Operation: Gopher

Prior to this season we  discussed ad nauseum the need for Northwestern to go 3-1 in the “Middle Third” of the season.  That was, after hoping, no praying, that we emerged from the non-conference slate with a perfect 4-0 mark.  Schedule-surfers like myself were saying hmm…” @ Minnesota, home night game vs Purdue, bye, home vs Sparty and @Indiana – that COULD be a 3-1 mark.”  Then we’d slap our selves on the hand and say hold on – we always lose one we shouldn’t.    Barring something extreme, Northwestern will be favored in three of the four (Minny and Purdue for certain and likely Indiana, but barely). 

Before the season started I picked the Minnesota as the most important game of the season.  Granted, I expected a much improved offense, but the road game to start the Big Ten I thought was a must win. After Minnesota’s ugly third straight home non-conference loss (this time to NIU)  I can already tell conventional wisdom among Northwestern fans is that fear exists now that Tim Brewster’s job is beyond hot seat status.  ‘Cats fans are expecting Gopher players to come out with everything they’ve got knowing that their coach has one chance to save his hide – a respectable Big Ten showing – that would have to involve a win against NU.  The optimist would cite shaky wheels on the Gopher train and posit an early lead would be enough to break the morale of the team’s fragile psyche. The rest of Minnesota’s home slate – Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa.   You can imagine how much do-or-die emphasis the Minnesota media are putting on this game for Brewster as it assumed we are their last and best chance for not going 0-for-home this year (I’d put Penn State as a better chance than NU, but that’s just me).

Regardless, Northwestern’s focus must be much better than Saturday. Fitz acknowledged the laundry list of penalties was very un-Northwestern-like and we have to be much sharper to take care of business in a Big Ten road game.  Let’s face it.  Having watched both teams quite a bit, Northwestern should win this game.  I’m hoping Fitz’s all-business approach extends to this game as you can just feel the focus.  Perhaps we should engage in some Miami Hurricanes tactics circa 1987 when they showed up off the plane for the Fiesta Bowl match-up with Penn State donning military fatigues.  OK, that might be both stupid and absurd during war time, but then perhaps wearing Carl Spackler outfits and our Gopher digging paraphenelia? You get the point.  This game now takes on much more importance than even I originally thought and going 5-0 is only part of the equation.

One of the key subplots of Saturday’s storyline was attendance.  The ‘Cats eclipsed the 30,000 mark (30,075) and it was in every local story angle as a huge positive – most noting the 56% increase from the second home game a year ago.  If the ‘Cats can take care of business in Gopherville, the October 9 night game – against the most injury-scarred Big Ten team (Purdue is without their star WR, starting RB and potentially QB) would potentially set the baseline of the new norm in attendance.  Yes, I’m going to say it – 40,000+ for Purdue.  The media hype will start to crescendo and perhaps Dan Persa will finally start getting some national attention for his incredible start. 

I never thought I’d say this, but after watching Stanford throttle Notre Dame as expected I think we need to invoke a little Cardinal.  Our west coast “twin” somehow manages to play nasty.  They just seem to hit harder and have the 411 on killer instinct.  I get it – Harbaugh is a jackass and is classless when it comes to knowing when to let up, but you can’t deny their style of play is admirable.  The ‘Cats – and I’m not getting greedy here – need to take care of business on Saturday in a statement sort of way.  A dominant performance and double-digit win that sends a message that the ‘Cats are for real.  Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal did a piece on all of the undefeated teams and continually took barbs at NU citing “their living a lie”.  This notion that we’re just pesky ‘Cats who know how to win close games needs to evolve to a team that will 31-13 you if you don’t bring it.

If you watched Minnesota on Saturday then you know their rushing defense is suspect at best. While we don’t currently have “the solution” on our roster at RB, I’d like to see Mike Trumpy get the yeoman’s load of carries on Saturday and see what he can do.  All it takes is one game to gain the confidence and we’ll need to show that we can at least feign a run before Persa starts having double spies on D in Big Ten games which will all but negate his run option. 

You might remember back in 2008 the ‘Cats started 5-0 before hosting Sparty in a nationally televised game.  Momentum was building and just like now the “experts” were citing a soft schedule as a mirage for the record.  We had a 2:30 start time and I was -and still am – convinced that game was a huge stepping-stone for attendance base.  However, we blew a flat tire from the get-go and the headline story the day before the game was Teddy Greenstein’s full-page discourse on the NU attendance problem.  I brought 50 people to the game and they were bored by halftime.  I’ve been unable to get any of them back, but have been targeting 10/9/10 all along as the way to do so.  I’ve teed them up to get a babysitter and make the most of it with a full-fledged afternoon and evening of tailgating.  I invite you to do the same.  Of course, the storyline is much easier if we’re 5-0 again heading in to that key fan recruitment game AND we beat Purdue as well. 

We’ll be breaking down the upcoming game and history with Minnesota all week long.  It’s time to focus. It’s time to call-out a must-win.  Anyone considering overlooking Minnesota I almost have to laugh. This a team (as if I have to remind you) that Deck(er)ed us  last year 35-24.  A game that we all believed we were going to and had to win.  Each passing week this season makes last year’s 8-4 even more impressive as we relive how bleak things looked year to date. 

Persa’s Stats

As was pointed out in the comments yesterday, Dan Persa has regained his spot, albeit shared, as the nation’s #1 ranked QB in passer efficiency (along with OSU’s Brandon Weeden).  He is also tops in completion percentage (80.2%!) and among the leaders in total passing yards.  Check out how Dan stacks up against the competition.  The 10 sacks sticks out like a sore thumb, but I think you’ll all agree this has to do more with our inconsistent OL than any poor decision-making by Dan. I think he’s been wise on each one of those sacks so far. 

Dan Persa holds the nation's leading QB Passer Rating

It’s amazing outside of anyone named Dave Revsine how little attention Dan Persa is getting to date.  Granted, when two of your four games are nearly impossible to find on TV he’s not getting the exposure of many so that makes sense.  ESPN College Gameday did an entire feature Saturday morning on underrated players – guys having great seasons that no one knows about – he didn’t even make THAT piece.  Today, we’ll find out if the NU-Minnesota game in on ESPN or ESPN2 which will be yet another reason why its important for us to step-up and make a statement.  Let’s hope Dan continues to play at this level as it would be great for him and the program to start getting some Heisman dark horse chatter.  Teddy Greenstein does have Dan listed as one of the five guys on his Chicago Tribune Silver Football watch list (Big Ten MVP).   It’s interesting to note that the Big Ten boasts four (Persa, Stanzi, Chappell, Tolzein) of the top seven and seven of the top twenty (Pryor, Cousins, Robinson). 

Early Line

Northwestern is favored by 4 over Minnesota

  • Here’s a nice piece from a student’s perspective on the huge student turnout: http://bit.ly/bPyr0r

    One thing I love about the schedule this year is that Northwestern has 2 road victories under their belt before traveling to Minnesota. They know the road routine (though 11 AM instead of 6/6:30 PM). And certainly the weather is going to be much nicer than the other 2.

    By the way, it was already announced yesterday that the game will be on ESPN. Clemson/Miami got ESPN2.

  • Sasser

    -4 is the opening line. Frankly, I find that kind of insulting.

  • Oh, and for those who had been pulling for Big Ten teams up until now, it’s time to start rooting against some for the sake of bowl positioning. Michigan would easily jump us if they’re within a game at the end of the season, so pull for Indiana on Saturday. And pull for Ohio State and Iowa, unfortunately. Sending 2 teams to the BCS will once again be important. Too early to tell about Michigan State and Wisconsin.

  • wildcat6

    @Sasser

    That line of -4 IS insulting, but just the sort of bulletin board material and locker room grist we always seem to thrive on. We always seem to thrive most when we’re being disrespected, so go head, Vegas, and do just that.

    With their injury problems, and the fact that they already have a loss under their belts, I would be very surprised if Iowa was an at-large BCS team this year, let alone Big Ten champ. Why not root for a mediocre Penn State team on the road, and we’ll finish well ahead of both of ’em?

    Also, it would be very hard for me to root for Ohio State in a Big Ten game under any circumstances. I see that uniform, and I see red, both literally and figuratively. As much as I loathe the Illini, I’d love to see them take the Buck Nuts down.

  • wildcat6

    Paul Myerberg at the respected college football blog Pre-Snap Read (presnapread.com) now has the ‘Cats at #27, ahead of other undefeated teams #31 Michigan St., #35 Kansas St., #38 Oklahoma St., and #63 Indiana.

  • Drew

    Just a quick FYI, Persa’s QB rating is 1/100th of a point higher than Weeden 186.34 to 186.33. So while this is completely and utterly meaningless, he is officially #1 in the country.

  • Kevin

    Completely off topic but Rivals reported NU just lost another basketball recruiting battle for the 2011 class. Does anyone else remember when Tavaras Hardy openly bragged about how great our 2011 class would be, since we were going to get a trio of top 100 recruits from Georgia? Shannon Scott (committed to OSU), Dai-Jon Parker (NU not among his finalists) and Julian Royal (NU not among his finalists). I guess I can’t be too upset we didn’t get them to choose NU, any one of them probably would’ve been the best (rated) recruit in the history of the program, but what was Hardy doing talking about that to the media without having it locked up? I assumed we were paying their families off with cars and houses and what not like USC. We should probably start doing that.

  • wildcat6

    @Kevin

    Speaking of men’s hoops, has the full 2010-11 schedule been finalized? Anyone see it anywhere?

  • SupaKat

    I was definitely pleasantly surprised by the turn out at Ryan Field on Saturday. However, we will truly know how strong our fan base is when a visiting team known for traveling well to Ryan Field (iowa) doesn’t have more fans than ours at home

  • The basketball schedule still isn’t up on NU’s website, although apparently it has been finalized (at least according to Spread Far the Fame on Twitter). SFTF also says that it’s incredibly soft.

  • Richard

    “By the way, it was already announced yesterday that the game will be on ESPN. Clemson/Miami got ESPN2.”

    That just blows my mind.

    I guess OSU@UofI is the one OSU conference game the BTN will get.

    I don’t understand how Michigan@Indiana got relegated to ESPNU, unless they insisted on that time slot.

  • rhett

    That -4 scares me. Whenever the spread is way off what I’d expected, I take it as a sign Vegas knows something I don’t…

  • ベン

    @rhett- Vegas isn’t predicting the outcome, they’re predicting the betting trends. Vegas only knows what the populace thinks, not what will be accurate.

  • rhett

    Good point. Still means the populace, which has a lot of degenerate gamblers who may know what they’re doing, thinks Minnesota’s going to show up.

    If you run a book, you know that on average NU wins by 1 point, and you know that the bets will split 50/50 if the line is NU -7.5… where do you want to set the line?

    Re Persa’s 10 sacks, the one he took in bounds to keep the clock running in the 4th quarter vs CMU wasy way too smart to count against him.

  • Was it just me or did CMU really try to put pressure on Persa from the outside, forcing him to escape up the middle rather than off tackle? Dan didn’t seem to like that as much.

  • David in Dallas

    My tickets arrived today for Saturday’s game and tailgate. (I have a work trip to Minnesota this weekend, and I get to stay over for the game!) Despite TERRIBLE seats (upper level, corner of the endzone), I am excited to see the Cats for the second time in three weeks!

  • Just the Facts

    @Loretta8 — If the NU non-conference schedule is incredibly soft, then they have doomed a chance at the NCAA Tournament. Last year, 8 of the 13 games were against teams with an RPI of 234 or worse, and 4 of those were RPIs of 299 or worse (out of 347). Since 50% of RPI is strength of schedule, scheduling those games are RPI killers even if you win. You don’t need all of the games against the RPI top 50, but avoiding those below RPI 150 shouldn’t be hard. Why with possibly the best NU basketball team ever would you make an incredibly soft schedule?

  • There is no good reason for it that I can see. Very disappointing if true. We shall see when it is finally released.

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