As we’ve done all season long here at TBHR, we reached out to a writer covering Michigan‘s opponent to ask them what’s going on with their program and what can expect on Saturday. This week, we were lucky to be joined by Kevin Trahan, who co-founded SB Nation’s Inside NU.
1. I feel obligated to ask every writer every week: What does Michigan’s mess look like from the outside?
A mess? I actually think Michigan is a better team than most people think. They have a lot of talent and they actually do a pretty decent job at everything but turnovers. They move the ball, they actually have a pretty solid defense, and they have the athletes to be competitive every week they’re not playing Michigan State. I think a lot of people just focus on the Minnesota game, which was a bit of an outlier.
But of course, turnovers are still a problem, and the fact that Michigan keeps making bad decisions falls on the head coach. But with the amount of talent there and the general non-turnover production that isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think, the Big Ten better be scared of the potential this team has in the coming years, especially if Jim Harbaugh ends up there.
2. The last couple meetings between Michigan and Northwestern have been thrilling, even if both teams were down. Do Northwestern fans have this game circled after two seasons of late disappointment?
Yeah I think this is a big one. NU fans probably wanted to beat Iowa more, and the same would go for Illinois if the Illini were ever not terrible, but Michigan is probably the fourth biggest “hate” game on the schedule this year, behind those two and Notre Dame.
Really, each of the past three years has been somewhat exciting. Three years ago, Northwestern went up big thanks to some Denard Robinson interceptions, but the Wolverines came back. Obviously 2012 was a helluva game and 2013 was at least exciting/controversial at the end. Though the pessimist in me says we’re going to get a game like in 2013, but without the post-game drama.
3. Northwestern isn’t even scoring 20 points per game. I know the loss of Venric Mark was a big deal, but Justin Jackson has stepped up in a big way; I don’t think it’s justified to say Mark’s departure is to blame for the woes. So what is it?
It’s definitely not Mark’s departure. He’s a solid back and would have helped, but people forget that he was an All-American punt returner (that’s where his departure is hurting, actually), and not an All-American running back. The biggest issue right now is the passing game. Trevor Siemian has been hurt and just all-around not that good. The offensive line has been really bad in pass protection and the receivers aren’t playing as well as NU would like. Moreover, the play-calling has just been really timid and not catered to winning. So all of that adds up to Siemian somehow averaging less than a yard per dropback in the last game against Iowa.
4. I’m wary to depend on Michigan’s offense for a second straight week. If the success does continue, though, Michigan will work the ball on the ground—probably with Drake Johnson—and use Gardner to spread the ball around through the air. How can Northwestern go about combatting that?
Northwestern actually does have some really good pass-rushing defensive ends in Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson. What’s good about that for the Wildcats is that Devin Gardner tends to hang onto the ball way too long. If they can get some big sacks and force Gardner into third-and-really long, they might be able to force some turnovers and short fields. I think we see a lot of pressure from the front seven and more blitzes than we’ve seen since the Penn State game, when NU was absolutely dominant. Will it work? Who knows. But I think it will get NU into good field position. Then it’s up to the offense to score (OH GOD).
5. Your prediction for the game.
I’m just not at all confident in the offense to do anything, and I think Justin Jackson struggles a little bit. I’ll go 24-14 Michigan.