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Getting to know Northwestern with Inside NU

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A deep dive into what makes and breaks 3-3 Northwestern.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Indiana State at Northwestern Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (6-0) are set to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (3-3) at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. To get further insight into the Northwestern program we spoke with Inside NU beat writer Ben Chasen.

You can listen to the full podcast below, or check out the highlights in transcript form.

On what’s more of a reflection of Northwestern this season — their 56-7 loss against Nebraska or 21-7 win versus Rutgers

It’s probably somewhere in between. And I’ve been saying this almost every single week since the start of the season for Northwestern. But it’s really still kind of hard to know. I mean, last year, Northwestern went to the Big Ten Championship. And then they lost their defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who’d been coaching for 51 years, I think he was actually a Michigan alum. They lost Greg Newsome, who was a cornerback who went in the first round. There was Paddy Fisher, who had been the heart and soul of the team at linebacker — and his right hand man, Bryce Gallagher, who was also at linebacker. JR Pace, he was a safety, lost a bunch of guys on the defensive side of the ball and on the offensive side.

We’re still kind of like in a new age of this roster, and we’re still adjusting to what’s new. What you saw against Rutgers this weekend, that 21-7 win was a completely different look than what we’d seen for Northwestern against Power Five competition thus far this year. Obviously, the Nebraska loss was the worst of it with that 56-7 blowout. But those were just a combined or combination of missed tackles, missed assignments, and basically wide open gaps against the triple-option that Adrian Martinez ran well. Northwestern was really, really solid tackling, I think the majority of the team’s issues have been defensive. And so when the team was able to tackle and kind of cover those gaps a lot better against Rutgers this weekend, they were able to succeed and that was evident in the only 7 points that they gave up.

Thoughts on Northwestern’s 117th ranked rush defense vs. Michigan’s 7th ranked rushing offense

My thoughts are that Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins have been giving my nightmares since Saturday. I don’t know how it’s gonna go against those two obviously. Michigan’s got a ferocious rushing offense with two great backs, a quarterback who can who can run the offense competently, an offensive line that’s up there in physicality with every other offensive line in the country. I think that if you see the Northwestern that we saw against Rutgers, which hopefully I think for Northwestern fans, they’ve turned some sort of corner and not the one against Nebraska, they’ll be able to contain a Blake Corum and Haskins. I don’t know whether that’s going to happen. And if you do see what we saw, I think in the first half against Duke, what we saw game against Kenneth Walker and Michigan State. And obviously, we saw against Adrian Martinez and the Cornhuskers it could get pretty ugly. Obviously the most recent game is is what we have to base our assumptions for the next game off of so if Northwestern used the bye week productively, and they’ve schematically changed things enough and executed better enough to turn the corner. Then I think you could see a better turnout but still not a great turnout against a really, really strong Michigan rushing offense.

Players to watch on offense

I think it’s starts with the offensive line. Ryan Hilinski is the quarterback and he’s not the most mobile guy, doesn’t pass incredibly well on the run, and he’s been forced out of the pocket really quickly in some of Northwestern’s losses this year.

Look at guys like Peter Skoronski, Sam Gerack on the line to be able to kind of give a push up front and give guys time. In terms of playmakers, you’re not usually hearing offensive linemen being called so I’d say look out for Stephon Robinson, who’s now put up two consecutive 100 yard performances. Even in that loss against Nebraska he put up well over 100 yards.

In terms of running it’s more of a three headed monster than anything else. With with Evan Hull, Andrew Clair, and Anthony Tyus. They all provide different things, Evan Hull will be the main guy I think you’ll see, but I believe Clair led the way against against Rutgers. Kind of be on the lookout for all three of those guys.

Reaction to Pat Fitzgerald saying Michigan is probably the best team Northwestern’s played all year and “it’s not even close”, despite playing Michigan State earlier in the season.

I do believe that Michigan is the best team Northwestern has played thus far this season, and potentially the best team that they will play this entire season. In terms of by far the best team that we’ve seen on tape, I think he meant it. Sure. But I think that maybe that’s a little overstated, given just how bad Northwestern got blown out by Michigan State. I mean, it was the emergence of Kenneth Walker in a way that I don’t think anyone expected right off the bat. He had a 70-plus yard touchdown run.

Offensive and defensive schematics

It’s a more aggressive scheme that forces the front seven to make a lot of reads really quickly. And with a lot of guys who didn’t start last year because of so many departing starters on Northwestern’s defense, that definitely was evident in the first couple of games. Those guys kind of weren’t making those reads quickly enough, they were getting turned around a lot, but it’s more aggressive up front.

This year more than had been in the past, it’s been a more, there’s no better way to say it — but more explosive offense. They’ve had larger chunk plays, a lot of deep passes to Stephon Robinson, Bryce Kurtz was another speed receiver, who seemingly is going to be out for this game, probably for an extended period of time, potentially for the entire season. So Michigan fans don’t have to worry about him. It’s a lot of pound the ball in the middle, and then potentially use play action, or other deep pass schemes to get guys like Robinson, and then Malik Washington open deep downfield.

Predictions

I saw the spread this morning is like up to 23.5. I keep thinking around that number. Because I do think it’ll probably be around 23.5. I’ll go Michigan 38, Northwestern 14. So give Michigan the advantage. I just think that this Michigan offense, particularly in its running attack, is going to get a lot of nice big chunk plays. Expect a defensive turnover for a touchdown or two for the Wolverines as well. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it went completely, completely the other way. Not that I expect Northwestern to blow Michigan out in The Big House. But I do think that they could play this game more competitively than some people expect. But I’m going to play things conservatively. Go with the favorite. go with a slight cover for the Michigan Wolverines. 38-14 would be my prediction in favor of Michigan.

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