Despite Coach Harbaugh stating that Rudock is doing everything asked of him, explain what you think has to be the focus going into the week to get him better.
Nick B: I don't think his vision is going to get remarkably better in a short period of time. But he can get into a rhythm with his receivers and start connecting on some of those deep throws. Harbaugh, Fisch, and Drevno are doing what they can to make sure Rudock succeeds; it's up to Mr. State Farm to cash in on some of those opportunities when they're given to him.
Peter: I think Matt Millen did a great job of pointing out that Rudock has only half the field to watch. I'd like to see the coaching staff get him to find that guy who will be open on the opposite side from his "assigned" half of the field. And Nick is correct, the deep ball would be great. We've seen him get tantalizingly close to breaking one, but he just can't get over the hump. He doesn't need six or seven of those every game, but one or two deep connections would be very comforting.
Drew: As I wrote in my Film Focus column, Jake Rudock is whom he is at this point. He's played five games this season, and there are only seven more regular-season games, which will be against stingier defenses starting with one of the nation's best pass defenses in Northwestern. It's hard to imagine that we will see substantial improvement from him in that time. I have given up on the long balls. That's not to say that he won't connect on any this season, but it's been too much of a struggle for him suddenly to start dropping bombs on opposing secondaries. All I want to see from Rudock now is accurate throws on the short to intermediate routes. Hit receivers in the numbers or in stride so that they can pick up yards after the catch. I'm not asking for much.
Alex K: People have belittled the big play, the cynics subsequently sneering at the lack of 'home run plays.' I'm completely content with Rudock's play as of late, and don't mind the title of ‘game manager.' Having a stout defense and capability at the running back/tight end slots has provided a ton of balance. This may neglect the question, considering this will not fall on Rudock, but I love the Chesson fly sweeps and such. Get some of these track-speed athletes in space instead of pressuring Rudock to complete the big play. For JR, continue to survey and get rid of the ball when needed. In a game where defenses will act as the primary force, it's a must to refrain from stupid turnovers.
Nick C: I have not given up on the long balls, and I think they end up winning a game for Michigan this season. So, for me, the focus has to be the deep ball. I've joked about Rudock sandbagging by missing consistently on the deep throws this season, and even though he isn't (he isn't, right?), it could end up working to Michigan's advantage down the stretch if everything clicks when the opposing defense doesn't expect it to. I'm thinking Rudock decides to flick the switch and tear apart Michigan State's secondary after continuing to fail downfield this week.
This terror of a defense gave up exactly 105 yards again (!), with many many guys contributing. Who from that group gets your helmet sticker?
Kevin: Mo Hurst!
Nick B: Desmond Morgan! He has settled in quite nicely since Week 1, and it's fun to watch him play.
Peter: Jourdan Lewis got the game ball in this week's post, but there's hardly a guy who isn't deserving of some recognition. Kevin and Nick have great choices, but if we're looking at last week only, then I'm going with Desmond Morgan--nine total tackles, five solo, and one interception. That's a pretty damn good day.
Drew: I'm going to rip the sticker in half and give a piece to Maurice Hurst, Jr. and Jourdan Lewis. Hurst, Jr. had four tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. What was special about both of Hurst's tackles for loss was that he did it on three-man rushes and Maryland's offensive line still couldn't stop him. Hurst's explosive first step is for real, and it's why he now has a sack in three straight games. As for Lewis, I can say only so many times that he may be the best cover corner in the nation. He's been incredible, and it was nice that he earned that first interception.
Alex: I can speak novels and jot encyclopedias on how dominant the line has been. However, it makes it so much easier when you have corners that can cover receivers and really stymie opposing quarterbacks. I'm cutting my sticker in half and when Stribling and Lewis come to my door for Halloween, they're getting half of a decal (and a bunch of fun-sized Mr. Goodbar).
Nick C: Outside of all the names that have already been dropped, how about Willie Henry for this downright cold sack?
The ever-changing running back situation leaned toward Drake Johnson after a solid performance. Move him up to the number two spot behind Smith or keep using all of them as the situation warrants?
Nick B: Nah, I think this week provided some clarity in that regard. Ty Isaac simply cannot put the ball on the turf like that, and I think this one merits a few weeks on the bench to think over. Drake and De'Veon can handle running back duties in the meantime.
Peter: Drake Johnson had a good game, but I'm not ready to christen him the #2 back just yet. I'm not ready to give anyone that spot, really. Johnson probably gets it by default; now he needs to string a couple of those performances together. Isaac? Woof. I'm not sure if that's really indicative of his overall capability as a running back, but he does need to sit in the corner for a while. If there is a score situation that would allow for his entrance and the possibility of a turnover to not be cataclysmic, then let him get a couple reps in just to help re-build some confidence.
KB: Johnson seems to be best as a receiving back and a sweeping runner. Leave Smith as the between-the-tackles guy and split time between Isaac and Johnson until one of them does something ridiculous to warrant using him more.
Drew: I've said it for a few weeks now, but Michigan will be at its best with De'Veon Smith as 1A and Drake Johnson as 1B. Smith will be the punisher that sheds tackles and churns out extra yards between the tackles. Johnson will be the one-cut-and-go back that can burst through holes and beat defenses to the edge. Give Smith two-thirds of the carries, and give the rest to Johnson.
Alex: The running game is such a staple with De'Veon that I sincerely don't mind exploring new options. Isaac and Johnson give a different look with what they encompass in their arsenal, so whomever decides to take that next step should be considered as No. 2. Until then, I side with the steady blend.
Nick C: I agree with Drew. Smith and Johnson complement each other, and Isaac should see less time after coughing up the pigskin against Maryland, I'd say run with a two-back system - Smith and Johnson - for now and see if anybody else is needed. The only question mark, in my opinion, will be if they can stay healthy. Barring injury, I think Smith and Johnson are all we need at tailback.
Make a gameplan for this Saturday for Michigan to have success against Northwestern's very awesome scoring defense.
Nick B: Get something going in the run game behind the tight ends. Their outside linebackers aren't the most athletic, and you'd probably have a hard time wearing down that deep defensive line with inside stuff, unless you can straight overpower them. Get Drake Johnson to the outside a few times, block on the edges, and wait for Anthony Walker and that secondary to arrive.
Peter: I want to see more of the wrinkles and confusion that Harbaugh used against BYU. Misdirection, sleight-of-hand, whatever it takes. This is one of those games in which the coaching staff may have to be a little unorthodox or just plain ballsy if they want to get the win.
KB: The two plays last week that stuck out as being most effective were the check-down screen to Johnson that scored a TD, and the jet sweep to Chesson that also scored a TD. Both plays went around the edge to blow by the Maryland secondary. Northwestern can't be that fast on the edges, so Drevno should test that theory often if Rudock looks shaky throwing over the middle around their linebackers. Take away a reason for Northwestern to force turnovers, increase the chance of success at limiting their scoring.
Drew: What Nick said. Drake Johnson, not De'Veon Smith, will be the difference for Michigan in this game, and getting him on the edge will be the reason why. If Michigan just tries to pound it between the tackles, Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, who has eight tackles for loss against the run, will be able to play downhill and shoot through the gaps. I'd rather Michigan try to make Walker move laterally. Also, Northwestern has an excellent pass defense, so I wouldn't try to get too cute with Jake Rudock. I'm sure Jim Harbaugh will have something up his sleeve like he has in each game this season, but Michigan should be able to win on the ground. Limit the dangerous throws -- and possible turnovers -- from Rudock, and it should be enough to win.
Alex: Different looks from different playmakers. I mentioned the Chesson sweeps, but stretch the field and attempt to widen the field on a defense that has yet to play outside the tackles. I also believe that the physicality from Butt, Bunting, etc. can be a significant factor on the hashmarks.
Nick C: Two words: Jake Butt. Jake Butt grabbing footballs for touchdowns. Jake Butt sealing the edge for Drake Johnson touchdowns. Jake Butt slinging the pigskin to Jake Rudock for touchdowns. Jake Butt returning squib kicks for touchdowns. Jake Butt catching fake field goals for touchdowns. I think this game cements the legend of Jake Butt, and he does at least two things from the list above, probably three. The last few Michigan-Northwestern games have had goofy stuff happen. I don't expect this one to be different.
Two different predictions this week: a simple game winner prediction AND a guess on who would win in a sideline tantrum battle between Harbaugh and Pat Fitzgerald.
Nick B: I'll say Michigan 10, Northwestern 0, and Harbs over Fitz.
Peter: Man, I don't know. I want to say that there will be a little more scoring in this one, but that seems like a foolish response. But, a low-scoring game seems equally unlikely for some reason. Michigan wins by 3, and let's leave it at that. I said at one point in the past that I think Fitz is the one coach that is going to get really frustrated by Harbaugh. In a straight-up question of who is better? Harbaugh. But, it will be Harbaugh who gets under Fitz's skin first and draws first frenzy.
KB: The double-digit spread is outrageous, and I agree that there probably won't be a ton of scoring unless there are gift-wrapped TDs for the defenses on top of the prized touchdowns. Michigan should win by a touchdown at most, but it's difficult to foresee where the points will come from. There's clear advantages in special teams and in the secondary, so I'm anxious to see what the coaches come up with to overpower the first strong defense this team has faced.
Fitzgerald is a master tantrum-thrower, and has a better vertical leap than Harbaugh when leaping, and even adds flailing arms for flavor; but Jim has the raw rage face and more powerful verbal game. Plus the added flair of using his play sheets and hat as props. Harbaugh by a mile.
WILDCATS WIN pic.twitter.com/t4usvxV2Kg— NU SPORTalk (@SPORTalkNU) September 12, 2015
JIM HARBAUGH IS MAD pic.twitter.com/kKyqx4zJf8— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) September 12, 2015
Drew: Michigan 13, Northwestern 6. And Jim Harbaugh over Pat Fitzgerald when it comes to throwing sideline tantrums, though we'd probably need three overtimes to determine the victor.
Alex: I concur with a low-scoring affair but wouldn't be surprised to see a special teams touchdown or pick-six. I have the Wolverines winning 24-13 and I think Harbaugh pummels Fitz in a tantrum melee, all while packing a golf ball-sized chaw beneath the left side of his cheek.
Nick C: 13-10 Michigan with Peppers returning a punt for a touchdown as time expires. And HARBAUGH. No contest.
Extra point! Harbaugh had his homecoming in December, now a large contingent of the Michigan family gets to come home on Saturday to worship at his altar. Talk about your favorite Michigan Homecoming tradition. Also are the Dolphins now in play?
Peter: I have no favorite. Yours truly isn't an alum, so no homecoming traditions for me.
/ sad trombone
KB: The Alumni Marching Band has gotten huge the last few years, and their pregame show each year includes the annually-played fan favorite "I Wanna Go Back to Michigan"
I want to go back to Michigan,
To dear Ann Arbor town,
Back to Joe's and the Orient,
And back to some of the money I spent,
I want to go back to Michigan,
To dear Ann Arbor town,
I want to go back; I got to go back,
Oh! Father and Mother pay all the bills,
And we have all the fun,
In the friendly rivalry of college life, Hooray!
And we have to figure a helluva lot,
To tell what we have done,
With the coin we blew at dear ole' Michigan!
No one knows who wrote the song, but it is almost like a drinking song you'd hear in a medieval tavern.
Drew; Winning the football game. That's my favorite Homecoming tradition.
Alex: The one time I asked a girl from Alpha Sigma Tau to the postgame dance in Schembechler Hall. She said her favorite Wolverine of all-time was Sam McGuffie. I never spoke to her again and reported her spam on Facebook. None of this happened by the way.
/orchestra of sad trombones with McGuffie backflip montage playing in the background.
Nick C: Didn't go to Michigan so I'll say beating Northwestern, a homecoming tradition that, if it doesn't already exist, will exist after Saturday. And hell no, the Dolphins can go fly a kite made out of Suh's ridiculous contract.
And with that, happy homecoming!