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Matchup to watch: Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher vs. Michigan’s ground game

How will Michigan fare on the ground against an opposing linebacker like Fisher?

NCAA Football: Music Bowl-Kentucky vs Northwestern Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Before Michigan enters the gauntlet of Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State, they’ll take take a trip to Northwestern. Unfortunately, before Michigan’s offense faces the likes of linebackers like T.J. Edwards, Micah Parsons and Joe Bachie, they won’t get a similar amuse-bouche in Northwestern.

In the past few games, the Wolverines’ skill players have been potent in the middle of the field — Karan Higdon has averaged 11.6 yards per carry after a somewhat lackluster performance at Notre Dame, and Zach Gentry is morphing into a dangerous threat between the hashes.

Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher, though, lurks like a shark in the middle of the Wildcats’ defense. Last year as a freshman, he led all FBS first-year players in tackles and was named a Freshmen All-American. Not only is Fisher your traditional run-stuffing, hard-hitting linebacker, but he also had flashed adept coverage skills in Northwestern’s hybrid 4-3 scheme.

To keep Fisher honest, Michigan will have to rely on the ground game. Higdon will be key, as will Chris Evans out of the backfield, but look for Jim Harbaugh to let Shea Patterson run loose on the Wildcats.

No, that doesn’t mean Patterson will be running draw plays up the gut, but don’t be surprised if Harbaugh has him operating out of the pocket a lot more than he in has the last three games.

Doing that, and holding Fisher accountable outside of the just of the middle, will be key for Michigan’s offensive success. Yes, Fisher is a great player an can hold his own outside his comfort zone, but that’s exactly how the Wolverines, and great teams, beat lesser teams down — by stretching them to their absolute limit.