Week 5 Preview: Michigan @ Northwestern
When: 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept 29
Where: Ryan Stadium – Evanston, Illinois
Line: Michigan -14
I’m not sure who hit harder in week 4, the Michigan Defense or Wendy’s Twitter account in regards to the contest we witnessed with Michigan hosting Scott Frost’s Nebraska.
Might need a Scott Frosty to ice down the beating Nebraska is taking.#FreshFanReaction
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) September 22, 2018
Either way, it was clear who the harder hitting team was on the field, and that was Michigan by a wide margin. While firing on all phases, the Wolverines buried the Cornhuskers, while maize cladded fans cheered for the home team with rally towels a’flying.
Michigan players were quoted as sensing that Nebraska had given up as early as the second series of the game. This was evident by the scoreboard, stat sheet, and player demeanor, as Michigan continued to pile on.
By the second half, it was a who’s who of sorts, with all kinds of freshmen, underclassmen, walk-ons, etc. all seeing playing time. 56-10 was the final and all 10 surrendered points were basically garbage time points put up by the Huskers, against the aforementioned assortment of player-types. The Wolverines flat out dominated this game.
Moving on to Week 5, the Maize and Blue travel to Evanston to face Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern is 1-2 overall and is 1-0 in the conference. If you recall, the Cats beat Purdue in their season opener, before losing to Duke and Akron in the weeks that followed.
The Purple and White are coming off a bye week which has given them essentially two full weeks to prepare for this Michigan team. Whether or not that pays off will be seen on Saturday, but one would think they will look better than they did before collapsing in the second half against Akron.
Last time these two programs faced each other was in Jim Harbaugh’s first year leading the Wolverines. Michigan tamed the Cats to the tune of 38-0 where Michigan got all the points they needed to secure the victory after Jehu Chesson took the opening kickoff to the house.
The series is pretty much as lopsided as that score was; as it stands it is 57-15 in Michigan’s favor. You have to go all the way back to Rich Rodriguez’s first year with the Wolverines to find the last Northwestern W over Michigan, however, in 2014, Brady Hoke nearly gave them the M00N. Currently on a 5 game winning streak against the Wildcats, the Wolverines look to make that 6 in Saturday’s contest.
Michigan vs Northwestern Statistical Analysis
First we will look at some key statistics.
|Team||Record||Avg Point Diff||Off YPP||Off YPG||Def YPP||Def YPG||3rd Down %||Def 3rd Down %||T/O Diff.||PPG||PPG Allowed|
On paper, this should go a lot like the Nebraska game last week, only worse if you are a Wildcat as opposed to a Cornhusker. The problem with the previous statement is that the game is not played on paper, it’s played on the field and in this case a not-so-home field for the Wolverines. There is hesitation to call it an away game, since Michigan fans typically outnumber or come darn close to outnumbering Northwestern fans at their own house. Yet and still, it is a road game and should prove to be a bit different from playing at home.
By the numbers though, Michigan is going to shred Northwestern. Even if Northwestern held Michigan to the 29 points that the Wildcats have been holding opponents to on average this season, Michigan would not give up 29, 24 or even more than 14 points to this team. The Wolverine defense is #1 in yards per play allowed, #2 in yards per game allowed, and #6 in average scoring margin – in the nation! NW is not that, at all. On the other side of the ball. the Michigan offense is in the top 15 in points per game, is protecting the ball, and has improved its third down conversion percentage to that of basically a coin flip.
The Wildcats struggle on both sides of the ball but do have the ability to move the ball at times. They are actually in front of the Wolverines when looking at total yards per game. . . and that’s about the only thing they lead them in, at least by this set of numbers. Expanding the set, to find a glimmer of hope for the Wildcats, it appears Northwestern is 22nd in passing yards per game since they are putting up 307-ish on average. As we’ll find out below, this may be the only beacon of hope that NW can hope to float on.
Who are these guys?. . .
Northwestern just took a big hit on the offensive side of the ball this week as starting RB Jeremy Larkin announced his retirement from football, due to a medical condition with his spine. The other Wildcat RBs are wildly unproven, where their next best back (John Moten IV) has 21 yards on 12 attempts (1.8 yards per carry). This is what was meant above when talking about really needing the passing attack to come through if NW is going to have a shot in this game and I cannot overstate if I tried, how important Larkin was to this offense. He was the team leading scorer, leading rusher, and 4th leading receiver to this point in 2018.
At least NW has a veteran QB in Clayton Thorson, with this being his 4th year leading the offense. His best year was actually his Sophomore season where he threw for over 3000 yards. Last year he fell short of that while also throwing for less touchdowns and more interceptions compared with the previous year. This year he’s looked closer to the last year version of himself rather than the Sophomore version. Clayton has thrown an equal number of TDs as he has picks (3).
Catching passes from Thorson are primarily WR Flynn Nagel, WR/TE Cameron Green, and WR Ben Skowronek. They are the three leading receivers for the Cats and are listed in order of impact this year, however, Cam Green is the one with the TDs (2) with Ben Skowronek having one. While NW will try to establish some sort of running attack, we can rest assured that the majority of their offense will come through Clayton Thorson throwing the ball to these dudes.
Defensively, the Cats have a few good players. I’d keep my eyes on LBs Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher first and foremost. Upfront, they also have DE Joe Gaziano who led the conference in sacks in 2017 and S Jared McGee has been all over the field for the Wildcats this year. NW will need a big day from all of these guys and more.
Northwestern wins if. . .
They can force Shea Patterson to throw the ball, and throw a lot. Not only this, but they must play sound coverage and stop the various Michigan WRs and TEs from getting open. They must get pressure on Patterson and force him to make bad decisions. We’ve seen Shea force a couple of passes so far this year that have ended up in the hands of defenders. In order for NW to win, they must force Michigan to be sloppy with the ball, to be one dimensional, and as a result to turn the ball over to Northwestern’s offense. That offense is going to need all the chances they can get to put up points on the Michigan defense. Oh, and a special teams touchdown or two couldn’t hurt. I have a feeling it’s going to be a tall task for the NW offense to put up all of the necessary points.
Michigan wins if. . .
They can stop the NW passing attack. Michigan will need more solid play from Safeties such as Josh Metellus, who has been lights out the last couple of weeks. This starts with solid play upfront. If Michigan can get pressure on Thorson, who can run a tiny bit, but isn’t nearly the scrambler of the level of Martinez or some of the others they’ve faced this year, they should be able to force bad passes. These bad passes likely will end up in the sidelines from throwaways or in waiting defender arms on balls that should have been thrown away. Michigan must continue to win the turnover battle, get the defense off the field by stopping 3rd down conversions, and get the ball in the hands of their offense. The interesting thing to note is that NW is much better on run defense than they are at pass defense. If they are able to stop or slow down Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, Tru Wilson and Co. it’ll definitely be interesting to see how the coaching staff reacts on the Michigan side. Will we see Harbaugh put it in Shea’s hands and let him throw the ball 30-plus times? Only time will tell. We also don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing if it does happen. Shea has shown the ability to be deadly while throwing but also hasn’t been able to just be unleashed yet this year. It’s going to happen sooner or later, and this just might be the game.
Thoughts From The BluePrint Family
After three straight blowout wins at home, Michigan is back on the road to face a struggling Northwestern. The Wolverines grew a lot during those three games and did what Jim Harbaugh wants Jim Harbaugh teams to do, they got better.
Nearly every one of my concerns after Notre Dame has either been limited or completely eliminated. The tackle play has exponentially improved. So much so, Runyan and JBB graded out as Michigan’s top two offensive lineman last week, in what was a strong performance by the entire o-line.
Tight ends have become more involved in the passing game, and have made big blocks on big runs. Ambry Thomas might be the most electric player on this team, and is getting some play on offense, as he should.
The defense has taken huge strides as well. Safety play seems to have settled down a little bit, and become more reliable. The guys at The Blue Print can tell you I have been Josh Metullus’ harshest critic, and I’d say he silenced this hater, but I’ve been talking a lot about him. Just all good stuff now. He’s made big tackles in the run game with 3 tackles for loss on the season. He has shown great improvement in pass coverage, and you know, just leads the team in interceptions including a pick 6 that completely flipped the momentum against SMU.
However, the most improved group that will make the biggest impact today is defensive tackle. Carlo Kemp, Michael Dwumfour, Bryan Mone, and Lawrence Marshall have combined to form a solid group on the interior. Today, they are going to stuff the run against Northwestern. Their ability to fill the gaps inside will force Northwestern backs to bounce outside and into the hands of Devin Bush, Josh Ross and company behind the line of scrimmage. If the DT’s can occupy Northwestern’s guards all day, expect Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich to find their way to Clayton Thorson early and often.
I see this game playing out a lot like last week’s against Nebraska. Playing on the road always presents its early challenges, and Northwestern hasn’t given Michigan the chalk board material Scott Frost did, so it may not be as big of a blowout, but it will be a blowout. There are plenty of Wolverines in Chicago, and they’ll enjoy a comfortable win by the maize and blue today.
Message sent to Nebraska, what a game to watch. Felt good to do everything right, in every aspect of the game.
Oh, and beating Frost felt really good!
Nothing but the same this weekend, as I believe Michigan is going to dominate Northwestern, on all sides of the ball.
Shea will have 2 TD’s in the air, along with McCaffrey having 1 in the air.
I believe we will utilize all 3 running backs (and maybe a dose of Mason) as 2 of the 3 will be above 100 yards.
Gary and Winovich will again lead the defense, getting to the QB with ease.
Michigan fans, let’s lay off Josh Metellus, he is a good player! Fingers crossed DPJ can get another lane, and spin move!
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