Who Has The Edge?

PurpleWildcats.com goes in-depth in the matchup between Northwestern and Michigan to see who has the edge. Do the Wildcats have what it takes to knock off the 11th-ranked Wolverines?

When Michigan has the ball

Even during its "down years," scoring points has never been a problem for Michigan.

Star quarterback Denard Robinson lit up Big Ten defenses last season and is doing the same this year, throwing for 793 yards and rushing for 603 more. He's a team leader in both categories.

Robinson is just an average passer—he has eight touchdowns to six interceptions—but his rushing skills make him extremely dangerous.

However, with the exception of Robinson and a solid offensive line, Michigan's offensive statistics haven't been overwhelming.

Leading receiver Junior Hemingway has only 267 yards, although much of that is due to Robinson's lack of elite passing skills. Top running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has only 301 rushing yards.

Statistics aside, Michigan is still one of the top Big Ten offenses. It plays fast and has a knack for the big play.

This will be the biggest challenge yet for the Northwestern defense, which faced a somewhat similar offense last week at Illinois.

The defensive front held its own for much of the game against dynamic quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but the secondary was torched by Scheelhaase and star receiver A.J. Jenkins.

The secondary clearly needs to step up, but considering Robinson's average passing skills, the defensive front needs to turn in its best performance of the season.

It's nearly impossible to completely contain Robinson, but teams that are able to hold him near 100 rushing yards have been successful.

That's within the realm of possibility for the NU defense, which held Scheelhaase to 70 yards rushing, but with the inconsistency we've seen so far, it's tough to bet on the defense without seeing it play a whole game.

Edge: Michigan

When Northwestern has the ball

Despite all the disappointment surrounding the Northwestern defense last week, the offense played its best game this season thanks to the return of star quarterback Dan Persa.

Persa was outstanding in his first game off of injury, throwing for four touchdowns passes, including three to wide receiver Jeremy Ebert.

He wasn't very effective in the rushing game, but he was mobile in the pocket and escaped pressure to make the same kind of big-time plays that earned him first team All-Big Ten honors in 2010.

Persa will have to turn in another star performance in a game that will likely be a shootout.

The running game took a big hit this week with the announcement that top running back Mike Trumpy will miss the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. Jacob Schmidt is listed on top of the depth chart, but expect backup Treyvon Green—NU's leading rushing against Illinois—to receive the bulk of the carries.

The offensive line will have to have its best performance of the year after struggling against Illinois. Persa was under way too much pressure last week and had to leave the game after taking a hit. He can't be gone for a prolonged period against the Wolverines.

Statistically, the Michigan defense is much improved from last season, but as we've learned over the past few years, it's best to reserve judgment on the unit until its first tough Big Ten game.

This won't be a cakewalk for Northwestern, but the NU offense is the best that Michigan has seen so far.

Expect Persa to play well once again and expect Green to be a pleasant surprise in yet another solid week for the offense.

Edge: Northwestern

Special Teams

Despite Northwestern not attempting a field goal against Illinois, special teams found a way to hurt the Wildcats in the form of Brandon Williams punts of 11 and 27 yards.

That can't happen against Michigan.

Like most teams NU plays this year, Michigan will have the edge in the kicking game. Sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons is four-for-five on field goals this year, up from one-for-five in 2010.

Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien is one-for-three this year, but hasn't connected since hitting a 43-yard attempt at Boston College in the season opener.

That inexperience could end up costing Northwestern a few times this season.

Edge: Michigan

Coaching

This is a very intriguing coaching matchup between two high-profile up-and-coming coaches.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was rumored to be a candidate for the Michigan job after Rich Rodriguez was fired in January, but Fitzgerald said he was never a candidate.

The Wolverines ended up hiring Brady Hoke, who came from San Diego State.

There were questions about whether Hoke would be able to effectively use Denard Robinson in a more pro-style offense, but he has done a good job so far, playing to Robinson's strengths while still working in his own offensive scheme.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has done a good job turning around an awful defense, although this will be his toughest test yet.

Fitzgerald and Hoke are both great motivators and confident in their teams. This should be a great coaching battle between two of the best "up-and-comers" in the game.

Edge: Even

Intangibles

This is only Northwestern's second home game this season, but it will likely be the biggest one all year. Say what you want about NU playing in a "high school stadium," but this will be an electric atmosphere, especially by Northwestern standards.

However, home field advantage aside, Michigan comes to Evanston with much more momentum. Northwestern, meanwhile, is limping into this game riding a two-game losing streak, which includes an inexplicable loss to %%MATCH_20%% and a last-minute loss at Illinois, a game in which the Wildcats blew an 18-point lead.

Right now Michigan has a ton of confidence and Northwestern is coming off two heartbreaking defeats. That could mean the difference in a game between two very similar teams.

Edge: Michigan

Prediction

Despite being the Big Ten Network prime time matchup, this game will be very un-Big Ten-like.

In a conference much better known for defensive slugfests, this should be a shootout featuring two of the best spread offenses in the league.

Dan Persa proved last week that there is little rust left from his injury and expect him to put together a similar performance this week against a defense that is statistically good, but has yet to prove itself.

With Persa opening things up in the passing game, expect Treyvon Green to have a breakout game of sorts.

Like last week, the problems won't come on offense.

The Northwestern front seven looked good for most of the game against Illinois, but the Michigan offense is even better. Look for Robinson to put up some big numbers against the inconsistent group.

Northwestern has the talent to win this game—especially on offense—but its confidence appears to have been shaken. It will be a close game and it's tough to see the Wildcats coming through in the clutch.

Prediction: Michigan 41, Northwestern 38


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