MD

Sports

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Advertise with us »

Breakdown: Michigan should find success at home, despite starting quarterback

Erin Kirkland/Daily
Sophomore wide receiver/quarterback Devin Gardner filled in admirably for senior Denard Robinson last Saturday in Minneapolis. Michigan beat Minnesota, 35-13. Buy this photo

By Luke Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 8, 2012

Well, a lot has changed since the last time Michigan played at the Big House.

The Wolverines (4-1 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) return home following an eventful two-game stint on the road — a 23-9 loss against Nebraska and a 35-13 victory over Minnesota. In the loss to the Cornhuskers, Michigan lost both its starting quarterback Denard Robinson to an elbow injury and severely hurt its chances to get to the Big Ten Championship Game.

Saturday, a talented Northwestern team (3-2, 7-2) comes into town. Michigan no longer controls its own destiny to get to the championship, but the only thing it can do to keep the chance alive is keep winning.

Michigan rush offense vs. Northwestern rush defense

Michigan’s running backs have underperformed this season, and it’s no secret. But if Robinson plays Saturday, the Wolverine rushing attack is still among the most dynamic in the country. Michigan coach Brady Hoke has stayed mum this week regarding the health of Robinson’s throwing elbow, and his status is totally up in the air.

If Robinson is not available, junior quarterback Devin Gardner will start in his place, as he did at Minnesota last weekend. Gardner doesn’t run the read option as much as Robinson, and he’ll find himself under center more often, with fewer designed runs. That puts a greater burden on junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and sophomore running back Thomas Rawls, as well as the offensive line, to produce in the ground game.

Northwestern’s linebacking corps is solid. Northwestern has the worst pass defense in the Big Ten and teams have been throwing at will against them. The Wildcat front seven has been very adept at stopping the run so far this season.

Edge: Push

Michigan pass offense vs. Northwestern pass defense

Northwestern has surrendered 272 passing yards per game this season, which is the worst total in the conference. Still, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges tends to stick to his guns, and the Wolverine offense will still have a run-first mentality.

But Robinson and Gardner have the ability to find a groove in the passing game. Last week, after a rough first quarter that included an interception, Gardner settled down and took control of the tempo. He finished the game 12-of-18 passing with a pair of touchdowns.

Northwestern’s pass rush isn’t special, and the coverage tends to be shoddy at times, so both Robinson and Gardner should be able to hit their targets.

Edge: Michigan

Northwestern rush offense vs Michigan rush defense

Northwestern’s offense employs a run-heavy spread, but its operation is dependent on whoever the hot hand is at quarterback. The Wildcats have tried out both junior Kain Colter and sophomore Trevor Siemian. Colter has started lately, which makes sense because the offense is a bit more dynamic with his dual-threat capabilities.

In Northwestern’s last game, against Iowa, Colter kept the ball on the ground 26 times and picked up 171 yards, and he only threw the ball nine times. And the fact that he could also hand the ball to junior running back Venric Mark, who has compiled over 1,000 yards this season, makes matters tricker.

Michigan’s front seven will be busy on Saturday, and Hoke will likely clog the box as much as possible. The Wolverine rush defense has been average through the course of the season, but it has improved in recent weeks against Michigan State, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Expect the Wildcats keep it on the ground throughout the game.

Edge: Northwestern

Northwestern pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

Though Northwestern prefers finding space on the ground, the Michigan secondary needs to be wary of the big play over the top. When the opportunity presents itself, Colter isn’t afraid to launch the ball deep should a receiver find room behind the safeties. Against Iowa, one of his six completions was a 47-yard touchdown strike to Christian Jones.

Still, the Wildcat receiving corps is relatively weak, and Michigan’s defensive backs should be able to reel them in easily.