Northwestern-Michigan will pit nation’s top scoring defenses
Three of the nation’s top four scoring defenses reside in the Big Ten, and the best of them will meet Saturday when Northwestern visits Michigan.
Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald on Tuesday downplayed the notion that defense will carry the day at the Big House.
It’s hard to ignore the numbers put up so far, though.
No. 13 Northwestern has given up a nation-low 7.0 points a game, and the 35 points allowed through five games are the fewest since they gave up 33 in 1943. No. 18 Michigan is surrendering just 7.6 points a game and is coming off back-to-back shutouts.
Wisconsin, which plays at Nebraska, is fourth nationally at 9.6 points a game, and the last four opponents have managed a total of just nine points since Alabama scored 35 against the Badgers in the opener.
Northwestern brought back nine starters from the unit that allowed 25.2 points a game to rank 46th in scoring defense last season.
”Up front last week (against Minnesota) we played 11 defensive linemen. We’re playing a lot of guys, and there’s a lot of different talent and skill set in those guys that are playing,” Fitzgerald said. ”They are playing really hard for each other and really hard for our program.”
Michigan is second in total defense at 184 yards a game, has held its opponents scoreless in 14 of the last 15 quarters and last week forced three-and-outs on 12 of Maryland’s 16 possessions.
Wisconsin is led by linebacker Joe Schobert, who had three of his nation-leading nine sacks against Iowa last week.
”No magic involved,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. ”There are a lot of the pieces – scheme, players, leadership. It’s all that. And I think it’s a group that mindset-wise knows you need to continually get better.”
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell likes what he’s seen from QB David Blough. The redshirt freshman passed for more than 300 yards against Bowling Green in his first start and last week was impressive leading the drive that pulled the Boilermakers within 24-21 of Michigan State.
”The kid has a great ceiling,” Hazell said, ”and he works so hard to make sure we’re going to have success here in the near future.”
Other Big Ten notes:
– Nebraska coach Mike Riley announced no disciplinary action against Alex Lewis and said there was no plan to strip the offensive lineman of his captaincy. Lewis sarcastically blew kisses at fans while walking off field at Illinois on Saturday.
– Iowa is the only FBS team yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Coach Kirk Ferentz said improving run defense has been a priority, but he doesn’t read much into the no-TD streak. ”The touchdown part is just luck,” he said.
– Maryland’s William Likely is averaging a Big Ten-best 24 yards on punt returns and is the only player in the country to run back two for TDs. Coach Randy Edsall said players on the return unit ”know if they make their block and sustain their block we have a guy back there who can put points on the board or change the dynamic of the field position game for us.”
– Interim Illinois coach Bill Cubit said QB Wes Lunt’s reaction to the last-minute TD drive to beat Nebraska made him smile. ”He’s kind of a reserved guy. He let it all out after it happened.”
– Northwestern’s Fitzgerald was among the few coaches to accept Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to work a camp in Ann Arbor this past June. Fitzgerald said he did it because it fit into his schedule. However, he said, ”I almost had to back out on it because the Blackhawks were playing for the Stanley Cup.”