The Michigan Wolverines are off to another hot start this year. They’re hoping to avoid a meltdown like last year when they head to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats in an intriguing B1G matchup this Saturday evening.
The line opened with Michigan as a 10 point road favorite. But sharps backed Northwestern early and often, which has pushed the line down to either 7 or 7 ½, depending upon the book. The public is playing Michigan at 3:1, so the sharps have laid a lot of money on this one. While it’d be nice to get 10 points, a full touchdown or more is still an attractive play here. The wiseguys have taken some value out of the line, but they’ve obviously indicated that Northwestern is a solid play. Consider backing the home underdogs in this matchup.
Dan Persa has finally returned from his Achilles injury that he suffered late last season against Iowa, a game the Wildcats won straight up as underdogs. Against Illinois last Saturday, Northwestern again covered as an underdog, and Persa ended the game 10 for 14 yards with 4 touchdowns. However, he was held to -3 yards rushing on 9 carries, only the second time in his career that he’s been in the red for rushing yards. Impressively, though, Persa managed to account for 4 touchdowns after missing about 11 months with a severe injury. Obviously, Persa is committed to the season and his team.
As a team, Northwestern’s defense has been its own Achilles heel. They gave up nearly 400 yards passing to Illinois after yielding nearly 400 yards on the ground to Army the week before, a game the Wildcats lost as road favorites. But it’s worth noting that Northwestern stifled Illinois’ ground game. The Illini managed a meager 82 yards on 38 attempts, an average of just 2.2 yards. That’s important because Michigan has some similarities to Illinois in the way they administer their running game. Nathan Scheelhaase, much like Denard Robinson, gets the lion’s share of the team’s carries. Granted, Robinson is a faster, better athlete than Scheelhaase, but it’s still a relevant comparison. Against Army, Northwestern had to face the triple option. Lucky for the Wildcats, Michigan prefers more of a spread attack.
Michigan has put together an impressive season so far. The much maligned defense from 2010 has rebounded with a strong effort in 2011. They’re allowing only 10.2 points per game, which is tied for 2nd in the country. Defensive lineman Ryan Van Berge recently said, “We’re doing OK, but right now, it’s, ‘Where’s the ceiling, where could we potentially be if we continue to get better?’ That’s what’s encouraging to the coaches. We realize we haven’t played as good as we could.”
I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling the Wolverine defense is getting an inflated head. Four of Michigan’s five games have come against Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, San Diego State, and Minnesota – average teams at best. Sure, they’ve been held in check. But what about Notre Dame’s 31 points in the Big House? If not for a monumental collapse, Michigan would be 4-1. Further, this game against Northwestern will be Michigan’s first road game of the season, the sixth game in. In other words, the Wolverine defense played poorly against its only decent competition and every single game has been at home. The B1G is obviously down this year so Michigan’s defense might end up with good numbers, but as far as a ceiling goes, perhaps they’re already there. If that’s the case, there’s only way to go. And that’s down.
I expect Northwestern to be revved up for this game. And after last year, I’m not sold on Michigan’s defense – or its team. Not yet. The sharps are decidedly in favor of Northwestern and let’s hope they haven’t moved the number too far. But for a free pick, consider taking a full touchdown and backing a proven underdog. Good luck!
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