Northwestern at Michigan: Mattison's Defense Barely Survives Wildcats Option

Joel GreerCorrespondent INovember 10, 2012

Kain Colter (2)
Kain Colter (2)Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

On a day when the defense often resembled Swiss cheese, it took a clever call by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to preserve Michigan's 38-31 overtime victory over Northwestern. 

Hoping to knot the score in its first overtime possession, Northwestern faced a 4th-and-2 from Michigan's 17-yard line. Mattison, who struggled with Northwestern's option attack throughout the day, abandoned his customary 4-3 defense, for a rarely used 3-4.

Mike linebacker Kenny Demens, who was beaten earlier for a touchdown on pass coverage, was left unaccounted for on the critical final play. Demens met running back Tyris Jones short of the first-down marker to end the game.  

Saturday's matchup was the second for Michigan against a true-option attack, and neither was pretty. The Wolverines battled their way to a 31-25 win over Air Force in the second game of the season, but the Falcons were able to rush for 290 yards and totaled 26 first downs. 

Northwestern was just as effective, piling up 248 rushing yards and 431 yards of total offense. 

All this against a Michigan team that came into the game ranked No. 7 in the country in total offense (288.7), No. 1 in the country in pass defense (145.4 yards per game) and No. 13 in scoring defense (16.8).

While the Wildcats gave Michigan fits with the option, they had just enough of a passing game to keep Michigan off-balance.

And they did it with a pair of quarterbacks.

First, it was Colter who either kept the ball (24 carries, 82 yards) or pitched it to speedy tailback Venric Mark (23 carries, 104 yards). 

When Trevor Siemian entered the game, he was extremely accurate. He threw two touchdown passes, the second a 15-yarder to Tony Jones which gave Northwestern a 31-28 lead with 3:59 left in the game. 

Mattison, who rarely saw an option while building the Baltimore Ravens defense into one of the league's best, watched his Wolverines miss tackles, blow coverages and even commit an inexcusable personal foul.

At times, Michigan had three true freshmen in the lineup in hopes of adding quickness. James Ross, Joe Bolden and Ondre Pipkins all saw action, with Ross being especially effective with six tackles. 

For the second straight week, Devin Gardner played in place of Denard Robinson at quarterback. His fourth-quarter interception almost cost Michigan the game, but he redeemed himself by setting up Brendan Gibbons' 26-yard game-tying field goal with a 53-yard bomb to Roy Roundtree and his own one-yard touchdown run in overtime.

Gardner finished the day with 16 completions in 29 attempts for 286 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. 

Michigan (7-3, 5-1) hosts Iowa (4-6, 2-4) next Saturday as its quest for the Legends Division title continues.

The battle between Michigan and Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) will probably come down to the final weekend when the Wolverines travel to Ohio State, and Nebraska plays at Iowa. The Cornhuskers came from behind to defeat Penn State, 32-23, Saturday, in Lincoln.

Wisconsin clinched the Leaders Division title and the first berth in the Big Ten title game by crushing Indiana, 62-14.