The college football season is slowly but surely winding down as we approach the last three weeks of the regular season. While everyone knows that you can never assume anything in college football, many can’t say they aren’t surprised by how Michigan and Northwestern have fallen this season. Both teams were expected to play at a high level this season and compete in the Big Ten. While they did start out that way, both teams have hit huge momentum snags and both teams are currently on losing streaks.
That being said, I still wouldn’t underestimate this as not being a good game because it has the potential to be interesting. As I mentioned, both teams are struggling but that doesn’t mean they have given up on their season or trying to compete. In the past, it would have easily been Michigan winning this game but after this season, I can’t say that. However, the Wolverines still have a chance to win this game but only if they follow certain steps.
I say it every week and I will continue to say it until Michigan does it. Going into this game it all starts with the offense and for the offense to get going, I repeat that the offensive line must perform well. The offensive line isn’t solely to blame for the Wolverines woes this year but they definitely get 50% of the blame if not more. Unfortunately for quarterback Devin Gardner, he was hit 27 times and sacked seven times last game against Nebraska. Then don’t get me started on their game against Michigan State, where he was hit 34 times and sacked seven times. So the offensive line must do a better job of protecting Gardner and opening holes for the run game whether that means rotating players or something else.
When it comes to Gardner, he needs more than the offensive line to have success. He first needs offensive coordinator Al Borges to understand what situation Gardner is in right now. Meaning, he can’t afford to constantly call these long passing plays. Gardner doesn’t receive much time in the pocket, so Al Borges must make a point to call plays that gets the ball out of his hands quickly. I would suggest that Borges stick to quick passes with short and intermediate passes and have the receivers run curls or even slant routes. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess have shown they can make plays after the catch, so he should give them that opportunity. Plus going that will allow some big play opportunities as the game goes on. As always, I still would like to see someone else step up in the receiving core, whether it be wide receiver Drew Dileo or someone else.
The next step offensively has to be to initiate some form of a running game and I don’t mean through Gardner. I have no issue with Gardner running the ball but there is no reason for him to be used as a running back. His body can’t take that along with the continuous punishment he receives in the pocket. The running game doesn’t have to dominate but it needs to be effective. I said last week, while the main problem is the offensive line when it comes to the success of the running game, I can’t say that running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is blameless. Which is why I suggested that the Wolverines may want to try some other options at running back, Derrick Green has had some decent moments but I would even use Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes, Dennis Norfleet or De’Veon Smith. They have nothing to lose at this point, so they should look to try just about anything and see if it works. I have said all season long, the Wolverines need to learn how to use Norfleet who is fast and extremely explosive, he could be a difference maker if they use him right.
Most important, the Wolverines must limit turnovers in this game. Michigan offense has enough problems without adding turnovers or costly penalties to the mix.
Defensively, the Wolverines have made a point to try and play better but they are still areas of concern. The Wildcats running game is in bad place right now with injuries, so the Michigan defense should look to contain quarterback Kain Colter. While the Wildcats have not been the same offensive team they were earlier this season they can still hurt the Wolverines through the air. This Wolverines defensive line must make a point to create some form of pressure on Colter because if they allow him to sit in the pocket, he will make them pay. This Wolverine secondary must also make a point to control the long ball specifically on the edges where the secondary is most vulnerable. The Wolverines can’t afford any big plays to take place and must do their best to bend but not break if they have any chance of winning this game.
There is no doubt that both teams have struggled this season but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a good game. Both teams are fighting for what pride they have left and looking to get back on track. I expect this game to be close but who will come out victorious is a mystery to just about everyone.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com