Preview: Northwestern

Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
October 8, 2011, 7:00 PM ET

TV: Big Ten Network (Tom Hart, Derek Rackley, Lisa Byington)
Radio: WWJ-950 AM, WTKA-1050 AM, Sirius 94/XM 85 (Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter, Doug Karsch)
Line: UM -7
Over/Under: 59
Series Record: UM leads 52-15-2
Last Meeting: 2008: MICH 14 - NU 21
UM Record/Rank: 5-0 (1-0), #12/11 (AP/Coaches)
NU Record/Rank: 2-2 (0-1), NR
Gametime Forecast: Clear, 75ยบ, Winds ESE 5 MPH

A little background
Michigan and Northwestern have had an interesting (recent) past together. For many years, Michigan dominated this series. But over the last 15 years or so, the series has produced some very close games, some of which have not gone the Wolverines way. Northwestern wins in 1995, 96, 2000 and 2008 constitute the 4 total wins for the Wildcats against Michigan since 1965. In that time Michigan's advantage in the series is 27-4, Since 1995: 8-4.

Oh, and those two losses to NU in the mid-90's? Pay no attention to the fact that Greg Mattison was the DC at Michigan for those two years. Ain't no thang.

Game previews from trusted sites: The Wolverine Blog, Maize Pages, MZone, MGoBlog, Big House Blog, BWS. Historical primer via Lake The Posts (NU blog), Various fanfare from Sippin' on Purple, who's website tagline is "Where Ryan Field isn't half empty, it's half full.", except tomorrow when the other half will be Michigan alums.

Statistical Breakdown (based on stats through week 5)
Remember that Michigan's week 1 stats against WMU are not taken into account here.

MICHIGANValue (Nat. Rank)Value (Nat. Rank)NORTHWESTERNADV.
Rushing Offense (ypg)293.25 (7)174.75 (89)Rushing Defense (ypg)MICH+++
Passing Offense (ypg)185.75 (97)239.25 (81)Passing Defense (ypg)PUSH
Pass Efficiency147.77 (37)136.70 (88)Pass Efficiency DefenseMICH+
Total Offense (ypg)479.00 (15)414.00 (94)Total Defense (ypg)MICH++
Scoring Offense (ppg)38.00 (19)24.25 (55)Scoring Defense (ppg)MICH
Rushing Defense (ypg)150.25 (65)207.75 (24)Rushing Offense (ypg)NU+
Passing Defense (ypg)175.25 (14)167.00 (105)Passing Offense (ypg)MICH+++
Pass Efficiency Defense113.16 (24)157.18 (24)Pass EfficiencyPUSH
Total Defense (ypg)325.50 (32)374.75 (77)Total Offense (ypg)MICH+
Scoring Defense (ppg)10.25 (4)28.75 (65)Scoring Offense (ppg)MICH++
Net Punting Yards37.21 (50)17.33 (8)Punt Return YardsNU+
Punt Return Yards8.43 (59)34.55 (101)Net Punting YardsMICH+
Kickoff Return Yards18.43 (108)16.89 (9)Kickoff Return DefenseNU+++
Kickoff Return Defense21.83 (69)23.33 (32)Kickoff Return YardsNU
Turnover Margin1.00 (16)1.25 (13)Turnover MarginPUSH
Penalty Yds/Game30.60 (8)43.50 (31)Penalty Yds/GameMICH
Sacks1.25 (93)2.50 (89)Sacks AllowedPUSH
Sacks Allowed0.50 (3)2.50 (31)SacksMICH
Redzone Offense (%)95.45 (9)78.57 (41)Redzone Defense (%)MICH
Redzone Defense (%)50.00 (1)77.78 (87)Redzone Offense (%)MICH+++
Redzone TD %77.27 (11)71.43 (96)Redzone TD % DefenseMICH+++
Redzone TD % Defense35.71 (4)77.78 (9)Redzone TD %PUSH
3rd Down Conv. %49.02 (23)46.43 (102)3rd Down Defense %MICH++
3rd Down Defense %39.39 (63)41.51 (67)3rd Down Conv. %PUSH
1st Downs Per Game21.40 (52)20.00 (64)1st Downs Allowed Per/GmPUSH
1st Downs Allowed Per/Gm17.00 (30)20.80 (62)1st Downs Per GameMICH

Difference less than 20 in national rank = Push
Difference more than 20 in national rank = Team
Difference more than 40 in national rank = Team+
Difference more than 60 in national rank = Team++
Difference more than 80 in national rank = Team+++

Common Opponents

This is where we typically talk about position battles and dive into some of the personnel stuff. Due to time constraints this week, here's a slightly condensed version.

Last week Michigan's offense was hitting on all cylinders. Albeit, Minnesota is hardly the measure by which to gauge your offense, but if the play-calling by Al Borges is any indication, for example using Devin Gardner under center with Denard in the backfield – Borges plans to continue to "empty the drawer" according to,
"Big Ten play, we'll empty the drawer more as we go," Borges said. "The first four games, we were still learning the offense.

"We're going to have our deals. Not all will work -- some will be good, some of them aren't -- but that was just one of them."
Tough to preview an offense when it keeps adding dimensions each week, but that's what makes this pretty fun to do. Anyone who wants to try and label Borges' schemes will have a tough time doing so. You can't call this offense a "pro-style" and just leave it at that. The best way to describe it is "multiple". It's a generic term, but when you do so many thing so well, that label applies quite nicely.

A lot of people (fans and media) speculated that Borges would have a difficult time incorporating Denard into his style of offense. Five weeks into the season, it's hard not to be impressed with what Borges has done. He calls plays like a kid in a candy store.

I don't think Northwestern has any way of stopping anything that Michigan has planned for this game. There might be areas in which we struggle on Saturday night, but moving the ball offensively will not be one of them.

Expect to see some new wrinkles added to the offense again this week. Expect to see a lot of Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith. Neither back has been able to break away from the other in the RB race – but the benefit is having two very capable backs to share the workload – and make it that much tougher for a opponent's defensive coordinator to gameplan.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan comes off it's first shutout since 2007. Again, Minnesota hardly being a measuring stick, but all things being equal, putting 58 unanswered points up against any B1G team is something that has to make this defense feel great. A feeling not felt in Ann Arbor in quite some time.

One stat that has really surprised me is our redzone defense. It's rare that a team gets to our redzone, but if they do, we're tough in that regard. Last season we finished 89th in overall redzone defense. So far in 2011, we're tied for 1st. So far, that's the biggest stat jump from 2010 to 2011.

But every aspect of the defense is ranked higher than where we finished last year. Passing defense (14th overall) finished 112th last season. The great thing about this is, we've played some very good QBs so far, notably WMU's Alex Carder who passed for 479 yards and 5 touchdowns against UConn last week. Carder is ranked 10th overall in total offense and 18th nationally in passing efficiency.

I'm not saying it's 2006 all over again, but now that we're 5 games into this season, and the defense had played better each week – tough not to feel confident right now. NU's Dan Persa does provide a challenge for us. He's a big play QB. And even though he's hobbled with an injury that limits his running ability. His first game of the year was last week at Illinois. 9 carries for -3 yards and 10/14 passes for 123 yards. But 4 of those throws were touchdowns. He's dangerous.

Also dangerous is Persa's favorite target, Jeremy Ebert who leads the team in receiving with 15 catches for 238 yards and 5 touchdowns. Running the ball will be Drake Dunsmore who replaces the Wildcats' leading rusher Mike Trumpy who went down with a season-ending injury last week.

Not much about the rushing attack scares me. But Persa is a wildcard. He's a smart guy with a strong arm. He blew up Illinois defense early last week, and the Illini defense is no slouch. Michigan will have a tough time stopping the short-passing game, which is Northwestern's MO under Fitzgerald.

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