Fresh off a win on Homecoming against Rutgers, the Wildcats travel to Ann Arbor to take on No. 6 Michigan (6-0, 3-0 B1G) for the first time since 2018. The game will be played for the George Jewett Trophy, inaugurating a new rivalry between the schools in honor of George Jewett, a former Wolverine and Wildcat and the first Black football player in the Big Ten. Northwestern will be looking for its first win against Michigan since the 2008 season, which will certainly be a tough ask, as Jim Harbaugh’s team is off to a hot start this year. Let’s take a look at the weekend’s hosts:
Its rushing attack is one of the nation’s best
Northwestern will have its hands full with the Wolverine rushing attack on Saturday. Michigan boasts the top rushing offense in the conference led by the two-headed monster of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. The two running backs have opposing styles — as Haskins a pounder and Corum a speedy change-of-pace back — but, nonetheless, they have rushed for eight touchdowns each. Together, the RBs have lead Michigan to the helm of the B1G with a conference-leading 246.5 yards per game on the ground.
On the flip side, Northwestern has allowed its opponents 205.7 yards per contest via the run, the most rushing yards allowed per game in the conference. That being said, the ‘Cats gave up just 63 rushing yards on 34 total carries on Saturday against Rutgers, potentially showing that they’ve turned somewhat of a corner in their run-stopping ventures. If NU is to have any chance at the Big House, its run defense will have to look like the one that played the Scarlet Knights and not the one that got trampled at Memorial Stadium by Nebraska.
Led by Aidan Hutchinson, its defense is top notch
A large part of Michigan’s success this season has been its revitalized defense. The Wolverine D ranks top 10 in opposing scoring nationally, allowing just 15.5 points per game. U of M will force the ‘Cats to earn every yard in Ann Arbor on Saturday, as it allows the second-fewest yards per contest in the conference.
The man leading this revived unit has been defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson ranks ninth in the FBS with 5.5 sacks this season, and Pro Football Focus has him rated as the best edge defender in college football with a grade of 92.7. It will be a tall task for the Northwestern offensive line to contain Hutchinson and the Wolverine pass rush.
Finishing Drives has been a struggle
If there’s one thing you can point to as a flaw in Michigan’s unbeaten start, it’s that QB Cade McNamara and company have a hard time finishing drives. The Wolverines escaped Lincoln two weeks ago with a 32-29 victory, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much of a nail-biter had they converted red zone trips into touchdowns. The Wolverines attempted four field goals on trips inside the 20-yard line and kept Nebraska in that game. Michigan’s goal-to-go touchdown rate this season is just 77%. The rate at which they score touchdowns in the red zone is 62% — that’s 68th in the country. If the ‘Cats can play with a “bend don’t break” mentality that their program has emphasized for so many years, who knows what could happen.