Game Of The Week: No.13 Northwestern vs. No.18 Michigan
The stakes are high this week in the B1G as the No.13 ranked Northwestern Wildcats (5-0) will head to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan to face the No.18 ranked Michigan Wolverines (4-1) Saturday in one of the most anticipated games of week six.
With matchups versus ranked opponents looming in week seven, No.22 ranked Iowa for Northwestern and No.4 ranked Michigan State for Michigan, this weeks grudge match proves to be that much more important for each team.
Northwestern has played phenomenally so far this season as they have only continued to dominate since starting off the season with a 16-6 win against the No.21 ranked Stanford Cardinal.
Michigan has also found a lot of success under new head coach Jim Harbaugh after dropping the season opener to the now No.5 ranked Utah Utes by a touchdown.
In fact, Michigan has outscored its opponents 122-14 since that game including a 31-0 shutout victory against a No.22 ranked BYU team.
Thanks to a solid defense, the Wolverines have allowed an average of 7.6 points per game so far this season, a stat that ranks second among defenses in college football.
Northwestern has been nothing short of spectacular defensively so far this season. They’ve given up an average of just seven points per game ranking first in all of college football.
The main reason for the defensive success has been the outstanding secondary that the Wildcats boast.
While the run defense is superb, they can be taken advantage of. In the past two games, the Wildcats have given up over five yards per carry to opposing running backs in weeks three and four. Last week on the other hand, the Wildcats allowed just 2.2 yards per carry against Minnesota, their best of the year.
Luckily for Michigan, running the ball has proven effective this year. Running back De’Veon Smith has accumulated 331 yards on 69 carries this season and four touchdowns for the Wolverines. Michigan has averaged a total of 201.4 yards per game thanks to a tandem of running backs led by Smith. Although the Wolverines were without Smith last week due to an ankle injury, he is expected to return this week.
Senior quarterback Jake Ruddock has been a bright spot for the Wolverines throwing for 956 yards and five touchdowns, he has thrown six interceptions as well. Three of those INT’s came in the loss to Utah who also boasts a top-tier secondary. Northwestern ball hawks could look to take advantage of Ruddock’s mistakes early on.
The Wildcats also rely heavily on their running game as running back Justin Jackson has rushed for 636 yards and a touchdown so far this season. Quarterback Clayton Thorson has thrown for 711 yards and four touchdowns, two of which to fullback Dan Vitale who also has 15 receptions for 196 yards, a team high.
Although they are 5-0, the Northwestern offense has dealt with scoring trouble the entire season. They have reached the red-zone 17 times so far this season but have only come away with five touchdowns. While kicker Jack Mitchell is nearly automatic, Northwestern needs to capitalize on red-zone opportunities against a strong Michigan defense.
Watch out for Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker against a Michigan offensive line that struggled a bit against Maryland last week. Walker leads the Wildcats with 44 tackles, 8.5 of which for a loss. He will be key in stopping Michigan’s offense that has had trouble converting in key situations, especially on third and short so far this season.
Michigan has won the past three contests against Northwestern in heartbreaking ways for Wildcat fans. Their 2012 matchup was an overtime win in which Michigan came back, 2013 was a triple overtime victory and 2014 ended after Northwestern failed to convert a two-point conversion with three seconds left that would have essentially won them the game.
The Wolverines are the favorite by a line of 7.5 going into Saturday’s game.
PREDICTION: Northwestern: 13, Michigan: 10
Mike D’Avella is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.