As the Big Ten becomes more top heavy by the week, teams like Michigan have started to separate themselves and that started with its most recent 56-10 win against Nebraska. Now on the road against a Northwestern team that just lost to Akron, the Wolverines are sizeable -14 point favorites with an over/under of 48 at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
The Schedule continues to work favorably for Michigan as the Nebraska Game was a little too easy and this one comes against a struggling Northwestern that no longer has its top running back. Jeremy LArkin, who had 346 yards and five touchdowns through three Games, was forced to retire because of cervical stenosis. That’s another edge for a Michigan defense that has bottled up its last three opponents, holding them to a combined 33 points. And since the Wildcats scored just seven points two weeks ago against Duke, it’s a wonder what they’ll do in this spot.
Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson will have an even bigger target on his back now that LArkin is gone. He’s shown no improvement in the first few Games with his yards per attempt at 6.49 to go with three TDs and three INTs. He’ll likely have to pass a lot in this Game, though top wide out Flynn Nagel can only do so much. Throw in a new running back and the Wildcats could struggle to reach 10 points. John Moten, a junior with 86 career rushes, will most likely see the majority of carries, but it may not matter in this Game.
To have a chance of covering, Northwestern’s defense has to do more. Even though NW allowed 36 points in the second half to Akron, three of those touchdowns came via turnovers, which is another thing Thorson has to limit. The Wildcats haven’t been terrible defensively, but they haven’t been good. Combine that with a Michigan offense that looks to be improving every Game and this could be the recipe for another blowout.
The Wolverines destroyed Nebraska’s defense last week as they ran for 285 yards on 6.3 yards per carry. since the Notre Dame loss, Shea Patterson hasn’t been asked to do much and that will likely continue in this one. As a positive, Northwestern’s defense is holding opponents to 3.9 yards per carry and 130 rushing yards per contest. On the downside, Nebraska was near those numbers before playing Michigan last weekend. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans should be in for solid Games once again, though if Northwestern’s run defense does step up, that could make things interesting. But simply betting on that to happen is a tall ask for a team that’s lost its last two Games against worse teams.
If the Wolverines find room on the ground, that could easily lead to another blowout because it’s hard to see Thorson putting a ton of points on the board against this defense. The Wolverines are 1-4-1 ATS in their last six road Games, but 4-1 ATS in their last five in Big Ten play. The Wildcats are 20-7 ATS in their last 27 Conference Games and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 overall. These teams last played in 2015 so there’s little to take away from recent meetings.
Our Pick – Michigan -14.5