5 things l'd like to see from Michigan this weekend against Northwestern
Michigan has won three straight games and has looked good doing it, but it’s all been in the comfort of the Big House. Saturday the Wolverines hit the road again, traveling to Northwestern for their second Big Ten game of the season (4:30 p.m. ET; TV: FOX).
The Wolverines are 3-1 overall, bouncing back nicely from their season-opening loss to Notre Dame. They looked great in thrashing Nebraska 56-10 a week ago in the conference opener, so now it’s going to be interesting to see what they can put together on the road.
Here are five things I am looking forward to seeing from Michigan this weekend at Northwestern:
1. Take the show on the road
Michigan has outscored Western Michigan, SMU and Nebraska 150-33 in the past three weeks, but it’s different at home. All road Big Ten games can be tricky, and you can expect plenty of this Saturday in Evanston, which can be a difficult place to play. The Wolverines are coming together nicely on both sides of the ball, so this is a good litmus test to see that trend continue. Northwestern has struggled so far, starting out 1-2 with home losses to underdogs Duke and Akron. The Wildcats still haven’t put it all together yet, but that might me they’ll be ready to go this week.
2. Be creative against a well-prepared team
Michigan’s offense has looked good the past few weeks, but this is going to be a curious game because the Wildcats have had a week off to prepare. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff are smart guys, so they’ll have a good game plan to try to keep in the Wolverines in check. This is one of those games where I’d like to see some new things from the offense to catch Northwestern off guard. Yes, Michigan should be able to smack them in the mouth too, like it did with Nebraska, but this game might require a little more. “Northwestern is just a good football program. They’re always tough because they’re well-coached. They’ve got smart kids who know how to great ready to play a game,” Michigan assist Greg Mattison said Wednesday.
3. Continue to dominate games on defense
Michigan’s defense is loaded with talent at every level and it has put its stamp on games recently. This is a team that should win with its defense, so that’s what I want to see here, a complete shutdown early of Northwestern’s offense so they can force them into bad situations and force some turnovers. It was shocking how easily Michigan’s front seven pushed around the Nebraska front last week. They gave up nothing. Might be nice to see more of that this weekend, too, especially against talented Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, who still doesn’t seem be 100 percent after knee surgery.
4. Win battles along the offensive line in both phases
We’ve discussed the key to success for Michigan repeatedly, and that’s the offensive line, which must continue to get better every week. It struggled early but has shown nice improvement every week, which is all you ever want to see with a college team. Coaches have raved that they’re willing to work hard as a group, and that they’re great at taking things from the practice field to the games. We’re seeing that, and this is a good week for this growth to continue.
5. Keep building for what lies ahead
We mentioned last week it was surprising that Michigan’s first four Big Ten opponents all lost as favorites two weeks ago, and it was nice to have a bit of breathing room heading into the nasty part of the schedule down the road. That’s still a good thing, with games against Northwestern, Maryland and Wisconsin next on the schedule. The huge showdowns in the Big Ten East are still a few weeks away, so it’s good to continue to show signs of improvement.