Michigan Football: Northwestern at Michigan — What May Happen — Final Preview
On the surface, this looks like two offenses that score about 30 points per game and an even match. That generality may be appropriate. Northwestern has not played top five teams like Alabama and Notre Dame with great defenses. Northwestern will play Michigan State the week after the Michigan game and will not play Ohio State, a team that has excellent defensive talent but gives up some points. So, the figures may be a little skewed due to competition level. Michigan offensively has not produced against big time defenses. But that is why big time defenses are what they are: points are limited and scarce.
The lowest point total Northwestern has been held to is twenty-one by Minnesota. The Wildcats won the game. Against teams considered good competition, Northwestern scores in the 20’s. So, Northwestern will score, the trick for Michigan is to prevent as much damage as possible, whether it be, bending, turnovers, or three and outs.
Some casual observers may watch Northwestern and wonder “How do they score so many points with their players.” First, the players are not that bad, mostly three star talent. Second, the players are quick and play well in space. Third, the scheme matches the players. The spread originally was used as a mechanism to equalize talent differential, and to some extent this remains the legacy of the spread.
The Northwestern spread is flexible and contains numerous options that can cause offensive success. This is not a one or two play version of the spread. Kain Colter is a very good fit for the Northwestern spread and runs the read and the option very well. He is averaging over 6 yards a carry.
Michigan’s first item of business is doing what all defensive teams must do against a spread or option offense: stop the inside running game. Venric Mark has racked up some big numbers already this year. Mark will likely break a couple of inside reads, or outside runs to the edge, but if the Michigan defense can contain him well that puts a little more pressure on the Northwestern quarterbacks to hit the edge. Northwestern runs a quick to the edge attack instead of waiting for the read to develop. Northwestern also gets to the edge quickly on the option and Michigan will see this several times Saturday.
As with all option football, assignments are critical. The edge players will need to hold leverage and either take down the quarterback for minimal damage or account well for the pitchman. The edge players will also need to stay secure on the inside read and not chase down the line allowing big backside cut running plays.The passing game of Northwestern is sound and is used at any time on any down. Like most spreads the object is to create space and beat the defender. The slots run very nice slants and skinny posts, the outside guys go for the big play up the sideline, and all receivers run flag patterns to the sideline. Like every other passing offense, Northwestern will run up seams and sit in big holes. But the posts and flags have yielded good results.
Michigan will give up passing yardage. Again, the key is minimizing the damage. Blitzing is a little dangerous up the middle as the Wildcats run so many slants and posts. If a receiver is hit in stride it could go for six points. It is a safe bet that the biggest concern for Northwestern at the line of scrimmage is the positioning of Jordan Kovacs. He will wait until the play clock runs down to tip his hand.
The Michigan corners will get tested on the sideline fly route just like at Minnesota. Northwestern will test both corners and maybe give an extra go at J. T. Floyd. Northwestern’s receivers are solid and very capable of big plays.
The Michigan offense is a puzzle for obvious reasons. But Michigan will need to put up points, one way or another. It all starts in the trenches and Northwestern has not done a bad job defending the run, at least early in the game. The question is what will Michigan rely on when the Wildcats load the box? Last week we saw quick toss sweeps, Devin running to the edge, and a few key pass completions. Northwestern has given up good yardage in the air, so, again, how much can Michigan capitalize?
Two good teams, and two great academic universities, will be playing at the biggest stage in America. It could be a lot worse.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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