One team will at least gain a measure of redemption when No. 14 Michigan pays a visit to Northwestern for a 4:30 p.m. Big Ten contest on Saturday.
Michigan (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) lost its season opener at Notre Dame, but has spent the past three weeks dominating inferior opponents at home. The Wolverines have shown flashes of becoming a team that will seriously contend for a Big Ten title and playoff berth.
Last Saturday’s performance was the best of the season for the Wolverines, who dominated Nebraska in every phase during a 56-10 win in the Big Ten opener.
Michigan led 39-0 at halftime, outgunned Nebraska 491-132 in total offense, and outrushed the Cornhuskers 285-39.
“We did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I though in all phases our offensive line did really well. Maybe their best game of the season.”
The stingy Michigan defense, which was expected to be one of the nation’s best, is now No. 3 nationally in yards allowed, and transfer quarterback Shea Patterson continues to get more comfortable in the offense for the Wolverines.
Sophomore wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones is also starting to come into his own, having caught four touchdown passes and returning a punt for a touchdown in the past three games.
“What really stands out is that our team is working hard and it is paying off,” Harbaugh said. “They like to practice. They’re improving. It’s an improving, ascending team.”
Michigan will turn its attention to a Northwestern team it has beaten five consecutive times, although this is the first meeting between the teams since 2015 — when the Wolverines breezed to a 38-0 win.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted his team’s losing streak won’t have any impact on Saturday’s game.
“With every Big Ten opponent, there’s good, bad, ugly and spectacular,” Fitzgerald said. “There is all kind of history with the games. That has zero net impact on the guys in the locker room right now, and I’m sure their guys too. It’s about both teams right here.”
This will be the first meeting since 2014 in Evanston, Ill., a place where Michigan hasn’t lost since 2000.
Northwestern (1-2, 1-0 Big Ten) hasn’t beaten Michigan anywhere since 2008.
The Wildcats are headed in the opposite direction as Michigan going into the game, having followed up a solid road win at Purdue to start the season with two straight home losses.
One came against a Duke team that is now ranked, but the last loss was inexcusable.
Northwestern lost two weeks ago at home, 39-34, to Mid-American Conference opponent Akron, blowing a 21-3 lead at halftime.
By the time Saturday arrives, Northwestern will have had two weeks to stew over the loss since the Wildcats had a bye last week.
One of the few good things to come out of the Akron game for Northwestern is that senior starting quarterback Clayton Thorson took most of the snaps.
After coming back from a torn ACL suffered in Northwestern’s Music City Bowl victory last year, Thorson split time with backup T.J. Green in the first two games as Northwestern coaches tried to ease Thorson back into action.
But Thorson went 33 of 52 passing for 383 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Akron, and with an extra week off he might solely be the man against Michigan.
Green only attempted six passes against Akron.
“We have to play better,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t do the things we did the past couple of weeks and expect to win. We have to be more consistent. We have to take care of the football, we have to take the ball away and we have to win our one-on-one’s in the kicking game. We have to keep our quarterback clean. Those are all areas we can control.”