The 13th ranked Northwestern Wildcats roared out of Evanston to pounce on the 18th ranked Michigan Wolverines in Michigan Stadium Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM.
It was a crucial Big Ten battle. Gone are the “Mildcats” of yore, as this edition is large, athletic, more defensive minded, and came into the game undefeated. They seemed to mirror the Wolverines in many respects, but the Wolverines seriously out played them Saturday.
Their style this year, together with the style of the Wolverines, foretold a game that would be close, hard hitting, and low scoring. The Wildcats favor the run. The Wolverines wanted to put a cork in that bottle as a first priority, and did they ever. The Wolverine’s defense was nothing less than superb. They have compiled three shut outs in a row.
For the game, the Wolverines had 201 net yards rushing and the Wildcats 38. The Wolverines had 179 net passing yards to the ‘Cat’s 130. M had 21 first downs to the Wildcat’s 13. You name the category, and the Wolverines dominated. They dominated on Offense, Defense and Special Teams. Even the usually careful Coach Harbaugh admitted that they were good in all the categories and he ran it down position group by position group.
Many foretold a close game in which errors, such as fumbles, missed tackles, interceptions, penalties, and other lapses would spell doom to hopes of victory.
And in a way an error helped spell Northwestern’s doom, as Jourdan Lewis laid hands on an otherwise completed pass, whisked the ball away from the receiver, grabbed the falling ball off his thigh, and zipped thirty-seven yards into the end zone for six to increase an already insurmountable lead. The Wolverines did not fumble, nor did Jake Rudock throw an interception.
The Wolverines did make a serious error. James Ross, a replacement for Mario Ojemudia, drew a penalty for targeting a Wildcat receiver with the crown of his helmet. A review sustained the call on the field. For this move, he is banned from playing in the first half in next week’s game with the Spartans. Replay showed the call justified, but the crowd understandably was incensed by a prior non-call involving a hit on sliding QB Jake Rudock, which was, on review, called a non-penalty. It was not surprising Coach Harbaugh did not care to comment on either circumstance at his post-game press conference.
The Wildcats wanted to slug it out on the ground. The Wildcats long time weapon of choice is no longer an aerial circus. They still want to outscore, but they want to control the ball with a ground game. Welcome to the club.
The Wolverines won this battle, and forced the Wildcats to pass more that they wanted to. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson had been piling up 100 plus yardage in a number of games. He had 32 net yards Saturday.
Their running game was 14th in the nation prior to Saturday. They were 1st against scoring and 5th in total defense.
This would be, many pundits thought, a low scoring slug fest as some thought M’s offense would have a problem solving their defense. Wrong as the whole offense, including the offensive line, played well.
The Michigan defense, which plays better each time I see it in action, pitched another shutout, its second shutout in two weeks. To me, this was the most impressive victory of the season so far, but sterner tests loom as the competition gets tougher, as the current possessors of the Paul Bunyan trophy come to town.
Football wins depreciate as fast as a good meal. When a team trounces another it is often thought that the trounced team just wasn’t as good as they were thought to be before the win. We’ll see how the Wildcats fare after being demolished, but I think the Wolverines trounced a quality team Saturday.
At the coin toss to start the game, things started to go bad for the Wildcats as they won the toss and deferred. That turned out to be an unlucky move as Jabril Peppers and Jehu Chesson were patiently waiting for the KO , each capable of doing damage.
Jehu caught the high kick at his own four yard line, chose a clear path, half circling from the east sideline to the west, and then headed south with ball. The Wildcat’s fortunes in the game headed south with him. He crossed the plane in the south end zone after ninety-six yards, and the Wolverines had all the points they needed for the win. M-7, NW-0.
Chesson also had a great 27-yard run. The crowd and players were jacked up. The atmosphere was electric.
The first quarter deluge continued as the Wolverines continued to rain on the Wildcat’s parade. A defensive three and out, and the Wolverines offense got its first chance and made the most of it.
D. Smith rushed for 7, 18, and then 1 yard. Rudock hit Jake Butt for 32-yards. Drake Johnson pushed it in from the one, and at 10:20 it was M-14, NW-0.
NW than produced a 10 play drive that finished in a missed 42-yard field goal.
From their own 25, the Wolverines moved to the NW 2, and then into the end zone on a strong Jake Rudock run as he bulled to the goal line, and reached over for six. The big play of the drive was a 34-burst by Joe Kerridge. A great run by Kerridge even if he was caught from behind.
After the Rudock score, it was 21-0 as the Wolverines played their best quarter this year in all three phases of the game.
The defense held NW to 21-yards rushing, and 35-yards through the air, and to zero first downs during the first quarter.
While it was a team effort on defense, Jerrod Wilson had 7 tackles, with 4 solo Willie Henry had 4 solo and 2 sacks in this game.
Blake O’Neill hit a 59-yard punt as Michigan’s first drive of the second quarter stalled. The two sides traded punts. Finally Jourdan Lewis made his outstanding interception, turning what I thought was a completion into a spectacular interception and 37-yard TD. M-28, NU-0 and the suspense was mostly gone. M Freshman tail back Karan Higdon got his first carries in the first half as a Wolverine, and showed some talent on subsequent runs.
NW was held to 3-yards rushing, and 36 passing in the second quarter, and lost their poise a little, suffering 5 penalties for 39-yards.
Up 28 to zip, the Wolverines had completed a fine half or football, arguably their finest of the year, with 213-yards of offense to Northwestern’s 95.
In the third quarter the combatants traded punts until M, starting at their own 33, got Kenny Allen into position to hit a 47-yard field goal. M-31, NW-0. Smith had run for 19 and 3. Jehu Chesson had run for 12 to the MW 33, but Rudock was sacked to the NW 29 to stall the drive.
By the start of the 4th quarter Derrick Green was the running back, and doing well. De’Veon Smith, now healed, was the leading rusher at 58-yards gained. Drake Johnson was dinged with an undisclosed injury, which is probably why Karan Higdon burned his red shirt.
At just under 10:00 left, Green ran for six and Ty Isaac for 7. A.J. Williams collared a 16-yard pass and the Wolverines were on the move again. Houma hit for 5, and it was Green into the end zone from 4 out for the final score of 38 to zip.
It’s been a while since the old stadium has rocked with so much enthusiasm. The fans were energized as the resurgent Wolverines showed the many aspects of their improvement. It was a near perfect Homecoming performance against a team that brought a good coach, Pat Fitzgerald, and his previously unbeaten and ranked team, to Ann Arbor.
It appears the Wolverines are primed and ready to battle the Spartans next Saturday. It will be a battle as usually the Spartans play their best against the Wolverines. Throw out the records, this free for all is unpredictable.
ESPN Game Day will be there.
To say that the old Stadium will be rocking is probably an understatement. It ought to be quite a game as it looks as if the Wolverines can be competitive.