Northwestern writer: Wildcats' linebackers will create problems for Michigan quarterbacks
It's not yet clear whether Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will start Saturday against Northwestern, or if backup Devin Gardner will get the call for a second consecutive week.
Either way, the Wolverines quarterbacks could face a stiff test from the Wildcats.
Quarterback Kain Colter and tailback Venric Mark are the team's playmakers, but Chris Emma, who covers the Wildcats for Scout, says the linebackers also pose a threat for whoever quarterbacks the Wolverines.
Emma breaks down Saturday's matchup for MLive:
MLive: Northwestern's offense seems to clicking with Kain Colter and Venric Mark. Is it good enough to crack a pretty good Michigan defense?
Chris Emma: The trick with Northwestern's dynamic offense is how it requires success from both Colter and Mark for it to be successful. In its greatest test yet, against Penn State, the offense faltered and both threats were a non-factor.
Greg Mattison is a great defensive mind and will come prepared with a plan to silence Northwestern's offense. If it's executed, NU coaches must make necessary in-game adjustments. Michigan has the coaching edge and that will pay dividends.
MLive: Defensive end Tyler Scott leads the Big Ten in sacks (seven) and is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles (three). What's made him so effective this year?
Emma: Tyler Scott has flown under the radar until this season, but has greatly benefitted from a steady pass rush created along the defensive line and the threat of quick linebackers. Northwestern's front seven is at its strongest since the Rose Bowl team which Fitzgerald played on.
Scott has been the beneficiary of the blitzes, but he has his teammates to thank for that, as well. In facing a scrambling quarterback on Saturday, Scott could add to his sack total.
MLive: Northwestern has a lot of team speed, but how close has the roster gotten, physically, to competing with the Big Ten's best?
Emma: If I may become a recruiting geek for this question, Northwestern's incoming crop has become more talented each season under Fitzgerald, and has ranked among the Big Ten's best each season. Fitzgerald prides himself on player development, but now, he has more talent than ever to work with.
Northwestern could be on the brink of competing for Big Ten titles, with plenty of talent to work with, but it depends on if the team's potential can be reached.
MLive: Where will Northwestern hold its biggest matchup advantage?
Emma: Given Michigan's uncertainty at quarterback, I like Northwestern's linebackers to create problems for either Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner, whomever sees the snaps on Saturday. NU would be wise to exploit the Wolverines' issues. Whether that's executed or not remains to be seen.
MLive: Northwestern held a 10-point halftime advantage last year against Michigan before allowing 28 unanswered second-half points. It finishes the job this year if …
Emma: Ah, the burning question for each Northwestern game; how will the Cats NOT unravel in the fourth quarter. It's happened twice this season. NU must execute long, sustained drives when holding a lead, meaning the coaches must commit to the run game.
NU has proven it can dominate on the ground, with Colter and Mark. Yet, in the fourth quarter, the attack has often stalled. The Cats must keep the pedal to the metal should they own a lead.
Chris Emma's prediction: The Wolverines have too much talent and Brady Hoke will combat Northwestern's attack with a solid game plan. Michigan will take a commanding lead early, the Wildcats will battle back, but fall short. The Wolverines get a needed victory at home. Michigan 31, Northwestern 23