Josh Turel: Northwestern Scouting Report

GoBlueWolverine's correspondent Josh Turel has done NFL Draft anaylsis for various publications, and he brings that same ‘scout's eye' to you on Michigan's opponents.<br.<br> This week: <b>Northwestern Scouting Report. And Josh's Game Prediction.</b><br>

Northwestern Wildcats
Head Coach: Randy Walker
2004 Record: 5-4, 4-2 Big Ten
Wolverines hold 48-14-2 series advantage.

Game Info
12:10 EDT on ABC
Brent Musberger, Gary Danielson, and Jack Arute.


Returning starters: 8 offense, kicker
Offense: Single back spread

QB: Brett Basanez (Jr.)
RB: Noah Herron (Sr.)
Z: Ashton Aikens (Sr.)
X: Shaun Herbert (So.)
H: Kim Thompson (Fr.)
TE: Taylor Jones (Jr.)
LT: Trai Essex (Sr.)
LG: Ikechuku Ndukwe (Sr.)
C: Trevor Rees (So.)
RG: Matt Ulrich (Sr.)
RT: Zach Strief (Sr.)
K: Brian Huffman (Sr.)
KR: Terrell Jordan (Jr.)

Injury report:
Mark Philmore (knee)- out

Offensive Stat Leaders

Passing: Brett Basanez: 187/345 - 2124 yds - 54.2% -7 INT, 9 TD - 110.47 eff.
Rushing: Noah Herron: 204 att. - 1076 yds. - 5.1 avg. - 11 TD
Receiving: Mark Philmore: 54 rec. - 633 yds. - 11.7 avg. - 2 TD

Stat-Big Ten Ranking
Scoring offense (7th) 22.9 pts
Pass offense (2nd) 236.7 yds
Rushing offense (4th) 167.1 yds
Rushing defense (6th) 135.4 avg.
Total offense (4th) 403.8 yds
Kick returns (5th) 22.6 avg

Offensive Strategy:
The Wildcats use a three wide receiver, single back look but unlike most spreads, their goal is to run the football first and foremost. However due to the shoot out style games they have played in, Northwestern has thrown the ball more than they have ran it and also have thrown the ball more than any team in the Big Ten. The offense doesn't have big play flare, the majority of the receivers are possession types and Herron lacks big time speed. Look for the Wildcats to establish the run but if the game gets out of their control, they will go to the air.

Backfield & Offensive Line:
As yours truly predicted in GoBlueWolverine's Big Ten Preview magazine issue, Noah Herron has picked up where Jason Wright left off last season and is the Big Ten's 2nd leading rusher. Herron is a big, assertive power back that can block and he's a great receiving option out of the backfield, so needless to say he is the most productive of the offense. Terrell Jordan really is the only other tailback they use, he's more of a speedster than Herron is, and he's done a good job thus far, averaging 4.7 yards a carry. The offensive line is one of the best in the Big Ten, with all five starters returning this year and doing a solid job. The tackles Trai Essex and Zach Strief can make a case for All Big Ten honors, both excel at run blocking and are solid in pass protection. Strief is a monster at 6-7, 335 and can engulf players at the point of attack. Essex is a few inches shorter but still has great power and leverage. The interior is strong as well led by 2003 Freshman All American center Trevor Rees. Left guard Matt Ulrich is one of the best guards in the Big Ten I've seen on film this year and has had a strong senior campaign. The offensive line as a whole is a good pass blocking team, allowing only 10 sacks thus far.

How do they stack up vs. Michigan?

The Running Game
After struggling majorly last game against the run, Michigan will look to improve on what was once it's finest trait early in the season. The bye week should have given Michigan time to look at the film and correct the mistakes they made against Michigan State. Stopping the run begins with Gabe Watson and considering how much Northwestern will run up the middle, Watson needs to reestablish his dominance inside. Most of Michigan's problems stemmed from over pursuit and missed assignments against Michigan State but Herron doesn't have the speed Cobb has and won't make many long runs but is still a consistent runner the Wolverines will need to be disciplined to contain. Northwestern's interior is agile and the tackles are powerful which is a big reason for Herron's success, and for Northwestern to win this game they will need to run the football on Michigan, which should be the top matchup of the day.

Quarterback & Receivers:
Brett Basanez has improved ten fold from last year, and although he still has a way to go, the passing game is nowhere near as bad as last season. Basanez has improved his decision making, and although his accuracy is still coming around, he has developed into a running threat when things break down in the pocket. With leading receiver Mark Philmore out, the receiving corps takes a big hit, but there are plenty of capable reserves. Ashton Aikens has developed into a short-medium range option, and although he won't break too many big plays he is reliable. Shaun Herbert and Kim Thompson are in the same mold, but Thompson is a freshman who has only caught three passes in his career, so needless to say he may be in over his head Saturday. Look for Jonathan Fields to be a factor, the 5'8 speedster is a small target but he injects the playmaking ability into a receiving corps that desperately needs it. Taylor Jones is strictly a blocker from his tight end position, averaging less than a catch a game.

How do they stack up vs. Michigan Overall?
Wildcats do not stack up well at all against Michigan's pass defense. Northwestern deserves credit, they are an improving passing attack but with their best receiver out with a knee injury and the lack of playmakers, it's hard to see them finding much success against Michigan. The Wolverines will need to bring more pressure than they did against Michigan State where the pass rush was practically non-existent. You will probably see a lot of underneath coverage to offset the fact that Northwestern works a lot of short passes in and works the middle of the field.



Returning starters: 10 defense, punter
Defense: Multiple

DE: Loren Howard (Jr.)
DT: Luis Castillo (Sr.)
DT: Colby Clark (Sr.)
DE: Barry Cofield (Jr.)
WLB: John Pickens (Sr.)
MLB: Tim McGarigle (Jr.)
SLB: Nick Roach (So.)
CB: Jeff Backes (Jr.)
FS: Bryan Heinz (So.)
SS: Dominique Price (Sr.)
CB: Marvin Ward (Sr.)

P: Ryan Pederson (Jr.)
PR: Jeff Backers (Jr.)

Stat Leaders
Tackles: Tim McGarigle - 113 total
TFL: Nick Roach 6.5 for 34 yards
Sacks: Nick Roach 4 for 23 yards
INT: Marvin Ward 2 for 12 yards
Breakups: Marvin Ward -11

Stat-Big Ten Ranking
Scoring defense (8th) 25.6 pts
Pass defense (10th) 253.0 yds
Rushing defense (6th) 135.4 avg
Total defense (8th) 388.4 avg
Punt returns (8th) 8.4 avg

Defensive Strategy:
The Northwestern defense is very assertive and aggressive. They will load up the strongside of the run the "out man" the offense at the point of attack. This scheme is susceptible to weakside plays and cut backs but the Wildcats have a fast footed group of linebackers to help make up for that. You will see quite a bit of blitzing Saturday, the Wolverines have struggled in pass protection all season and Chad Henne has been nailed by blitzing teams. The kicker to that is pass defense, if the Wildcats blitz a lot on Saturday they better get to Henne and their corners better come to play, because in man coverage it's going to be very difficult for this suspect pass defense to cover Michigan's wideouts manned up.

Defensive Line:
The Northwestern front has returned intact and with the return of Loren Howard they do get much needed pass rush help. The starting defensive line has only accounted for 5.5 sacks all season long, hence the reason for increased blitzing from the linebackers who have put the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Loren Howard is the star man up front from his end position, he's big and fast making him prime in run defense and difficult to block one on one in pass protection. Luis Castillo is a big, consistent player in the middle who's had an extremely productive career thus far and does his best work against the run. Colby Clark was moved from defensive end to tackle because of his run stopping ability, once again he's not a big pass rusher but a tough guy to move in the middle. Barry Cofield is the near 300 pounder at defensive end, he doesn't provide a finesse rush but he can be difficult to block one on one because of his size and strength. As you can see the shear size of this line doesn't leave much room for athleticism, Howard is the smallest lineman at 285.

The linebackers are led by middle man Tim McGarigle who has been a tackling machine this year. McGarigle is big and fast making him key at the point of attack and in pursuit, and his mark of 76 solo tackles shows what a playmaker he is. John Pickens starts on the weakside, he isn't a speedster but he has experience and is productive against the run. Strongside linebacker Nick Roach has stepped up big time, he's created havoc in the backfield all year long leading the team in sacks and tfl's and is the team's best blitzer. Roach is very mobile and a young and up and coming player.

How do they stack up vs. Michigan: Northwestern has a power front line that doesn't offer much of a pass rush and relies on the linebackers to create whatever pressure they do get. Northwestern is 10th in sacks with a mere 15 and will need to step up against Michigan to relieve pressure off the secondary. The Wildcats like to load up the strongside and Michigan usually runs that way, but with Mike Hart's vision and ability to cutback against the grain, he should have success. Also consider Northwestern's record against other top rushing teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota both ran wild over Northwestern, Minnesota for 251 yards and Wisconsin for 208. Michigan's offensive line will need to have a solid game, they have been poor in pass protection most of the year, and need to be better at picking up the blitz. I expect a 150+ yard performance from Mike Hart.

The statistics do paint a grim picture in the secondary but behind every poor pass rushing team, there is a poor pass defense. At the corners will be Marvin Ward and Jeff Backes. Ward has been the only decent one, he's improved ten fold in terms of cover skills in last year's film compared to this years, and he's been a helping hand against the run. Jeff Backes has the athletic ability to grow into a solid player but he's not there yet. Backes, a converted tailback is lacks size and is still learning the position. Jeff doesn't have the cover skill of teammate Marvin Ward and is coming off an injured ankle that may hinder him. Safety Dominique Price is a tackling machine from his safety position but struggles at times in coverage and doesn't have the same instincts against the pass that he does against the run. Walk on free safety who is still learning the ropes of the position but he's a hustling safety who has a nose for ball and continues to improve, could be a future Jim Leonhard type story.

How do they stack up vs. Michigan: This will be a very difficult matchup against Michigan for the Wildcats. Marvin Ward is a decent cover man, but a player like Braylon Edwards can make decent into "not good enough" all game long. The Wildcats do not have the personnel to matchup up with Michigan, and unless they get a big pass rush up front, the Wolverines will be able to pass the ball with relative ease all game long.

Special Teams: Northwestern is the worst team in the big ten by far in the special teams department: awful, very awful. The Wildcats are dead last in all punting categories, kick coverage, 2nd to last in field goal % and are in the bottom of the barrel on punt returns. The only thing they do with any consistent success is kick off returns, averaging 22.6 a kick and they have returned one for a touchdown.

Northwestern doesn't have the factors in place for an upset. They have the leagues worst special teams, a suspect pass defense and a passing game that lacks playmakers. This is just one of those games the better athletes and playmakers win, on that note, look for Jason Avant to have a standout game and Steve Breaston to end his drought wink wink.

Michigan-31, Northwestern-14

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