Run Offense vs. NorthwesternThis should be a replay of the first three games, not the ten-yarders interspersed with lost yardage that Penn State was. Northwestern is currently a respectable 55th in rushing defense but has played Northeastern, Nevada, and Duke to go along with Ohio State. Chris Wells went for 100 yards on just twelve carries before getting sent to the bench with Ohio State up like 400 points, leaving disappointing Maurice Wells -- Ohio State should not recruit running backs named "Maurice" -- and Antonio Henton to flail into the line and bring down OSU's average. Though Penn State had a lot of success at shooting into the backfield, that requires a lot of huge agile guys. Northwestern does not have these guys.
One potential downer: Tim MacAvoy, the third string right guard, will start this game.
Key Matchup: Mike Massey versus whoever. Block someone, kid!
Pass Offense vs. Penn StateMallett or Henne? It probably won't matter as Michigan hands off time and again, but whoever it is is likely to have major opportunities to pad some stats. Consider the following QB lines:
- 11 of 14 for 179 yards and 4 TDs.
- 19 of 23 for 246 yards and 3 TDs.
- 22-36 for 337 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 interception.
They won't, of course. Throwing on first down will happen a quarter to a third of the time, Mallett will be kept away from sharp objects, and Michigan will be content to have its quarterback finish with 20 attempts.
Key Matchup: Mike Debord versus spectacle.
Run Defense vs. NorthwesternThe absence of Hart-like mighty mite Tyrell Sutton helps assuage fears that Northwestern's run-based spread option will slice and dice Michigan's defense in a fashion reminiscent of The Horror. Sutton's replacments are not even close to the little adorable bastard's level of play. The results have been good (204 yards on 26 carries versus Nevada), bad (3.8 YPC for Brandon Roberson, Sutton's replacement, against Duke(!)), and ugly (61 yards on 33 rushes versus Ohio State). I think we can safely say Michigan's run defense is not Ohio State caliber, but... uh... probably better than Duke. If they aren't, it's time to sound the alarm and dive, dive, dive, because it would mean Michigan is truly irredeemable against the zone read with Purdue and Illinois fast approaching.
Key Matchup: CGraham and Thompson against whatever the hell they were doing in the first couple games.
Pass Defense vs. NorthwesternAfter what was probably the worst performance by a secondary in Michigan history, the defense bounced back with strong efforts against Jimmah Clausen and Anthony Morelli. Caveat emptor, though, given the lack of talent and intelligence evident in both. (Many will blame Clausen's performance on a leaky Irish OL and while said OL is not particularly good, many of Michigan's sacks were solidly on Clausen's inability to find anyone to throw to at all.) CJ Bacher does not come with guru-approved talent but I kind of like the kid. However, statistics do not. In the past two weeks he's thrown four interceptions and no touchdowns, though he did rack up a lot of yards versus Duke.
Meanwhile, a lot of Nittany Lion receivers found themselves open last week to no avail, and Michigan is still starting two questionable veterans and a true freshman at corner. This will not be a slam-dunk shutout. Northwestern's game is all short stuff that relies on receivers picking up yards after the catch, which should help neutralize a pass rush that has been fierce against charitable lines the past couple weeks. And our corners, well... dodgy tackling, IMO. Northwestern probably lacks the ability to execute consistently enough to shred Michigan, but a dominant performance is not coming.
Key Matchup: Cornerbacks and tackling. Trent has been good so far this year. Warren has not; Brandon Harrison has a history of taking poor angles and allowing YAC. Northwestern lives and dies on YAC... this is kind of bad matchup.
Special TeamsNorthwestern has a decent punter, a kickoff return touchdown, a decent kicker but hasn't shown that their special teams units can be a real asset. Meanwhile, Zoltan Mesko spent the week booming 36-yard fair catch specials that prevented Derrick Williams from getting even one return and dropping balls inside the five that should have been downed. He's been outstanding. Michigan's return units have been mediocre and the kicker missed a 29-yard field goal, though.
Key Matchup: Eh... this does not seem to be a point of major concern this game.
IntangiblesSorry, but I love the punching cat thing to death.
Cheap ThrillsWorry if...
- AAAAARGH SPREAD OPTION GASH
- For some reason we can't run the ball.
- See "AAAAARGH SPREAD OPTION GASH".
- Clever zone left stuff goes for 8 a pop.
- BGraham continues his ascension.
- Henne starts.
Desperate need to win level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh God, The Dashed Hopes, +1 for Mike Hart, Man, Mike Hart, -1 for But Then We're Seriously Going Outside The Program, +1 for Wide Open Big Ten Means Potential Rose Bowl, -1 for ...Where We Might Well Play Oregon.)
Loss will cause me to... drive into Lake Michigan.
Win will cause me to... concoct crazy justifications as to why this means we can totally stop Purdue's offense.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Northwestern appears to be really, really bad this year, but I still believe the Michigan defense is vulnerable to all sorts of things like non-inept quarterbacks. Bacher may or may not be one of these, but he'd be hard-pressed to play as crappily as either of our foes the last two weeks. Northwestern will move the ball some. Their defense will get knocked over by a feather, but Michigan's reliance on pounding the ball time and again will put them in constant third down situations, many of which they will convert but many of which they will not. Think of it as Penn State light: many drives that pick up a chunk of yards but end somewhere short of the endzone. The end result should be a comfortable but disappointingly close win; if ill fortune intervenes this could be close well into the second half.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Manningham finally catches a deep ball.
- Our defense gives everyone the heebie-jeebies.
- 27-17, Michigan.