Statistical Preview: Northwestern vs. Michigan

John Paschall, Reporter

Upset history

The Wildcats have pulled off two big-time upsets in the past two years in November (Nebraska in 2011 and Iowa in 2010) and although they are the ranked team in this match-up, it seems as though they are the underdogs heading into Ann Arbor.

So how can the Cats pull off the upset? Because of the way the team was built in 2010 with a strong passing attack, it is difficult to use that model for this year’s run-based offense. Instead, let’s recap how NU was able to take down the Cornhuskers on the road last season:

  • A huge factor in the Cats’ win was their ability to take pressure off themselves on third down. Not only did they have a 58 percent conversion rate on third down, but the average distance to gain was 5 yards, a very manageable amount on the road.
  • What helped the Cats stay at reasonable distances on third down was their explosive plays on second down. On these plays, they averaged 8.14 yards.
  • The offense was also able to establish long drives, averaging seven plays per drive. Those long drives wore down a stout Nebraska defense and allowed NU to score late to maintain the lead.
  • Speaking of scoring late, the Cats have struggled mightily in the past few games to score in the fourth quarter. But in Lincoln last year, they reached the end zone twice in the final period, a mark they’ve only accomplished twice since last year’s Nebraska game (once against Vanderbilt and the other time against Texas A&M).
  • The Cats must cut down on their penalty yards. This year, they are averaging 57.4 yards per game. Against Nebraska last year, NU only was penalized for 20 yards.

Runnin’ Robinson

If he is able to play this weekend, senior quarterback Denard Robinson could provide a huge lift for a Michigan team looking to catch Nebraska in the Legends Division. Robinson is notably better at home, completing 57 percent of his passes compared to a road completion percentage of 49. He’s also thrown twice as many interceptions on the road as he has at home. But where Robinson is most dangerous is on second down with between 8 and 10 yards to go. In that situation — one that would normally call for a pass play — Robinson uses his legs and averages an absurd 14.3 yards per carry.

Though he has a terrible 1-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, Robinson has done a terrific job taking care of the ball after the opponent’s 40-yard line, where he has yet to throw an interception.

Quick hits:

  • Michigan has yet to give up more than 200 yards passing this year.
  • During the Pat Fitzgerald era, the Cats are 6-3 on the road in November.
  • Michigan is 3-1 against Fitzgerald. The one loss came in Ann Arbor in 2008, the same year the Wolverines compiled their most single season losses in history.

John Paschall