Friday, November 14, 2008

Senior Day: Michigan vs. Northwestern

After how Michigan played last week, I have no logical idea or method on how to pick this week's game. If anyone does have a clear idea please let me know. But Michigan who has looked terribly inconsistent all season had to play last week with Nick Sheridan who had played horribly in every opportunity he had in the season. The result: actually by far and away the best performance a Michigan quarterback has had this season (18-30 201 yards 1 TD and 0 INTs) against a defense that was #1 in the nation in takeaways.

Explanation: I have none I don't know anyone who does. My guess is this is the Nick Sheridan that the coaches picked to start the season. A guy who is actually calm in the pocket, keeps his head downfield when he scrambled, and does not force the ball when there is nothing there. All of those things are complete opposites of what he had done earlier in the year.

My unsubstantiated theory on this is that Michigan players and coaches, prior to the Minnesota game, had been carrying the burden of trying to make a bowl game and keep the streak alive. Because of this, the coaches did not let the players loose as much, and the players themselves were either hesitant at times (defense) or trying to force things too much (quarterbacks).

But with the streak finally out of the question. The coaches, admitted that they finally let them loose on defense, as Shafer took "all the complicated stuff out" as Rodriguez said and just let the guys play the way they know how to in the 4-2-5. On offense, the players, Sheridan especially, did not try to force things and just played relaxed and within themselves. The result: a blowout of a 7-2 team who was ranked a week prior, and Michigan winning a trophy in their last chance to do so in 2005.

This week, I have no idea which Michigan team will show up. I'm going to guess a slightly subdued version of last week, but still better than the rest of the season. Northwestern is without their top two running backs, and maybe without their starting quarterback again. They just got spanked by eeek O-State last week. Still they're receiving votes in top 25 polls (not exactly sure why) and have played better than Michigan this season (like most everyone else).

I don't know, but what the hell. Here's a short preview kind of (again we're going with a slightly less good Michigan team than last week).

Northwestern Offense vs. Michigan Defense:

Michigan's is likely to stay in the four man front with the 4-2-5 Nickel package for much of the game like they played last week. The four man front is obviously needed since that's the strength of the Michigan team. I love taking one linebacker out of there as well. And using Harrison and some other safeties as a nickelback/linebacker, blitzing alot is something I love as well (less of a liability in coverage and quick guys to get pressure). All of these are pretty much what everyone has asked for at some point of the season. A combination of that scheme change and the players finally playing more loose and relaxed is what I think resulted in their complete shut down of Minnesota's offense.

This week, hopefully they do the same scheme-wise and hopefully the players play loose and with the same enthusiasm of last week. Brandon Graham said he knew Michigan was more ready to play after the first hit.

Northwestern is now on their third string running back, #25 5'8" 175 pound So. Stephen Simmons, and will be with a still hurting, but ready to go starting QB in C.J. Bacher, but might split time with backup Mike Kafka.

Northwestern's running game has averaged 160 yards per game this season, but again, they're on the third-string Simmons who has averaged 2.9 yards on just 18 carries this season. If Northwestern can run, we have reverted to our play against Purdue. There is absolutely no reason Northwestern and Simmons should be able to run on Michigan tomorrow. Northwestern's O-line has three redshirt freshman and one sophomore starting and has been able to rely on the talented Sutton and fairly talented backup, Conteh, to make plays. Those two are gone and the running game should be too. But we've seen plenty of the unexpected this season.

Northwestern's passing game, however, could get back on track with Bacher back at the helm for the first time since October 25th. Kafka didn't play poorly the last two weeks and could still see the field, but Bacher is the senior leader of this team and though he's a little less mobile than Kafka, he still has 244 yards on the year averaging 4.2 yards per carry on the ground. If Michigan switches back to the 3-3-5 for some ungodly reason, or stops playing as aggressive in the 4-2-5, this could turn ugly.

Northwestern, however, has mightily struggled with turnovers this season. Bacher has 11 INTs to 10 TDs this season through the air, and Kafka also threw 3 INTs to just 2 TDs. Northwestern has also lost 10 fumbles and with a young running back and bad weather, that could increase.

If Michigan plays anywhere near the way they played against Minnesota defensively, they should contain a banged up Northwestern team. Northwestern will get in the endzone though at least once. Their spread is well-executed enough to give Michigan some trouble. This is a better offense than Minnesota's, but Michigan still should play loose like they did last week.

Advantage: Michigan

Michigan Offense vs. NW Defense:

Nick Sheridan will start. If he doesn't force things this works. If it doesn't work, Steven Threet is available and fully healthy which is great for Michigan. Justin Feagin will come in and bring a change of pace and I predict he will actually throw a pass tomorrow despite the bad weather. A couple of the runs he had were on read plays where Feagin had a throwing option; I say he passes it once and shows the pass just enough to keep running well.

That's the quarterback situation which looks alot better this week. Running back situation not nearly as good with Brandon Minor likely out for the entire game and Michael Shaw getting his first start. Shaw played very well, though, last week against Minnesota and it will be interesting to see how he does taking the majority of the carries. McGuffie should play alot more now with Minor out and he should be healthier. I doubt the run game will be as effective, unless the O-line plays as well as they did last week. Last week was their best performance and if they continue that play, and Shaw gets some big runs early, he could relax a little and make some plays. Still, that is unlikely and the O-line and run game should regress a little bit. Part of the reason for that is Northwestern's run defense is actually pretty good and better than Minnesota's giving up just 120 yards per game.

Greg Matthews played great, Darryl Stonum not so much, but Odoms also played very well last week. Matthews is turning in some awesome catches though and starting to gain momentum to be a very legitimate threat come next season. Northwestern has a terrible pass defense (228 yards per game and 9th in the Big Ten) so if Sheridan and Threet stay within themselves, as Sheridan did last week, Michigan could rip apart NW through the air.

So run game should regress, but NW is terrible in pass defense so if the QBs don't force things, Michigan should have enough success there.

Advantage: Michigan

Special Teams:

Holy K.C. Lopata! Zoltan continues to dominate. The return game is actually looking to be more consistent and improving week to week.

NW is dead last in the Big Ten in punt returns, averaging just 36 yards per punt (and punting should be a major part with the bad weather), but they have a decent kicker in Villareal (17-21).

Michigan's special teams has been better as of late though, and barring a regression to their fumbles of early 2008, they should have an edge here.

Advantage: Michigan


Michigan 29 Northwestern 17

I have no reasoning for this as I find it impossible to predict with this Michigan team. This is a complete gut feeling of what I think will happen. I hope I'm right.

Thank you seniors for working hard despite the terrible year.

Go Blue!


Kevin Gregus said...

I told you to predict a Michigan loss.

Rushi said...

i is all my fault...season is almost over though