It was an absolute dream start for Northwestern.
After battling so much adversity over the last three weeks, the upset-minded Wildcats came out energized in front of a big home crowd. Clayton Thorson led a pair of early touchdown drives after struggling 2 weeks ago against Akron, and Northwestern had a 17-0 lead before the fans were fully settled in their seats.
Things slowly went downhill from there.
The Wildcat offense went stagnant in the second half once again, and Michigan slowly found its stride on offense to come away with a 20-17 victory Saturday evening at Ryan Field. Northwestern falls to 1-3, 1-1 in Big Ten play.
After three straight scoring drives to open the game, an offense without star running back Jeremy Larkin failed to score on its final nine possessions, gaining more than 16 yards on just one of those final 9 drives. Injuries to seniors Tommy Doles and Blake Hance took a toll on the offensive line, and the Northwestern receivers struggled to get any separation from the Michigan secondary in the second half. It became apparent that the Northwestern defense would have to shut down the Wolverines if they were going to hold on.
The Wildcat defense did an outstanding job of bending but not breaking under the stress of a talented Michigan offense, holding Michigan to a pair of field goals on goal-to-go situations. Blake Gallagher and JR Pace had excellent games, recording 12 and 11 tackles respectively. Injuries to key pieces Nate Hall and Greg Newsome hurt, helping Michigan continue to move the ball.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and running back Karan Higdon continued to keep the chains moving in the second half, with Patterson making several key plays with both his arm and his legs on 3rd down. He delivered a dagger late on a read-option keeper on 3rd and 6, allowing the Wolverines to kill the clock. He also made a pair of huge throws on the game-winning drive, including a dime to TE Zach Gentry to put Michigan inside the Northwestern 10.
Northwestern gained just 97 yards of total offense after the first quarter in another poor finish from the offense. The Wildcats have scored just 13 points in second halves all season.
Northwestern used a mix of John Moten and converted receiver Solomon Vault at running back in replacement of Larkin, but that duo only accounted for 54 yards on the ground.
The road doesn’t get any easier for Northwestern. They head to East Lansing next for a matchup with Michigan State, another ranked opponent. For Michigan, next up is a trip to College Park to take on Maryland.