DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 16, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,130) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Michigan 5-1, Northwestern 3-2. Away Record: Michigan 1-2, Northwestern 1-3. Neutral Record: Michigan 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Conference Record: Michigan 2-3, Northwestern 0-5. Series Record: Michigan leads, 54-15-2.
GAME NOTES: The Northwestern Wildcats will once again shoot for their first conference win of the season this weekend as they host Big Ten rival Michigan at Ryan Field.
Northwestern got off to a fast start in August and September, winning four straight games out of the gate, but none of those outcomes were signature victories that the Wildcats could hang their hat on. Instead, after topping Maine at home the third week of September, 35-21, the squad had two weeks off in order to prepare for fourth-ranked Ohio State at home.
While Northwestern put up a fight against the Buckeyes, the 40-30 setback was the beginning of a violent downward spiral that now has the 'Cats facing a five-game losing streak. The most recent loss for the Wildcats took place on Nov. 2 at Nebraska, a 27-24 final.
As for the Wolverines, they too began strong with a five-game win streak this season, but then a four-overtime loss to Penn State on the road last month turned into the first of three setbacks in four tries for the squad. Last weekend, Michigan was defeated at home by a questionable Nebraska team, 17-13, although the Wolverines still have the necessary wins to be invited to take part in the postseason again this year.
In terms of the all-time series between these two teams, Michigan owns a commanding 54-15-2 advantage, although the Wolverines were pushed to overtime in last year's affair before pulling out a 38-31 win in Ann Arbor.
In front of a crowd of more than 112,000 at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines suffered their first home loss since 2010 when they succumbed to the Cornhuskers last weekend. Part of the problem for Michigan was the lack of a real rushing attack as the team was held to minus-21 net yards on the ground, due mostly to the fact that quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked seven times in the outing.
Gardner, under constant pressure, converted 18-of-27 passes for 196 yards and a score, a connection with Devin Funchess, but clearly that wasn't enough to get the squad over the hump as they generated just 175 yards of total offense as they converted a mere 3-of-15 on third down.
Cameron Gordon, who tied for the team lead with eight tackles, logged the only sack for the Wolverines and also forced a fumble, while Jibreel Black accounted for three stops for loss. The unit performed well enough against Nebraska to now be ranked fourth in the country and 13th nationally in run defense with just 107.7 ypg allowed.
Unfortunately, where the Wolverines are having their difficulties is on the offensive side of the ball where they are now ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 105th nationally with 2.89 sacks allowed per contest. Granted, a huge chunk of those takedowns took place last week, but imagine how much better Gardner (14 TDs, 11 INTs) could be if he felt more comfortable when dropping back and not wondering where the next hit was coming from.
Gardner is second on the team with nine rushing touchdowns, trailing only Fitzgerald Toussaint who has 11, but has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
If not for the efforts of Treyvon Green the last time the Wildcats were on the field, his 149 yards and three rushing touchdowns carrying the team, there's no chance Northwestern would have been able to keep up with Nebraska earlier in the month. However, as great an effort as it was for Green, he still only has 612 yards and eight rushing touchdowns to this point in the campaign.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian has been less-than-impressive with his pedestrian 56.4 percent accuracy and just seven passing scores, against six interceptions. The team has just four players with double-digit receptions, the best of the bunch being Tony Jones with his 38 grabs for 492 yards and four touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, there really are no stars on either side of the ball these days and that's a big problem. Defensively, Damien Proby has a team-best 80 tackles and is tied for the lead with a couple of forced fumbles, while Tyler Scott has applied the most pressure at the line of scrimmage, resulting in nine TFL and five sacks, not to mention the only blocked kick of the season for the group.
On a more positive note, this is a defense that is one of the best in the nation at picking off passes, coming up with 18 interceptions to be precise. Ibraheim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo are tied for the lead with four picks apiece.
Unless something drastic happens, the Wildcats are destined to have trouble again this weekend, particularly since they are going up against an opponent that also needs to get back on track in a hurry.