Evanston, IL – Sporting a 5-0 record for the second straight ranked Michigan Wolverines will try to keep the good times rolling as they pull into Evanston, Illinois for this week's Big Ten Conference clash with the Northwestern Wildcats.
This is Michigan's first road game after opening the season with a five-game homestand. Coach Brady Hoke's club won its league lidlifter last weekend, whipping Minnesota, 58-0, in the latest installment in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. It was the first shutout for the Maize and Blue since blanking Notre Dame, 38-0, on September 15, 2007.
Hoke was obviously pleased with the effort put forth by his football team in all phases of the win over the Gophers, "We got off to a good start on both sides of the ball. I think up front, the defensive line, the front four, front seven, responded well. And then we were able to move the football and run with the football and Denard (Robinson) threw the football very well, and when that happens it opens up the run game even more."
As for the Wildcats, the unthinkable happened to them last Saturday, as Illinois scored a touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation to earn the Fighting Illini a 38-35 come-from-behind victory. Northwestern led by 18 points midway through the third quarter, but was outscored 28-7 to end the game, and thus its bid to upset the 24th-ranked team in the country. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's team won its first two games of the season, but has dropped its last two.
Fitzgerald was clearly upset with the way his team lost to Illinois, "I am disappointed, obviously, in the outcome and the finish. Lots of opportunities for us to go out and get the job done and we did not."
Michigan owns a commanding 52-15-2 lead in the all-time series with Northwestern, but the Wildcats won the last meeting in 2008, 21-14. The Wolverines have however, gone 27-4 versus the Wildcats in the last 31 meetings.
Michigan RB Vincent Smith put forth a historic effort against the Golden Gophers last weekend, scoring touchdowns rushing, receiving and passing in three of Michigan's first four drives. The team's leading rusher on the day was Fitzgerald Toussaint (11 carries, 108 yards, one TD), and QB Denard Robinson hit the mark on 15-of-19 pass attempts for 169 yards and two scores. Overall, the UM offense churned out 580 yards compared to just 177 for the Gophers.
Although still somewhat early, Robinson likes the makeup of the offense, and its ability to execute the gameplan implemented by the coaches. "We are confident. We have been playing good," said the athletically-gifted signal caller after last week's easy win. "We trust coach Al (Borges) to give us the right play and to make things happen."
Michigan scored on 8-of-9 trips to the red zone and picked up 32 first downs, while Minnesota failed to covert any of its 11 third-down attempts, lost a pair of fumbles and allowed three sacks. For the season, Michigan ranks fourth in the country in scoring defense (10.3 ppg), and its yield in the passing game (175.3 ypg) ranks 14th.
Northwestern QB Dan Persa, who was making his first start of the season last week against Illinois after battling back from an Achilles injury suffered last year, threw for a career-high four TDs before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with another injury. WR Jeremy Ebert was on the receiving end of three of those scoring strikes, and he finished with five catches for 68 yards. The NU ground attack was led by Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy, who combined for 130 yards on 29 carries.
The Wildcat defense stood tall against the run, allowing just 82 yards, but 391 yards permitted in the passing game proved to be their undoing. Both Brian Peters and Ibraheim Campbell logged double-digit tackles in the contest, finishing with 13 and 10, respectively, and Tyler Scott pounced on a pair of fumbles, while Peters also came up with an INT.
Despite a few positives, coach Fitzgerald was at a loss with regard to the overall play of his defense, "(I am) shocked. Nothing that we didn't work on and nothing that we didn't prepare for, which is probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole day."