Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Michigan
WNUR Sports Director Greg Mroz (@wizard_of_mroz) previews the Wildcats matchup against the Michigan Wolverines
It’s hard to get excited about a game featuring two teams that have both underachieved in 2014. Yet the last two matchups between the Wildcats and the Wolverines have gone down to the wire. Who can forget Roy Roundtree’s catch from Devin Gardner that set up the game tying field goal that sent the game to overtime two years ago? And who can forget Michigan rushing their field goal unit onto the field as time expired last year to force the game to overtime with the score tied at 9? These are two bad offenses, with fairly good defenses. Something has got to give, and for both of these teams, this game alone may be the difference between making a bowl game and staying home for the holidays. Here are some key matchups and players to watch going into
Jake Ryan vs Northwestern Offensive Line
If last week at Iowa showed anything, it’s that the Wildcats offensive line is suspect at best. Five sacks allowed versus the Hawkeyes is not good, and Michigan has one of the best linebackers in the country in Jake Ryan that will continue to put pressure on Trevor Siemian. If the Northwestern offensive line cannot improve on what happened last week, then Siemian is going to be under pressure all day long.
Trevor Siemian vs Devin Gardner
Both quarterbacks have had disappointing seasons, both turn the ball over too much, but both can make big plays if given the opportunity. Gardner has a group of talented receivers, but just seemingly hasn’t put it all together in each of his two full seasons as the Michigan starter. Siemian on the other hand has been hurt all season, and has struggled all season, with an 8 for 18 performance last week that netted him only 68 passing yards. The QB that plays better will more than likely lead his team to victory, because in a matchup where offense is at a premium, the first points may be the winning points
Northwestern Special Teams
Northwestern’s kick coverage, punt coverage, and punting have been terrible. So terrible that it could decide whether or not they win this game. Against Iowa they gave up a long return on the opening kickoff, and also had a punt blocked that got recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Chris Gradone was yanked at the end of the game in favor of Hunter Niswander. Bottom line, in the Minnesota game there was one play on special teams that decided the game, and if the Wildcats make another critical mistake on special teams against Michigan, it could very well cost them the game here.
This game has been close the past two years, and it will be low scoring. Both teams have underachieved, and both teams are fighting for their bowl lives. At the end of the day, the team that makes the most big plays will win, and the Wolverines have more players who can make those big plays. Justin Jackson will have another good game, but it won’t be enough.
Michigan 12, Northwestern 9