The Northwestern Wildcats aren't going to trick or deceive you; they’re going to live and die by running the football.
You can’t hope to completely stop their 14th-ranked rushing offense—you can only hope to contain it.
That’s what the Michigan Wolverines will need to do if they hope to keep their Big Ten Legends division and Rose Bowl aspirations alive this weekend at the Big House.
The resemblance of both of these teams to one another makes it an interesting but predictable late-season matchup.
The Wildcats, like Michigan, don’t throw the ball all too well, and the Wolverines are stingy in that department on defense. They’re allowing just 145.4 yards per through the air, the nation’s fewest per game.
Their rush defense isn’t quite as good, allowing 143.2 yards per game on the ground. But even that’s nothing to sneeze at when considering the amount of yards the Wildcats have been putting up on people—237.6 yards per game.
That means the offense and special teams unit will play a huge role in keeping the ball out of the hands of the dynamic Wildcats backfield.
Quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark have helped lead Northwestern’s 14th-ranked rushing attack by combining for 1,694 yards on the ground this season. Mark, alone, has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and is sixth in the FBS in all-purpose yards per game with an average of 184.1 yards from scrimmage.
The Wolverines stifled the Northwestern running game last year, relatively, by limiting the team to just 113 yards on the ground. Colter and Mark had just four combined carries that game, though.
Ball control will be a huge factor for the Wolverines. They can run the football too and have an excellent backfield combination like the Wildcats. They’ll need to sustain drives with their 29th-ranked rushing offense—led by Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint—in order to win the time-of-possession battle.
That’s assuming Robinson will play on Saturday. Even without Robinson, the game plan remains the same for the Wolverines: Stop the run and win the game, it’s really that simple.
Their defense sees this type of spread-option offense every day in practice and shouldn’t have a problem keying on the ball-carrier.
This one is going to come down to who has the ball the last, and it’s going to be a lot lower scoring than many people are anticipating with Michigan prevailing thanks to its superior defense.