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Getting to know Michigan’s opponent: Northwestern

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It hasn’t been a good start to the season for Northwestern, and things won’t get easier for them versus Michigan.

NCAA Football: Akron at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The Northwestern Wildcats have become a team that gives top competition fits on a given week under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Northwestern is coming off a year where they finished the season 10-3, rattling off eight wins a row to finish the season.

The 2018 season started with high expectations, but the hopes have taken a hit in Septermber as the Wildcats come into the tilt against Michigan standing at 1-2 after losing games versus Duke and Akron.

Things got worse for Northwestern earlier this week, when their star running back Jeremy Larkin abruptly retired after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

2018 Team Statistics

  • Total Offense- 62nd
  • Rushing Offense- 113th
  • Passing Offense- 20th
  • Total Defense- 75th
  • Rushing Defense- 41st
  • Passing Yards Allowed- 94th
  • Scoring Defense- 87th
  • 3rd Down Conversion Pct- 69th
  • Red Zone Offense- 122nd
  • Red Zone Defense- 117th
  • Fewest Penalties Per Game- 5th
  • Time of Possession- 39th
  • First Down Defense- 10th
  • Punt Return Defense- 6th

Players to watch

- QB Clayton Thorson: As Thorson goes, so will the offense. Thorson is the definition of a mixed bag. Sometimes Thorson can be dangerous and gets rid of the ball quickly, with authority. However, all too often he is inclined to make head-scratching throws that lead to interceptions. The last drive against Wisconsin in 2017, Northwestern still had a shot to drive down the field, but Northwestern’s chance of a win ended with Thorson running around in the end-zone and taking an unnecessary safety instead of getting rid of the football. Through three games, Thorson is completing 61% of his throws while throwing for 3 TD’s and 3 INT’s. Thorson also is dangerous with his legs in the red-zone, racking up 18 rushing touchdowns in his career.

- DE Joe Gaziano: Tallying 9 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2017, Gaziano is one of the lone bright spots on the Wildcats so far this season with 2 sacks against undefeated Duke.

- LB Paddy Fisher: One of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, Fisher always finds himself by the football. Fisher had a highly impressive 111 tackles in 2017 and is already up to 28 this season. Fisher can fly downfield and will be looking to stuff Michigan’s run game.

What to expect

  • With leading rusher Larkin retiring, the Northwestern offense will likely be even more pass happy than they are usually as Larkin was the clear bell-cow. It truly is a huge loss for Northwestern.
  • Wide receivers Flynn Nagel, Cameron Green, and Bennett Skowronek all have north of 14 reception on the year, the QB Thorson tries to distribute the football equally.
  • Northwestern’s defense will likely be aggressive and send the kitchen sink at Shea Patterson. Michigan’s offensive line will have to be ready to pick up the pressure. Michigan will likely used a balanced approach once again versus Northwestern.
  • This is a huge game for Northwestern fans, and the home crowd in Evanston will be loud and rocking at the start of the game. It’s a good time for the Wolverines to have a test (of some sort) on the road.