LB unit for NU will
consist of Kwateng, Arrington, and Kadela after both Kwateng and Arrington have
had some key plays over the past couple weeks. But the fact is that the entire
defense is at least partially to blame for the slew of points scored on NU the
past 2 weeks (although some credit must be given for giving NU a shot at winning
both games). They will be trying to stop an offense led by former NU assistant
coaches that spreads the ball around evenly with a rather mobile quarterback,
Andy Schmitt. Schmitt has a 62.9% completion rate with 1,093 yds, 10 TDs, and 5
INTs on the year as well as 147 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Note: QB Andy Schmitt is listed as questionable
(shoulder injury) for this game: Schmitt came out near the end of the
Ohio game and was replaced by true freshman Kyle McMahon who is 6/18 for 99 yds
with 2 TDs and 3 INTs on the year, and also has 67 rushing yards on 7 attempts.
His only playing time has come during EMU's current 3 game losing streak). The
ball is effectively spread around the field, but the key receiver is DeAnthony
White who has 277 receiving yards on the season plus a handful of carries ( e.g.
look for the end-around or reverse). There are a total of 5 receivers with over
10 receptions on the year, so the ball gets distributed rather evenly. This
offense will be a challenge for NU, and if they can live up to that challenge
then things will get much easier for the 'Cats.
Special Teams: EMU ranks 6th nationally in net
punting, which means don't look for any spectacular punt returns for NU (not
that you were anyways). After starting the year on fire, NU's special teams
have been falling out of the "special" category - 3 straight missed FGs, a
couple of kickoffs out of bounds, and allowing some decent returns. Things
aren't that bad (NU hasn't given up a home run play on special teams) but they
could improve, especially in FG kicking when NU needs points on the board.
EMU's kicker Zach Johnson is perfect on the year (12/12 XP, 3/3 FG)
Northwestern is quickly becoming one of the top passing offenses in the nation
(currently #6), already sitting at #1 in the Big Ten (averaging 321.14
- NU's total and rushing defense is holding steady at around 80th
nationally, but the pass efficiency defense is horrid, currently at 114th.
The 'Cats are 15th nationally in punt return defense, allowing only 5.44
yds/return (EMU is not far behind at 22nd allowing only 6.28 yds/return).
Despite having a pass-heavy offense that seemingly doesn't control the clock
well, NU is ranked 9th nationally in time of possession with an average of 32:27
- NU and EMU are both near the top in the nation in number of
fumbles lost: NU has lost 4 and EMU 3 on the year.
- After the 13 penalty/125
yard debacle against Duke, NU is climbing back up the fewest penalty rankings,
now at 11th nationally with 5.14 penalties/game and 36th nationally at 48.86
yds/game (in 2006 NU was #1 in both categories).
- NU is 0-1 at Ford Field,
with its loss coming in the 2003 Motor City Bowl to Bowling Green by a score of
- The one thing that will be emphasized all game long is the coaching
connections between EMU and NU as Eastern Michigan has 4 coaches (including head
coach Jeff Genyk) who were formerly on NU's staff (1 assistant, 2 grad
assistants, and 1 player).
RB Tyrell Sutton:
apparently returned to practice this week and may play, although he will most
likely be held out another week.
Smith: out for the season after having shoulder surgery. Reportedly, he
has been granted a medical hardship waiver for this season giving him an
additional year of eligibility.
Jeske: Has not dressed the past couple weeks due to an apparent leg
Out for the Season: in addition, the usual
suspects are still out for the year - Diaz (OL), Brewer (WR), Hamlett
Eastern Michigan: QB Andy
Schmitt: (shoulder) questionable.
Prediction: Northwestern 38 - Eastern Michigan
jhodges' commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of HailToPurple.com.