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.
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.
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).
Northwestern is favored by 4 over Minnesota