Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Northwestern

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 20-17 win at Northwestern on Saturday.

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson was 15-for-24 for 196 yards passing. He also rushed seven times for 31 yards Saturday against Northwestern.

Sluggish road starts

Michigan has played two road games this season and has gone the dig-a-deep-hole-and-see-about-getting-out approach.

It happened in the season-opening loss at Notre Dame after giving up two quick touchdowns, and it happened again last Saturday at Northwestern, which built a 17-0 lead by early in the second quarter. In both games Michigan’s defense gathered itself and put the Wolverines in improved situations.

Michigan was able to pull out a 20-17 win at Northwestern after Shea Patterson directed a 67-yard, 11-play drive culminating with a five-yard touchdown run by Karan Higdon, his second of the game, with 4:06 left.

Everyone knows it’s tough to play on the road, but that’s not enough to explain why the Wolverines haven’t looked like a team that wants to be in control from kickoff. Yes, Northwestern was coming off a bye and had time to develop a strong game plan, but the Wildcats had also lost its key offensive weapon, Jeremy Larkin, who announced his retirement from the game earlier in the week. This kind of start is not going to fly at Michigan State or Ohio State, not by a long shot. Michigan’s defense stepped up at Notre Dame after giving up those two quick scores and the Wolverines had a shot to win at the end, but road games don’t often turn like that.

Last season in the opener against Florida in Cowboys Stadium, Michigan trailed 17-13 before the defense shut out the Gators in the second half. At Purdue, Michigan trailed 10-7 before the defense pitched another second-half shutout. But at Penn State last year, the Nittany Lions jumped to a 14-0 start, led 21-13 at halftime and shut out Michigan in the second half. Home teams always have the edge, obviously, but great teams find ways to control games on the road. Michigan will have to figure out a way to start fast at Michigan State and Ohio State because those teams will not be forgiving.

Patterson savors the moment

What you want in a quarterback is what Shea Patterson is — a guy who wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line. He hasn’t been able to quite shake the disappointment of fumbling on the big stage at Notre Dame with a chance to win the game.

That’s another reason why he wanted the chance to lead Michigan to a comeback at Northwestern, orchestrating a last touchdown drive in which he made a key nine-yard run on third-and-six and two plays later completed a 22-yard pass to Zach Gentry before Higdon scored from five yards for the go-ahead touchdown. He said something interesting after the Northwestern game that it’s about trusting his teammates and realizing it doesn’t have to all be done in one play. With that approach, the pressure is off and the offense can flow.

Patterson called the late-game drive “exhilarating” and “you play for these moments.” Patterson was 15-of-24 for 196 yards and also ran seven times for 31 yards. He feels he’s at his best in these pressure situations. “I love when the moment’s big. Even when I fail, I love that situation because you have to fail to succeed. I just love the process. I wouldn’t want to fail or succeed with anybody else but my teammates right there in the locker room.”

Red zone needs improving

With Michigan trailing 17-7 entering the third quarter, Quinn Nordin made field goals of 23 and 24 yards on back-to-back series. Making the field goals, of course, is a positive, but the Wolverines had first down at the Northwestern 10-yard line the first possession and then had first down at the Northwestern 12-yard line the second and were unable to convert for touchdowns. The first of the two drives, Tru Wilson ran six yards to the 4-yard line and then Higdon lost a yard and Patterson overthrew Grant Perry in the end zone. The second drive, Higdon lost three yards pushing Michigan to the 15-yard line. Patterson and Donovan Peoples-Jones connected for a nine-yard gain to the 6-yard line, and then threw incomplete on third-and-four. Entering the game, Michigan had scored 14 of 17 trip to the red zone, including 12 touchdowns.

Giving Chase

Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich had one of his best games against Northwestern with nine tackles, including three tackles for loss and a sack. He was non-stop aggressive against the Wildcats and is second on the team in tackles with 32. He leads the Wolverines in tackles for loss with 10.5 and in sacks with three. Winovich is third nationally in tackles for loss. For a guy who weighed the pros and cons of staying at Michigan or heading to the NFL, Winovich is making the most of his final year of eligibility and there’s no doubt NFL scouts are watching.

Here you go, Karan

Running back Karan Higdon carried the ball 30 times against the Wildcats for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Only one other back, Tru Wilson, had a carry. And that’s it — just one carry. Higdon, who got the bulk of work with Chris Evans missing his second straight game with an injury, had 46 carries through three games entering the Northwestern game. Higdon ranks 36th nationally and is sixth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards, averaging 123.75. Higdon, who was six yards shy of 1,000 last season, set a career high in carries. The last time he ran the ball that much was against Indiana last season, when he had 25 for 200 yards. “There was times something wasn’t there and he ran his tail off,” quarterback Shea Patterson said of Higdon. “Just proud he’s in the backfield with me.”


Twitter: @chengelis