NUmbers Guy: Northwestern vs. Michigan

WNUR’s Ari Ross (@aross50) breaks down Northwestern’s ugly game against Michigan

Northwestern’s bowl chances are slipping away, just like Trevor Siemian slipped and fell on the 2-point conversion. After one of the worst and most brutal football games Northwestern’s played in a long time, the ‘Cats went for the win, and lost in the end. For three quarters of this game both teams, mostly the offenses, looked pathetic. Neither offense was able to move the ball much and both defenses forced three and outs and turnovers left and right. Finally, Michigan put some points on the board as did Northwestern, but in the end, Michigan went home with a victory that neither team deserved. While Northwestern’s defense played excellent, the offense was terrible for most of the game, putting together two long drives when it counted, but was unable to convert and get the victory in the end. So let’s take a look at the numbers behind Northwestern’s 10-9 loss to the Wolverines.


Including sacks, Northwestern averaged negative yards, -0.3, per rush. Trevor Siemian was sacked five times for a loss of 52 yards while Matt Alviti was sacked once for a loss of seven yards. Northwestern’s rushing offense was consistently moving backward rather than moving forward. Justin Jackson finished with less than 100 yards for the second straight game, rushing for just 35 yards on 17 carries.

Northwestern’s offensive line was beaten in the trenches by the Michigan defense. Siemian was consistently under pressure, forced out of the pocket or sacked in the backfield for a significant loss. And the rushing attack had few holes to run though. Michigan’s defensive line dominated the battle in the trenches and Northwestern’s offense paid for much of the game. Once the line gave Siemian a little more time, the ‘Cats were able to sustain two drives and score nine points. But that wasn’t until close to the end of the game.


Northwestern was successful on two of four drives in the red zone against Michigan Saturday at Ryan Field. Twice the ‘Cats were in the red zone didn’t come away with any points – not even a field goal. In a game that was decided by a point, this was disappointing. It could have been, and probably was, the difference in the game. Jack Mitchell missed a 36-yard field goal and on the drive after Ibraheim Campbell’s interception, Northwestern had the ball on Michigan’s 15-yard line, but was forced backwards and eventually punted the ball into the end zone, giving Michigan the ball on the 20.

When in the red zone, Northwestern needed to come away with points, and twice they didn’t. The red zone play calling was abysmal, as was the play off the offensive line. Siemian had little time to throw, and was sacked, forcing Northwestern backwards and out of the red zone and Jack Mitchell’s miniscule field goal range. Had Northwestern been able to come away with points on either drive, they probably would have won the game. Instead, the Wolverines left Ryan Field with a win.


Again the Special Teams for Northwestern, Pat Fitzgerald’s own unit, was bad. Chris Gradone and Hunter Niswander averaged just 30.0 yards per punt giving Michigan an average starting field position on their own 42. To compare, Northwestern’s average starting field position was their own 28.

The kicking unit was also bad as Jack Mitchell missed a 36-yard field goal wide left, a field goal that the average collegiate kicker should hit every time. And in an indictment of Mitchell, Fitzgerald went for two instead of playing for overtime, possibly worried whether Mitchell would be able to make short field goals that would be in play in overtime.

Finally, the Northwestern punting unit gave Michigan its only touchdown of the game. Tony Jones muffed a punt, giving Michigan the ball back. The Wolverines eventually scored a touchdown on that drive. Special Teams miscues continue to plague Northwestern to the point that it’s probably cost them two games this season.

1 for 12

While Northwestern’s offense was stuck in a rut, the ‘Cats defense played another great game, bouncing back from a horrific performance versus Iowa. Michigan’s offense was just 1 for 12 on third down, and 0 for 1 on fourth down, as the ‘Cats defense dominated the Wolverine offense for much of the game.

While De’Veon Smith did rush for 121 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, Northwestern limited the rest of Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines totaled just 147 rushing yards, and 109 yards through the air. Devin Gardner was 11 for 24 with 2 interceptions, both of which came in Northwestern’s territory. Michigan’s top wideout, Devin Funchess, a projected first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, was held to just 2 catches for 23 yards.

Again, Northwestern’s defense played really well and kept the ‘Cats in a position to win. They forced three turnovers; including one that Ibraheim Campbell ran all the way back to the Michigan 15-yard line. With a decent offensive performance, Northwestern would have won this game thanks to great defense, but unfortunately the offense let the defense down again and their great performance was to no avail.

This Saturday, Northwestern heads to South Bend to take on No. 15 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish got pummeled by Arizona State this week, effectively knocking them out of the college football playoff and will be looking for revenge. The way the ‘Cats have been playing this one should be a blowout. Notre Dame is a very good football team, offensively and defensively, and shouldn’t have much trouble with the ‘Cats. If Northwestern’s offense plays like they did against Michigan, they may not even put up points in South Bend. The ‘Cats defense will be in for a challenge as well, facing Everett Golston and the Fighting Irish offense tied for 29th in the country in points per game with 34.9. The Wildcat offense hasn’t even put up 30 points this year, so unless something crazy happens in South Bend, similar to the Wisconsin game, Northwestern might be riding home with a huge blowout loss over their heads.


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