Gallagher led the team with 12 total tackles, and was the only linebacker with more than two solo tackles (he had six). The sophomore technically didn’t record a tackle for loss, but had multiple stuffs for no gain or just a yard or two, most notably combining with Greg Newsome on a huge fourth down stop. Gallagher had a huge hit on special teams as well, and looked solid in limited coverage snaps. After looking inexperienced in limited non-special teams action last year, he has used his sure tackling and above-average speed to cover the whole field, rarely missing a play. Nate Hall and Paddy Fisher have both underwhelmed at times this year, but yesterday Gallagher picked up the slack.
Clayton Thorson’s safety blanket had just six catches for 65 yards, but was once again the only reliable option in the passing game after the first quarter. Nagel was covered tightly all game and made several catches with high degrees of difficulty, accounting for some important first downs. The senior’s connection with Thorson is clear, and he’s up to26 catches for 291 yards on the season. No other Northwestern target has reached 20 catches or 200 yards.
Karan Higdon ripped off some big runs, and Michigan connected on a few nice play-action passes. But JR Pace and Jared McGee never let anything get behind them, and made some nice plays around the line of scrimmage as well. The pair combined for 19 tackles, 14 solo, and Pace recorded both a TFL and a pass defensed while McGee made several nice stops near the line of scrimmage. Northwestern’s bend-but-don’t break defense mostly held up, and despite struggles early in the year, the safeties keyed it.
Honorable mentions: The defensive line, that one JJ Jefferson play, Charlie Kuhbander, kick coverage
It feels like the stock can’t drop much lower for the offensive line, especially against a front as talented as Michigan, but it definitely did. Thorson was sacked on a whopping 17 percent of his dropbacks, and though the talented Chase Winovich played a significant role in that, Rashan Gary didn’t record even a TFL, despite Michigan finishing with ten on the game. Tommy Doles was out for the game, and Blake Hance exited early, but the offensive line just never got anything going after the first quarter. Without Jeremy Larkin, the running game fizzled, with 28 non-sack carries going for just 71 yards.
This is not that young of a group: even without Doles and Hance, the starters consist of a true sophomore, two redshirt sophomores, a redshirt junior, and a redshirt senior. That’s 12 combined years of experience entering this season. Fitzgerald alluded to seeing significant technique issues in the postgame press conference. It goes without saying, but that’s a huge problem at this point of the season. The final sack, on an attempted Hail Mary with Michigan literally rushing two, was a microcosm of a disastrous first four games up front.
The offensive line didn’t do him any favors, but once again, after a hot start, Thorson completely cooled off. He avoided backbreaking mistakes, but just never got anything going. Outside of the final, mostly meaningless drive, Thorson went 5-15 for 46 yards in the last three quarters after starting off 8-9 for 104 yards. Michigan’s secondary, of course, is tough, but they lost a couple of pieces to it during the game, and Northwestern didn’t come close to capitalizing.
For most of the game, Thorson looked like the game-managing freshman he was the last time Northwestern faced these Wolverines. He’s got to figure something out quickly, because other Big Ten teams will continue to take advantage of the senior’s pedestrian play.
Did the two wasted first half timeouts really matter in the scheme of things? Probably not. But between that and consistently being out-adjusted, Pat Fitzgerald’s coaching staff was just beaten by Jim Harbaugh’s guys. Northwestern has now been held scoreless in three second halves against Power 5 teams, and Akron outscored them in Northwestern’s offensive possessions during the second half of Week 3. As a commenter pointed out, the players don’t get worse at halftime. Northwestern’s coaches need to find a way to maximize their players, because they are certainly aren’t doing it (especially in the second half) right now.
Honorable mentions: Defensive havoc plays, offensive explosiveness (besides that one JJ Jefferson play), Cam Green