Michigan 38, Northwestern 0

Michigan 38, Northwestern 0


October 11, 2015

Jehu Chesson had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game.


Set phasers to destroy.
Michigan obviously didn’t put any stock in the idea that it was going to be a low-scoring, defensive affair. From the opening kickoff – literally – this was Michigan’s game. For the second year in a row, this was most obvious when Northwestern had the ball and Michigan’s defensive line was just crushing the offensive line backward into the quarterback’s face. I agreed with announcer Matt Millen that Northwestern needed to get quarterbacks Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti out of the pocket more. It wouldn’t have changed the overall outcome, but it might have generated a few more completions and yards. The Wildcats just don’t have the beef and athleticism up front to deal with Michigan’s explosive front.

Hit the jump for the rest of the game review.

De’Veon Smith looked the best I’ve seen him. Until he left the game gimpy and did not return, I thought Smith (8 carries, 59 yards) looked like the best form of himself I’ve seen. Of course, he has had some nice runs over the past couple years, and he really wore down Oregon State a few weeks ago to the point where he was trucking defenders left and right toward the end of the game. But from the opening snap, I thought Smith was in rare form. He made some nice cuts – which is sometimes an area of weakness – and he was bowling over some supposedly fresh defenders on a good defensive unit.

Three straight shutouts. Michigan hasn’t had three consecutive shutouts since 1980. The same year Ronald Reagan was elected President, John Lennon was assassinated, the “Miracle on Ice” happened, and The Empire Strikes Back was released, the Wolverines held three straight opponents (Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin) to zero points. (By the way, Michigan followed that streak with a 9-3 win over Ohio State and then a 23-6 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl.) Michigan also had a three-shutout streak in 1932, 1933, 1940, 1948, 1971, 1973. The last time Michigan recorded four consecutive shutouts, it was 1931 and Harry Kipke was the coach; it was actually a six-game stretch where Michigan held Illinois, Princeton, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to zero points, including a 0-0 tie with the Spartans.

Jake Rudock looked average and that’s okay. Rudock (17/23, 179 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) looked okay, and I’m fine with that. He mostly made good decisions with the football. I thought he should have checked the ball down to the running back a couple more times, but the only pass he forced was a deliberate throw to the flat where it could have been picked off and returned by Matt Harris. Otherwise, he took what the defense gave him. He had a pass batted down by Ifeadi Odenigbo where I thought Rudock should have stepped up in the pocket, and he got sacked three times, but Michigan’s line generally gave him good time to throw. Those sacks and pressures are mostly because Michigan’s receivers don’t get great separation, and Northwestern is very disciplined in their pass coverage. He ended the day with 6 carries for 11 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown on a zone read, but those stats were helped by the fact that when he felt the pocket collapsing, he burrowed forward to minimize the damage of taking a sack. Some guys will sit back there and accept a 6- or 8- or 10-yard loss on a sack, but just losing a yard or two like Rudock did makes the next play(s) manageable.

Targeting issue #1. Northwestern cornerback Matt Harris was temporarily ejected for targeting Jake Rudock when the quarterback slid to the ground. Upon review, it was determined that he did not target Rudock, despite the fact that he hit Rudock with the forward part of his helmet as Rudock came to a sliding stop on the turf. I was okay without the targeting call, because it did look like he tried to pull back and just got caught in an awkward spot when Rudock slid. I still thought it might have been a 15-yard penalty for a late hit. What was even worse, though, was the defensive lineman who arrived a split second later and nailed Rudock in the head/neck area with his upper body. As the officials reviewed the play, I thought, “Well, at the very least, the flag(s) will stand for a personal foul. Hell, two people hit him late, so it might even be two 15-yarders against Northwestern.” The ball was on the 42-yard line, and that would have put the ball on the 13-yard line or so if both penalties were assessed. Nope. The targeting call was reversed upon review, there was no late hit called against Harris, and most inexplicably, there was still no mention of a late hit for the lineman who jumped on Rudock. I understand that personal fouls cannot be flagged on a review, but they should have been assessed in real time.

Targeting issue #2. Later in the game, Northwestern superback Dan Vitale was “targeted” by Michigan linebacker James Ross III after a pass bounced off Vitale’s hands. Ross did not lower his helmet to lead with the crown, either, but the officials – including the replay official – immediately chucked Ross out of the game. Since it was the second half, he will now have to miss the first half of the Michigan State game. I don’t have a huge problem with Ross being tossed, because while he did not appear to be acting maliciously, he did deliver a hard blow above the shoulders on a defenseless receiver after the ball already went through his hands. It makes sense, because the NCAA is trying to protect players, and those are the rules of the game. But it did seem inconsistent. If you can’t judge intent, then hitting someone in the head is bad, whether it’s a quarterback sliding to the ground or a superback dropping a pass.

Leading with the head. I do not want this to sound like “Karma’s a female dog,” but it might come across that way, anyway. Oh well. Later in the game, the same Matt Harris who hit Jake Rudock in the head tried to go low on a much bigger and stronger Derrick Green. Things did not end so innocently on that play. The knee of the 234 lb. Green drove into the side of the 180 lb. Harris’s head, which looked to knock Harris unconscious and resulted in him getting carted off. It was great to see him moving around on his own, and hopefully there are no long-lasting issues, although this was not Harris’s first concussion. However, two incidents in the same game where Harris went low and led with his head suggests he might have a fundamental tackling issue. Furthermore, the way he hit Rudock in targeting issue #1 is potentially damaging for both players. Small cornerbacks often tackle low because otherwise, they might get trucked, but there are risks you take by diving at the knees of 234 lb. gentlemen running at full speed. Stop lowering your damn head.

Jehu Chesson is Darryl Stonum minus the off-field issues. Yesterday, when I watched the blocking on the opening kickoff return open up, I thought to myself, “This is going to be like Darryl Stonum all over again.” Sure enough, Chesson took it to the house like Stonum did in 2009 against Notre Dame. We all hoped for big things from Stonum, such as being the next Mario Manningham or David Terrell. He fell far short of those standards, but worse than that, he had drinking issues off the field. He never had great quarterback play, but he also turned out not to be a naturally talented wide receiver, either. I have come to similar conclusions about Chesson. He will never be the smoothest route runner or pass catcher, but by golly, he sure does have some good straight-line speed. Michigan has figured out some ways to get the ball in his hands (kickoff returns, end arounds, a couple receptions a game) and attempted to throw the ball deep to him, and Chesson has a decided advantage over Stonum in his willingness to block. It’s nice to have a guy like that around, even if he will never look as smooth catching passes as Manningham.

I kinda like Pat Fitzgerald. I’m not in the camp of people who wanted Fitzgerald to be hired by Michigan after Brady Hoke was let go, but I do like Fitzgerald. He does some cheesy things sometimes, but he seems like a decent guy who’s competitive and treats people with respect. Not to take anything away from his football knowledge, but I think he would be a great high school football coach because of his behavior, leadership, and attitude. Unfortunately for him, it’s a tough job at Northwestern to try to bring in big-time recruits. He has to deal with it being a tough school, in a not-entirely-desirable location, without much tradition. It’s a given that I hate Michigan State and Ohio State, but I generally root for Northwestern whenever they’re not playing Michigan.

…but Northwestern was probably overrated. I don’t think Northwestern was the #13 team in the country going into the game, and I obviously don’t think that’s the case now, either. The truth is that they have some good defensive players and a cohesive unit, but they are severely lacking in offensive skill talent. Even workhorse running back Justin Jackson, who has received a lot of hype, is a guy who doesn’t make any wow plays. After his 12-carry, 25-yard performance on Saturday, he now has 29 carries for 60 yards in the past two seasons against the Wolverines. Add in a redshirt freshman quarterback who has a good arm, decent legs, and no standout receivers, and you have a solid unit but not the 13th-best team in the nation.

Freshman redshirt burning watch. Last week it was safety Tyree Kinnel burning his redshirt to play on special teams, and this week it was running back Karan Higdon (8 carries, 16 yards) burning his redshirt to send a message to Ty Isaac (2 carries, 13 yards). That brings the total number of true freshmen to play this season to 4: Kinnel, Higdon, Brian Cole, and Grant Perry.

20 comments

  1. Avatar
    Comments: 1307
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Roanman
    Oct 11, 2015 at 8:35 AM

    The opening kickoff was blocked about as well as you can do that kind of thing. The guy Peppers hit to finish the seal was coming inside out because he had already been doubled way off of his route. If I’m either of the two lined up outside kids, I’m having serious thoughts about having a real bad case of the flu today instead of watching film.

  2. Avatar
    Comments: 1307
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Roanman
    Oct 11, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    Stuff I’m starting/continuing to think.

    This handing off of the football to a fullback (as opposed to the fullback) is borderline revolutionary. Linebackers have spent their entire lives avoiding fullbacks coming through. Now the fullback might have the football. This is some serious mind messing going on here.

    I so wish Ben Gedeon was a Sophomore. The job he does on the kickoff after the second touchdown is very impressive. He just blasts blockers, ballcarriers ….. anybody that bothers to come around wanting some.

    This year’s Glasgows might be as good as the Hammersteins.

    A.J. Williams continues to improve. They posted him up for three balls, then they actually dragged him outside for a running catch. Again, this is nothing but coaching.

    Poggi is good at blocking, a couple times in this game, especially in the first quarter, he puts his head down and just drives a pile of guys backwards. Late in the fourth, Braden has a guy tied up some and Poggi comes out of nowhere (from that guy’s standpoint) doubles him from the side and just removes him from the play. This is just another prime example of coaching. The ability to evaluate a skill set and then implement a scheme/play design that suits that skill set.

    I never thought he’d get there, because I kept hearing about James Ross’s inability to hold weight, but at what appears to be an honest 240 or so lbs. he’s a beast.

    I thought RJS was pretty solid. Although I’m still looking for Taco Charlton at least taking some of the hand down snaps on the weak side.

  3. Avatar
    Comments: 142
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    coachernie
    Oct 11, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    Was at the game and everyone just had that feeling we would come out strong and have a great game against NW. From the kick-off to the end it just felt like we’ve entered a new era, an elite level. Won’t mean anything unless we defeat Sparty, which I might add I believe we will. They are playing mediocre and have injuries that are mounting. Catching them at the right time, in our backyard.
    Mich 24
    Sparty 13

  4. Lanknows
    Comments: 5998
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Oct 11, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    Why is Northwestern overrated? That chant came from the student section during the game and I found it to be disrespectful — to what Michigan was doing on the field.

    Northwestern is the #12 team in the country by S&P — this is after getting crushed by Michigan. And I think they deserve it. They have beaten Stanford (4-1 #10 in S&P) and Duke on the road (4-1 #14 S&P) and shutout Minnesota (4-2 #35 in S&P). I don’t know why Michigan fans feel the need to diminish what Michigan is doing. It was the same thing with BYU (4-2 #32 in S&P) and even Maryland (who was competitive yesterday against OSU). I thought UNLV and Oregon State were bad too, but as this teams dominance has continued, their performances look respectable.

    Northwestern does not play Michigan Stat 6-0 #40 in S&P) this year, but if they did they would beat them I think. They will likely go 11-1 or 10-2 on the season. They are not overrated.

    Northwestern is in a desirable location – just outside Chicago on the lake. Other than a handful of quintessential college towns (e.g., AA, Madison, Bloomington) IMO it’s one of the most desirable locations in the Big 10. The issue there is history, reputation, prestige and the academic focus of the football program. But Duke and Stanford seem to have athletic success despite the same ‘issues’.

    Fitzgerald is a really good coach. Even deep into the 3rd quarter he was getting his guys pumped up. I’ve seen teams give up before with smaller deficiencies. His did not. He’s getting better talent in there and has started winning some head to head battles against bigger name programs.

    Michigan’s DL was flat out dominating that OL. It’s for any QB or RB to do much when 3 guys are just blowing up the OL on nearly every play. I thought their QB actually hung in well and never gave up.

    Didn’t Higdon play previously on special teams (against Utah maybe)? Why do you think he played “to send a message to Ty Isaac”? I think Isaac has just been passed by the other RBs.

    Sounds like Cole might still be eligible for a medical red-shirt.

    • Avatar
      Comments: 142
      Joined: 8/12/2015
      coachernie
      Oct 11, 2015 at 7:58 PM

      I was at the game and actually near the student section. Did not hear the ‘over-rated’ chant.
      Also, I think you mean Super Mario might get the medical red-shirt.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 5998
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Oct 11, 2015 at 11:14 PM

        I was there too and while I can’t say where the chant originated it sounded loudest coming from the student section. Regardless, I think it takes away from the accomplishments of the winning team to ridicule their opposition.

        Ojemudia played to many games to qualify for a medical. Cole did not AFAIK.

        • Thunder
          Comments: 3658
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Oct 12, 2015 at 7:39 AM

          Michigan is reportedly looking at appealing for a medical redshirt for Ojemudia, too.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5998
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Oct 12, 2015 at 1:54 PM

            Interesting if true. I doubt that’s gonna workout but worth a shot I guess.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 3658
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Oct 12, 2015 at 7:40 AM

      I explained in the post why I think they’re overrated.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 5998
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Oct 12, 2015 at 2:00 PM

        Having a mediocre O that lacks playmakers doesn’t preclude them from being a top 15 team. Some very good teams are really good at only one side of the ball. TCU and Baylor have horrible defenses and great offenses. Northwestern has an excellent D and a mediocre O. Minnesota played both TCU and Northwestern both and had a much tougher time with Northwestern.

        Moreover, Northwestern’s O is a system that they’ve been running for a long time. They’re personnel isn’t as good as in years past perhaps, but they’ll score points at a reasonable clip. They scored more on Minnesota than TCU did. Maybe that was a fluke, but the point is that they are far from terrible. Like BYU, they aren’t going to face another defense like Michigan’s this season.

        • Lanknows
          Comments: 5998
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Lanknows
          Oct 12, 2015 at 2:07 PM

          Also keep in mind that in the 6 games NWU has played, they have faced 3 of the top 11 defenses in the country (Michigan, Duke, Minn), 4 of the top 26 (Stanford). They’ll look a lot better when their schedule eases up.

        • Thunder
          Comments: 3658
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Oct 12, 2015 at 2:18 PM

          I just typed up a long response, and then my browser crashed.

          Anyway, I didn’t say their offense precluded them from being a top-15 team when all is said and done. I simply said that I think they’re overrated at #13. We’ll see when all the dust settles. But if that’s the #13 team in the country, then it’s a pretty weak pool of teams this year, IMO. I think Northwestern is probably in the range of 20-25.

          You can throw out the Minnesota thing, but I could also say that they only beat 2-4 Ball State by five points (Ball State is #99 in F/+ and #92 in S&P+).

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5998
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Oct 12, 2015 at 2:29 PM

            Looks like the are going to lose their best CB Harris for a long while (Smith’s knee fractured his face apparently), so maybe they won’t keep it up, but they should be favored in every game remaining on their schedule with the possible exception of @Wisc.

            Obviously we don’t know yet if they are top 15 or top 25 yet, but so far they have played like a top 15 team, rank like it in advanced metrics, and their schedule plays out in a way that could very feasibly see them back in the top 15. Seems like a nitpick to say they should be top 20-25 instead of top 15.

            I’ll be rooting for Northwestern for the rest of the year, just to help UM’s SOS. They play mostly teams from the B1G west that Michigan won’t face. Hopefully Michigan beats MSU, Northwestern beats Iowa, and maybe down the road we can play Northwestern again…

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5998
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Oct 12, 2015 at 2:32 PM

            Even if you want Minn/Ball State to cancel out, there is still the Stanford game. Northwestern is good.

            Ball State was a bad performance, but also by far their worst of the year (until Michigan obviously).

            I’m surprised Ball State is ranked that low as none of their scores have been that bad.

          • Thunder
            Comments: 3658
            Joined: 7/13/2015
            Oct 12, 2015 at 2:39 PM

            I didn’t say they were bad. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I simply said I think they’re overrated at #13.

            They are #18 in F/+. Since you like advanced stats so much, it shouldn’t be an outrageous idea.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5998
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Oct 12, 2015 at 7:20 PM

            I do love advanced stats and will make no apologies for it. My point is it seems like a technicality to call them overrated when you are talking about 5-10 spots. Every team that loses is going to go down in the rankings – doesn’t mean they were overrated necessarily. I don’t want to call every team Michigan beats overrated and I don’t think you do either.

            Lets save it for a team that is actually rated at significantly higher than they should be.

            …Hopefully I’m referring to THIS Saturday’s opponent.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5998
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Oct 12, 2015 at 7:21 PM

            Note that FEI (half of F/+) is still holding on to preseason data until next week. I suspect that has something to do with the gap between S&P’s rankings and FEI.

  5. Avatar
    Comments: 48
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Nick.
    Oct 11, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    I have to agree with your narrative on the game. You hit the nail right on the head. As for the opening kickoff, our coaches know that teams are afraid of kicking to Peppers after the last couple of weeks. What a great weapon in Chesson to have as your alternative.

    This defense has played well and it is nice to see guys being plugged in and out of it without much of a hiccup. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the depth increases for next year.

    Harbaugh sent a clear message to Isaac and Green both by playing Higdon. I will say that Higdon has nice speed, but he isn’t a guy who is gonna run through a tackle. Smith was in full beast mode to start the game and kept it going.

    I have to say the biggest disappointment of the day was our punting. O’Neil had an off day when compared to his previous weeks.

    Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach doing the best you can at a school he loves. He has made them relevant the last few years and that is awesome to see.

    Big Ten Network note. Matt Millen is a terrible announcer. That man is a flipping idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to talk football. Several times he mentioned how great player x or y was and it is difficult to take him seriously after 7 years of talent evaluation with the Lions. He also made a comment at the end of the game that Michigan will face a better defense in MSU next week. Obviously he wasn’t told that NW was a top 5 defense by the numbers and MSU isn’t even a top 50 team. I do agree that MSU will come ready to play, but hard to agree with the better defense comment.

    • Avatar
      Comments: 142
      Joined: 8/12/2015
      coachernie
      Oct 11, 2015 at 8:01 PM

      Higdon is 40 lbs less in weight than any of our big backs,… Issac, Green or Smith. He is 190 lbs and a nice change of pace back. I see quickness and he can turn on a dime. I bet we see more of him.

      • Avatar
        Comments: 48
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Nick.
        Oct 12, 2015 at 8:20 AM

        I agree with you. He needs a year in the weight room. maybe another 10-15 pounds so he doesn’t take as much of a beating as a change of pace back.

You must belogged in to post a comment.