Northwestern is running out of chances to get a Big Ten win this season. If the Wildcats plan on playing in a bowl game this year, they will have to win two of their last three games. Their first chance comes this week against Michigan. Let’s look at how the two teams match up in different situations.
When Michigan has the ball
Michigan’s offensive line has been questionable all year and particularly bad in the last two games. Against Nebraska last week, quarterback Devin Gardner got hit 27 times and was sacked seven times. They weren’t any better in run blocking, as the rush game managed to move backwards, finishing with -21 yards. The week before, against Michigan State, Gardner was again sacked seven times and the Wolverines finished with -48 yards rushing. Moral of the story: Northwestern will be able to get some pressure on Gardner even with defensive tackle Sean McEvilly out with an injury. Gardner is also a big part of the Wolverines run game so if they can contain him, they’ll neutralize most of Michigan’s offense. The pressure is on NU’s defensive line to step up in this game.
When Northwestern has the ball
The bye week allowed for some desperately-needed healing time for the Cats’ offense. NU was down to its seventh string running back at one point against Nebraska. Now, Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy are both healthy (or as healthy as anyone can be at this point in the season) and will play a big part in the play action game that NU plans to use against Michigan this week. The Wolverines have been susceptible to medium-to-long sideline passes this year, so expect to see a healthy dose of Trevor Siemian at quarterback. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kain Colter got some time at wide receiver, too. Michigan’s run defense is much better than its pass defense, so the Cats will have to revive their passing game is they want to establish any offensive rhythm this weekend.
Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has missed five of 16 field goals this season, including three of seven in Michigan’s quadruple-overtime loss to Penn State last month. Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien has missed only two all season and none since a 49-yarder against Maine in week four. The forecast for this weekend’s game predicts rain and wind, so if the game comes down to a big field goal, Michigan could be in trouble.