Michigan, Northwestern set for classic B1G brawl
Who: No. 13 Northwestern vs. No. 18 Michigan
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: The House that’s big, Michigan
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -7.5
Matchup to watch: Chris Wormley vs. Justin Jackson
This one figures to be a battle in the trenches, which starts with these two. Wormley has been so successful getting off the ball and disrupting opposing backfields. He’s a major reason the Wolverines are fifth in the country in defending the run. Jackson will be a different kind of challenge to bottle up. The durable sophomore moves the chains as well as anybody in the B1G. His one touchdown doesn’t reflect how huge he’s been in fueling a Wildcat offense that starts a freshman quarterback. Jackson gets downhill quickly, and doesn’t need to bounce it to the outside to be successful. It’ll be interesting to see if Michigan tries some different looks with Wormley to try and get him into individual matchups on Jackson. That might be the only remedy to containing the second-year back. Or maybe the Wolverines will draw up the same gameplan that held Jackson to a career-worst 35 yards rushing last year.
Thing I’m excited to see: The Chess Game
Arguably the two favorites for coach of the year will he squaring off for the first time in the B1G. And in a game that could be a tight, low-scoring affair, Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Harbaugh figure to play a big part in this one. Which team is able to keep the other off-balanced? Who will go for it on fourth-and-one? And if so, what will they draw up? Will we see an atypical play, like a Jehu Chesson end-around, make the difference? Conventional wisdom says both coaches are going to want to run it down each other’s throats, control the clock and let the defense do the work. They’re going to have to pick their spots to mix it up because the margin for error is small. Who blinks first?
Number to remember: 3
These teams have allowed a combined three rushing touchdowns all year. The top two scoring defenses in the country have been dominant against the run. We know about what Wormley and Joe Bolden have meant for the Wolverines. For the Wildcats, Anthony Walker and Dean Lowry have been those guys. With how successful both teams have been against the run, they could both find themselves in third-and-long situations that put the pressure on the passing game. The last time Michigan’s running game struggled was in the opener against Utah. Jake Rudock struggled when he was put in pass-only situations. He’s improved tremendously since then, but against lesser competition. There’s no guarantee De’Veon Smith is a go for this one. If Michigan can’t establish the run early, it could force Rudock to do heavier lifting than he’s had to do all year.
Prediction: Michigan 13, Northwestern 10
I can’t believe the spread is 7.5 points for this one. I understand the Wolverines defense is playing as well as anybody in the country right now, but you can make the same case for Northwestern. There’s no guarantee the Wolverines even score 7.5 points. I, however, believe that they do. I’m a believer in the Wildcats, but I don’t think they’ve faced an offensive line like Michigan’s. I think the Wolverines are able to punch one in and frustrate the Wildcats ground game. In a battle that could be Iowa-Wisconsin 2.0, Michigan squeaks by with a hard-fought victory.