Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 10/5/11

The rapidly improving Michigan Wolverines (5-0) will get a tough test on Saturday night at Northwestern (2-2). The game will kickoff at 7pm and be televised on the Big Ten Network. For Michigan, this will be their first road trip of the season. “Playing away, we haven’t been away, will be a little bit different for us because we’ve been fortunate enough to play five games in Michigan Stadium,” said Brady Hoke on Monday.

Northwestern

The Wildcats are a good rushing team and their aerial attack will receive a boost with Dan Persa playing this week. He left the Illinois game last week, but Pat Fitzgerald expects his star QB to play against Michigan. “Dan worked out today and was great,” Fitzgerald said Monday. “We expect him to be great on Saturday.” Persa was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last year and led all FBS quarterbacks with a 73.5% completion percentage. Bad news for the ‘cats is they lost their top RB, Mike Trumpy, for the season after he suffered a knee injury against Illinois.

Northwestern ranks 11th in the B1G in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, and total defense. The Wildcats defense is led by Bryce McNaul (31 tackles) and David Nwabuisi (30 tackles). They will have their hands full trying to contain Denard Robinson and Michigan’s newly unveiled “2” formation. When asked about the “2”, which features Devin Gardner at QB and Robinson at RB, on Monday Robinson said, “We haven’t done anything with that yet. It’s going to be kind of fun when we do.”

Michigan

Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison

The Wolverines have rocketed up the rankings and are now 11th in the Coaches Poll and 12th in the AP. Brady Hoke said Michigan was overrated and is more concerned about the continued improvement of his team and not where they are ranked in early October. “We’re not playing the football we need to play,” he explained. “We’re not playing well enough. We’re not finishing things well enough. There are a lot of fundamental things.”

Offensively, Michigan will continue to tweak things and reach deeper into the playbook. “In Big Ten play we’ll empty the drawer more as we go now,” Offensive Coordinator Al Borges said. “Our first four games we’re learning the offense, and that’s still not a done deal. We’re a work in progress, but we’re going to have our deals. They’re not all going to work. Some are going to be good and some aren’t, but that was just one of them.” Hopefully that will include getting the receivers more involved in the passing game. Through 5 games, Michigan’s WRs have combined for just 35 receptions. Last year Roy Roundtree hauled in 72 passes for 935 yards and 7 TDs. So far in 2011 he has just 5 catches for 54 yards and 1 TD.

Michigan’s defense has made great strides, but will be tested this week against the Wildcats and Dan Persa. “This guy [Persa] is a really, really good football player,” said Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison. “We’ve got our work cut out for us this week.” Michigan’s defensive players have gotten better each week at staying home and executing their assignments. Continuing that against the versatile Persa will be imperative this week.

Prediction: Back in August, I predicted Michigan would be 5-0 heading to Northwestern. I said, Playing their first road game of the season Michigan could get tripped up against a tough NU team, but I think they’ll get this one. I still think Michigan gets the win – Michigan 34-17

Be sure to check back on Friday for the Extra Points

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