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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Five storylines: Northwestern

By Chantel Jennings

Each Thursday, WolverineNation will take a look at five storylines for the Wolverines heading into Saturday's game. Michigan welcomes Northwestern to the Big House on Saturday as the end of the season inches closer and closer.

1.) Denard or Devin? There’s a good chance that the starting quarterback for Saturday won’t be announced until, well, he steps on the field. Whether that's No. 16 or No. 12 remains to be seen and while that fact is important for the Northwestern game, it's even more important for the rest of the season. If Robinson sits out for the second week in a row does that mean it's something a bit more serious.

2.) The Wolverines' run defense will be tested. Michigan has the No. 1 passing defense in the nation, but they’ve gotten beaten up a bit on the run. And between Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark, the Wolverines will surely be tested. The Wildcats are the No. 13 rushing offense in the country, and Colter and Mark have combined for 20 rushing touchdowns. Jake Ryan, this is your moment to shine.

3.) Rawls or Toussaint as the main RB? Sophomore Thomas Rawls got plenty of carries against Minnesota and got into the game much earlier than previous games. Overall, he has been more effective than junior Fitzgerald Toussaint, but the coaches have stuck with Toussaint. With just three more regular-season games, is it time for a change? Does Rawls get the vote of confidence from the coaching staff? Will this finally be the weekend when the Michigan running game does something for the offense?

4.) The offensive line needs to pull it together. The O-line hasn't looked great and as a result the running backs haven't gotten the yardage they wanted and Gardner/Robinson have harassed. The linemen have three games to get their act together. Northwestern's defensive line doesn’t pose a huge threat, so it could be a confidence-building Saturday for the O-line.

5.) They don’t control their own fate -- everything is a must win. At this point, the Wolverines need to win out and hope some cards fall in their favor at the end of the day. Northwestern is a team that Michigan appears more talented than on paper, but there's an added pressure for the Wolverines and the Wildcats have nothing to lose -- normally that's when big upsets. So, can the Wolverines handle the pressure? It'll be better considering it's a home game, but if Michigan slips up against NU or Iowa, any Big Ten title chances are pretty much out the window.