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Rapid Reaction: Michigan 27, Northwestern 19

What happened:

Michigan stuck with the run on its first drive, despite recent struggles (aka two straight games with negative rushing totals). It was effective at first, getting the Wolverines all the way from their own 29 yard line to Northwestern’s nine yard line. But the rushing attack faltered in the red zone, and Michigan was forced to kick the field goal despite an impressive drive down the field.

On Northwestern’s first drive, running back Treyvon Green converted two third-and-ones to keep the Wildcats moving down the field. After a failed third down conversion, coach Pat Fitzgerald elected to go for it on fourth down and quarterback Kain Colter ran an option play to perfection, picking up the first down. Quarterback Trevor Siemian came in mid-drive and hit Tony Jones on the hands for what would have been a first down in the red zone, but Jones couldn’t hold on. The Cats settled for a field goal to tie the game at three.

The two teams traded punts for the rest of the first quarter and most of the second. NU had several opportunities to grab an interception but couldn’t keep control of the ball.

NU’s defense kept the pressure up throughout the half, sacking quarterback Devin Gardner twice and breaking up several passes at the line.

The Cats’ offense put together a drive near the end of the first half with a few long passes from Siemian to Cameron Dickerson and Rashad Lawrence. However, they stalled in the red zone after three straight runs up the middle and settled for a field goal to end the half, taking a 6-3 lead into the locker room.

The field position battle continued after the half, with both teams punting on their first two drives. On NU’s third drive of the second half, Siemian came up big again with a 26-yard pass to Christian Jones and a 17-yard pass to Lawrence, sandwiched around a 15-yard facemask penalty by Michigan. Again, the offense couldn’t push the ball into the endzone, taking a field goal instead to stretch the lead to six.

The momentum began to shift after NU punter Brandon Williams shanked a punt at the beginning of the fourth quarter from NU’s endzone. The ball went straight up into the air and landed out of bounds to a seven yard punt at the 10 yard line. The Cats defense held the Wolverines to a field goal and preserved the lead for the time-being.

After another punt by NU (with a new punter, Chris Gradone), Michigan mounted a drive to NU’s five-yard line behind some big runs by Gardner. The Wolverines went for the win on fourth-and-goal but Nick Van Hoose sealed the edge perfectly and stopped Gardner well short of the endzone.

Northwestern took over with just under four minutes left in the game and managed to run about a minute and a half off the clock before pinning Michigan back on its own 22-yard line. The Wolverines got into field goal range with the help of a pass interference call on Jimmy Hall but a 13 yard sack pushed them back behind midfield.

Then the fun (?) started. Michigan passed to the sideline with 12 seconds left but didn’t get out of bounds. They had no timeouts left. The field goal unit sprinted on the field and the long snapper snapped the ball as the holder was sliding into place. Kicker Brendan Gibbons miraculously made the 44-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

Michigan scored a touchdown on its overtime possession on a pass from Gardner to Jake Butt.

On NU’s first overtime possession, Siemian and Green led the Cats to the one-yard line before Colter came in for the quarterback sneak to match Michigan’s touchdown and send the game to a second overtime.

The Cats started with the ball in the second overtime but couldn’t get any movement and settled for the field goal.

On Michigan’s possession, NU got its first bit of good luck in weeks when a Michigan receiver dropped a sure-touchdown in the endzone that would have won the game for the Wolverines. Instead, Michigan kicked a field goal and we moved on to overtime number three.

Michigan scored first in the third overtime and ran in the two-point conversion. Northwestern’s possession came down to a fourth down play (after what should have been an interception on third down) and the Cats couldn’t convert.

What went right:

-Northwestern’s defense contained Devin Gardner well and allowed very few runs on the edges. The defensive line played very well despite the absence of defensive tackle Sean McEvilly. They sacked Gardner three times and batted down several passes, and generally made life difficult for the mobile quarterback. They also stopped him on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter to preserve a three-point lead. The defense played well enough to win.

-Trevor Siemian had a good day, going 16-for-25 with 137 yards. He didn’t get many chances in the red zone but when he did, he threw a few great passes. His receivers let him down with some drops.

-Offensive lineman Geoff Mogus went down with an injury in the first half and didn’t return, safety Traveon Henry left with an injury in the fourth quarter, and Chance Carter walked off in overtime, but other than that, the Cats escaped the game with only some bumps and bruises. Health will be vital if NU intends to win its last two games and play in a bowl game this season.

What went wrong:

-It was the same story (albeit with a different ending) as many of the games this season: the defense did what it had to do, while the offense struggled to find any consistency.  They had a few long drives, but even those stalled in the red zone every time.

-Northwestern’s play-calling was mind-boggling at times. The running backed and Colter were getting space on the edges but ran right up the middle in the red zone three straight times. They went for it on fourth down and two in the first quarter (and made it) but didn’t go for it on fourth and one from midfield in the fourth quarter.

-Northwestern had a seven yard punt in this game. Michigan had a first-and-goal after a Northwestern punt. Yeah.

-Michigan pulled off one of the most miraculous field goals ever to send the game to overtime. If NU didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all.