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NU Has the Blueprint to Beat Michigan

If you’re having a bad week, take comfort in the fact that you rushed for more yards than the entire Michigan Wolverines football team on Saturday, just by sitting on your couch.

Northwestern’s opponent for this week managed to consistently move backwards against Nebraska, losing 21 yards on 36 attempts. Somehow, this was an improvement from its last game: against Michigan State, the Wolverines lost 48 yards on 29 attempts over the course of the game. They averaged a third and 13.

Michigan lost both of those matches.

Part of the problem for the Wolverines has been the decline of quarterback Devin Gardner. The usually dynamic rusher has lost 78 yards over the last two games and took 14 sacks while throwing one interception.

So the blueprint for beating Michigan appears obvious: get pressure on the quarterback.

“(Gardner) was a big part of their run game when they were having success offensively and moving the ball,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Devin was really a big part of that, so it’ll be interesting to see how they decide to attack us based on what we’ve seen the last month from them but also what we expect to see just because of what people do against our defense.”

Because of its rushing woes, Michigan may decide to max protect and throw for the majority of the game, in which case the pressure would fall on NU’s hobbled secondary to step up.

Coming off of the loss to Nebraska, NU’s secondary was looking a bit thin with injuries to cornerback Nick Van Hoose and safety Jimmy Hall. But Fitzgerald said that both players were full-go in the walk-through on Monday.

“We had a few guys banged up,” defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo said. “We’re all healed up now so it was really beneficial for us to have this bye week.”

The defense has been the strong point for the Wildcats the past few weeks and has a chance for another solid game. Gardner has thrown 11 interceptions and has taken 25 sacks this year. If the secondary can hold coverage for more than three seconds, there will be many opportunities to force the Wolverines to make a mistake.