Statistical Highlights: Northwestern vs. Michigan

John Paschall, Reporter

Looking back

I predicted before this weekend’s game that if Northwestern were to have a chance at winning, the Wildcats would have to put up similar numbers as their upset at Nebraska last year. Let’s compare and see how they fared:

  • Third downs: At Nebraska, NU converted 58 percent of their third downs and had an average distance of 5 yards to go. Against Michigan, the offense converted 50 percent of their third downs and averaged 6.13 yards to gain per third down. As we know from NU’s microscopic fourth down conversion in the fourth quarter, the importance of a yard is huge.
  • Big plays on second down: The Wildcats saw a big drop-off in big plays on second down. In Ann Arbor, the offense averaged only five yards per play on second down, compared to 8.14 yards last year in Lincoln, Neb.
  • Long drives: NU did do a great job of establishing long drives against Michigan, nearly matching their average from last year (seven plays against the Cornhuskers and 7.27 against the Wolverines).
  • Fourth-quarter scoring: The offense was only able to put up one scoring drive early in the fourth quarter instead of two against Nebraska last year. A second scoring drive would have easily put the game away, but instead the offense stalled and only gained one yard on seven plays.
  • Punishing penalties: NU had some very costly penalties in Ann Arbor (8-75), a total much greater than at Lincoln last year (2-20). Three of those eight gave Michigan a first down.

The telling stat

In the first half, the Cats’ defense gave up an average of 4.11 yards per play. That average increased dramatically in the second half when the Wolverines averaged 11 yards per play.

Quick hits:

  • NU running back Venric Mark has now run for more than 100 yards in the past four games.
  • NU has now lost its last three overtime games and, in the Pat Fitzgerald era, the Cats are now 2-3 in overtime games.
  • Michigan has never lost at home under coach Brady Hoke.

— John Paschall