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Friday, October 7, 2011
Wolverines take first road test

By Chantel Jennings
WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Before the Michigan football team's matchup with Northwestern on Saturday, coach Brady Hoke will give the Wolverines a scouting report.

They'll know quarterback Dan Persa's tendencies. They'll know what the defensive line will be expecting. They'll know what kind of coverages Northwestern struggles with on punt returns.

And they'll know where the staircases in the hotel are.

"That's important," Hoke joked. "Elevators sometimes don't bode too well."

It will be Michigan's first road game of the season, after starting 5-0 at home. And despite the obvious question marks that fact poses, both players and coaches are looking forward to the challenge of an away game.

"I'm excited to get on the road," redshirt senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "We don't know how this team is going to react on the road."

The Wildcats should be a good test for Michigan's first road game. Persa leads a dynamic offense that tends to change up its pace and tempo during the game. Hoke explained that on one possession, the ball might be snapped with 30 seconds remaining on the play clock, forcing the defensive line to get to the line of scrimmage quickly. Other times, they may run the clock down and make the defense wait.

Northwestern leads the Big Ten in punt returns, averaging more than 17 yards per return. Hoke discussed the importance of better coverage on both punt returns and kickoff returns, an area where the Wolverines have struggled so far this season.

But the Northwestern defense is another story. It has allowed 414 yards per game, ranking 11th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Minnesota. The Wolverines had 580 yards against the Gophers, despite only skimming the surface of their offensive package.

The last time Michigan played in Evanston was in 2007, with the Wolverines coming away with a 28-16 victory.

But it will be an interesting reunion for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. He spent three years as the defensive line coach at Northwestern before taking a coaching hiatus.

When recruits would ask what the Wildcats' record was he'd say, "10-1." Just leaving out the zero that belonged at the beginning of Northwestern's 0-10-1 record. During his three seasons, Northwestern went 1-31-1.

"It was a great place," Mattison said. "Except on Saturdays."

Even with the test Northwestern presents, he's hoping to enjoy Evanston a little more on Saturday with the Wolverines.

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.