Michigan Football (6-3, 4-1) will host Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) on Saturday at the Big House. Kick off is scheduled for 12:01pm (EST) and the game will be televised on ESPN. In a rare twist in this series Northwestern is the ranked team and the Wolverines come in unranked.
This game is huge for both teams. The loser of this contest will see their Legends Division hopes all but extinguished. The Wildcats were on a bye last week and they will be revved up for this one. They feature two explosive players on offense in Kain Colter and Venric Mark. The Wildcats have averaged 237.6 rushing yards per game, good for third in the Big Ten. Mark has 1,072 yards and 9 TDs this season. Colter has stuffed the stat sheet with 622 yards and 11 TDs on the ground, 517 passing yards and 3 passing TDs, and he has 16 receptions for 169 yards.
Wildcats defensive end Tyler Scott leads the Big Ten in sacks (7) and forced fumbles (3). Northwestern’s linebackers Chi Chi Ariguzo, Damien Proby and David Nwabuisi all rank in the top 12 in the Big Ten in tackles per game. They have also combined for 16.5 TFLs and 11 PBUs this season.
Michigan returns home after back-to-back road games; a loss at Nebraska and a victory at Minnesota. The primary quarterbacks in those games was not Denard Robinson as he suffered an injury early against the Huskers. Russell Bellomy took over in that game and Devin Gardner started at Minnesota. Brady Hoke has said that Robinson is almost healthy and if he is, he will start against the Wildcats. “He’s just improving slowly,” Hoke explained. “I mean he gets better. He was better yesterday, practiced yesterday, threw the ball yesterday and ran yesterday. So we just want him to be healthy.”
Devin Gardner proved to be more than capable of stepping in last week and if he gets the nod again this Saturday, Michigan will be just fine. The greatest area of concern with the Wolverines is the offensive line. Hoke admitted to the media on Monday that he was concerned. “Yeah. I am,” he said “I think, you know, we had some protection breakdowns that we can’t have last week…Getting beat one on one in a four-man rush is something that that goes back to a fundamental and technique of how you want to play the position.”
Michigan’s defense has been tremendous this season. They enter this contest ranked second in the Big Ten and seventh in the country in total defense, giving up only 288.7 yards per game. They will have to be fundamentally sound and disciplined against the shifty Wildcats offense. The defensive line has made huge strides since the beginning of the season. Quinton Washington has been a force in the middle and Craig Roh has been playing the best football of his career. He is second on the team in TFLs (4.5) and sacks (3.0). “Being a defensive lineman,” Roh explained. “I would always like more sacks. But with the pressure that we’re putting on the quarterback and getting off the field on third down, I think it’s been pretty decent. Obviously there’s a lot more that we can always improve on and I think we can still improve in these last three games.”
One of the guys who is getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback is sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan. He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss (12) and has been outstanding all season. Ryan leads the Wolverines with 65 tackles and has also broken up 3 passes. His fellow linebackers, Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens, have also been superb. They are tied for second on the team with 58 tackles and have combined for 7.5 TFLs.
Prediction: So far this season I am 7-2 predicting the outcome of Michigan Football games. This should be a fantastic match up, but I like the Wolverines to prevail at home. Michigan’s defense will be able to contain the Wildcats playmakers. Whether it’s Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner at QB, I think Michigan’s offense will find success against Northwestern’s defense. Michigan wins 34-14