WNUR Predictions: #13 Northwestern at #18 Michigan

It’s that time of the week: 5-0 Northwestern puts their perfect record on the line in the Big House against Michigan. Who do our broadcasters think will win this battle between ranked teams?

It'll be the 'Cats and the Wolverines from Ann Arbor on Saturday, the country's only matchup of top-20 teams this week.

It’ll be the ‘Cats and the Wolverines from Ann Arbor on Saturday, the country’s only matchup of top-20 teams this week.

Zach Pereles (@zach_pereles): Michigan 16, Northwestern 13

The Wildcats come up short in Ann Arbor as Clayton Thorson struggles again on the road. The redshirt freshman played very well last week and has put together 1 1/2 games of solid play following an awful 1 1/2 games against Duke and the first half of Ball State, but the Wolverines are the best defense he’s seen and they’ll have just enough offense to win this one.

Player to Watch: Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan. The star sophomore has a big matchup with Christian Jones this week. Jones is a fantastic third-down target who often moves the sticks, and he’s the guy Thorson looks to as a safety blanket most often. If Peppers wins this matchup, expect a long day offensively for the Wildcats.

Zack Becker (@zack2thefuture): Northwestern 20, Michigan 9
After seeing the last three NU-UMich games in person (each one a Northwestern loss in increasingly embarrassing fashion) with my older brother, who is a senior at Michigan, there is nothing I’d like more than to see a Wildcats win in the Big House on Saturday. I’m done being the little brother in the B1G.

Player to watch: Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern. Jackson leads FBS in rushing attempts (10th in yards) and is going up against the 7th ranked rush defense in the nation. Something’s gotta give.

Henrique DaMour (@henrydamour): Michigan 17, Northwestern 10.

Both defenses are obviously incredibly solid, but Michigan’s is more complete, while NU’s strength lies a little too heavily in its pass defense. Also, Michigan is stupidly tough to beat at the Big House.

Player to watch: De’Veon Smith, RB, Michigan. If he’s really recovered from that ankle injury and is back to full strength, he will be the perfect scary counter to Northwestern’s defense. They’ve been shaky in the past against Ball State and Duke, and both of those teams have running games inferior to Michigan’s.

Tim Balk (@timbalk): NU 13, Michigan 10

This is unchartered water for this year’s ‘Cats: on the road against an elite defense. How will Thorson and the O-line respond? I think (hope?) they’ll do alright, will avoid turnovers and will use another 100 yard outing from Justin Jackson to pull out the W. 

Player to watch: Jake Rudock, QB, Michigan: Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner was terrorized by Sky Team at Ryan Field last Saturday. Michigan’s Rudock is a small step up from Leidner, but he’s no Tom Brady. Shutting him down might be the key to the game for the ‘Cats. 

Nick Scoliard (@NickScols): Northwestern 14, Michigan 10

Looking at the schedule before the season, this seemed like a cool game to watch, but Nebraska and Wisconsin seemed to be bigger challenges for the ‘Cats. Now, these defensive powerhouses are playing in a marquee matchup for the Big Ten, and the winner….well, if Michigan wins they’ll be a lock for third in the Big Ten East, but a win for NU would really show they deserve their ranking, and put them on a fast track to Indy. The offense will start clicking late in the game, and in a game like this where points will be at a premium, they’ll have plenty of time to stay in it.

Player to Watch: Christian Jones, WR, Northwestern. Michigan knows Justin Jackson is good. They’ll stop him as much as a team can stop Justin Jackson, so it will be up to the passing game to bring in points, especially if the ‘Cats are down late. Jones and Thorson seem to have a thing going on, so watch Jones take the offense in his hands.

Jesse Kirsch (@JesseRKirsch): Northwestern 13, Michigan 10

Northwestern is way overdue for a win against the Wolverines. Riding a 5-0 start, the Wildcats have a special kind of momentum and there should be a substantial purple contingent in Ann Arbor to help give Fitz’s squad more energy.

Player to Watch: Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern. He will have to grind it out for Northwestern to have a chance. The run game will be critical and if he plays his game, the Wildcats will be unstoppable.

Ari Ross (@aross50): Michigan 21, Northwestern 17

As tempted as I am to pick Northwestern in this game, on the road against what might be their toughest opponent, I just can’t. Even with Michigan State coming up the next week, Jim Harbaugh will have his team ready to play. Northwestern’s defense should keep the Wildcats in the game, but I’m not sure if Clayton Thorson and company will be able to do it again on the road. If they can contain Jabrill Peppers on defense like they did with Jeremy Cash against Duke, they’ll have a fighting chance.

Player to Watch: Jake Butt, TE, Michigan. Northwestern has trouble with larger receivers (see Jordan Williams of Ball State), and standing at 6’6” 248 lbs, Butt is one of Rudock’s favorite targets and could give the Wildcats some trouble over the middle.

Josh Burton (@josh_burton1): Northwestern 13, Michigan 10

Michigan is a very good team, but the Wolverines–like the Wildcats–are really limited by their quarterback, Jake Rudock. Northwestern’s defense should be able to force him into a few big turnovers which could ease the burden on NU’s underwhelming offensive attack. If the Wildcats can pick Rudock off once or twice, and maybe force a fumble, this game could be had.

Player to watch: De’Veon Smith, RB, Michigan. The Wolverines’ leading rusher, Smith — who has ran for 331 yards and four touchdowns this season — is an explosive runner who already has two games of 125+ yards this season. He did miss Michigan’s 28-0 win last Saturday vs Maryland, but if he can play this weekend he could cause issues for the Northwestern front seven.

Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz): Michigan 13, Northwestern 10

The top two scoring defenses in the country are going to have a hard-fought, defensive battle. Michigan will use home-field advantage and a couple Clayton Thorson turnovers to pull out a victory at the Big House.

Player to Watch: Royce Jenkins-Stone, linebacker, Michigan. With senior starter Mario Ojemudia out for the season, Jenkins-Stone will need to step up and have a big game if the Wolverines are going to slow down Justin Jackson and the NU running game.

Jason Dorow (@jasondorow): Northwestern 20, Michigan 13

The ‘Cats lost heartbreakers to Minnesota in both 2013 and 2014. The same holds true for Michigan, who beat Northwestern in OT two years ago and won on the infamous Trevor Siemian slip last season. Back-to-back weeks NU will avenge those losses.

Player to watch: Solomon Vault, RB, Northwestern. The sophomore back has phenomenal big play ability, but he hasn’t busted a run longer than 14 yards or caught a pass for more than 4 yards. He’s due this weekend.

Austin Miller: Michigan 17, Northwestern 16

I want to pick Northwestern. For the first time since that fateful matchup with Ohio State, Northwestern is garnering national attention, and has a chance, with a victory,  to back that attention up. However, we must remember that this is still Northwestern, and standing on the other side is Michigan. Yes, that Michigan, Michigan of the buzzer-beating game-tying FG, Michigan of the Roy Roundtree pseudo-hail mary to force OT, Michigan of the M00N. For a moment, it will seem that Northwestern has returned the favor. Thomson will hit Miles Shuler, who will lateral to Justin Jackson, who will lateral to Dan Vitale, who will steamroll his way into the end zone for the apparent tying touchdown with no time on the clock. Jack Mitchell will miss the PAT, Northwestern will lose, because at the end of the day, it’s still Northwestern.

Player To Watch: Rudock : I was (understandably) not high on Michigan coming into the season, but they have so far proved me wrong. Rudock has had some time to get confident in his new surroundings after a rough performance against Utah. I’m curious to see how Rudock will handle the pressure from one of the best defenses he faces all season. 

Ari Levin: Northwestern 24, Michigan 23

People are looking for a defensive battle, and a few scores either way could easily change the course of the game.  Whoever scores first wins this game.

Player to watch: Steven Reese, Northwestern defensive back

Max Gelman (@MaxGelman): Michigan 6, Northwestern 3, 4OT

I thought last week was going to be miserable, but this game is going to be much worse as Michigan’s defense is much better than Minnesota. Northwestern always loses to Michigan so the brotherhood of the traveling fans will come home to Evanston disappointed.

Matchup to watch: Pat Fitzgerald’s vs Jim Harbaugh’s legwear. The sweatpants meet the khakis in this battle of the top two scoring defenses in the nation. Making jokes about their outfits will be more entertaining than this game.

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