Northwestern +10 @ Michigan
24th-ranked Northwestern heads to Ann Arbor this Saturday clinging to the same slim hopes the host Michigan Wolverines share of winning the Big Ten Legends division. Both teams are chasing league leader Nebraska and will need to win out along with help from Nebraska to make it to the Big Ten championship game. But regardless of what this game means in terms of the Big Ten standings, it figures to be a great game between two very efficient offenses.
Michigan has been without star quarterback Denard Robinson the last two weeks but head coach Brady Hoke has hinted that Robinson will be back in uniform for the game against the Cats. That is fantastic news for the Wolverines who received no production out of backup QB Russell Bellomy in Robinson’s absence and were forced to play WR Devin Gardner at quarterback last week against Minnesota with Bellomy held out due to injury. Surprisingly, it has not been the offense but the defense carrying Michigan in the Big Ten season. The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in scoring defense in conference games (11.8 ppg).
Northwestern has had an extra week to prepare for this game after a bye last weekend. The Wildcats have remained fairly consistent this season, producing a steady offensive output and a solid, but unspectacular defense. QB Kain Coulter leads the Northwestern attack as a run first, pass second quarterback and teams with all-conference RB Venric Mark to form a formidable duo. The key for the Wildcats is to keep the game close as they are not suited to come from behind in a hurry with their version of the spread offense.
What will happen: Both teams are tough against the run and both teams will look to establish the run early. If Robinson can come back from a nerve injury, Michigan could be back to business as usual – running the ball to set up some big plays in the passing game. But with Robinson’s health an issue, whether or not he plays, I doubt he will be exposing himself to big hits and instead the Michigan coaching staff will keep the rather conservative play calling. Northwestern has the talent to win this game. If they can run the ball early, Colter will be able to use play-action to set up the passing game. Plus, don’t be surprised if Pat Fitzgerald has a few tricks up his sleeve after planning for this game for the last two weeks.
The Prediction: Michigan 23 Northwestern 21
The Play: Northwestern +10
YTD Record: 10-8 (5-1 last two weeks)