Who, What, When, Where, Weather:
Who: Northwestern (2-2) Line: Mich (-7.5)
What: First Road Game Of The Season!!!
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern/ 6:00 p.m. Central, for you Chicago folk
Where: Evanston, Ill, Ryan Field
Weather: Courtesy of NWS: @ game time, 61 and sunny.
Offense vs. Northwestern:
Rankings... Northwestern is ranked 99th in the country in total defense surrendering, 420 yds/gm. Against the rush they are 90th nationally, allowing 174.5 yds/gm, that's good for 10th in the B1G behind Indiana. The Wildcat defense is just a hair better against the pass... 85th nationally at, 245.3 yds/gm.
Statistically and on paper Michigan should have a major advantage when they want to go to the ground game. Northwestern was abysmal last year and until last week hadn't been necessarily impressive. Allowing 300+ yds a game to Army doesn't strike fear into me, no matter how many carries (75 carries/5.08 avg) it took Army to get there, because running is like... all Army does. Howeva, last week Northwestern held an Illinois running attack ,that before Northwestern was averaging 4.9 yds a carry, to a measly 2.16 yds/carry. I attribute that games success to a blitz heavy aggressive scheme and it being a rivalry game.
Denard & Co. are averaging 6.99 yds/carry at this juncture in the season. Since my job is to make predictions and try to sound smart, I don't think Northwestern has the the horses to slow this rushing attack down. Borges continues to add wrinkles and has realized that, shotgun is the way to go with these players. Fitz and Vincent continue to show, that not having 1 go-to back isn't that bad of a thing after all.
I mentioned above that the blitz happy defense was able to slow down Illinois last week, what I didn't however mention was that, by keying on the run, they opened up their defense to get torched over the top to the tune of, 391yds. This same secondary also allowed 375yds through the air to Boston College. The same BC that lost to Duke and Wake Forrest at home. Yes... I said Duke...
Now the Maize and Blue passing attack isn't one I am going to sit here and brag about by any means. I am hoping I can continue to sing his praises week in and week out, but man Al Borges, is learning how to use his pieces. Last week, Michigan moved out of the drop back timing passes and he allowed Denard Robinson to get comfortable with the Minnesota secondary sitting back. Northwestern was able to stop the ball when they were keying and blitzing on the run. Denard is a threat in his own right, and this should cause the safety's to come up in the box. If they do, look for Hemingway and/or Roundtree to have a few big catches over the top.
What To Watch For:
Al Borges playing to what Northwestern's safety's allow. If they come up look for Michigan to go over the top. If they play back, I really expect to see a run heavy day for the Wolverines, allowing them to control the clock and keep Dan Persa off the field. Speaking of Persa...
Defense vs. Northwestern
The Wildcat's have been without the preseason B1G offensive player of the year, Dan Persa, until just last week. So, it's tough to read much into their overall offensive statistics because even though back-up Kain Coulter hasn't played badly and is no slouch, but he's not the aforementioned Persa. Last week, Persa was 10-14 for 126 yds and 4 TD's.
Mike Trumpy, Northwestern's leading back just tore his ACL and is out for the year. This event leaves Persa, who let me mind you is coming off of a major achilles injury and was knocked out of last weeks game, and 3 dudes averaging 3.9 yds/carry, collectively to carry the rushing load. Coulter is the leading rusher on the team but, save a Persa injury, if he comes in the game the only reason would be to run the ball allowing the D to have a good idea how to stop it.
Will I have to come down from this cloud, I'm riding on the Michigan D? This defense seems for real and for all of the the things that seem to be pointing in Michigan's favor, Persa is a good QB and this offense was efficient all of last season with him in the game. This is one of those games where, I expect to be reminded that yes, we still have many areas for improvement. But, then again, I'm all like, they only put up 14 on Army. So far, Michigan has been able to mask their inefficiencies with timely turnovers. Minnesota would probably lose to Grand Valley this year for all we know, so I've had to remind myself to be cautiously optimistic with the stout performance of the defense last week.
The secondary will be tested. Persa was top 10 in the country in passer efficiency last season. So, because last seasons secondary horror is so ingrained into my mind, I am terrified of the possibilities of a good Persa and a short passing game. Getting pressure on Persa is going to be the key here. Thankfully, similar to the running game for NW the options here are slim past Jeremy Ebert who is definitely not a burner. Luckily for Michigan, Northwestern's offensive line though experienced, isn't good. Hopefully Mike Martin, Van Bergen, and the rest of the D-line are able to apply the proper pressure to allow the secondary to stay on the short passing game.
What To Watch For:
Michigan's front 4 applying pressure on Persa. Persa has only played 1 week so far this year, but like any quarterback if he's uncomfortable, I'd expect to see Ryan Lindley vs. Michigan version 2.0. I don't expect the running game to be a huge threat so it'll be the short passing game that Northwestern relies on to keep Robinson off the field. Pressure baby, pressure.
Special Teams v. Northwestern
Alright, Gibbons and Gallon have solidified the two biggest special teams concerns most fans have had over the last three seasons but, what is going on with our coverage unit? Brady Hoke has said it's getting worked on more extensively this week let's hope for that. No more long kick-off returns k? Thnx.
What To Watch For:
AGHHHH KICKOFF COVERAGE, AGHH!!!!
Vegas gives us 7.5 which means on a neutral field we'd be a 10.5 point favorite over NW. The Wolverine offense should be able to move the ball and depending on how Persa plays, unfortunately so could/should NW. At the end of the day, Michigan has Denard & Co. and like I couldn't have more of a man crush on our coordinators but both can adapt. With NW's running attack limited whatever passing attack they are trying to throw at us, I expect Greg Mattison to figure out by halftime. Those factors alone lead me to a Michigan victory. By how much, is difficult. It's a night game and NW will be amped up. It will be close until about half way through the 3rd quarter, where I think the Michigan's obvious advantages take over. Meeechigan wins... 34-24