So, let's start out with the obvious first question when discussion the 2013 Northwestern Wildcats: what the hell, man? Once the trendy pick for a Legends division title, the Cats might not even make a bowl game at this rate. Where did it all fall apart?
The easy answer is it fell apart against Ohio State. Northwestern came at the king and missed, and after nearly knocking off the only team in the Big Ten with national relevance, and the explanation for getting blown out by Wisconsin and losing tight ones to Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska is simply being letdown after that tough loss.
However, I really don't think NU is significantly worse than it was when they were 4-0 with squeakish wins against Cal, Western Michigan, and Maine. They've just been on the unlucky side of injuries -- Venric Mark out for the year, Kain Colter out for parts of games, being down to one running back against Nebraska -- and turnovers -- pick-sixes in three-point losses to Minny and Nebraska, two fumbles lost against Iowa in a game they lost in overtime.
NU has played well enough to win four of their losses. They're not a good team, but they shouldn't be 0-5. WE LOST ON A HAIL MARY, DAMMIT.
Northwestern's offense looked good early, but injuries to Venric Mark and Kain Colter hurt its overall productivity. What kind of an offense is Michigan going to face in Evanston? What can the Cats still do offensively in this banged up state, and is there a chance that Trevor Siemian once again becomes - as MGoBlog so aptly dubbed him - an unstoppable throw god?
NU's offense is busted. We're not joking about being down to one back against Nebraska. Mark and freshman Stephen Buckley are done for the year, freshman Warren Long was out for the game as was senior Mike Trumpy, and Treyvon Green picked up a ding in the game. We were handing off to a walk-on fullback.
Luckily, Kain Colter in the spread offense is still modestly menacing. He can always accurately throw short passes. And he's a speedy lil bugger to catch. But if NU can't threaten anything in the run game, Michigan can pin its ears back or do whatever idiom indicates ignoring the run completely while clamping down on receivers and spying on Colter.
As for Siemian, he shouldn't play much. Colter is supposedly healthy, and Siemian has done nothing but alternately throw bad picks or hold onto the ball too long behind a shoddy offensive line. Dude just fell off.
The Cats have six games over 200 yards rushing (one 300+) and three games under 100. Michigan has been very good stopping teams on the ground this year. Do you think Northwestern will be healthy enough to run, and do you think Michigan can stop the Cats after last year when Northwestern did pretty much whatever it wanted on the ground against UM?
Last year NU had Venric Mark. He is good. We do not have him now. This year will be easier for y'all.
Treyvon Green has been pretty okay -- in the only three games he's gotten a significant amount of carries, he's gone over 100 yards -- but NU's best threat is still spreading the field sideline to sideline.
I don't know if you've heard, but Michigan has a little trouble running the ball. Northwestern seems to have trouble stopping the run, but I'll be convinced Michigan can consistently run against another team when it happens. Can Northwestern generate the kinds of negative and zero gain run plays that will force Michigan into passing downs?
NU had run defense issues when our best defensive tackle, Sean McEvilly, was hurt. In the last three games, they've held opponents to under 4 yards per carry. Our only bad run defense has been with regards to allowing opponents to run back interceptions.
It ain't ideal. NU suffered an injury to its second cornerback, Daniel Jones, in the season opener, forcing Dwight White and Matt Harris into starting roles. Neither are good. You might remember last year, when NU was down a cornerback, and YOU GUYS THREW A DAMN HAIL MARY THAT OUR REPLACEMENT CORNERBACK BATTED UP TO ROY ROUNDTREE EPISOAHPDASJKLDSHAFLKJSHAG;OIHADSJPGOIQYOEWIGYO, so you know that bad things can happen when we're down a man in the defensive backfield.
That said, hahahahahahahaha, Devin Gardner throwing things. NU has had a merciless pass rush -- Tyler Scott is a beast, and he's joined by a slew of highly touted youngsters. Our most fun set is a four-defensive end look designed for passing downs. It works.
That all causes pressure, and when NU causes pressure, they could either a) get a sack or b) have Ibraheim Campbell play centerfield and intercepts your bad pass.
Despite the struggles Northwestern has gone through this season, this game still scares me quite a bit. The Northwestern offense is exactly the type that can attack Michigan's defense effectively - as evidenced by previous years - and the Cats are coming off a bye week to recover. Add in the fact that this team's bad luck has to break eventually and this home game against Michigan seems like a good opportunity to salvage what is left of the season. What are the three keys to a Northwestern win, and what do you think the final outcome of the game will be?
Woah, you're scared of a game in which Michigan is an underdog? Crazy.
1. Get at Devin Gardner. I told you bout that pass rush, right? Hahahahahaa I've been watching your team play football the past few weeks this is going to be hilarious
2. Let Al Borges keep doing Al Borges things: I don't think Michigan can run on Northwestern, and I don't think Michigan can try passing the ball on Northwestern without the Wildcats racking up a hefty bundle of interceptions. It seems like y'all have talent and are just utilizing it in comically bad ways. Our goal is to keep letting you do that, instead of opening up like the Red Sea in front of Fitz Touissant and allowing you to do things that you haven't done to anybody of late.
3. STAY HEALTHY, DAMMIT. If Trevor Siemian has to come in, he'll throw a pick and get sacked four times. If Treyvon Green is hurt, Mike Trumpy will come in and fumble. We're better than 0-5 as a team, but we're not necessarily better than 0-5 as an injured team.
I think NU takes this one, 30-24. We have to win a game at some point. I want to go to a bowl, and we literally need this game. (I imagine we can't beat Michigan State.)