Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 132 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 131 BY RYAN TICE Head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who enters his 10th year, led Northwestern to five straight bowls from 2008-12 and capped that streak with a school-record-tying 10-win cam- paign. However, the Wildcats have stumbled to 5-7 showings in consecutive seasons, go- ing 3-8 in games decided by eight points or less the last two years. NU opened last season with losses to Cali- fornia and Northern Illinois, but still man- aged impressive highs, knocking off No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 18 Notre Dame. A team that posted a winning record against top-25 teams (2-1) shouldn't miss the postseason. The Wildcats feature eight returning start- ers on defense, which should help get them back on track. The entire front line returns, although the unit needs to get after the passer more; NU ranked last in the league with 17 sacks in 2014. Senior end Dean Lowry leads the way after posting four sacks, eight tackles for loss and eight pass deflections. Redshirt junior Ifeadi Odenigbo could line up on the other side after he forced three fumbles and notched three sacks last year. He posted 5.5 sacks in 2013 and will battle with returning starter Deonte Gibson, a fifth-year senior with six career sacks, for playing time. The heaviest losses come at linebacker, where redshirt sophomore Anthony Walker is the most experienced player. The middle man played in every game, making seven starts and posting 51 tackles, nine stops for loss and two interceptions. Hard-hitting safety Ibraheim Campbell is another big loss, but the other three starters return to the secondary, led by fifth-year senior cornerback Nick VanHoose. He was a second-team All-Big Ten performer accord- ing to the media, and ranked second in the league with 1.2 passes defended per game. Junior Matthew Harris has started at the other corner spot for the last year and a half. He finished third on the team with 70 tack- les, in addition to forcing two fumbles and picking off a pair of passes, while safety Traveon Henry is back after he notched 73 stops in 10 games. The offense will be led by 5-11, 185-pound sophomore running back Justin Jackson, who debuted with 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to all-conference honorable mention notice. His 98.9 yards per game on the ground ranked fourth among power five conference rookies, although he missed the spring with a minor surgery. Three starters are back up front, and upperclassmen appear poised to take the remaining vacancies, so the ground game should be stronger than last year's rushing attack, which ranked 100th nationally (136.6 yards per game). Two of last year's top three receivers are gone, which won't help a brand new quarterback. The exception is senior super- back — Northwestern's version of the tight end — Dan Vitale. The veteran finished second on the team with 40 receptions and 402 receiving yards last year, while he tied for the team lead with a pair of touchdown receptions. Fifth-year senior Cameron Dickerson is also back after he started seven times and finished fourth with 24 catches and 318 receiving yards. Fellow part-time starter Miles Shuler, a former Rutgers transfer, also opened seven games last fall and finished with 190 receiving yards on 23 receptions. Fifth-year senior wideout Christian Jones, who led the team in receiving in 2012 and 2013, will also provide a nice boost. He has 105 career receptions, for 1,275 yards and six scores. Redshirt junior Jack Mitchell enjoyed an encouraging debut as the starting kicker by converting 14 of 18 field goal attempts, in- cluding the 41-yard game-winner in over- time against Notre Dame. The hope is that redshirt sophomore Hunter Niswander, who punted five times last year, can improve a unit that has not finished better than 118th in net average over the past two years. A strong running back and offensive line should combine with the experienced de- fense to give the Wildcats a chance. How- ever, there are also some glaring holes, which means Northwestern is likely to con- tinue living — or dying — by close games. Notes Northwestern has lost four straight to Michigan. Two required overtime, and U-M pulled it out last year when the Wildcats failed to convert a two-point conversion … Fifth- year senior Zack Oliver is the favorite to win the job under center. He appeared in four games and started once last year, throwing for 367 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions; he also rushed for a score. ❑ Wildcats Will Have Razor Thin Margin Of Error Again NORTHWESTERN • OCT 10 • GAME 6 2015 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2014 Result Sept. 5 Stanford — Sept. 12 Eastern Illinois — Sept. 19 at Duke — Sept. 26 Ball State — Oct. 3 Minnesota L, 24-17 Oct. 10 at Michigan L, 10-9 Oct. 17 Iowa L, 48-7 Oct. 24 at Nebraska L, 38-17 Nov. 7 Penn State W, 29-6 Nov. 14 Purdue W, 38-14 Nov. 21 at Wisconsin W, 20-14 Nov. 28 vs. Illinois* L, 47-33 * at Soldier Field in Chicago QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: U-M leads 56-15-2 First Meeting: NW 10, U-M 8 (Oct. 29, 1892, at Chicago) Last Meeting: U-M 10, NW 9 (Nov. 8, 2014, at Ann Arbor) Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 60-53 at Northwestern and overall (10th year) Off./Def. Systems: Spread/Multiple 4-3 2014 In Review: 5-7 overall, 3-5 Big Ten (T-5th West) Final 2014 Ranking: Unranked Returning Starters: 16 (6 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists) Last Bowl Appearance: 2013 (Gator, vs. Mississippi State, W 34-20) Big Ten Conference Championships (last): 8 (2000) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Zack Oliver (367 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) Rushing: Justin Jackson (1,187 yards, 10 TD) Receiving: Dan Vitale (402 yards, 2 TD) Tackles: Traveon Henry (73) Sacks: Dean Lowry (4) Interceptions: Godwin Igwebuike (3) PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: Dan Vitale, Sr., Super- back — Enters his fourth year as the starter … Honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last year by the coaches … Finished second on team with 40 receptions … Has 102 career catches for 1,072 yards and seven touchdowns. D e f e n s e : N i c k Va n H o o s e , 5th-Sr., CB — Started all 10 con- tests he played in and ranked sec- ond in the league with 1.2 passes defended per game … One of just six FBS players with three blocked kicks … Has 25 pass de- flections and five interceptions in his career. Sophomore Justin Jackson posted 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to all-conference honorable mention notice as a freshman. PHOTO BY NORTHWESTERN ATHLETICS/S.J. CARRERA

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