Michigan Wolverines vs. Northwestern Wildcats: Complete Game Preview

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor INovember 13, 2013

Michigan Wolverines vs. Northwestern Wildcats: Complete Game Preview

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    Can Michigan get its offense back on track?
    Can Michigan get its offense back on track?

    Michigan (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) and Northwestern (4-5, 0-5 Big Ten) both enter this game stinging from narrow losses to the same Big Ten opponent. The Wildcats fell victim to a Hail Mary pass by Nebraska, while the Wolverines saw their 19-game home winning streak ended last week by the Cornhuskers.

    Date: Saturday, November 16, 2013

    Time: 3:42 PM ET

    Place: Ryan Stadium (47,130), Evanston, Ill.

    Series vs. Northwestern: U-M leads 54-15-2

    Television: BTN

    Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network

    Spread: Northwestern by 3, via TheSpread.com

    Live Stats: MGoBlue.com

    Last Meeting vs. Northwestern: Michigan 38, Northwestern 31 (OT) (Nov. 10, 2012)

    Down three points with 18 seconds remaining in the game, quarterback Devin Gardner connected with Roy Roundtree for a 53-yard pickup, leading to a 26-yard field goal by kicker Brendan Gibbons with two seconds left to send the game to overtime.

    In overtime, Gardner gave Michigan the lead with a one-yard bootleg run on 3rd-and-goal, and then the defense followed with a four-down stand to preserve the victory. 

    *Information according to University of Michigan Wolverines game notes.

Video Preview

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    Last season, Northwestern was poised to beat Michigan until quarterback Devin Gardner found receiver Roy Roundtree for an acrobatic 53-yard reception. The reception put Michigan in range of a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime, where Gardner’s touchdown scramble sealed the win.

Michigan Keys to Victory

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    How bad are things for Michigan right now? The Wolverines are riding a two-game losing streak and are expected to lose to a sub-.500 Northwestern team. With three games remaining, Michigan needs to plug holes on its offensive line or face the possibility of not winning another game this season.

    Scheme to protect Devin Gardner

    Quarterback Devin Gardner was hit 27 times last game and sacked seven times. Add that to the beating he took the previous week versus Michigan State, where he was sacked another seven times, and it’s easy understand why his confidence is shaken. Michigan needs to keep Gardner out of harm’s way, either by bringing in additional blocking help or rotating players (again) on the offensive line.

    Run the ball—somehow

    The Michigan running attack has been completely smothered during the last two games (minus-48 yards versus MSU, minus-21 yards versus Nebraska). The combination of Gardner being sacked and running backs being tackled in the backfield has left the Wolverines offense unable to move the ball.

    The Michigan coaching staff needs to come up with a way to get the ground game going. It’s a tall order, considering the sorry state of the offensive line, but if the coaches can’t figure something out, they might as well replace their running backs with players to protect Gardner.

Northwestern Keys to Victory

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    Hammer Devin Gardner

    Michigan State and Nebraska have shown the blueprint to shutting down the Wolverines offense—send the house through the middle of the line and hurry Gardner before receivers have time to break free while stacking the box to shut down the run. The Michigan offense, which had run up 751 yards just a few weeks ago against Indiana, can be completely neutralized by this strategy.

    Throw the ball, attack the edges

    The Michigan defense has been far better than the offense this season but has been susceptible to medium and long passes. With little pressure from the Michigan defensive line, opposing quarterbacks have been having career days versus the Wolverines.

Michigan Players to Watch

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    Devin Gardner

    The Devin Gardner of the last two games is a shadow of the player who began the season for Michigan. He’s been sacked 14 times in the last two games and hit hard in every game. Even with two bye weeks, he looks like a player who has been put through a meat grinder.

    The Michigan offense depends completely on his play; if he can get protection, he’ll light up the sky. But protection from his offensive line has been scarce.

    Offensive Line

    The Michigan offensive line began the season struggling and has regressed since. Players have been replaced and shuffled, but things have grown worse. Even offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, considered by many to be a first-round NFL draft pick, has played poorly. The line has to get better...maybe this is the game.

    Dennis Norfleet

    Dennis Norfleet is one the fastest players on the team. With the offense struggling, Michigan needs to get the ball in his hands more and hope for a big play. Whether on special teams or through a trick play on offense, Norfleet has the talent to break open the game. He needs to make some plays for Michigan to win.

    Full Michigan Depth Chart

Northwestern Players to Watch

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    Kain Colter
    Kain ColterEric Francis/Getty Images

    LB Chi Chi Ariguzo and S Ibraheim Campbell 

    These players are tied for the team lead with four picks, while the Northwestern defense is tied for No. 1 in the nation with 18 interceptions. With the Michigan running game stalled, look for the Northwestern defense to add to that total versus the Wolverines.

    Defensive Linemen Tyler Scott, Deonte Gibson, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Chance Carter

    Scott leads the team with nine tackles for loss and five sacks and looks to add to those totals against Michigan. This entire unit has to be licking its chops after watching film of Michigan’s abysmal offensive line. 

    Quarterback Kain Colter

    With injuries decimating the Northwestern running attack, the pressure is on Colter to take over the offense. The Michigan defense has shown itself vulnerable to the pass—Colter can avenge Northwestern’s bitter OT defeat at Michigan Stadium last season.

    Full Northwestern Depth Chart

What They Are Saying

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Michigan coach Brady Hoke via MLive.com

    You got a chance to win 10 football games, that opportunity is out there. And, that’s always been a little bit of a benchmark.

    Michigan coach Brady Hoke via the Detroit Free Press

    They can boo us, the coaches, all they want. I’ve got a harder time at home than there... My daughter and wife: ‘Why aren’t we protecting better?’ (The media) are easy compared to them.

    Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald via NUsports.com

    We have a difficult challenge ahead of us it’s going to be a difficult game. The last two years this game has gone to the wire.

    Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald via NUsports.com

    We will be challenged on the back end, there was an aerial assault we took last year and we didn't play very well.

    Northwestern offensive lineman Paul Jorgensen via NUsports.com

    We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play Michigan; it’s a great challenge.


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    Taylor Lewan
    Taylor LewanGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Michigan hit bottom against Michigan State and Nebraska but bounces back against Northwestern.

    Final Score: Michigan 24, Northwestern 20

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