This week the Wildcats (1-2, 1-0) have the chance to get their season back on track, facing Michigan in Evanston. Currently tied for first place in the Big Ten West, the Wildcats season is far from over following a disappointing loss to Akron. The Wolverines (3-1, 1-0) suffered a frustrating week one defeat to Notre Dame, but have looked dominant in their last three games. Here are three things to know about Northwestern’s week 5 opponent, the Michigan Wolverines:
Michigan’s defense is full of very talented players but susceptible to big plays
The Wolverine defense is extremely talented, returning 10 starters. Key returners include all-American candidates Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush Jr, and Khaleke Hudson, as well as two talented corners, Lavert Hill and David Long. The Wolverines’ true question mark lies in their safeties. Sophomores Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus. Kinnel and Metellus faced heavy criticism last year, as their inexperience led to being exposed a few times. The Wolverines had the third best defense nationally (by total defense) in 2017, and they have looked strong so far.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson has provided what the Wolverines lacked in seasons past
Last season, the Wolverines struggled to find a consistent starting quarterback, especially after the injury of Wilton Speight. John O’Korn picked up a majority of the starts after his injury, but Brandon Peters received significant playing time as well. Speight transferred and O’Korn was out of eligibility, leaving Michigan with lackluster quarterback options. That is, until they received Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, who was granted immediate eligibility after the NCAA granted his waiver. In his first four games in Maize and Blue, Patterson has thrown for 709 yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions, with a 70 percent completion percent. He has been the playmaker for this Wolverine offense and has provided stability in a position where they previously lacked it.
Michigan looks to have hit their stride, albeit against weaker opponents
Week one presented the Wolverines with their toughest test to date: an early visit to South Bend, Ind. to take on Notre Dame. The Irish won a tight game, 24-17, but carried the lead the whole game. The Wolverines bounced back to blow out Western Michigan 49-3, beat SMU 45-20 (their defense looked vulnerable in this game), and dominated Nebraska 56-10. Michigan was up 39-0 at half against Nebraska and has started to click as a team, figuring out many of its issues, both defensively and offensively. The question about Michigan is whether the Wolverines are just opportune, blowing out mediocre teams and losing closely against the teams they aspire to beat, or the real deal.