Opponent Watch: Week 5

The last time Michigan gave up zero points in back-2-back games was in 2000 against Indiana (58-0) and Michigan State (14-0). The following week, against Northwestern, Michigan lost 54-51.

Hopefully, lessons have been learned.

#13/14 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0)
Last week: Beat Minnesota 27-0
This week: @ Michigan, 3:30 BTN

A slow start again for the Wildcats, this game was close late in the 2Q. But the turning point in the game occurred right before halftime when Miles Shuler's punt return led to a Clayton Throson touchdown run that made it 10-0 NW. From there, Minnesota folded and NW never let them back into it. Much like Michigan's win in College Park, once they put a couple scores on the board, the game was completely over because of suffocating defense.

A year ago, Michigan and Northwestern combined to create one of the lasting iconic images of the 2014 season...the #M00N game. Two stout defenses both held their opponents scoreless a week ago, setting up one of the biggest showdowns of this young Big Ten conference schedule. Neither Minnesota nor Maryland are very good gauges however, so there's still a lot to prove for both squads.

Northwestern's defensive stats are hard to ignore, but so are their rather paltry offensive stats. Their running game ranks 14th nationally, but their passing game ranks 118th. Given what Michigan has done to opponents this year especially at home, you get the feeling this one-dimensional NW offense will need to catch some lucky breaks to pull this one out. Michigan has had ball protection issues, so that's surely a concern. Long sustained drives aren't really a concern for Michigan's defense, but if they give NW a short field, they can take advantage.

When you really boil this matchup down, if Northwestern is going to win this game it's going to be a very low scoring game. If Michigan wins, it could be low scoring, or they could just rally in front of a home crowd enroute to a huge win. Either way, these two teams so closely resemble each other on paper that this matchup is certainly going to be fun to watch.

Fear Factor: Up

#4/3 Michigan State (5-0, 1-0)
Last week: Beat Purdue 24-21
This week: @ Rutgers, 8:00 BTN

Michigan State's number 2 ranking, just like their comfortable lead over Purdue last week, was short-lived. For the 5th week in a row, Michigan State failed to cover the spread against an opponent they certainly should've taken out behind the woodshed. Purdue had no business being in this game after being down 21-0 at halftime. But just like their terrible fans, Michigan State's defense (and offense, really) didn't feel like sticking around for the 2nd half. Injuries continue to plague this team, and really it's just a matter of time before a competent opponent exposes Michigan State.

Fear Factor: Down

Minnesota (3-2, 0-1)
Last week: Lost to Northwestern 27-0
This week: @ Purdue, 3:30 ESPN

Mitch Leidner's numbers really tell the tale...10 of 21 for 72 yards and 1 pick. He also fumbled the ball deep in their own territory that led to a scoop and score. Against a defense like Northwestern's, that's not going to get it done. Backup Demry Croft's numbers weren't much better, either. Minnesota is lost. It's not all the QB's fault either. What plagues the Gophers feels much deeper than just one single problem. Whatever it is they need to regroup and pull it together fast if making a bowl game is going to happen. Looking ahead, it's not clear where 3 more wins are on this schedule, but given the B1G west is pretty wide open, anything can happen.

Fear Factor: Down

Rutgers (2-2, 0-1)
Last week: Bye
This week: vs Michigan State, 8:00 BTN

Didn't play last week, and still lost 35-0.

Fear Factor: Unchanged

Indiana (4-1, 0-1)
Last week: Lost to Ohio State 34-27
This week: @ Penn State, 12:00 ESPN2

I'm not exactly sure why Indiana was a 21-point underdog to Ohio State because I don't know anyone who thought it would be that much of a blowout, or a blowout at all. I wasn't surprised to see IU in this game late. I was very surprised however, to see IU in this game late with their backup QB and RB in the game making huge plays and IU's defense getting gouged by Ezekiel Elliott over and over again. If that snap wasn't botched (which is so Indiana) on the last play, this could be a whole different story. The trick now is staying at that level of play with the injuries they have on offense.

Fear Factor: Unchanged

Penn State (4-1, 1-0)
Last week: Beat Army 20-14
This week: vs Indiana, 12:00 ESPN2

I'll go on record right now...James Franklin knows exactly what a point spread is. I get the coach-speak and the contempt he holds for the media...that's nothing new. But what this reeks of is incompetence. Franklin is probably a good coach, and a very good cheerleader motivator, but right now it's not translating into results on the field or on the stat sheet. The offense is flat week-in and week-out...the defense is pretty decent. But these close scrape-by wins against inferior opponents signals to me that another 2-6 league record is a very real possibility in Happy Valley.

Fear Factor: Down

#1/1 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0)
Last week: Beat Indiana 34-27
This week: vs Maryland, 12:00 BTN

You'd think the #1 ranked team sitting at 5-0 wouldn't be hounded by headlines that suggest everything is broken and asking "What's wrong with Ohio State?". Regardless of this slow start by the Buckeyes, they are going to get it right sooner or later, there just too much talent there. The turnover situation has gone from something you notice and just pass off after a win, to an actual problem. But once this offense clicks, and it probably will (right?!), I think that #1 ranking will be much easier to justify. And until that happens, this Ohio State team will remain a mystery. Thankfully their schedule buys them PLENTY of time to figure it out.

Fear Factor: Unchanged

Handy chart...

Michigan's Opponent Records

UTAH W W W W - - - - - - - - - 4-0
ORST W L W L - - - - - - - - - 2-2
UNLV L L L W W - - - - - - - - 2-3
BYU W W L L W - - - - - - - - 3-2
UMD W L W L L - - - - - - - - 2-3
NW W W W W W - - - - - - - - 5-0
MSU W W W W W - - - - - - - - 5-0
MINN L W W W L - - - - - - - - 3-2
RUT W L L W - - - - - - - - - 2-2
IND W W W W L - - - - - - - - 4-1
PSU L W W W W - - - - - - - - 4-1
OSU W W W W W - - - - - - - - 5-0
TOT 9-3 8-4 9-3 9-3 6-3 - - - - - - - - 41-16

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