Northwestern-Michigan Paint By Numbers

When you really slice and dice Michigan in 2012, they are a heck of a lot like Northwestern.  They’ve won the games they were supposed to win (Air Force, UMASS, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota) and lost to teams that were equal or better on paper (Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska).   Despite boasting a lovable Heisman candidate in Denard Robinson, make no mistake about it, this team wins on defene. Shoelace is expected to play this week against Northwestern, but then again, that’s what Brady Hoke said last week when Devin Gardner moved back to QB from WR and made everyone’s highlight reel with his whirling dervish TD pass that looked, well, Denard-like. Let’s take a look at the numbers…

Northwestern Offense VS Michigan Offense

Offense Passing Rushing Total Offense Scoring Offense 3rd Down Conv. Red Zone Offense
Northwestern 162.9 ypg 237.6 ypg 400.4 ypg 30.4 ppg 61/133  45.9% 32/35 (18 rush, 4 pass TD/10 FG) 91%
Michigan 178.4 ypg 200.9 ypg 379.3 ypg 28.8 ppg 59/122 48.4 % 28/31 (13 rush, 4 pass TD, 11 FG) 90%

Once again this week, the stats lead us to some pretty obvious gameplan projections with one monumental, ginormous caveat – Denard Robinson’s health. The do-everything QB sat out of last week’s Michigan win over Minnesota as Devin Gardner put on a decent showing going 12/18, 234 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT along with 21 rushing yards (44 yards gross). Denard adds so much to this team it is downright silly. He’s currently #12 in the nation in rushing with 946 yds on 131 carries and 6 TDs and remember that takes in to account a goose egg for not playing last week at Minnesota. He’s had six games of 90+ yards rushing and two games of 200+ yards rushing.  Shoelace has thrown for 1319 yards on 89/166 with 9 TDs and a still disturbing 9 INTs.

Much like NU, the Wolverines have a huge discrepancy in productivity between their rushing attack (4th B1G, 28th FBS – 200 ypg) while their passing “attack” usually consists of one or two deep balls that keep opponents honest.  Michigan is just 105th in the nation in passing and 10th in the 12-team B1G, with Northwestern cementing the basement in this category (109th FBS, 12th B1G).  The ‘Cats gaudy 238 ypg on the ground (still can’t believe that number) is 13th in the nation, yet just third in the B1G.  Traditionally, Michigan has killed us on jump ball tosses on fade or out patterns as they usually  have some size and skill at wideout.

Michigan has a sizable advantage in third down conversion percentage over NU, but red zone proficiency is almost dead even, despite the fact we get there more often. You get the sense that when in doubt, Denard still tosses the rock in the vicinity of his receivers in hopes they can go make a play. Ibraheim Campbell and the ‘Cats made him pay dearly for this last year.  Both teams are being coy with their injury news as Denard is expected to play, while Fitz has both VanHoose and Evans expected to return at QB.

For Northwestern, our offensive numbers are all over the place depending upon who is under center. I’d like to think that Kain has earned the majority of the snaps this week after is B1G Player of the Week honors last week in his dismantling of Iowa. I’m still confident he can create chaos with his short and intermediate passing game.

Northwestern Defense vs Michigan Defense

Defense Passing Rushing Total Defense Scoring Defense Sacks/TFLs 3rd Down Defense
Northwestern 272.4 ypg 121.3 ypg 393.8 ypg 22.3  ppg 2.1 pg/5.1 pg 54/140 38.6%
Michigan 145.4 ypg 143.2 ypg 288.7 ypg 16.8 ppg 1.2 pg/5.4 pg 43/125 34.4%

Whoever plays QB for Michigan this week will be seeing what we saw last week – soft corner play – assuming VanHoose and Evans sit again. Our ground game has been stellar this season and is currently ranked 23rd in the nation with that 121.3 ypg mark. Michigan’s “D” stands out for its consistency and balance. As you see, above Greg Mattison’s guys give up an almost identical 145-ish yards in both passing and rushing. The single most impressive stat though is scoring defense. Michigan gives up only 16.8 ppg. That is 13th in the entire country. A close second in the uh-oh category is the fact Big Blue has the #1 pass defense in the nation. Considering we are anemic in the passing game and Michigan is lights out with a mere 145 ypg, you can bet we’ll be very judicious when passing the rock. However, we’ll have to mix it up a bit and I believe hit a few strikes to really open things up. Kain is 62/89, 517 yds 3 TDs, 2 INTs on the season so far.Let it rip I say. I don’t care Michigan is the single best pass “D” in the nation, we need to pass enough to keep them honest.

A quick snapshot of Michigan’s offensive numbers and you realize this isn’t the vaunted offense we’re used to in Ann Arbor. They are only top 30 in the nation in one category – rushing offense (28th) – while their usual hot spot of scoring is just 28.8 ppg   (60th in FBS), but man, they are having an underrated season on defense with the nation’s #1 pass defense, 7th total defense and 13th scoring “D” at just 16.8 ppg.

I was stunned to see the opening line in this game start at -13 in favor of Michigan (it’s down to 11.5). They haven’t had a “bad loss” per se, having been blown out by Alabama, losing by 7 to a national title contender in Notre Dame and the debacle in Lincoln last weekend.

Northwestern is still seeking that signature “brand” win and this would definitely qualify. So there you go, two teams still in the mix for the Legends Division title  and two teams with a ton of question marks. Well continue to address those questions the rest of the week, but now you have some of the basic facts.

Programming Alert  – 1995 Wildcat Film – Tonight on BTN

I’m jealous and not afraid to admit it. I’ve always wanted to do a film on the 1995 Wildcats and even sat Gary Barnett down more than a decade a go to get an interview with him to be used in the trailer. Well, tonight, BTN is lanching the next installment of their new series. BTN Elite, with a 1-hour special on the ’95 ‘Cats. It includes interviews with Barnett, Darnell, Fitz, Musso, Bates and others. The show premieres tonight at 8 pm e/7 pm c on BTN and let’s be sure to review it collectively. There is more info on the film HERE.


  • Henry in CT

    I think the story line here is that this could be the Kain vs. Denard show. Both teams do the same thing on offense but UM has the better defense and they are at home so the spread should be at least 10. For NU to win this Kain is going to have to outshine Denard.

  • Al

    Any truth to the rumor that Northwestern is trying to schedule a basketball game with Electoral College? ;-)

  • CMF

    I couldn’t believe it when I saw the line that Michigan is favored by 11. I thought it would be around 6.5. I really put our chances of winning the game straight up at 40-50% with Evans and Van Hoose back. Not only do I like the +11 line, but the moneyline bet has got to be a great value.

  • nwujames

    I just saw the documentary on the 1995 Wildcats that aired on BTN. All I can say is, stunning. Our team should watch this at the start of every season. If you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend.

    • TK98

      Wow, thought exactly the same thing about making it mandatory preseason viewing every year. Makes it clear that special seasons don’t happen by accident. Certainly cool to see those guys now. Expect Victory!!

  • Henry in CT

    The O/U is 52.5 which is low. The over seems like a good bet, almost a gift. This will be like the Nebraska game which I said at the time would take at least 30 points for us to win and we would have to hold them below 30 points. Exactly the same now. Just keep the number 30 in mind. If we score less than 30 or they score more than 30 we will probably lose. Like every NU game no lead will be good enough. We just can’t take the foot off the gas. If they are behind late we can be sure that they will storm back and we probably wont be able to stop them. This game is our season maker; our chance to beat a decent team in their house. Let’s hope we scheme it as intelligently as the Iowa game.