November 9, 2012
Borton's Blog: Friday Fast Five
Friday's Fast Five takes a look at Northwestern, an if-only team right now in the Legends Division of the Big Ten. Pat Fitzgerald's crew is hanging in well at 7-2 overall, but could be in a much different position.
That, of course, would have involved holding onto a two-score lead in the fourth quarter at home against Nebraska. Then again, nobody seems to hold onto leads against the Cornhuskers (hello, Badgers and Spartachokes).
The Wildcats could be in command of the division right now, looking forward to back-to-back trips into Ann Arbor and East Lansing to try and secure a spot in the Big Ten title game. They're dangerous anyway, but they've got some interesting divides in the statistical handful we've chosen.
1.Rushing Offense - The Wildcats stand at No. 13 in the nation, averaging 237.56 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Kain Colter provides the Denard Robinson-like run threat, while running back Venric Mark represents another speedy, big-play threat. Michigan has given up a few yards on the ground as well, but
2. Passing Offense - Here's the kicker. The Wildcats are No. 109 in the nation in throwing the football, averaging 162.89 yards per game through the air. There are two ways to look at it - either they're one-dimensional enough to really allow Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and his crew to hone in on and slow the run game, or Northwestern has run the football effectively enough to not need to lean extensively on the passing game.
We're banking more on the former.
3. Punt Returns - Watch out here, since Mark should be a marked man when punter Will Hagerup (or Matt Wile) takes the field. Mark has averaged a ridiculous 25.1 yards per return on 10 tries this season, with a pair of touchdown take-backs, including an 82-yarder. Mark's average is better than the top team average in the nation, Boston College's 25.0. As a team, Northwestern is third in the country, averaging 21.0 yards per return.
4. Kickoff Returns - As dynamic as he's been on punt breakaways, Mark has proven a pedestrian kick returner to this point. He's brought back 14 kickoffs for an average of 16.4 yards per attempt, and overall, Northwestern stands at No. 116 in the nation on kick returns, averaging 15.94.
5. Pass defense - This marks another opposite combo. Northwestern's pass defense gives up yardage (272.44, on average) like Legends Division also-rans give up idiotic penalty acreage. They're No. 107 in the country in that category, compared to No. 23 (121.33) in run defense.
That's a potentially tough combination, for a Michigan offense that has experienced trouble in the non-Robinson run game anyway, and that could potentially have to go without the senior QB again. It means a lot could be riding on the arm of junior backup quarterback Devin Gardner and Michigan's defense
just like last week.
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