KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 ET
SITE: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
TV: Big 10 Network
SERIES: Michigan leads 52-15-2 (last meeting, 2008, Northwestern 21-14)
RECORDS: Michigan 5-0, 1-0 Big 10; Northwestern 2-2, 0-1 Big 10
POLLS: Michigan (No. 12 AP, No. 11 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Michigan 31-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Michigan: Set up QB Denard Robinson for some early success in the passing game, looking to get the junior speedster into a good rhythm. The Wolverines will need their running backs to keep the chains moving and keep the heat off Robinson. If he has to carry the offense, things get problematic over the long haul.
-- For Northwestern: Stop Denard Robinson -- make that slow down the Michigan quarterback. The Wildcats will try to follow last year's formula against the Wolverines by forcing them to pass the ball by obtaining an early lead. The Wildcats must not allow Robinson to get out of the pocket and scramble for big gains.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Michigan has started to demonstrate the kind of diversity that will make their offense more effective and preserve the health of QB Denard Robinson. The Michigan running backs are taking a lot of the load off Robinson. Fitzgerald Toussaint has rushed for 301 yards and Vincent Smith has gone for 206. Toussaint is averaging 6.5 yards a pop, Smith 7.9. Michael Shaw has only 101 yards but averages 7.6 an attempt.
The Wolverines assumes Northwestern's versatile QB Dan Persa will be healthy enough to play, but regardless Michigan expects the offense it faces will look the same, no matter who is calling the signals. Michigan is second in the nation in fewest points allowed, and Michigan coach Brady Hoke credits his defensive front for being more disruptive. The Wolverines need to create a little chaos for Northwestern's precision-based attack.
The Northwestern offense welcomed back the return of QB Dan Persa last week against Illinois. Persa missed the first three games after rupturing his Achilles' tendon last year. Persa threw four touchdown passes, but left the game in the fourth quarter as a precautionary method after experiencing pain in his right foot. Persa is cleared to play this week against Michigan. Backup Kain Colter leads the team with 266 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns, while passing for 427 yards and one touchdown.
There was good and bad on defense for Northwestern last week at Illinois. The Wildcats had seven tackles for losses, but allowed 28 points in the final 19 minutes to spoil a 28-10 lead. The Wildcats have relied on a solid pass rush, moving into 31st nationally after registering four sacks last week. The Wildcats average 2.5 sacks per game.
Wolverines: Michigan is going on the road for the first time. The Wolverines opened the 2011 season with five straight home games, enjoying that luxury for the first time since the 1976 season. ... The Wolverines are 5-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1985-86. ... The Wolverines have scored on 21 of their 22 trips into the red zone this season. The only time Michigan did not score after reaching an opponent's 20-yard line was when it was running out the clock in the win over Minnesota. ... Michigan allowed 35.2 points per game in 2010, but through five games of the 2011 season, the Wolverines are allowing only 10.2 points per game. ... The Wolverines have topped the 300-yard mark rushing in the last three games (376 vs. Eastern Michigan, 320 vs. San Diego State, and 363 vs. Minnesota). ... Junior QB Denard Robinson already is 10th in school history in touchdown passes with 28 and tied for 14th in touchdown runs with 25. ... P Will Hagerup, who missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension for a violation of team rules, returned to the lineup as the starter against Minnesota.
Wildcats: Northwestern has played only one home game this year, back on Sept. 10 against Eastern Illinois. .. The Wildcats are playing just its third night game in Ryan Field in 13 years. The last time the Wildcats played under the lights at home was in 200, when they lost to the Wolverines 33-17. ... The Wildcats rank second nationally in fewest turnovers lost with two. Northwestern is one of 16 FBS teams in the country that have thrown one or fewer interceptions this season. ... Michigan is one of eight teams on Northwestern's schedule that played in bowls last year ... The Wildcats have won 29 of their last four games that have been decided by seven points or fewer. WR Jeremy Ebert, the school's active leading receiver with 1,570 career receiving yards, ranks third on Northwestern's all-time touchdown receiving list with 15 after catching three touchdown passes at Illinois last week. ... DE Vince Browne had one of Northwestern's four sacks last week. Browne has 18 career sacks to rank tied for eighth among active FBS players.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Denard Robinson -- Robinson has had six plays of 20 yards or better this season, and if he catches Northwestern napping, another long run could go in the books.
WR Junior Hemingway -- Hemingway has four receptions of more than 20 yards this season. He is likely the Wolverines' most explosive outside threat.
DE Craig Roh -- Roh has been the disruptive force that Michigan needs him to be. Roh has a pair of sacks and four stops behind the line of scrimmage. He is also durable and reliable, making 30 consecutive starts for the Wolverines.
Wildcats: QB Dan Persa -- Expected to play after leaving in the fourth quarter last week at Illinois, Persa is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. The Wildcats need his experience against a talented Michigan squad.
LB David Nwabuisi -- The starting middle linebacker will hone on Michigan QB Denard Robinson, attempting to keep him from running wild.
LB Cam Gordon (back, questionable), OL Ricky Barnum (ankle, probable).
RB Mike Trumpy (knee, out), QB Dan Persa (foot, probable).