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Michigan vs. Northwestern: Run to win?

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News breaks down Saturday's Michigan-Northwestern game at Michigan Stadium (3:30 p.m., BTN / WWJ 950, WTKA 1050).

Wildcats to watch

Clayton Thorson, QB: The redshirt freshman leads the team in total offense (175.2 yards), has four rushing TDs and four passing TDs. He is coming off his most efficient game, a 27-0 shutout of Minnesota, where he completed a season-best 73.7 percent (14-for-19). Thorson found eight receivers, including four who each had at least two catches.

Justin Jackson, RB: Northwestern is averaging a Big Ten-best 248.8 yards rushing behind the sophomore who had 120 yards on 20 carries against Minnesota. It was his 10th career 100-yard rushing game. In his last 13 games, Jackson has 1,590 yards (122.3 average), and has been Northwestern’s leading rusher in all 17 games he has played. He leads the country in carries (138) and is 10th in yards (636).

Anthony Walker, LB: He’s leading the team with 44 tackles and has been an all-around force with 8.5 tackles for loss, third in the Big Ten. Walker also has two pass breakups and has recovered two fumbles. He is a major contributor for he rush defense, which is allowing 117.4 yards.

Intangibles

Anyone finding the end zone? Northwestern ranks first nationally in points (35) and average (7.0). The Wildcats have allowed three TDs and held opponents without a TD in 17 of 20 quarters. Michigan is No. 2 in scoring defense and is allowing 7.6 points.

Shutouts for everyone! Michigan and Northwestern are coming off shutouts in their Big Ten season openers — Northwestern beat Minnesota, 27-0, while Michigan beat Maryland, 28-0. For the Wildcats, it was their first shutout in the Big Ten since 1995. Like Michigan, Northwestern has two shutouts for the first time since 1965.

Turnover edge: Northwestern was plus-two in turnover margin last week against Minnesota, and rank 28th nationally (plus-10). Michigan, which was minus-16 in turnover margin last season, is generating turnovers — they have six INTs —but still are losing the ball on offense (six INTs, three fumbles).

Redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson was 14-of-19 last weekend against Minnesota.

Run, run, run: Northwestern wants to run — everyone knows that. But so does Michigan. The Wolverines were without lead back De’Veon Smith (right foot/ankle) last week, and having him back healthy today will be a big plus. Drake Johnson had a breakout game at Maryland and is the backup.

Home sweet home: The Wolverines rattled off three straight victories at home and are back for Homecoming. They are 6-0 against the Wildcats on Homecoming, not that that means anything. Michigan has won the last four, with the last three interesting. The 2012 and 2013 games went to overtime, and last year’s was a painful-to-watch 10-9 win.

Facts and figures

*Michigan and Northwestern have had two shutouts apiece. Michigan shut out BYU and Maryland the last two games, while Northwestern has shutouts against Eastern Illinois and Minnesota.

*The Wildcats are off to their first 5-0 start since 2012.

*Northwestern is ranked No. 13 by AP, its highest since a No. 12 on Nov. 5, 2000.

*Northwestern has allowed 35 points through five games, the fewest in program history since 1943 when the Wildcats gave up 33.

*The Wildcats had 38 players on the Academic all-Big Ten team last season. The team had a team grade-point average of 3.05.