It's going to be ugly again.
Last season's meeting between Michigan and Northwestern was excruciating to watch. Sure, Michigan fans experienced a few moments of pure euphoria when the Wolverines somehow, inexplicably executed a fire-drill, 44-yard field goal in just a smidge over 10 seconds, thanks in part to holder Drew Dileo's majestic power slide, to beat the buzzer and send the game to overtime. Otherwise, there was nothing aesthetically pleasant about it. In regulation, neither team scored a touchdown, kicking six total field goals, and each just barely eked out more than 300 totals yards. There were few big plays, with both teams combining for only two plays that gained 20-plus yards. Both offenses tried to give the football away via turnover, but, due to multiple drops by the defenses, neither accepted the offer until Thomas Gordon intercepted Trevor Siemian on the game's final play in triple overtime. Oh, and the weather was chilly, windy, and dreary.
It was a game that neither fan base wants to relive.
Unfortunately, both fan bases are going to this Saturday.
Some of the faces will be different, but the matchup between Michigan and Northwestern this weekend will cause most fans to experience déjà vu. Both Michigan and Northwestern are reeling once again. Entering their meeting last season, the Wolverines had lost three of their previous four games, while the Wildcats had dropped five straight. This season, the Wolverines have lost four of their previous six games, while the Wildcats have dropped three straight. This won't be a game with any championship impact. Rather, the winner will maintain a fighting chance to become bowl-eligible, while the loser will all but assure itself a stay-at-home holiday break.
One of the key reasons why both Michigan and Northwestern are reeling for the second straight season is because both have offenses that are quite terrible. Let's look at scoring offense first. I already alluded to the fact that both teams could muster only 18 combined points in regulation in their meeting last season. This season, Michigan is 107th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 21.9 points per game. And what's sad is that this is actually the better of the two teams because Northwestern is tied for 117th in the nation with 19.1 points per game. This is what happens when the Wildcats have yet to exceed 30 points scored in any game this season. Another low-scoring slugfest? Check.
Both Michigan and Northwestern have struggled to put points on the scoreboard because neither can generate yards. Last year, in regulation, Northwestern edged Michigan in total yards, 304 to 302, and yards per play, 4.34 to 4.25. These are grisly numbers, and they will not be much better on Saturday. Why? Because Michigan and Northwestern are tied for 116th in the nation in total offense as both are averaging only 330 yards per game.
Maize n Brew Must Reads
•Maize n BrewMaize n Brew's in-depth preview of this weekend's Michigan-Northwestern contest, looking at how both teams will perform on each side of the ball.
Maize n Brew Must Reads
These teams have not been able to move the football because they seem incapable of exploding for big plays. In last year's contest, Michigan and Northwestern combined for two 20-plus-yard runs and zero 30-plus-yard passes. Don't expect that to be any different this weekend. According to FEI, Michigan is 93rd nationally in a stat called "Explosive Drives," which is the percentage of an offense's drives that average at least 10 yards per play, while Northwestern is 117th. This should be no surprise given that only one team in the nation has fewer 30-plus-yard passes this season than Michigan (4), and that team is Northwestern (3). So this weekend's forecast projects a zero percent chance of fireworks.
Speaking of forecasts, the weather in Evanston this weekend: chilly, windy, and dreary.
So, when you turn on the television at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and turn the channel to ESPN2, you may think that you have stumbled across a replay of last season's game between Michigan and Northwestern. But do not be alarmed because you will indeed be watching this season's matchup between the Wolverines and the Wildcats live.
Or maybe you should be alarmed. Because this is the type of déjà vu you should dread.