ANN ARBOR - Lloyd Carr was very careful to use just the right terms in a delicately prescribed order as he illustrated the Northwestern offense his Michigan Wolverines will face this weekend, in their final Big Ten road game of the season.
Carr was parsing his words like a politician caught in a cloak-room scandal.
"We are going to face the best offensive football team we've seen this season," Carr said. "What we've got to do is find a way to score some points, because I don't think anybody is going to shut this offense down."
He said best, not better. And then he said nobody, and he said it emphatically.
"I think you start with the premise that nobody is going to shut Northwestern down."
Northwestern (5-2, 3-1) has put up the numbers to possibly justify that adulation - the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten, with the No. 1 passer in the conference in quarterback Brett Basanez, with 311.6 yards per game. Basanez has the second-best completion rate in the league at 67.5 percent.
"I don't think there's a better quarterback out there than Basanez," Carr said. "The most impressive thing to me is, for as much as they throw, the fact that he's thrown just one interception, and been sacked only five times in seven games."
The Wildcats are No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense with 530 yards per game, and third in scoring with 37.1 points per outing. They run the spread, which Michigan (5-3, 3-2) has seen several times already this season, but Northwestern's spread takes very little time to reload and pull the trigger again.
"They use some of the same principles as the other spread offenses we've seen, but they run it at a faster pace than the others," defensive tackle Gabe Watson said. "I think as we've moved down the schedule, we have a better understanding of that offense. We have to go out with the attitude that we want to stop them, but that is a real challenge with this team and its spread offense."
Like most spread offenses, Northwestern's creates a lot of jabber about exotic four-receiver sets and relentless passing. But the Wildcats start it all with great running, built around freshman Tyrell Sutton from Akron, the 2004 Ohio high school Mr. Football who is second in the Big Ten in rushing with 138.6 yards per game.
"When I look at an offense like Northwestern, I know we just have to play fast, and hit the ball carrier as soon as he gets the ball," linebacker Prescott Burgess said. "Our job is to stop him from doing his job."
"Sutton is a shifty guy, and real quick," Watson said. "He finds the holes, and to be so young . . . He's good."
Safety Jamar Adams, a sophomore who has been starting since injuries knocked Willis Barringer and Brandent Englemon out of the lineup two weeks ago, said slowing the Northwestern spread all comes down to how the Wolverines defend Basanez, a 6-2, 210 pound senior.
"He gets rid of the ball fast and he knows what he's doing out there," Adams said. "It's gonna be hard to rattle that guy. He executes their scheme extremely well."
The Wolverines, who with Saturday's victory over Iowa have won two straight for the first time this season, know they have to win at Northwestern to stay in the Big Ten championship race.
"Now that our backs are against the wall, guys are realizing every game is for the championship," Watson said.
"But I believe we're climbing up the mountain."
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