ANN ARBOR — Desmond Morgan needs only basic math to figure out what this weekend means for the Michigan football team.
With three regular-season games remaining and a holiday-season bowl game on the horizon, the Wolverines have set a goal of winning 10 games this season.
“It’s pivotal in that we have to win this game if we want to get to 10 wins, for sure,” said Morgan, a redshirt sophomore linebacker. “It’s a very important game, no matter what each team’s record is or what the implications are on the Big Ten championship. It’s still a Big Ten game.”
Ten wins has become the new rallying cry for the Wolverines, who play at Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. today.
“I know and you know we can’t reach a Big Ten championship,” linebacker Jake Ryan said. “But it’s just doing it for our seniors is what’s motivating me right now, and doing it for these guys in the last three games.”
November has been a succession of shortcomings for Michigan (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten), which hasn’t won a game in nearly a month. In its last two games, UM has allowed 14 sacks and has minus-69 yards rushing.
Only a few Big Ten teams have had it worse than Michigan in the last month, including Northwestern. The Wildcats (4-5, 0-5 Big Ten) are winless since the start of October and will be without running back/punt returner Venric Mark, who is out for the season with an ankle fracture, sustained in October.
Regardless of Michigan’s anemic facets and of his own team’s issues, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald expects his team to counter with its pass rush, which has given up nearly 250 yards a game.
“You know they’re going to attack your coverage concepts,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s no secret what they do, and you’ve got to win on those plays.
“You’ve got to be able to create some semblance of pass rush when containing [Devin] Gardner, when they’re max protecting him with seven or eight guys.”
Gardner, Fitzgerald said, was a key factor in Michigan’s running game until it hit a wall two weeks ago; in its first seven games, UM averaged 183.8 yards on the ground, with Gardner averaged 74.2 rushing yards.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to attack us, based on what we’ve seen the last month from them, but also what we expect to see just from what people do against our defense, given what they’ve done,” Fitzgerald said.
In fifth place in the Legends Division, winning 10 games would a consolation prize. Without a win today on the road — where the Wolverines have struggled under Brady Hoke — that goal could evaporate.
“We’ve got to try to get the win and jump back on track,” UM tight end Devin Funchess said. “We had two bad weeks, with Michigan State and Nebraska, so we’re trying to get back on track and get that ‘W’ on the road. I don’t like losses, so I put those in the back of my head, try to focus on who’s next.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.