Rick Ostenski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Shea Patterson
- Coming off of a bye, Northwestern returns home to face Michigan.
- The Action Network analyzes why your money should be on Michigan at Ryan Field.
Saturday’s Big Ten matchup between Michigan (3-1) and Northwestern (1-2) pits two teams trending in opposite directions in recent weeks.
The Wolverines are coming off a 56-10 drubbing of Nebraska that followed consecutive blowout wins over SMU and Western Michigan.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats have been one of the Big Ten’s most disappointing teams. Following a Week 1 win over Purdue that had Pat Fitzgerald’s team looking promising, Northwestern dropped a game to Duke — now ranked No. 22 — and Akron, which scored 39 points on Northwestern’s home turf.
As of Thursday afternoon, Michigan is a 14.5-point favorite on the road at Ryan Field. It opened at -9.
Here are three reasons you should bet that line now before it climbs further.
Northwestern’s Home Struggles
The Wildcats had never been hotter following their bowl victory over Kentucky to end last season. Following the win against Purdue, Northwestern’s winning streak was at nine games.
That ended abruptly when the Wildcats returned home and dropped two straight outright.
In the loss to Duke, the Wildcats totaled 381 yards but found the end zone only one time and never attempted a field goal.
Against Akron, Northwestern outgained the Zips by 124 yards but couldn’t translate it to more points. Totaling 491 yards of offense wasn’t enough as the Zips took the ball away three times — and scored on each play (two pick-sixes and a scoop-and-score).
Against Purdue, Northwestern capitalized when it needed and found a way to — for the most part — contain wide receiver Rondale Moore in the second half.
At home, it’s been a different story, and the challenge gets no easier against a Michigan team riding back-to-back games with an interception and an offense that’s tallied at least 45 points in three straight games.
Not to mention, this road trip for the Wolverines is often like a home game for them inside the quietest stadium in the Big Ten. Michigan fans are known for invading Ryan Field and making it their own.
Northwestern’s Offense Has No Identity
We know one thing about the Wildcats: Quarterback Clayton Thorson is good when healthy.
The rest is unclear.
Northwestern had a solid foundation to build on with Thorson and running back Jeremy Larkin. In three games, Larkin had five touchdowns and 346 rushing yards. But the Wildcats’ bye week, Larkin retired from football because of a narrowed spine.
That leaves the Wildcats with John Moten IV as its leading rusher with 21 yards on 12 carries (1.8 yards per carry).
Michigan’s defense allowed 39 total rushing yards against Nebraska last week against dangerous dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez, who rushed for more than 100 yards in his only other game this season.
The Wolverines only allow 100 rushing yards per game and 2.73 per attempt, 11th in the country. That and Larkin’s injury will likely force the Wildcats to pass — something Fitzgerald has no problem dialing up with a talented quarterback like Thorson.
The only problem is Michigan’s pass defense is better than its rush defense, allowing 139 passing yards per game and 4.9 per attempt — fifth and sixth in the nation, respectively.
Pat Fitzgerald Can’t Beat Michigan
Michigan is 15-4 against Northwestern since 1990. The two teams haven’t played since 2015 — Jim Harbaugh’s first season — when the Wolverines trounced a red-hot, unbeaten Wildcats team 38-0.
Brady Hoke was undefeated against Fitzgerald, going 4-0 and winning two overtime games. Fitzgerald is 1-7 vs. Michigan all time, the one win coming against Michigan’s 2008 team that went 3-9.
Northwestern is 4-6 as home underdogs since 2014, and 9-9 against the spread following a loss. Harbaugh is 11-7-1 ATS as a road favorite, as well.
Take the Wolverines — averaging a 39-point margin of victory since Week 2 — at -14.5 before that line takes off. Michigan should win big.