Northwestern Preview

Northwestern's Numbers
4-5 overall, 0-5 Big Ten
Head coach: Pat Fitzgerald
     Career: 54-44 (8th year)
     at NU: 54-44 (8th year)
Offense: Spread
     Rush: Treyvon Green (95-612 yards, 8 TDs)
     Pass: Trevor Siemian (102-181, 1,349 yards, 7 TDs) and Kain Colter (58-74, 545 yards, 4 TDs)
     Rec.: Tony Jones (38-492 yards, 4 TDs)
Defense: Multiple 4-3
     Tackles: Chi Chi Ariguzo (79 tackles) and Damien Proby (79 tackles) 
     Sacks: Tyler Scott (5.0-33 yards)
     Int.: Chi Chi Ariguzo (4-26 yards) and Ibraheim Campbell (4-22 yards)

Never forget.

When Michigan has the ball
Oh, where to start???

The wheels have officially fallen off the season, and almost every reason as to why can be blamed on the offense. And I'm not pointing fingers here, it's everyone. Coaching, play-calling, execution, youth. It's a systemic problem.

After the Nebraska game, it's clear that Michigan can't run the ball. Devin Gardner is not playing with much confidence, and the offensive line is woefully inexperienced. The bright spots have been Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess, but those guys don't touch the ball enough to change the game on their own.

For Michigan, it's all about gaining experience and trying to get better one game at a time. It's not what Michigan fans want to hear, but I think the real goal being set by Hoke and Borges is to get Michigan where they want to be for long-term success. And to do that, they have to sacrifice short-term success...which isn't much fun for us, but I think it's what we're seeing.

My hypothesis is that the worst thing that could've happened for this year's offense was Devin Gardner going back to QB after Denard got hurt last season, and having great success. Suddenly, Hoke and company were forced to keep Devin at QB for 2013, and continue to run a hybrid spread/pro-style offense with a spread QB and RB, and a young but pro-style OL. Michigan is trying to spread when they need to and run manball when they want to. They're not good enough to do that.

That said, the push toward a pro-style offense continues and this week I think they cut Derrick Green loose. They have to. That, and they get the fullback more involved in the offense. They need bodies that can keep blitzing linebackers off Devin for at least an extra beat. If Gardner can start the game hitting some short quick passes like he did against Minnesota, then Michigan could potentially start to get on a roll.

But if Northwestern has success getting into the backfield and disrupts Devin/Green/Fitz, it's going to be another long Saturday afternoon.

When Northwestern has the ball
Injuries have dramatically changed this Northwestern team this season, and the offense has especially been impacted. Running back Venric Mark is officially now out for the season, even though he's already missed quite a bit of time this year. But for the 2nd week in a row, Michigan will face a dual-quarterback system.

Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will rotate quite often, even on the same drive sometimes. They'll even share the field with Colter in the slot. Colter is the typical starter, and frankly, the more dangerous of the two QBs. With Mark out, he's the main threat on the ground. Siemian is a more pocket-style passer. He's not really a threat to scramble for any meaningful yards...which is good because Colter will do Denard-like things.

In VMark's absence, Treyvon Green has been pretty good. Against Nebraska in their last game, Green ran for 149 yards on 19 carries (7.84 ypc) and 3 touchdowns. Easily his best outing of the year.

The O-line is good enough to be good enough. They're suited to the spread-option style pretty well. Same goes for the receiver corps. There's no superstars to speak of, but of course, they haven't played Michigan yet.

But Brad, if Northwestern isn't so bad, what's up with their 4-5 record?

Easy. No consistency. That's probably equal parts injuries, execution and coaching. Some bad breaks in their big game against Ohio State sort of derailed the season, and it's been a pretty rocky road offensively since then.

Northwestern is a pure spread offense that like to run quickly with no huddle. It's not Hoosier Ludacris Speed™, but it's definitely up-tempo. Michigan must stop the run to be successful. They need to keep Colter on a leash and send pressure on obvious passing downs. The biggest weakness of the NU offense is their passing game...notably the pass protection.

Michigan can't win this game without moving the ball on the ground. And that could be a huge problem because that's exactly what Northwestern will be looking to stop. Michigan's defense should have another decent game that will at least keep it close for a while, but they'll need some help.

It's been a rough year for the offense and I'd like to think that maybe things will eventually just "click" for this team, but that rarely happens in the middle of the season...and it even rarer on the road. I'm not ruling out the possibility of a win, you never know what can happen. Maybe the defense or special teams gets a game-changing score? Maybe the stars align for the OL and Derrick Green? But you have to look at this game and this team in the reality that we live in, and all signs point to more struggles.

An already long season get a little longer tomorrow.

Tweet obnoxiously if...
• Derrick Green has a breakout game...I mean a serious breakout game.
• Defensive or special teams touchdown. Or both actually.
• Northwestern forgets they have a game tomorrow.
• Some bad eggs or meat at the Wildcat team breakfast.

Commence panic if...
• It's raining, which it might.
• Northwestern watched the UM/MSU and or the UM/NEB game film.
• More Toussaint runs up the middle.
• More ineffective play-action where Gardner fakes one way and the RB goes the other. Seriously, this is something we do.

Northwestern 24 Michigan 13

Related content:
• Big Ten Preview: Week 12
• These Days...
• Big Ten Power Rankings and Bowl Projections - Week 12

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