At the start of the 2013 season, both of these teams had high hopes and Big Ten championship aspirations. For Michigan and Northwestern, those goals are now long gone as both teams have struggled in conference play. Michigan (6-3, 2-3) comes in having lost three of its last four and Northwestern (4-5, 0-5) has lost five straight. The teams will face off against each other on Saturday at Northwestern’s Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. at 3:30 p.m. The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.
What to watch for
Over its last two games, Michigan has rushed for a whopping total of negative 69 yards. Quarterback Devin Gardner has been sacked 14 times in that span and both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green have found little success running the ball. These struggles cannot continue if Michigan hopes to win another game.
The young offensive line hasn’t found its stride this season, making things really difficult for the Wolverines’ offense. The pressure opposing defenses have created has not only disrupted the running game, but has affected Gardner’s passing game. He has been knocked around quite a bit in the past few weeks, so the line play is even more important.
Michigan’s inability to run the ball cost them its last two games. If they fail to rush for positive yards for the third straight game, they will lose again. Northwestern’s defense is in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending the run, as they allow an average of 168.1 yards per game. If the Wildcats learned anything by watching the Nebraska-Michigan game, then they should replicate what the Huskers did to Michigan. The way Michigan handles the Northwestern pressure will be the key to this contest.
Northwestern allows its fair share of yardage through the air, averaging 249.8 yards per game. If the Michigan line can give Gardner time, it could make for a good day for him, Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess, who have proven to be tough matchups for everyone they have faced.
When Northwestern is on offense, they feature two quarterbacks. Trevor Siemian does most of the passing, where Kain Colter does most of the running. The duo has been relied on heavily this season and much of the same will be true on Saturday. The Wildcats announced this week that its star running back, Venric Mark, will miss the rest of the season. His replacement, Treyvon Green, and Colter do most of the running. Both have carried the ball 94 times, Green gaining 612 yards and eight touchdowns and Colter with 409 and four scores. Its receiving corps is pretty balanced, with Tony and Christian Jones catching the majority of the passes thrown by the quarterback duo.
Michigan has been pretty stout on defense against the run, allowing just over 100 yards per contest. So the key for them will be to limit the quarterbacks of Northwestern, primarily Siemian, in the passing game. If the young defensive backs of Michigan can contain the Wildcats’ passing attack, then it will be a frustrating afternoon for Northwestern.
Other notable stats and news
Jeremy Gallon is on the verge of a 1,000 yard season, which would be Michigan’s first since Mario Manningham’s 2007 season. Gallon has also caught a pass in 35 straight games.
Freshman defensive end Taco Charlton will be on the field more for the Wolverines as a result of his performance last week against Nebraska. Coaches have said that he has progressed well and earned his chance to play more.
James Ross III has been outstanding for the Michigan defense, as he shared the team lead with Desmond Morgan with 62 tackles, including a team-high 8 a week ago.
Northwestern enters the game 0-5 in Big Ten play. They began the season 4-0 leading up to its hyped-up matchup against Ohio State. They lost to the Buckeyes in a close contest and have gone downhill ever since.
Northwestern will wear a new red, white and blue uniform for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Not related to the game, but Michigan recruit Da’Shawn Hand will announce his decision on where he will be playing next fall on Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network. Hand is considering a few schools, with Michigan and Alabama as the favorites.
Last week’s game against Nebraska was thought by many to be a high-scoring affair, but neither team could crack 300 yards. In fact, Michigan didn’t even gain 200. My prediction will be similar to last week’s. Northwestern comes in as the slight favorite, but I see this as a pretty evenly-matched game. We could see a shootout, but who knows, it could be low-scoring affair like the Nebraska game.
Michigan and Northwestern are better than their records would indicate, but there is no denying both have struggled mightily. This game will come down to which team’s defense plays better, and I think Michigan has the edge. The Wolverines’ defense has quietly been steady and consistent. While I see this game being a shootout, Michigan will limit them enough to come out on top. Siemian could find a couple receivers deep in coverage breakdowns, but the emergence of Charlton will put pressure on him all game.
The Wolverines’ offensive line really needs to improve fast. While it is too late to really achieve anything significant this year, they could rattle off a few wins to “save their season”. I see Michigan finally rushing for positive yards, but don’t expect anything out of this world. Gardner will have a better game passing and will hopefully not get sacked seven times. Gallon will get his 1,000 yard season after this game ends and will haul in a touchdown reception. Derrick Green will get more carries and will find the end zone as well.
This could be a fun game to watch. It could also be terrible to watch (see Michigan State and Nebraska games). I’ve got Michigan coming out on top 45-35. What do you think?
Make sure to follow me on Twitter @lucasrains and look for updates from Saturday’s game.
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