For the first time since the season opening loss at Notre Dame, and for their first Big Ten road game of the year, the Wolverines sped into Evanston, Illinois to face the Wildcats of Northwestern in a 4:30 game Saturday afternoon.
So far this season, the Wolverines have fared better than Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats. The ‘Cats scored 31 to Purdue’s 27 to nip Purdue’s Boilermakers for an opening Big Ten Victory, then Duke prevailed 21-7 over them. Last Saturday, Akron clipped the ‘Cats 39-34 in what had to be a painful loss.
PAT FITZGERALD’S TEAMS ARE NOT “MILDCATS”, especially when cornered. Now they strive to qualify for the appellation “Bigcats”. The Mildcats appellation applied solely to an earlier less fortunate Wildcat era.
Bigcats certainly applied NW most of the first half Saturday as the ‘Cats played their best football in the First Quarter, and one half of the approximately one half of the second. NW had posted 17-points at the end of the first half, and the Wolverines had scratched out only a single TD, even though the Wolverines out gained the Cats in the half . The Wolverines came out as flat as pop on a platter. The ‘Cats came out energized, precise, and effective. That situation reversed in the second half.
No doubt a good Coach like Fitzgerald busily prodded his team on to better fortunes since the Akron loss and the Larkin loss. It seemed they got it together in their bye week. What could a victory over the Wolverines have done for the harried Wildcats? Nothing but wonders. To the Wolverines, a big step backwards.
A loss would have changed their season, and ours. In all Big Ten games the stakes are high. Games at Evanston have been too close for comfort recently. The “Cats will not quit against the Wolverines, and they did not Saturday. They gave it the old college try. Okay, so that is an old, old cliché, but today it fit like an old shoe.
THE GENERAL TALENT ADVANTAGE WAS TO THE WOLVERINES:
The Wolverines seemed to have a talent advantage for most position groups: offensively, defensively and on special teams. The Wolverines had been on a three-game tear, perhaps against lesser competition, but still most satisfying to Wolverine fans, and team goals. Many fans expected a blow- out. NW didn’t and prevented it.
COULD THE WOLVERINES CONTINUE THEIR SNARL ON FOREIGN TURF?
This seemed to almost every football observer a primary question regarding the Wolverines.
For a number of years, the Wolverines have been a more remarkable team at home than on the road. A major concern, this was a pattern that had to be smashed. In a sense this happened today. This is the first time that a Harbaugh team has come back from 17 down at Michigan.
The comeback Shea Patterson engineered was a bell- ringer. and probably did the team confidence more benefit than a blow- out would have.
Patterson used his legs to great advantage at crunch time, and also his arm, and ability to escape the pocket. Along with Karan Higdon, he was the Wolverines’ offensive catalyst. Shea was 15 of 24 passing for 196 yards. He scrambled 7 times for 35-yards with a long of 12. NTDs, and no interceptions.
Karan Higdon ran for 30 times for 115 net yards and two TDs. The receivers were contributors. Nico Collins collared 6 passes for 73-yards with a long of 36. Zach Gentry grabbed 3 for 36-yards for a long of 22. Nick Eubanks dropped a critical pass early in the game, but made up for it with 2 for 45-yards, and a long of 24-yards.
Defensively, the Wolverines allowed 174-yards passing by the Cat’s, and 81-yards rushing (28 net). That constitutes an 0.8 rushing average. The team had 6 sacks total and Chase Winovich exceeded expectations. He had 8 solo and 1 assisted tackle for a team leading 9 tackles, plus 1 sack. Tyree Kinnel had 5 solos, and 1 assisted. Jordan Glasgow had the same as Tyree for a total of 6 tackles. Kwitty Paye had 4 solos, and Josh Uche had two crunch time sacks. It was a team effort, and a good on in spite of allowing 20 points.
WILDCAT RUNNING BACK JEREMY LARKEN WAS FORCED TO QUIT FOOTBALL FOREVER LAST MONDAY
There are published reports that the problem is cervical spinal stenosis. Jeremy was the Wildcat’s best offensive player this season, and their offense will suffer without him. Michigan fans recently said a football goodbye to an outstanding offensive lineman, Grant Newsome, due to his hyper serious knee injury in a prior season so we can understand the sting.
We wish Jeremy him well in his future endeavors.
He was a highly promising running back, but the ‘Cats were not without running back resources.
No doubt his Monday announcement and his sideline presence did much to electrify the Wildcats for Saturday’s game against the Wolverines.
With the loss of the talented running back Larkin, for the ‘Cats, there was even more emphasis on the passing game. They gained 28 net-yards on 34 rushes. NW QB Thorson passed 16 times, and completed 27 for 174 passing years. He had a long of 36.
THE PENALTY BUG AND PERHAPS A COUPLE OF LOUSY CALLS CHALLENGED M:
There were several key pass interference calls, and other penalties against the Wolverines. This aided NW’s touchdown drives.
The most grievous was a call a holding call as Shea ran 20- yards for a critical late game first down, and had his fine effort called back. This was a penalty I do not understand. What was Higdon’s infraction?
But most were legit and the Wolverines have to remedy this issue. Soon!
HOW THEY SCORED: It wasn’t an excess of politeness that kept the Wolverines from scoring in the First Quarter. It was inspired play by the Wildcats. It has already been mentioned that the Wolverines came out flat. Results proved they weren’t ready, and properly focused on either offense or defense to start the game, and NW made them pay a price by zooming to a 17- point lead which the Wolverines reduced in the second quarter to 7 by the end of the half.
The Wildcats clawed to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter as their QB Thorson drove them 56-yards for a TD. The Wolverines had received and foundered on their first possession, and were forced to punt on their first possession without a first down. M-0, NW-7.
M foundered on their second possession, too.
The Wildcats struck again quickly on a 45-yard FG. M-0, NW-10. They owned the first quarter, compiling 105-yards to the disbelief of most Wolverine fans.
They scored again to open the second quarter, assisted by another Wolverine pass interference call. It was an unbelievable 17 to zip Wildcats.
Finally, the Wolverines put together some offensive moxy, and produced a 9-play 52-yard TD. It was enabled by a 21-yard completion and a beautiful 25-yard jaunt by Donovan Peoples-Jones. Karan Higdon ran in in from 4-yards out. M-7, NW-17.
The Wolverines’ defense held the Wildcats to just 145-yards, and no scores, for the balance of the game. The half ended M-7, NW- 17. It still seemed a long reach to victory, and it was a nail-biter the rest of the way, but old Mo swung to the M side.
The ‘Cats received to start the second half. But the Wolverines continued to knock the polish off Northwestern, as they got Shea Patterson going, and Karan Higdon offensively. They proved to be a deadly pair for the Wolverines in the second half, even though they managed just 20-points for the game.
The Wolverines held as Winovich got a sack, and the Wolverines got possession for the first time in the half.
Patterson rambled 12-yards, and then hit Nico Collins for 36 to the 10-yard line, but they stalled. Quinn Nordin hit a 23-yard FG to make it 10-17.
Michigan’s defense then held again as Michael Onwenu got a sack, and the Wolverines again were on offense to start the fourth quarter. Hope still lingered.
The Wolverines completed their comeback in the fourth quarter.
Three straight incompletions doomed the NW possession and Peoples-Jones had a 13-yard return. But this M drive did not prosper, in great part because of a holding call during a magnificent 20-yard Patterson scramble. Karan Higdon was called for the hold. I thought this was a highly questionable, if not bogus call.
M’s Will Hart hit a 54 -yard punt to the NW 10, but the penalty mistakes reared up again. The Wolverine’s were again penalized at crunch time although this one was benign in effect compared to the former penalty. Now Hart hit a 56-yarder.
Josh Uche’s sack of Thorson put a dent in this possession, and the Wolverines got it back at their 33. The scoring drive to complete the final score 0f M-20, NW-17 was mostly fueled by a 9-yard pass to Jared Wanger, a 13-yard pass to Zach Gentry, a couple of short gains by Higdon, and Patterson runs of 3 and 9-yards. Karan Higdon got the 5-yard TD necessary for the win.
Still the defense had to continue its second half excellence, and stop the Wildcats from making a FG to tie or a TD to win. Anxious suspense was still at a high level.
The defense was superb in these waning, winning minutes. Kwitty Paye and Josh Uche got his second sack as others got serious pressure on the Wildcat QB. The offense killed some time on the clock.
TAKE AWAY: While this game did not produce the flamboyant scores bodes well for the future of the Wolverines this season. They had to face and overcome some adversity by a well- coached. Fired up team away from home that was inspired to play its best game of the season. That Higdon and Patterson are serious offensive weapons, and integral parts of Michigan’s offense. Patterson supplies that which was missing for several years at the Quarterback position, and seems poised for a great season at the Wolverine throttle. Still skeptical of his worth? He will only improve.
Bring on Maryland’s Terrapins in the comfort of home. We need to stop their run, and continue to Go Blue!