- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan’s chances of reaching a fourth-straight bowl game under Brady Hoke might be at stake this weekend at Northwestern. The Wildcats (3-5) are also fighting an uphill battle to qualify for the postseason. The loser will have to run the table for the rest of November, and both have teams ranked in the top 15 remaining on their schedules.
Hope for the Wolverines (4-5) has buoyed with a win against Indiana last Saturday. Sophomore running back Drake Johnson provided an offensive spark with two rushing touchdowns in that game. He is one of our picks for players that Michigan will need to step up this week in order to keep the optimism in Ann Arbor.
Sophomore RB Drake Johnson: The Ann Arbor native ran for 122 yards in a breakout performance last Saturday. He had only five carries in Michigan’s first eight games. Hoke remained coy this week when asked if Johnson’s big day would earn him more reps, but it was clear he provides a burst the offense has been missing in the backfield. He could be the spark that finally helps Michigan’s offense come together.
Senior DE Frank Clark: Clark has been Michigan’s most physically impressive pass-rusher this season. He has 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Northwestern ranks 108th nationally in sacks allowed per game (2.88). Clark will get his chances to apply pressure Saturday. In a game that is expected to be a low-scoring battle, a couple big plays behind the line of scrimmage could be enough to flip field position and give the Wolverines an edge.
Senior P Will Hagerup: Speaking of field position, no individual controls that more than the punter. Hagerup has punted 40 times this season for an average of 43.9 yards per attempt (23rd nationally). Michigan and Northwestern each average less than 22 points per game. One or two drives will likely decide Saturday’s winner, and if Hagerup can force the Wildcats to cover as much ground as possible, he could prove to be a difference-maker.