Saturday, October 28, 2006

Michigan - Northwestern Gameday Preview

The weather did not look promising this morning, as it sounded like it was raining all night, but it's starting to clear up at least a little bit. The forecast was calling for rain, 30-40 mile an hour winds, 40 degrees with a windchill of 31-32 degrees. There is still a 40% chance of rain during the game, but it should be fairly light.

There is still no mention of a suspension to Adrian Arrington, so I'm going to assume that Carr is standing by his word and letting the legal system sort out the issue before proceeding. I still wouldn't be surprised if Arrington sees a one or two game suspension for drinking during the season.

The Wolverines will face this game without star wideout Mario Manningham, projected starter Antonio Bass, tightends Mike Massey and Tyler Ecker, and potentially, Adrian Arrington. The remaining receiving corps may end up being seniors WR Steve Breaston and WR Carl Tabb, and freshmen WR Greg Matthews and TE Carson Butler. Despite this fact, the Wolverines will be alright. With the inclement weather, Carr will be inclined to keep the ball on the ground anyways, and the 71st ranked Northwestern rushing defense (after facing a pretty weak schedule) will be powerless to stop the likes of Hart, Grady, Minor and Carlos Brown.

I expect the Wolverines to come out hard and try to gain a big lead early. I think the Wolverines will be hard-pressed to beat the 30 point spread. Once the team is up by 24 points, I expect the starting defense, and much of the starting offense to come out of the game, making the match a push from that point forward.

Hart for Heisman

Sort of rolls of the tongue doesn't it. The press is starting to pick up on this thread: Don't forget Michigan's Hart in Heisman race, Mike Lucas: Heisman could also be on the line when Michigan meets Ohio State, Is Hart Heisman Material?

At this point, it is still a relative longshot, as Troy Smith is the consensus favorite, but if the Wolverines pull out a victory in the Horseshoe, and Hart has a big game, in front of the potentially the largest national audience of all time, he could easily pull into the lead.

The knock against Hart is that he currently doesn't have Heisman-type numbers for a running back. His 4.82 yards per carry is nowhere near the league lead, and is outside the range of traditional Heisman numbers. Unfortunately for Hart, this is more of a product of the Michigan possession game as it is Hart's natural ability. Hart's 214 carries this season leads of all Division-I. His 4.82 yards per carry is still more than enough to get the first down, so Michigan relies on him to keep the ball in the offense's hands for so much of the game. As a result, Michigan leads the nation in time of possession. Hart is 7th in the nation with 129.0 yards per game, 1032 total yards rushing, and has eight touchdowns.

In the next three games, Hart has a chance to put up gaudy numbers and improve his chances for the Heisman against weak teams. Unfortunately for Hart, it's in the team's best interest to rest Hart as much as possible to avoid injury, which may limit his chance to put up those gaudy numbers.

What I'd like to see in Today's Game

Hart - Hart will likely have one half to put up big numbers. With Northwestern's weak defensive line, Hart should be able to bully his way through for over 6 yards per carry.

Hart's first half numbers:

24 carries, 168 yards, 7 YPC, 2 touchdowns

Breaston - Breaston has yet to reach the endzone this season, but he has had a productive season. With 9 touchdowns from Manningham, 8 touchdowns from Hart, 4 from Arrington, and 3 from Grady, the team hasn't really needed to rely on Breaston for scoring. Breaston primary role this season has been to pick up first downs on third and long, and provide a short option for Henne. Last week, Breaston provided a needed jumpstart to the Wolverine offense, with a huge 64 yard kickoff return right after Iowa tied it up at 3-3.

I'd love to see Breaston set career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Last week, Breaston tied a career high with 7 receptions, and could easily be counted on for more today. If Arrington is out, look for Breaston to have a huge game. There was grumbling about Breaston's inability to catch the ball early in the season, but in the past two games, he has been their most reliable receiver.

I'd love to see one more kickoff/punt return for a TD during Breaston's final 5 games of his collegiate career.

Brandon Minor - Freshman RB has not touched the ball since running for a 40-yard touchdown against Michigan State three weeks ago. Once Michigan opens up a big lead, expect to see plenty of Grady, Minor and Brown. I'd like to see what this kid does.

Carlos Brown - This kid can fly. I'd love to see Carlos take a few snaps, and break one to the outside.

Icing on the Cake - Last weekend, Ohio State pulled a trick out of the playbook, with a 38 pass from Ted Ginn, Jr. Ginn's career quarterback rating is now 374.6 (1/2 with a 38 yard touchdown) Michigan also has a WR quarterback option in Steve Breaston, who played quarterback in high school. Breaston has a career quarterback rating of 732.4 (1/1 with a 36 yard touchdown pass) How awesome would it be to see Michigan respond to OSU's WR pass for a touchdown with one of their own?

Defense - Michigan is on pace to set the modern-day collegiate record for fewest rushing yards per game given up per season. Tyrell Sutton is one of those shifty, elusive backs that has the potential to break one for a huge gain. Michigan has been a brick wall against the straight run this year, and I don't expect that to change today. The biggest weakness Michigan has shown is a vulnerability to the screen pass, and expect Northwestern to set up Sutton with several screens during the matchup today. The Wolverine defense has held their opposition to 1 touchdown in the past two games. I'd like to see Northwestern limited to fieldgoals today.

My Prediction - The spread says Michigan by 30.5. i expect the Wolverines to fall just short of that mark. Michigan 31 - Northwestern 6.