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MnB Roundtable is Chicago's Big Ten Roundtable

Michigan has to win out the season to even be considered for a bowl, and as they travel to Evanston, the MnB crew discusses what will happen on Saturday.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan looked better than they have all season last Saturday, albeit against a pretty weak opponent. What'd they do differently that will keep things going against Northwestern?

Peter: I'm watching the game right now (1:00 on Wednesday afternoon). To be honest, I'm not so sure the win was as much about Michigan as it was about Indiana just not being able to get anything going. Penalties and turnovers hurt the Hoosiers, while the Michigan offense didn't blow me away, regardless of the nice stat line by Drake Johnson. This is actually one of the least impressive wins I've seen. That being said, the ability to get the ball to anyone not named Funchess was a huge part of said win. Keep that philosophy against Northwestern, and Michigan could have two consecutive wins in what feels like an eternity.

John: Well I think for one they played a bad Big Ten Team, something that I think will keep going against Northwestern. Besides that they ran the ball, Gardner spread the ball around instead of just Funchess locking and the defense played well, even against subpar competition. If Gardner and the run game can continue to be serviceable in Chicago this weekend, Michigan should be fine.

Zach: What did Michigan do different? It played Indiana.

Seriously, I'm not sure how much credit to assign Michigan in that one. Indiana looked hapless and Michigan didn't look all that explosive. This is still a bad football team. It just isn't Indiana bad.

Northwestern is vulnerable, but should be a step up in competition from Indiana. I don't know what that means for a Michigan team that has looked hapless itself against pretty much everyone save the dregs of college football.

Kevin: I wonder if Indiana appreciates being the measuring stick for levels of terrible around the Big Ten. A game like that makes it hard to judge whether Michigan outplayed or made fewer mistakes.

Drew: Can Michigan bring Indiana with them to Evanston to be their opponent on Saturday? No? Well, it was worth a shot because, as everyone has said, Michigan benefited from playing the worst team in the Big Ten in Indiana -- the Hoosiers are without Nate Sudfeld at least. Northwestern will be a step up from Indiana, but not by much. The Wildcats are tied for 117th in scoring offense and 116th in total offense, mostly because they are incapable of producing any big plays -- they have the fewest 30-plus-yard plays in the nation. As long as Michigan's defense can keep the lid on Northwestern's offense like it did against Tevin Coleman and Indiana, the Wolverines should be able to do enough offensively to earn their second straight win.

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How come we're just now discovering that Drake Johnson can play? His stat line: 16 carries, 122 yards, two TD's. Yes, it was against Indiana, but, it seems like this coaching staff has overlooked his ability, no?

John: To be honest I'm still hanging on to the De'Veon Smith bandwagon... Whether or not Drake Johnson can play I think the bigger overall narrative is the coaching staff's inability to take advantage of a talented roster. Michigan has a wealth of running backs and wide receivers when healthy, plus two quarterbacks that a lot of schools would take in a heartbeat, yet the offense can't find any consistency. Until the coaches can continue to recognize and build talent, I'll temper my expectations. Still Drake looked good saturday... #DJHeisman

Peter: Johnson's performance was very nice to see, but it's not as though the running backs haven't had flashes of positivity this season. Maybe Johnson just has better vision? I don't know. What is obvious, as John states, the staff needs to start using the roster as much as possible. Drake Johnson may not be the answer out of the backfield, but give the guy a shot and see what happens. What's it going to hurt this year?

Zach: Here is the thing that Johnson and Justice Hayes have going for them: they seem to not actively try to avoid the blocking in front of them. Johnson's day wasn't spectacular, and he wasn't called upon to make a lot of people miss. It was basically "hey, Drake, there is an opening. Run through it, fast". I still think Hayes is a better option in traffic and that both Smith and Derrick Green have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot by misreading the blocking in front of them. Against Indiana when open holes are existant, Johnson can hit them and go. Can he still make positive plays when those open spaces constrict and tacklers start challenging him at the line of scrimmage? If he could I figure we would have seen it by now, although I won't put it past this staff to have played the wrong dudes for over half the season.

And yes, that I can't whiddle down the Occam's Razor explanation to "Indiana is bad" without strongly considering "the coaches just spent the last two months blindly overlooking the better option at tailback" is as good an indictment as I can find against the Hoke regime.

Drew: Look, there have been many issues and incidents in the past two seasons that have been an indictment on Brady Hoke and his staff's coaching ability. I'm just not ready to peg Drake Johnson's outburst against Indiana as one of them yet. It would be one thing if last Saturday was the first time we saw Johnson carry the football. But that's not the case. Even if his previous playing time at running back had been limited, we hadn't seen anything to suggest that Johnson could be a legitimate starter in the Big Ten. Yes, Johnson has always had track speed, but he hadn't demonstrated the agility needed to slither through traffic between the tackles. And the one time we see glimpses of this just happens to be against Indiana and its traditionally poor defense. Plus, we shouldn't forget that other Michigan running backs have had flashes of greatness this season as well (see: De'Veon Smith vs. Minnesota). So I'm of the opinion that we should see how Johnson finishes the season before blaming the staff for keeping Johnson on the pine.

Northwestern doesn't appear to have many playmakers this year, but they have two impressive conference wins...seems like if they hang around, they can beat anybody. So, how are they going to hang around against Michigan?

John: If Northwestern can keep the Michigan offense from getting a roll it can hang around all day. Any game played in the low 20's would be perfect for Pat Fitz, but if Michigan can get a few solid drives and let the defense play a 30-10 score wouldn't be out of the question. I stand by the Michigan defense is above average in the conference, but any defense will fail when the offense continually puts them in tough situations.

Peter: I'm just as worried about Northwestern as I've been about anyone. This is a team that just knows how to win games they shouldn't. Whether this is one of those games or not is up for debate, I suppose, but Michigan has the superior talent and should win on paper. How will Northwestern hang around? Turnovers. I have a bad feeling that this is going to be an ugly, turnover fest by both teams that goes down to the last six minutes of the fourth quarter. I'll probably fall asleep at some point.

Drew: "This is a team that just knows how to win games they shouldn't." Huh? Northwestern? You sure? I mean, are you reallyreallyreally sure? Because Northwestern may just be the most snakebitten collegiate athletics program in the nation.

Peter: Yes, Drew, I'm sure. However, I probably should have qualified that statement by saying that most of those wins have come against Wisconsin. Can both of us be right?

Atticus: I wouldn't really say they're that short on playmakers, but who they do have just hasn't gotten much press. Justin Jackson is a shifty back and he's on pace for 1,250 rushing and catching yards. Dan Vitale and Kyle Prater have been big at giving Trevor Siemian easy targets, and they have some other solid receivers. The problem for them seems to have been Siemian: 56% completions, more interceptions than touchdowns, and only 5.5 yards per throw. If he's effective - and he has it in him - Michigan will have its hands full.

Zach: It seems like Northwestern has the same issue as Michigan where they are on the lower end of the bell curve in terms of number and severity of injuries. The playmakers were there, they just are on the sidelines now.

My concern is that Michigan has had issues with Northwestern's offense under Hoke/Mattison, and we've already seen what a quick passing spread can do to neutralize Michigan's pass rush and defensive line. Do I like a game that is going to rely heavily on Michigan's nickel corner (Blake Countess) and dropping Jake Ryan in to underneath zones? I do not.

Drew: Northwestern will have to keep the game close on the defensive side of the ball because the Wildcats may even be worse offensively than Michigan. The Wildcats have found a quality runner in true freshman Justin Jackson, who's rushed for at least 96 yards in each of his past four games, but we'll see how he fares against a Michigan defense that's ranked sixth nationally against the run according to S&P+. This will put a bunch of pressure on the shoulders of Trevor Siemian, who has the worst passer rating among all Big Ten quarterbacks qualified to be ranked. Zach expressed concerns about MIKE Jake Ryan and nickelback Blake Countess defending underneath against a passing spread, but I think Michigan will manage because Siemian doesn't have the accuracy and Northwestern doesn't have the playmakers at receiver to hurt them. The Wildcats' best chance to score points will be to dink and dunk their way to the end zone, but I just do not see that happening often if at all. And I think Michigan's offense will do enough for the Wolverines to win their second straight game for the first time since early October 2013.

What do you want to hear from Michigan's new AD when whoever-that-is gets hired?

KB: It's pretty obvious when I watch other schools' games on television at how much better they are at the whole game day environment. The SEC has it figured out, even the rest of the Big Ten has it figured out. It definitely helps that these other schools have better football teams to draw people to games, but come on, Michigan fans still showed up in droves for games in 2008/2009. Granted, there's little things like food pricing/access to facilities/showmanship stuff that can be worked on, but it starts with a team that people get excited about.

Seems like the University could beef up some of the things people already do around Ann Arbor before a game: draw more spectators for the band's march to the stadium gates, have the M Den put on some events along Main Street, consolidate the golf course/Pioneer High tailgate crowd into a tighter space a la the Ole Miss grove.

Peter: Yeah, let's start with the team first and then move on to the stuff on the periphery. As long as a coach who can win is put in place, we'll be pretty willing to put up with a burger and chicken strip basket that costs more than it does to park. It would be nice if all of the ticket prices for football, not just the student tickets, were scaled back a little bit. If not, get rid of the damn $400 seating license fee. As for the overall gameday experience, I'd like to see the fans and the new AD figure out some new tradition prior to the game. Unless I'm missing something obvious, the experience outside of the stadium prior to the game is very boring--park your car, tailgate, walk to the stadium. Okay, there's that jokester traffic cop that no one listens to, but what about a kick-ass march to the stadium by the team--chanting, music, whatever. Something cool can be thought up.

John:
0. Hire Harbaugh
1. Retire the unretired jerseys (especially 2, 21, and 98)
2. Call Chris Webber and apologize
3. Retire Jalen Rose and Trey Burke's numbers
4. Re-hang the Fab Five banners
5. Big Chill 2
6. Basketball game at the Big House
7. Offer Dave Brandon an unpaid usher job at the Big House

Zach: I don't want to hear much of anything from the new guy. Let me explain:

One of my big issues with Dave Brandon wasn't just how he ran things and the mistakes I felt he was making, but that it was all done with the express intent of proving to everyone else how smart and great Dave Brandon was. The man got out in front of cameras at just about every opportunity and made it his job to take credit for just about everything Michigan did.

I don't want an AD that feels like he is the smartest guy in the room and needs to prove it. That leads to PR blunders, condescension, and fixing what isn't broke. I want an AD that might not be the smartest guy in the room, but is the most thorough and thoughtful. Dave Brandon could have done quite a bit better with a lot of the gameday atmosphere aspects had he just listened to fans and alumni. The student ticket fiasco of the last couple years proves that pretty well. Give me a competent person who is more concerned with the overall health and success of the department and less concerned with getting credit for that success.

KB: That's an interesting angle, Zach. A few years ago I wouldn't have said this, but, Bill Martin had it right with his approach to managing the department. Fans piled on him for being the guy who changed the appearance of Michigan Stadium, and I was right there with them, but one can't argue with his philosophy now. He has said in multiple interviews that Michigan doesn't need advertisements, promotions, PR showcases, and so forth. Michigan itself is the draw. Almost like a "build it and they will come" mindset, but it has been built for 135 seasons. Don't fix what isn't broken.