Through two weeks, Michigan has been dominant on the ground and untested as a passing team. That likely won't change this week as U-M faces a porous Northern Illinois rush defense. The Wolverines are favored by a whopping 26.5 points, but that honestly doesn't feel like enough. If Michigan could run, run and run some more en route to a 21-point win over Washington, it should be even easier against NIU.
All of that makes it a little easier to predict how the game will play out this week, so here are my best shots at forecasting some specific happenings...
Aidan Hutchinson will record another sack
Hutchinson has been a force in Mike Macdonald's defense and I don't see him slowing down against Northern Illinois. Hutchinson has recorded 3.5 sacks in two games and is now being talked about as a potential top five pick in next year's NFL Draft. Northern Illinois won't have an answer for him and he should get to Rocky Lombardi at least once.
Cade McNamara will throw 15 passes or less
McNamara threw the ball 11 times against Western Michigan and 15 times against Washington because the running game was working so well. Michigan pounded out more than 300 yards on the ground in both contests and should be able to do that again against Northern Illinois. If the game script and approach during the first two weeks is any indicator of how Jim Harbaugh will attack teams with poor run defenses then expect a heavy dose of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum again in week three.
Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards all score touchdowns
It seems like a given that Corum and Haskins will both score a touchdown just like they did in weeks one and two, making Edwards the wild card here. The talented freshman has only played 15 snaps through two games, which seemed to bug running backs coach Mike Hart a bit.
"That’s one thing — I need to get him on the field more," Hart said of Edwards. "He’s talented. I told him that he should have had more carries in the game against Washington; without a doubt. But we’ve just got to get him in there and get him oiled up. We’ll try to get him in the game more.”
To me, that sounds like he'll be in there a lot to make up for lost time against Washington. I expect Michigan to be up big and I expect the rook to find pay dirt.
AJ Henning will have a punt return of at least 30 yards
When Ronnie Bell went down during a punt return against Western Michigan, it shook that unit to the core. Jim Harbaugh has said multiple times that AJ Henning is close to being ready to return punts making this the perfect week to see if he is. Caden Kolesar stepped into the role last week but wasn't great as he let a catchable punt hit the ground and muffed another, and he simply isn't the run-back threat that Henning is. With another week to practice it, Henning will be ready. Once ready, he'll get his hands on one and show why he's dangerous back there.
Michigan will cover the 26.5-point spread
Michigan typically isn't great against the spread but they've absolutely crushed it during the first two weeks of the 2021 season. Against Western Michigan the Wolverines were favored by 17.5, which they essentially doubled up on winning by 33, and last week they were favored by just 6.5 against Washington and ended up winning by 21. This week they're favored by 26.5, which is a lot of points, but that's very doable. It's a big strength (Michigan's run game) against a big weakness (NIU's rush defense) and U-M is just way more talented than NIU. It could and should get ugly early.