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Blue eyes perfect season in the Big House

BY GENNARO FILICE
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 12, 2004

With a win over Northwestern (4-2 Big Ten, 5-4 overall),
Michigan would finish off its second consecutive undefeated season
in the Big House. But the Michigan Stadium experience this year has
been vastly different than it was a year ago. In 2003, the
Wolverines won at home by an average of nearly 32 points. Not
including a 43-10 drubbing of Miami (Ohio) in the season opener,
the Wolverines (6-0, 8-1) are winning by just under seven points
per game at home this season, and two of those victories —
over Minnesota and Michigan State — required 11th-hour
comebacks.

Michigan Football
Garrett Rivas has made many clutch kicks in his two years at Michigan. (TONY DING/Daily)
Michigan Football
Chad Henne will look to air it out against a suspect Northwestern secondary. (TONY DING/Daily)

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The last time Northwestern left Ann Arbor with a win was in
1995, when the Wildcats beat Michigan 19-13 and went on to win the
Big Ten title, playing in their first Rose Bowl (or bowl game, for
that matter) since 1949.

 

Michigan Passing Offense vs. Northwestern Passing
Defense:
Braylon Edwards is the only Big Ten player and the
only wide receiver named as a finalist for the Walter Camp Football
Foundation Player of the Year award. Edwards is probably the best
pass-catcher in the college game today and may be the best receiver
ever to put on a winged helmet. He should enjoy another big day
against a lackluster Wildcat secondary that’s giving up 253
passing yards per game (102nd nationally). Northwestern’s top
two cornerbacks — Jeff Backes (5-foot-9) and Marvin Ward
(5-foot-11) — are undersized, so the Wildcats may give
6-foot-3 Herschel Henderson a chance to stop Edwards. But, this
shouldn’t have much of an effect on No. 1.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan Rushing Offense vs. Northwestern Rushing
Defense:
Michigan’s Mike Hart has posted three straight
200-yard rushing efforts entering this contest. The true freshman
paces the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (129.8) and all-purpose
yards per game (148.2) — and these gaudy numbers include
Michigan’s first two games, in which Hart played sparingly.
The Wildcats boast a bulky front four, but the defense is paced by
middle linebacker Tim McGarigle, who leads the nation with 113
tackles.

Edge: Michigan

Northwestern Passing Offense vs. Michigan Passing
Defense:
Quarterback Brett Basenez is erratic in running
Northwestern’s spread offense. When Basenez is on top of his
game, as he was in his 513-yard, four-touchdown performance in the
season opener against TCU, he looks like one of the Big Ten’s
best signal-callers.

But he’s inconsistent. Two weeks ago, Basenez struggled
mightily in a 13-10 win over Purdue, going 11-for-30 for 148 yards.
His pass efficiency of 110.5 ranks 10th in the Big Ten.
Basenez’s favorite target this season has been Mark Philmore,
who’s grabbed 54 balls for 633 yards and two touchdowns. But
Philmore won’t play because of a right knee strain, so
Basenez will look to Jonathan Fields, who has recorded 33 catches
for 475 yards and three scores. Michigan ranks third in the nation
with 15 interceptions, so it won’t be much of a surprise if
Basenez adds on to his season total of seven picks.

Edge: Michigan

Northwestern Rushing Offense vs. Michigan Rushing
Defense:
Entering Michigan’s last game two weeks ago
against Michigan State, the Wolverines boasted the No. 3 rushing
defense in the country. But DeAndra Cobb and the Spartans ran wild
in the Big House, totaling 368 yards on the ground. This poor
outing dropped Michigan to No. 18 against the run.
Northwestern’s running attack in the spread offense is
extremely similar to Michigan State’s. Running back Noah
Herron has produced four 100-yard games in his last five outings
and is the only runner to surpass 100 yards this season against the
tough Wisconsin defense. Herron ranks second in the Big Ten in
rushing yards per game (115.3) and paces the conference in rushing
touchdowns (11).

Edge: Northwestern

Special Teams: Backes is an explosive kick returner, as
his 30.3-yards per return indicates, but that’s the only
bright spot in the Wildcats’ special teams.
Northwestern’s kicking is horrendous — kicker Brian
Huffman has hit just seven field goals in 17 tries.

Maize and Blue faithful are still chomping at the bit to see
Steve Breaston’s first special teams touchdown of 2004.
Michigan placekicker Garrett Rivas has ice in his veins when the
game’s on the line.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles: One week away from what is arguably the
biggest rivalry game in college football, Michigan could easily
overlook a better-than-average Northwestern team. The Wildcats have
nothing to lose, as nobody expects them to come into the Big House
and snap Michigan’s 14-game home winning streak.

Edge: Northwestern

Prediction: Michigan is the much better team, and as long
as the Wolverines haven’t began to anticipate the showdown in
Columbus, the game should be relatively boring for the national
audience watching on ABC. The only way Northwestern can keep folks
from changing the channel in the first half is if it can duplicate
the Spartans’ ground dominance, which, against a speedy
Wolverine ‘D’, is much easier said than done.

Michigan 34, Northwestern 14