Welp. The Wildcats went to Ann Arbor Saturday and lost in demoralizing fashion, being shutout by the Michigan Wolverines. Northwestern was dominated by the Wolverines and it wasn’t pretty. From the get-go, Northwestern didn’t have a chance as Michigan returned the opening kickoff to the house and was up 21-0 in the first quarter. So let’s take a look at some sad, sad numbers behind Northwestern’s loss to the Wolverines
Against a stout Northwestern defense, Michigan rushed for 201 yards after giving up an average 117.4 per game coming into Saturday. Michigan averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Wildcats, and De’Veon Smith averaged 7.4 YPC. Michigan dominated Northwestern in the trenches at the Big House Saturday as the got whatever they want on the ground against Northwestern’s defensive line. Michigan dominated the ‘Cats so much so, that they forced the Wildcats to bring their linebackers into the box and open up the middle of the field for Jake Rudock. Northwestern was beaten in the trenches Saturday, and if they want a shot at the Big Ten West, they can’t let it happen again.
The Wildcats punted the ball eight times on Saturday and Hunter Niswander averaged 35.0 yards per punt. Whether it was because they were scared of Jabrill Peppers returning it, or whether they punted out of their own end zone, Northwestern didn’t punt the ball well on Saturday. And for the season, Niswander is averaging just 38.1 yards per punt, which isn’t much better than Chris Grandone’s average last year. And Michigan’s average field position was past their own 30, whereas the Wildcats was around their own 20. Northwestern’s special teams were suspect on Saturday, evidenced by the low average and Jehu Chesson’s kickoff return for a touchdown and will need to improve in the coming weeks.
Clayton Thorson completed just 48.1 percent of his passes, 13 of 27, on Saturday. But many of incompletions weren’t on him. Numerous Northwestern wideouts dropped passes, many would-be completions on third down. Christian Jones had a drop or two, and Mike McHugh dropped a would be third-down conversion into the hands of Jourdan Lewis who returned it to the house for a touchdown. Overthrows have plagued Thorson in recent games, while drops have plagued Northwestern’s receivers in the past, but they’ll have to clean these up as Northwestern moves further into Big Ten play.
Northwestern ran seven offensive plays in Michigan territory all game long, five of which came on the Wildcats’ longest drive of the game (10 plays, 50 yards) which ended in a missed 42-yard field goal attempt by Jack Mitchell. Northwestern was just unable to sustain any long drives on Saturday, as the Wildcats never made it into the red zone and got only as far as the Wolverines’ 25-yard line. Thorson and co. averaged on 4.91 plays and 14 yards per drive, establishing no momentum and feeding the frenzied Michigan crowd. The mixture of an ineffective running game to put the Cats in many 3rd-and-longs along with the struggles from Northwestern’s receivers basically ensured it would be a poor offensive outing.
Justin Jackson had a rough day at the office on Saturday, rushing for only 25 yards on 12 carries. One of those carries went for 15 yards; this means that the rest of his day produced 10 yards on 11 carries, yielding a 0.91 yards per carry average. The Wildcats as a team had only 38 rushing yards, as Michigan’s defensive front dominated Northwestern’s offensive line and bottled up the rushing attack. This effort comes a week after Jackson rushed for 6.0 yards per carry against Minnesota and two weeks after a career-high 184 yards against Ball State. Most of Jackson’s struggles were most likely due to Michigan’s status as an elite defensive team. For perspective, the Wolverines haven’t allowed a point in over 189 minutes of game time. That being said, Northwestern can’t afford to have Jackson produce so little on the ground in the future and still expect to win.
Jake Rudock’s game on Saturday was by no means spectacular, but it was efficient and–most importantly for Michigan–turnover free. Rudock posted an 84.3 QBR, completing nearly 74.3 percent of his passes for 179 yards. Rudock also rushed for a touchdown in the first quarter, helping Michigan bild an early an insurmountable lead. Northwestern was quietly able to take away Michigan’s best options at wide receiver for most of the game, but Rudock found his tight ends and running backs, who were often left open, for large chunks of yardage. Rudock looked poised and comfortable on Saturday, something that hasn’t been true in recent weeks. Northwestern got very little pressure in the face of Rudock, and the results were disastrous for the Wildcats. Not too many elite-level quarterbacks remain on the schedule for Northwestern this season, but the defensive line must improve and cause more disruption in the backfield to return to its winning ways