EVANSTON – Two drives of less than a minute, over 300 yards and a shootout in the making.

After the first half of Saturday night’s game, it appeared that the Michigan defense didn’t have much of a chance stopping Northwestern. The defense forced the Wildcats’ spread attack to punt three times in the first half. Every other Michigan stop came from Northwestern mistakes – including a fumble return for a touchdown by Leon Hall and two interceptions.

But then something happened after halftime. After giving up 321 yards and looking like a sieve, the defense tightened and Northwestern’s vaunted offense finally appeared mortal.

“I felt we were the same team we were in the first half,” defensive end Alan Branch said. “We kind of felt them out, saw what they had and stopped them from there on out.”

The first possession of the third quarter showed how much of the next 30 minutes would go. Brett Basanez and company got a few yards, but ended up hurting their drives with penalties.

On second-and-10 from their own 36-yard line, the Wildcats handed off to freshman standout Tyrell Sutton. The running back carried the ball for just three yards, but a holding penalty on right guard Joel Belding negated the play and, more importantly, sent Northwestern back 10 yards. In a big hole, the Wildcats couldn’t come through with a first down.

“I think our defense was outstanding today,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think they were the difference, if you look at (our) time of possession, 38 minutes, I credit that to our defense.”

Although the Wolverines got help from Northwestern and its five second-half penalties, Michigan’s seemingly different defense was the real reason the Wildcats were shutout in the second half.

Going into the game, no one was sure whether Northwestern’s offense could be stopped – not even Carr.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for our defense, but what we have got to try to do is find a way to score some points because I don’t think anybody is going to shut this offense down,” Carr said at last Monday’s press conference previewing the Northwestern game.

But some thought that Carr was just being coy with his comments about the Wildcats.

Said defensive end Rondell Biggs: “Coach Carr likes doing that. He has confidence in us, and I think that was his way of pumping us up and telling us we had to come with our A game to stop this team.”

But the one thing the Wolverines knew that they had to stop was the Wildcats’ running game. Even though most of the attention centered on Northwestern’s passing game, it is the running game that has really made the Wildcats dangerous this season. But against Michigan, the ground attack was virtually nonexistent.

“This offense slows your d-line down with shovels and options,” defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. “At least when we stopped their run, we could turn (the line loose). I think that our kids were physically able to hold up to the running game, and that really helped. I thought the kids had a lot of energy before the game and took this game as a personal challenge.”

The combination of the Wolverines stopping the run and the Wildcats hurting themselves turned the expected shootout into a game dominated by the Michigan defense.

“We performed on first down,” outside linebacker Shawn Crable said. “It was second-and-long and third-and-medium, so they had to pass. That’s something we did in the second half that we didn’t in the first half.”

After forcing just three punts in the first half and relying on turnovers to slow Northwestern, the Wolverines forced punts on the Wildcats first five possessions. After that, Michigan stopped two separate fourth down attempts, sealing the game.

“Against an outstanding offensive football team, which Northwestern is – a very talented team and a team that knows what they’re doing,” Carr said, “I think our defense came up with their best performance of the year.”

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