Ryan Field hasn’t been kind in the past to the Michigan football team.
Anyone remember 2000, when running back Anthony Thomas fumbled late in the fourth quarter and Northwestern came back, won the game and ruined Michigan’s season?
Yeah, the Wolverines would like to forget that ever happened, and Saturday is a first good step against a Wildcat squad that helped Duke break its 22-game losing streak.
See if Northwestern will put up enough of a fight to ruin another Michigan Big Ten title dream.
Michigan run offense vs.
Northwestern run defense.
What do you get when you combine the nation’s leading rusher with a bottom-tier rushing defense? It depends who you root for.
If you’re a Michigan fan, it’ll probably put a smile on your face.
A Northwestern fan? Shambles might serve you better.
That’s the case for this weekend’s matchup. Michigan’s Mike Hart enters Ryan Field as the nation’s top rusher. The Wildcat defense, on the other hand, limps in as one of the Big Ten’s worst against the run.
The lone brightspot for Northwestern may be that Michigan might go with a Hart Lite attack on Saturday. The Heisman Trophy candidate has carried the ball 79 times in the last two weeks and would benefit from a lighter load. He suffered a thigh bruise earlier in the month that could use time to heal.
But even if Hart only carries the ball 10 to 15 times, backups Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown still pose a formidable enough attack to exploit a weak Northwestern defense.
Michigan pass offense vs. Northwestern pass defense.
Whether it’s Ryan Mallett or Chad Henne taking snaps on Saturday, there will be one constant that bodes well for Michigan fans: the Northwestern pass defense.
Sure, Northwestern doesn’t have the worst pass defense in the Big Ten, but it’s close (the Wildcats’ 10th-place spot in pass defense trails only Minnesota’s embarrassing 407 yards per game). Even worse, Northwestern is yielding the second-most passing yards per game while facing the second-fewest attempts.
Michigan’s aerial attack hasn’t been what many predicted it would be going into the season, but the weapons are still there.
Even with a limited playbook if Mallett makes his third-straight start, Michigan should have its way with a weak Wildcat secondary.
Northwestern run offense vs. Michigan run defense.
If Northwestern wants any shot at coming out of Saturday with an upset victory, it will have to start with the legs of running back Tyrell Sutton. The Wildcats’ running back, who missed most of the team’s last three games with an injury, is expected to return against Michigan.
Two years ago, Sutton was the Big Ten’s consensus freshman of the year after an outstanding first season with Northwestern. He was effective last year, but didn’t build on the flashes of greatness he showed as a freshman.
Now, if he wants to get his junior season back on track, he’ll have to start against Michigan’s tough front four.
Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson are big bodies to contend with in the middle, and the emergence of sophomore Brandon Graham at defensive end will give the Northwestern offensive line even more fits.
If Michigan’s front four can win the battle in the trenches like it did against Penn State, then the Wolverine’s linebacking corps should be able to contain Sutton.
Northwestern pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
Through his first three games this season, Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher appeared to be leading a somewhat-potent spread offense. He threw for 838 yards, tossed eight touchdowns and ran for two others.
Then he met Ohio State.
The Buckeyes battered Bacher, sacking him five times and intercepting him twice. Bacher fumbled once and threw for just 120 yards.
Although the Michigan defense struggled with the spread early this year, it has rebounded by terrorizing quarterbacks with backfield pressure the past two weeks.
We should probably give Bacher some advice: Talk to Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
He can probably give you the number of a good Ann Arbor doctor. That is, if he still remembers.
Whenever Michigan has set up for a field goal this season – no matter how long or short – one constant remains: Wolverine fans tremble in fear.
Missed blocks killed the Wolverines in their loss to Appalachian State. But kicker Jason Gingell has done nothing with good blocks, either. He’s just 3-for-7 this year, including a 29-yard clanker against Penn State.
Northwestern’s Amando Villareal, on the other hand, has been a perfect 4-for-4.
But to be fair, Michigan has received some nice punting from Zoltan Mesko.
Too bad it doesn’t count for three points.
If Michigan and Northwestern have anything in common this weekend, it’s their motivation: neither wants to be embarrassed again this year.
Michigan, as fans need no reminder, lost to Appalachian State and took a pounding from Oregon. Ohio State clubbed the Wildcats 58-7 last week.
The Wolverines have presumably learned from their mistakes and hope to make up for them with increased concentration, determination and focus.
Northwestern has likely learned a thing or two from its blowout, too. Unfortunately, it can’t add more skill.
Prediction: Michigan 35,