This weekend, the Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2) will travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines (6-3, 4-1), with kickoff slated to begin at 11 CST. This is the Wildcats’ first game since their October 27th game against Iowa that saw the Cats defeat the Hawkeyes 28-17 on the backs of Kain Colter and Venric Mark’s combined 328 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
After a much needed bye week, the Wildcats head into this game ranked 24th in the BCS standings. The Cats’ are expected to return injured starters Quinn Evans and Chi Chi Ariguzo who have been sidelined with injury this past week. However, Michigan is still favored by over 10 points even though the status of Denard Robinson remains unclear.
Recently, the Wolverines have gotten the better of the Wildcats and look to continue that dominance. Last year, Northwestern jumped out to a 24-14 lead at halftime before giving up 28 unanswered points to lose 48-24. Northwestern, on the other hand, hopes to buck this trend and reach their 8th victory of the season. However, in order to beat the Wolverines and continue their stellar season, here are several things Northwestern will have to focus on:
- Continue the Rushing Attack: This year, the Northwestern offense has lacked any semblance of a passing game. With both Colter and Siemian struggling with their throws, Northwestern has been forced to rely on their rushing game. However, Mark and Colter have stepped up, rushing for 1,072 yards and 622 yards respectively. Don’t expect Northwestern’s passing game to have improved much in the bye week, so winning the game on the ground will be vital.
- Contain Denard Robinson: While Denard has shown that he is a flawed passer, his ability to make plays with his feet makes him a threat in any situation. Denard has rushed for 946 yards, averaging 7.2 yards/carry, so containing him will be essential for the Cats’.
- Apply Pressure: While Denard may be able to make plays with his feet, he has proven to be an error-prone passer; Denard has 9 INT’s to match his 9 TD’s. If Northwestern can apply pressure and force Denard to make tough throws, expect Denard to throw into trouble.
- Stay Healthy: While this may seem obvious, injuries have plagued this Northwestern team all season. Without Evans and Ariguzo, NU’s defense has proven to be ineffective and inefficient. As long as Northwestern can stay healthy, they will have a chance of winning.
Prediction: Michigan 35-21
While Northwestern may have the better record, they certainly are not the better team. Combine Michigan’s strong rush defense and the playmaking abilities of Denard Robinson, and the Cats’ will have trouble on both ends of the ball. Although Denard will make some mistakes throughout the game, expect him to lead the Wolverines to victory.