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Can Northwestern's Defense Put Pressure on the Michigan Wolverines?

Here's what to look for when the Wildcat defense hits the gridiron at the Big House.

Last week, Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) shut down the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a 21-7 homecoming victory that featured a revival of the Wildcat defense. After struggling to put pressure on its opponents in recent games, Northwestern's defense held Rutgers' offense to 222 total yards and an average of just 3.4 yards per play. This included a dominant performance by the defensive line, who held the Scarlet Knights to 63 yards on the ground.

This week poses a much more difficult challenge for Northwestern, however, as the team goes on the road to face perennial Big Ten powerhouse Michigan, who is currently undefeated on the season at 6-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play. The Wolverines are also coming into this weekend refreshed off of a bye week, which may make the Wildcats' job even harder. 

Michigan's offensive attack is spearheaded by junior quarterback Cade McNamara, who currently holds a 58.5% completion percentage and has racked up 615 yards of passing against Big Ten opponents. In the rushing game, the Wolverines are led by sophomore Blake Corum and senior Hassan Haskins, who have each logged eight touchdowns on the year and tallied 610 and 492 yards this season, respectively. 

When it comes to receiving, the Wolverines have four wide receivers and one tight end that have each racked up more than a hundred yards on the season thus far; at the front of the pack is junior WR Cornelius Johnson who averages 20.1 yards per catch, and senior WR Daylen Baldwin with 219 yards on the year. 

Michigan has been averaging 38.8 points per game, so it may be a tough feat for Northwestern to slow them down. However, the Wolverines must not forget about Wildcat defensive weapon Chris Bergin, the Big Ten leader in total and solo tackles per game. Northwestern defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore also sits among the top players in the conference for tackles for loss, with a total of 7 for 34 yards, and CB AJ Hampton ranks third in the conference for passes defended, averaging 1.33 per game. 

This weekend will ultimately be quite the challenge for the Wildcats, but if they play a full game and make matchups work with Bergin, Hampton and safety Brandon Joseph, they'll give themselves a better chance against the Wolverines when playing for the George Jewett rivalry trophy on Saturday at 11 a.m CDT. 

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