Sunday Five: Defense Saves the Day

Our Sunday Five breaks down five things from different categories about the game.

The Wolverines built themselves a deep hole against Northwestern but recovered for a 20-17 victory. Our Sunday Five looks at the best of the best from the win.

Michigan’s five best players:

DL Chase Winovich

Winovich was easily the best player on the field for the Wolverines. He tallied nine total tackles, eight solo tackles, and three tackles for loss, all of which led the team. On top of that, the senior added a sack and was in the backfield on a regular basis. Winovich was instrumental in keeping the game close until Michigan’s offense got going in the second half.

RB Karan Higdon

The senior accounted for nearly a third of Michigan’s offense by himself, rushing for 115 yards on 30 carries. He also scored both of the team’s touchdowns and caught a pass for nine yards. Even when the passing game was a non-factor, Higdon provided the Wolverines with a threat. The more he got the ball, the more the offense opened up.

P Will Hart

Michigan’s secret weapon continued his excellent season and might not be a secret for much longer. Hart averaged 51 yards per punt and landed two inside the 20. Of his six punts, four went at least 50 yards. Michigan won the field position battle thanks in large part to Hart’s fantastic performance. The junior’s contribution to this victory cannot be overstated.

QB Shea Patterson:

Patterson completed 15 of his 24 attempts for 196 yards and did not turn the ball over for the second game in a row. He also made some crucial plays with his feet, rushing for 31 yards and improvising when plays broke down. On the Wolverines’ game-winning drive, Patterson went three for three. The numbers weren’t spectacular, but he delivered with the game hanging in the balance.

DL Kwity Paye

With Rashan Gary banged up for most of the game, Michigan needed pressure to come from other sources. Paye answered the call with four tackles and two sacks. When Michigan is getting these kinds of contributions from players like Paye, that defensive line is as good as any in the country.

Michigan’s five best plays:

Shea Patterson 22-yard completion to Zach Gentry

Driving with a chance to take their first lead of the game, Patterson found Gentry again to set up Karan Higdon’s touchdown. Patterson threw an absolute missile into a tight window that Gentry was able to snag. With the game on the line, Michigan’s quarterback made a big-time throw and led his team down the field.

Nico Collins 36-yard reception

Michigan’s longest play of the game came on its first drive of the second half. Patterson connected with Collins to give the Wolverines a first and goal. Patterson struggled with accuracy all game long but threw a strike to Collins, who did a nice job grabbing the ball in traffic and making a play when his team badly needed one.

Donovan Peoples-Jones 25-yard reverse

After a 21-yard catch by Nick Eubanks set the Wolverines up at Northwestern’s 29, Peoples-Jones took a reverse and raced around the edge for 25 yards. The run led to Michigan’s first touchdown and helped spark an offense that was lifeless to that point. It was one of the few opportunities he had to display his playmaking ability in this game.

Josh Uche sack to end game

There may not be a more fitting end to this game than Northwestern’s hail mary attempt ending in a Uche sack. While it obviously secured the victory for Michigan, it was also symbolic of how dominant the defensive line was. The Wolverines racked up six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. A wide variety of players contributed, and the group’s performance was nothing short of phenomenal.

Patterson 3rd down conversion to Gentry

Facing a third down on the Wildcats’ 47-yard line, Patterson bought some time scrambling and connected with Gentry to move the chains. Both of them did exactly what they should when a play breaks down. Patterson extended the play and Gentry came back to the ball. When executed at a high level, plays like this are some of the hardest to defend.

Five most interesting stats:

  • After their first two drives, the Wolverines had zero yards of total offense.

Their three drives in the first quarter consisted of 12 plays that went for 21 yards and a single first down.

  • Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson completed nine of his first 10 attempts.

Thorson went 7-for-17 the rest of the game. He threw for a total of 174 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

  • Michigan has now been outscored 24-0 in the first quarter of road games this season.

The Wolverines trailed 14-0 against Notre Dame and 10-0 against Northwestern.

  • This is the first time in Jim Harbaugh’s career his team overcame a 17-point deficit.

Trailing 17-0, Michigan scored the final 20 points of the game.

  • For the first time in his career, Karan Higdon has rushed for over 100 yards in three straight games.

Coming into this season, Higdon had five career 100-yard games. Three of those came last season.

Five plays Michigan would like back:

Penalties, penalties, penalties

Not only did Michigan get called for 11 penalties, but many of them also came at crucial times. David Long’s pass interference in the end zone on third down led to a Northwestern touchdown. Gentry’s false start forced Michigan to punt instead of keeping the offense on the field. The list goes on and on. Without a doubt, this team’s biggest weakness so far has been its lack of discipline.

Missed opportunities in red zone

Having already settled for a field goal on their trip to the end zone earlier in the third quarter, the Wolverines had an opportunity to close the period with a touchdown. Patterson was unable to connect with Collins and Michigan kicked another field goal. Red zone execution has to be a point of emphasis moving forward.

Sean McKeon dropped pass

When the Wolverines finally got into some sort of rhythm offensively, Patterson threw a perfect ball to McKeon that would have moved them deep into Wildcat territory. He couldn’t bring it in, and Michigan eventually turned the ball over on downs. Just like that, the first sign of life Michigan had shown turned into another confidence-builder for Northwestern.

Patterson incomplete pass to Grant Perry

Michigan marched down the field on its first possession of the second half, setting up a third and goal. Patterson tried to find Grant Perry in the end zone but put the ball out of Perry’s reach. Had Patterson allowed Perry to run underneath it, the Wolverines would have cut Northwestern’s lead to 17-14. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal.

J.J. Jefferson 36-yard reception

On the edge of field goal range during Northwestern’s opening drive, quarterback Clayton Thorson threw a screen out to J.J. Jefferson, who got to the 1-yard line after breaking multiple tackles. The Wildcats opened the scoring with a touchdown on the next play. For a defense that’s been so good all season, the inability to wrap Jefferson up, or at least contain him, was quite concerning.

Five performances of note:

RB La’Darius Jefferson (Michigan State):

Jefferson matched his season total of 13 carries in the win over Central Michigan, rushing for a team-high 56 yards. The true freshman is the fourth player to lead the Spartans in rushing yards this season. As Michigan State’s ground game has continued to struggle, Jefferson has played a bigger and bigger role.

QB Peyton Ramsey (Indiana)

The Hoosiers’ signal caller produced a season-high 288 yards through the air and another 51 on the ground. He connected on 27 of his 40 attempts and added two touchdowns, one passing and one rushing, in a win over Rutgers. In the last two games, Ramsey has thrown the ball 86 times.

RB Devine Ozigbo (Nebraska):

In his first three games of the season, Ozigbo rushed for a total of 90 yards. Against the Boilermakers, he exploded for 170 and two touchdowns while averaging 10 yards per carry. His performance was a bright spot in an incredibly bleak season for the Cornhuskers, who fell to 0-4 with another defeat.

QB Trace McSorley (Penn State):

McSorley was the Nittany Lions’ leading passer and rusher, accounting for 461 total yards of offense. He carried the ball 25 times for 175 yards while throwing for 286 more, along with two touchdowns. All told, 94 percent of Penn State’s offense came courtesy of McSorley.

RB J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State):

The sophomore contributed 118 total yards and two touchdowns, leading the Buckeyes in rushing and receiving, in a win at Penn State. Dobbins’ 17 carries were one shy of his season high, which came against TCU. After falling behind 13-0, he scored back-to-back touchdowns to give Ohio State the lead.

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