Here is the 2nd installment of our commentary of Saturday’s game. Hopefully these jokers learn how to post to the site by themselves soon!
The ‘Cats’ game against Michigan was one of the more heartbreaking losses in recent memory. The stakes were high, with the winner of the game in the driver’s seat for a Capital One Bowl birth. Two days after the fact, the Warriors feel ready to discuss what transpired in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. Associated Press and countless other blogs have already documented a game recap, so let this serve more as a highlight/lowlight post of Northwestern’s 38-31 loss.
Roger, Greg and I (Roche) met up at Roger’s apartment to watch the game, while Andy made the trek to Ann Arbor early (4:30 am!) Saturday morning.
- The #B1GCats avoided getting in to an early hole on the road, stopping the Wolverine’s first possession and answering with a long drive, finished off by a three yard Venric Mark TD. Great, methodical drive. All but 19 of 78 yards on that drive were on the ground, but those 19 were big. After getting stuffed twice (Venric first, then Kain), the ‘Cats faced a 3rd and 12. Colter hit Christian Jones for 19 yards, extending the drive. How great is it to see Kain drop back and float one to a wide open receiver like that?
- Northwestern’s play calling right before halftime was excellent. With 1:53 left and the ‘Cats down 14-7, I was expecting to see a few runs to burn the clock before halftime. Fitz went aggressive (most likely due to favorable field position near midfield), and sent in Trevor, who led a great drive, ending with a beautiful throw to Cameron Dickerson’s back shoulder for a TD.
- Trevor Siemian was fantastic all day. The much-maligned receiving corps found open space and #13 hit them all in the hands. His one incomplete pass (6/7, 87 yds, 2 TD) fell through the grip on Tony Jones. The offense showed shades of a Dan Persa-led offense: quick routes, high percentage passes.
- It goes without saying, but Venric Mark (23/104/1TD) was brilliant again. It’s an incredible identity shift to have a Northwestern back be this dangerous
- The platoon worked this game, as both QBs were effective. Credit to the coaching staff for balancing #2 and #13 well. They didn’t break up each other’s rhythm, which is always a fear when platooning quarterbacks.
- Opportunistic defense. Two big takeaways. 1) After Fitz Toussaint broke a big run, Jared Carpenter knocked the ball loose, and the ‘Cats recovered at the NU 3 yard line. 2) Demetrius Dugar dropped back to double cover the fly route on the sideline. Devin Gardner threw an ill-advised pass that ended up in Dugar’s hands with just under 4 minutes to play.
- I have to lead off with the final pass of regulation, setting up Michigan’s game-tying FG. Roy Roundtree made a spectacular catch (and credit to him for corralling the ball). That said, how is he in single coverage there? No timeouts left and :18 to go in the game.
- Brandon Williams’s punt that set up the Roundtree pass. I have no problem with the conservative play calling; with not trying to get a final first down with 18 seconds to go. However, why not just boot the punt out of the endzone? Make them go 80 yards in 18 seconds, rather than give Michigan a short field to work with.
- Injuries. Kain’s ankle was heavily taped after injuring it late in the game. While it was good to see him back in the game, I have to wonder if he’ll be 100% in East Lansing. Venric got his bell rung as well, and he looked slightly out of it for the remainder of the game. Let’s hope they get back to game shape soon.
- “Almosts.” Near interceptions. Near sacks. Near safeties. Any one of those would have changed the nature of the game. Backed Michigan into an even bigger corner.
- Not related to anything on the field, but I want to mention it. I love Fitz, but he was celebrating as if he had just won the Rose Bowl when Trevor got hit late and Michigan was flagged in the 4th quarter. Too much.
Add it all up and we have a Northwestern team with a 7-3 (3-3) record. This is tough to swallow, as they could very easily be 9-1 (5-1) or 10-0 (6-0). But let’s look at the big picture – the ‘Cats can still get to 10 wins this year if they win out (I think they can). With a win against Sparty on Saturday, Northwestern locks up a spot in the Gator Bowl (provided they beat Illinois on Senior Day), according to Rick Pizzo. That puts the ‘Cats at 9-3 heading into Roger’s hometown of Jacksonville for New Year’s Day.
For an even bigger picture – I thought at the beginning of the year this team was at least a year away. The three close losses tell me that year is next year. They’ll be a better team next year. Skill players returning and learning a lot from this season. Even with the tougher schedule (enter Wisc, OSU), I believe this team will hit 10 wins in the regular season next year.
Watching that game hurt. And it hurt badly. But looking at it three days out, I see a lot of positives to take away. Onward, Warriors. Sparty waits.