Northwestern (5-0) vs. Michigan (4-1) 3:30pm
Since 2010, Northwestern is 0-4 against Michigan with an average margin of defeat of 8.5 points per game. Last season the Wildcats lost 10-9 in Evanston and two of the four games went into overtime (2012 lost 38-31 and 2013 lost 27-19 in 3 OT’s).
The Wildcats have been able to methodically wear down teams with the strength of their offensive line and running game. Northwestern is averaging 25.4 points per game and has averaged 248 rushing yards on the ground this season en route a perfect 5-0 record. However, in order to get the road victory this weekend in Ann Arbor, quarterback Clayton Thorson will have to make plays in the passing game to loosen up a stingy Wolverine defense. The Wildcats are averaging 142 passing yards per game with Thorson completing 56.6% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Just a freshman, the Wildcats have not needed to rely on Thorson, but that can change this weekend as the Wolverines will challenge the Wildcats running game by forcing the line of scrimmage. Running back Justin Jackson is having a great season averaging 4.6 yards per carry with 636 rushing yards on the ground and one touchdown. Jackson has shown that he can carry the rock over 20 times per game and rumbled for 120 yards in last week’s victory over Minnesota. Wide receivers Dan Vitale and Christian Jones have combined for 29 receptions for 253 yards with 2 touchdowns. Both players will need to find the open holes in a tough secondary in the Michigan Wolverines.
Defensively, Northwestern has a dominant defense that can take over a game at any time. The Wildcats are giving up 7.0 points per game which ranks first in FBS and are very physical in stuffing the run allowing 117 rushing yards per game. Northwestern has the 7th best passing defense in the nation yielding 130 passing yards per game and will look to create turnovers against Michigan quarterback Jake Ruddock. The Wildcats are +4 in turnover margin and force teams into third down and long situations which is the defense’s strength this year. The unit is ranked 2nd in the country with allowing opponents to convert 20% of the time on third downs. Linebacker Anthony Walker leads the team with 44 total tackles and is the emotional leader of the defense. A cause of concern for Northwestern this coming weekend has to be the lack of a pass rush. On the year, the team has 4 sacks through five games and will need a better effort on the road against Michigan to get the upset.
This game looks to be a slug fest as both teams mirror each other on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines have averaged 27.8 points per game and have relied on run first mentality that works off of the play action passing game. Michigan is averaging 201 rushing yards per game and is passing for 191 yards per game. Quarterback Jake Ruddock has settled into the position after a rough week one performance against Utah. Ruddock has completed 60.1% of his passes with 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions (3 interceptions vs. Utah week 1). Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been slowly opening up the offense the last couple of weeks in wins against BYU and Maryland. Look for Michigan to challenge the Wildcats secondary at home in the Big House. Running back De’Veon sat out of last week’s win against Maryland and might be ready to go this weekend against Northwestern. On the year, Smith leads the team with 331 rushing yards averaging 4.8 yards per carry with 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has done a fantastic job of opening up running lanes and protecting Ruddock. The unit has allowed 5 sacks this year and has the advantage over the Wildcats defensive front seven this weekend. Wide receiver Amara Darboh has been more consistent over the last couple of games and leads the team with 23 receptions for 269 yards with two touchdowns. Tight end Jake Butt is a main component of the offense and has added 19 receptions for 234 yards with one touchdown.
The Wolverine defense has been great this year and is allowing 184 total yards per game, which ranks 2nd in the nation in total defense. The Wolverines are very physical in stopping the run and are allowing 72 rushing yards per game, which ranks 5th overall in FBS. It will be hard for both teams to score points as the Wolverines are 2nd in the country behind Northwestern in scoring defense allowing 7.6 points per game. Michigan is ranked 3rd in FBS in passing defense yielding 112 passing yards per game and the Wolverines feast on getting teams into third down situations. On the year, the Wolverines are giving up on 19% of third down conversions to their opponents. A cause of concern for Saturday could be the lack of the defense’s ability to create turnovers. As good as the unit is the team is -2 in turnover margin and will need to force turnovers on Saturday to get the home victory. Linebacker Joe Bolden leads the team with 32 total tackles and linebacker Desmond Morgan is second on the team with 30 total tackles.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor at www.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: