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What We Learned: Northwestern Week

The Wolverines continue to roll, but are they just beating overrated teams that somehow found a way to enter the Top 25? Or are they legitimately obliterating great teams?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports


Either Michigan is really good at finding overrated teams to beat, or they're just really good. When Michigan beat BYU, the reasons why the win was meaningless rolled in from rival fans and media. "BYU was tired from playing tough games." "It's unfair that they had to travel so much." Somehow getting trounced by Michigan energized the Cougars, and they have gone 2-0 since.

Heading into the weekend, Northwestern was all the rage. They were ranked #13! They had just shut out Minnesota! The 12-point spread for Michigan was way too high, and these two teams always play close games*, so take the free money! The asterisk in the previous sentence was for the fact that these close games involved Brady Hoke's Michigan teams. And unfortunately for our calculator-watch-wearing guests, that is no longer the case.

This game was never close, from the opening kickoff return that Jehu Chesson took for a touchdown until the crowd chanted "DE-FENSE!" during the final minute of the shutout. If you were watching this game as a Northwestern student or alumnus, you can take away a few positive things from this game:

  1. You gained more yards than the other opponents that Michigan shut out and even attempted a field goal.
  2. You didn't really have a long drive home to the Chicago area, as most of the I-94 construction is done now.
  3. You either are making a lot of money now or will when you graduate. A LOT!!

Michigan apparently is passing these tests too well to the point that people are saying that they weren't tests at all.

To be fair, it does seem rather unfathomable that Michigan could go from 5-7 a season ago to completely obliterating ranked opponents now. Until you remember who the head coach is.

Not much else. What else can I write here? If you watched the last five games without knowing Michigan's opponent, would you really be able to tell much of a difference between them? Here is the formula Michigan has been using consistently:

  • Ground and pound with the run until the opponent's front seven is beaten down. Then ground and pound some more, but mix in some speedy runners, too.

  • Against tougher opponents, open up the offense early, using misdirection, fakes, and the unexpected.

  • When a large lead is established, call a bunch of basic run plays. This not only gets the OL some valuable run-blocking reps, but it also minimizes the amount of film future coaches have at their disposal for study.

  • Oh yeah, do that thing on defense where the other team never scores. It seems to be working pretty well.

With a couple exceptions (slow start against Oregon State and Maryland), that is pretty much how all five games have gone. And when you see 300 straight minutes of football go that way, you start expecting it to continue.

Halfway down, halfway to go. After the UNLV game, I gave my forecast for the rest of the season. Time to do a few modifications after we've learned a little more.

MSU (Prev: "Should be a loss"): I wrote that after MSU beat Oregon. We've since learned that Oregon is capable of losing to Utah 62-14. I'm changing this to should be a win. MSU is decimated by injuries, and Michigan is playing at a much, much higher level. Even if MSU "has another gear", let's just say it would be like kicking it into third, while Michigan has already lapped them into sixth gear.

At Minnesota (Prev: 50/50 game): I'll say this is a 75/25 game now. The two things that scare me are that Minnesota found some offense this weekend at Purdue and this is a road night game. Scoring 41 against Purdue and scoring 41 against Michigan are two different things, though.

Rutgers (Prev: Should be a win): No change in status. This is easiest remaining game on Michigan's schedule.

At Indiana (Prev: Should be a win): No change in status. Michigan hasn't lost to Indiana since 1987, and Jim Harbaugh doesn't seem like the right candidate to break that streak.

At Penn State (Prev: 40/60 game): I will change this to a 60/40 game now. Penn State is a pretty solid team, and they will be loud and raucous for this one. However, Michigan has shown themselves to be capable of playing well on the road.

OSU (Prev: Anything can happen - Throw the records out, as they say): No change in status on this one. This is a rivalry game. OSU isn't playing as well as Michigan right now, but it stands to reason that they will hit their stride before this game. I would be shocked if the OSU team we saw sleep-walking through Indiana and Northern Illinois is the team Michigan faces on November 28.

WHAT WE LEARNED: About the Big Ten

The Rudock Bowl could really be a thing. Before this weekend's games even began, Iowa had the upper hand in the West, according to the computers. With a schedule that avoids Michigan, MSU, OSU, and Penn State, they have a good chance to keep it going and punch their ticket to Indy. This weekend only solidified it as they got the win over Illinois.

Nebraska probably shouldn't have fired a coach who went 9-3. They apparently thought they were a good enough program to fire their nine-win coach Bo Pelini. Well, they've already ensured they will finish with a worse record than last year, and we are only six games deep into the season. This isn't the Tommie Frazier era, and every team has huge linemen now, not just them. If they are expecting Mike Riley to bring back the mid-90s, they are dreaming.

OSU defense: not elite. Remember when Michigan shut Maryland out on the road a week ago? Yeah, OSU just let them score 28. At home. The good news is OSU looks very, very beatable right now. The bad news is they have almost two months to clean up their act...well, cleaning up the act is not really possible at CoolerPooper U. Let's go with "get better at football".

MSU continues its undefeted season, but... They are getting pummeled. Lots of injuries at key positions, and the defense looks sub-par. I'm kind of picturing them as a team like Florida State last year - staying undefeated for a while, and then getting destroyed by a good team. Hey, they play a good team this weekend...