Tuesday, October 6, 2015

No. 13 Northwestern/No. 18 Michigan preview: Wildcats meet their stiffest test yet against the Wolverines

While the No. 13 Northwestern Wildcats can boast about being fifth in total defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision, coach Pat Fitzgerald knows in order to remain undefeated, it will have to pass its stiffest exam yet— a road meeting against the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines.

Fitzgerald emphasized his defense having to bring its A-game on Saturday at Tuesday's Big Ten conference call.

"I think you look at trying to get all three phases prepared and to go out and execute and play the best you can," Fitzgerald said. "Coaches just typically watch the tape and try to find ways to be successful in all three phases."

After holding Minnesota's offense to a 2.2-yard average on Oct. 3, Fitzgerald feels like everything is starting to gel on both sides of the ball.

"When I look overall as a team, there is great chemistry, brotherhood, love and trust within our program," Fitzgerald said.

After stumbling with a 4-12 mark in the months of October and November in the previous two seasons, Fitzgerald went back to the basics with more players being held accountable for their on-field actions.

"The guys made an emphasis in the off-season starting back in January to focus on what we can control," Fitzgerald said. "The accountability, the leadership and I think that has permeated throughout our team. We are a bit more veteran on the defensive side of the ball and are playing a lot of guys."

Fitzgerald took responsibility of the Wildcats' lack of depth in the last few seasons resulting in disappointing finishes down the stretch.

"The reason why we are playing so many guys is the last two seasons, I was very critical of our staff and we felt like we didn't do a good enough job getting the next guy ready to play," Fitzgerald said.

"It's my fault and responsibility and what we set out to do was research and talk to [Former Ohio State coach] Jim Tressel about getting more guys involved early. It is twofold because it gets more guys feeling a part of the game instead of being a number two."

Players To Watch For- Running Back Justin Johnson:

Wildcats running back Justin Johnson has proven once more to be the workhorse of the offense with his tenth 100-yard rushing game against Minnesota with 120 yards on 20 carries.

In the last 13 games, Johnson has averaged 122.3 yards on the ground, with his lowest single-game total accounting for 35 last season against Michigan.

Johnson's quest for a better performance the second time around against Michigan will not come easy as its defensive unit ranks in the top five in six different categories in the FBS.

Linebacker Anthony Walker:

Reminiscent of the days of former Wildcats star linebacker and current coach Pat Fitzgerald, Anthony Walker has proven to be the heart and soul of this defense in this young season.

Walker leads the team in tackles with 44 and 8.5 accounting for a loss of yards.

In the Sept. 19 victory at Duke, Walker recorded a career-high 19 tackles.

All-Time Series:

Northwestern trails the all-time series 56-15-2 over and have lost nine of its last 10 games against Michigan. 

Game Planner:

No. 13 Northwestern Wildcats (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten)

Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI

Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

TV/Online: BTN/BTN2Go

Line: Michigan (-12)

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