This week, the Wildcats play host to the University of Michigan Wolverines at Ryan Field. This matchup is the start of Northwestern’s home Big Ten play. While many will point to the out of conference struggles the Wildcats have recently had, they are currently tied for the lead of the Big Ten West, and with future matchups against Wisconsin and Iowa, the Wildcats need to maintain their perfect Big Ten record. Here are the reasons why Northwestern will/won’t beat Michigan
Why Northwestern will beat Michigan
1. Northwestern upset teams like Michigan before
The Wildcats face a tough task on Saturday, Michigan is full of blue-chip recruits, mostly four and five-star players. While it doesn’t happen often, the Wildcats have their fair share of major upsets (see: Notre Dame in 2014, Nebraska in 2011, Ohio State in 2004). This game would not be an upset of that caliber but would be a huge win for the Wildcats. Northwestern could also rally around this week’s sad news about Jeremy Larkin and use this game as one final tribute to his contributions and the team proving once and for all they have his back.
2. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week
After back-to-back losses including a surprising loss to Akron on the 15th, Northwestern was fortunate enough to have their bye week when they needed it. Northwestern is about to enter arguably their toughest stretch, facing ranked teams in their next two weeks, and four out of their next six. This stretch will be the one that determines whether the Wildcats will win the Big Ten West, make a bowl game, and if they do, the quality of that bowl game. Their season will be defined in their next six games. If the Wildcats can go 3-3 in their next three games they will be well suited to end the season making a bowl game finishing 6-6 or 7-5, either result would be seen as a successful recovery from early struggles.
3. The Wildcats will expose the Wolverines as Clayton Thorson finds his groove
As I mentioned earlier this week, the Wolverine defense is very talented, but has given up many game-changing plays. While this has not been one of the Wildcats’ strengths this season so far, Clayton Thorson will find his groove this week, exposing the Michigan defense with precision as he proves full well why he deserves to be a first round draft pick. The bye week and the recovery that comes with it should prove helpful to Thorson, who will end up with the lion’s share of the reps. Thorson will look as if he is a new man, making Wildcat fans forget about his performance against Akron.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Michigan
- Michigan’s defensive line will dominate the Wildcats in the trenches
As Avery put it on Wednesday, the matchup between the already shaky Northwestern offensive line and extremely talented Wolverine defensive line will be a huge one. Despite their best efforts, the Wildcats will most likely be overpowered by the combined force of Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Bryan Mone, and Michael Dwumfour. Michigan has one of the top defenses in college football, and as such, chances are high that they will systematically beat down the Wildcats, bullying them in the trenches and battering Clayton Thorson and TJ Green.
2. The Wolverines’ athleticism will be too much for Northwestern
In the past few weeks, Northwestern has looked overmatched against their opponent, whether it was wide receivers running through our secondary wide open or the Wildcats offensive line (albeit a depleted one) struggling to compete with the athleticism of Akron. Michigan is a beast of a different caliber than Akron, and they are full of highly athletic and skilled players. These players will be the difference makers as the Wildcats struggle to compete with Michigan resulting in an ugly loss.
3. Shea Patterson will expose the Wildcats’ secondary
From opening night, the Wildcats secondary has struggled immensely. The Northwestern secondary has had issues facing athletic receivers like Kwadarrius Smith. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Michigan is full of very speedy and skilled receivers, arguably better than that of who they have faced so far. Beyond this, transfer quarterback Shea Patterson is a talent in his own right, a five-star prospect and ranked third in the country in the class of 2016. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and the Wolverines will expose the vulnerable Northwestern secondary on their way to a huge day.