Northwestern isn't in the Legends Division title discussion, but the Wildcats have played plenty of good football this year. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison noted his team would have to be disciplined to keep improving against a dangerous opponent.
There's great speed on the Northwestern offense, he observed.
"We charted it, and they have 20 runs of over 20 yards or more," he said. "They have 17 passes over 20 or some number like that. It's a classic example if you want to be successful, you cannot allow big plays.
"They have very fast players in the skill positions. Their running back [Venric Mark], when he breaks, he breaks. Every film we watch it's wow, they didn't catch him. They've been very successful because of that. Their quarterback is a very, very good football player. If you make a mistake on him, he'll make you pay, not just with his feet but his competitiveness, his ability to cut back and see the whole field. If you fall asleep, he'll throw the ball in there for a big one. It will be a real challenge."
Every guy's got to play his position, he added - like playing old wishbone football.
"You'd better make sure you're assignment conscious, because if you don't, you fall asleep and don't take what you're supposed to take, he'll make you pay," he said. "We have to be right on our 'A' game making sure every game we're playing with great technique and great responsibility."
U-M held Minnesota to 275 yards of offense last game, but even then Mattison wasn't pleased.
"We had too many missed assignments," he said. "We understood the situation we were in that ballgame. We talked about it, if you were going to be a championship defense, you have to do whatever to not let people score. It doesn't matter how many times or what happens turnover wise, where they get the football, you've got to stop them or get the football back. That takes everybody working hard, running to the football.
"But the biggest thing is you can't give them big plays. You cannot allow somebody to get a cheap one. That's what our guys preached. I was proud of them. We aren't close yet, but they did do some good things. They did a really good job in the red zone, by the goal line. That's one of our big things is give me a place to stand, don't let them in. But they shouldn't have gotten here. When we had a short field we played pretty good at times, but when had a long field, we let them get down there to make it a short field. We've got to get that changed."
Mattison said he hasn't brought out the entire arsenal for the defense.
"There are always things you can change, things you can tweak," he said. "I don't think in today's football you ever want to go into a game and have everybody look at it say, 'we know they're going to do this, align like this.' I said before, you don't invent anything - not in this game. You learn from everybody.
"There are ways of changing defenses around so they look different, but they're really the same defense. We'll always try to put our players in the best position. If that means us tweaking things, we'll do that for sure."
Mattison praised defensive lineman Keith Heitzman for his play, noting he's gotten better.
"He's practicing hard going against our offense every day in practice, a guy getting older," he said. "That's what you want to see happen - guys right about now, this guy looks better. I think you're seeing that in a lot of positions.
"I'd like to get a lot more depth. I really believe every guy in there considers themselves starters, giving it all, trying to get better. There's not a guy who looks at himself being a second stringer. You want to have that happen, all of them taking ownership at crucial times."
Though sacks have been down, tackles for loss have been a positive, Mattison said.
"It means the linebacker is getting great reaction, understanding where the play is going," he said. "It means the front is getting some knock-em back. The front is not back in the linebacker's laps. It's always a positive when you're getting tackles for no gain or losses, because it tells you the front is playing better football."
Sacks will come, Mattison said, if they just continue to work.
"We're getting guys throwing against us - it's just one of those deals, we haven't gotten the quarterback on the ground," Mattison said. "We're always hoping maybe we'll break out of it this game.
"It's a concern. I would love to have a defense leading the Big Ten in sacks, but I wouldn't go for all the sacks if the defense doesn't play Michigan defense. Sometimes it's because they free lance, do whatever they want to do. Everybody sees a sack, but not the times he got blocked or gave up a big run because he didn't do his job. That will never happen here."
The tighter pass interference penalties called this year "might get you out of coaching faster," Mattison quipped.
"It's unbelievable. It really is," he said. "It's okay as long as everywhere it's called that way, but it's not my job to talk about the officials. We've got to play better technique. That's what we talk to our guys about. They called it - it was a penalty, we can't have that."
"But that drives me crazy. It really does. We want them to be aggressive. You've got wide receivers these days 6-4 220 and a corner who is 5-9, what are you going to do? It's like roll a ball out on the basketball court and go for a rebound, what are you going to do? You're not going to do it without touching somebody. You've just got to get better at it. That's the bottom line."