Both Michigan and Northwestern are 1-0 in Big Ten play. But that’s about where the similarities end with these teams.
Michigan is fresh off their conference opener where they molly whopped Nebraska, 56-10, at the Big House. That was also their third consecutive victory on the year after losing to Notre Dame, 24-17, in South Bend to begin the season.
The Wildcats, however, are reeling after their conference victory. They opened the season with a win at Purdue, 31-27, but have lost back to back games after that. Their first loss came against Duke, 21-7, who is now ranked No. 22 in the latest AP Poll. But their latest loss, to MAC foe Akron, is what is unexplainable. Northwestern got outscored 36-13 in the second half to lose 39-34 after leading by 17 at halftime.
The Wolverines have found their offensive groove after struggling in the opener. They are averaging 41.8 points per game on the year and 50 PPG in their three wins. Quarterback Shea Patterson looks a lot more comfortable as the leader of this offense after looking shaky versus the Fighting Irish.
On the year, Patterson is completing over 70% of his passes and has thrown for 709 yards. He also has seven touchdowns to only two interceptions.
Another thing this offense has going for them is the emergence of Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has seemingly become Patterson’s favorite target. In the three Michigan victories, DPJ has caught nine passes for 131 yards and four touchdowns. Peoples-Jones even showed his explosiveness on special teams as he took a punt 60-yards to the house against the Cornhuskers.
As for the Wildcats, who come into this game averaging 24 PPG in their three contests after a bye last week, their offense suffered a major blow this week.
Their leading rusher, redshirt sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin, had to retire from football on Monday after learning he has cervical stenosis. Fortunately for him, the neck condition isn’t life threatening but requires him to not play football anymore.
Larkin had racked up 346 yards and five touchdowns on 72 attempts.
The possible saving grace for this Northwestern offense is senior QB Clayton Thorson. Through the first three games, he has split reps with backup T.J. Green as the coaching staff tried to ease him back into playing shape. Thorson tore his ACL in the Wildcats bowl game at the end of last season.
But with the extra week of time off to heal and prep due to the bye, I expect Thorson to take the full reins of this offense after his performance versus Akron. He threw for 383 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Zips as Green only attempted six passes.
Now time for the prediction. I believe this Michigan offense will continue to roll over inferior opponents in this one. I expect the Patterson-DPJ connection to hook up for a score or two in this one. Michigan running back Karan Higdon should also have a good day on the ground against this Wildcat defense.
Northwestern will struggle to score, especially without Larkin, against this Don Brown defense, which ranks No. 3 nationally in yards allowed through four weeks. The line is currently sitting at minus-14 for the Wolverines and I think they will end up covering and make it six straight wins versus the Wildcats. A win would move them to 4-1 on the year and to 2-0 in Big Ten play.
As for Northwestern, a loss would drop them to 1-3 on the year and move the team to .500 in conference play at 1-1.
Michigan 42, Northwestern 17.