Of course it was going to be close the entire way. Sparty had a nasty habit of losing close games, and the ‘Cats kept giving up late leads – something had to give. The ‘Cats picked up a big road win, giving them a 3-2 road record this year and get the Sparty monkey off their back. (Northwestern looks to get the other monkey off their back on January 1st).
The defense – In a game where the offense left their ‘A’ game in Evanston, the defense came up big, bending but not breaking. The stats aren’t pretty (cue the Fitz “stats are for losers” sound byte), as Andrew Maxwell threw for nearly 300 yards. Likewise Le’Veon Bell rattled off 4-8 yard runs seemingly easily. When the defense needed to come up with big stops (4th and goal), it did. Four turnovers (two fumbles, two INTs) at opportune times. The defense isn’t going to over-power many teams this year. It won’t need to if it can get turnovers like this.
Jared Carpenter – With Nick VanHoose out again, we knew Sparty would go to the air early and often. It did. Jared Carpenter made big plays when he needed to, most notably his late interception of Andrew Maxwell.
David Nwabusi’s pick six – I was close! I called for a Dugar pick six. But instead of #22 taking one to the house, we saw #33 bring one in for the score. The offense was having trouble scoring, and the interception early in the second half was a momentum builder for the ‘Cats.
Trevor Siemian – Trevor went 13-23 this week and seemed to pick up where he left off in Ann Arbor. When the option offense stalled, #13 stepped up and hit high percentage pass after pass, effectively moving the ball. Northwestern’s only offensive touchdown was a result of Trevor driving the team down to the goal line before Kain came in for the score.
Dan Vitale – Trevor Siemian found a favorite target yesterday. The freshman superback had over 100 yards receiving, and seemed to come up with every huge completion. Expect to see more throws go his way against Illinois after his huge performance yesterday.
Play Calling – I said it last week: if the option offense is going to be effective, Colter is going to have to pass more often. Ask and you shall receive. The first drive saw Colter complete several high percentage passes in a drive that ended with a Budzein FG. The play calling was also aggressive at the end of the game. Rather than running the ball three times and punting it back to Sparty, the ‘Cats dialed up a pass. Aggressive. Late in the game. Mick McCall, you crazy sumbitch. Your stock is rising, fella.
Punting – Woof. It looked like Williams had the yips this week after his final punt-gone-wrong against Michigan. Low, wobbly punts all game gave MSU better field position than it should have had. I personally think he was in his own head, and don’t see it as a recurring problem. But it was concerning nonetheless.
The Offense – 57 yards rushing for this team usually would spell disaster for this team. The lack of Venric Mark certainly hurt the option offense. That said, not a lot went right overall for the offense after the first drive. Three and outs. A few drops. Not a day for the offense to hang its hat on. But the offense did justenough to win. (Side note: I get a weird sense of satisfaction having the ‘Cats defense bail out the offense. Something you don’t see every day).
Injuries – Venric Mark saw only six rushes before leaving for the rest of the game with an upper body injury. Tyler Scott got slammed to the turf and got hurt. Tyler would eventually return, but I haven’t heard any updates on Ricky Football’s (as Andy calls him) status for next week. I hope the ‘Cats can beat the Illini even without Ricky Football, but he needs to be healthy for the bowl game.
Officiating – Awful on both sides. Tyler Scott getting thrown to the turf (holding plz?). Dugar had a PI on Sparty’s last drive that went uncalled. Phantom PI extended another ‘Cats drive earlier in the game. It was bad. But I think Sparty got the short end of the stick on Saturday.
ESPN2’s Team – They were bad. It took them nearly two quarters to say Ricky Football (I’m trying to make that a thing, Andy) was out. Two quarters to say the most important offensive player wouldn’t return? Come on guys, do your job. Not that it really mattered anyway. We read it on twitter long before they reported it. That said, a matchup of two unranked teams in a down year for the B1G isn’t exactly going to demand Musberger/Herbstreit.
As bad as the offense was, I think it’s a good sign. In years past, the ‘Cats would have had to bring their offensive ‘A’ game on the road to win like that. They did not (obvi). Instead, they played one of the poorer offensive games this year and still won. I don’t expect them to play as poorly as they did yesterday for the rest of the year, bowl game included. A 10 win season is still a real possibility.
What I want to see next week is for Northwestern to stomp Illinois, Champaign’s Big Ten Team. I know Illinois is bad this year, but I’m scared this matchup has ‘Trap Game’ written all over it. Don’t look past these guys. Don’t get cute. Don’t ease off tje throttle in the 3rd. Roll ’em, Fitz. A win would tie him with Pappy Waldorf for most wins all time at Northwestern (49).
The ‘Cats look like they’re celebrating New Year’s somewhere in Florida (unless you’re Jerry Palm, who is insistent that Northwestern is going to the BWW Bowl). The Gator Bowl seems the likely destination. However, if Wisconsin loses out (PSU, Nebraska), they’ll be limping home with a 7-6 record. The Outback Bowl would come calling a 9-3 NU team over a 7-6 Bucky.
Sports, please don’t ever change. Yesterday was an incredible day of upsets. Down go the Ducks and the (other) purple Wildcats. After the dust settled, it looks like That School From South Bend will be your #1 team in the country tonight [checks calendar to make sure it’s not 1987. Checks again because still in disbelief]. Let that sink in for a minute. I come from a family of Domers (which explains my enmity for the Fighting Irish). So to Grandma, John, Colleen, Jake, Kristin, Aunt Marijo, Uncle Kevin, Uncle Steve and Uncle Walt: I’m happy for you. I know how much football means to you and the rest of the Alumni. Enjoy it while you can, though, because I just can’t see any scenario in which TSFSB wouldn’t get absolutely rolled by ‘Bama. However, if the only thing in the way of another SEC-SEC title game is the Irish, then (sigh), GO IRISH.
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