Apologies on the delay but a 3 OT Stanford win over USC had me up too late. I look at that Stanford team and program and say “Exhibit A” for anyone doubting the fact that NU couldn’t compete for a national title. What a win. How about Ohio State killing Wisconsin’s psyche with another Hail Mary-esque last second win? Minnesota has become NU to Iowa with a 2 score comeback midway through the 4th quarter and all of a sudden November 19 looks a lot scarier for the ‘Cats. Add in the resilient JoePas – newsflash PLAY MCGLOIN EVERY DOWN! and you have a whale of a Saturday. Obviously we all paid attention to Nebraska’s incredible “D” yesterday and shuddered a little bit, but gave ourselves hope that “maybe we can just outscore them?”. I watched 2012 opponent Vandy choke against #10 Arkansas as did future opponent Duke in programs that look like NU circa 1994 that just don’t know how to finish. Hail to BC for beating Maryland and Army for throttling Fordham. Heck, even Eastern Illinois got a “w”! All we needed was Notre Dame to apple for a perfect day. Let’s get in to it.
Dan Persa – What else can you say about a guy who rarely makes a mistake week after week? Northwestern’s athletic training staff was pointing out the pain of his turf toe injury that would have sidelined most football players. Yet, as a fan you forgot about the injury as he thread needles and created space and kept plays going to make things happen. His stat line – 16/20, 261 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, 41 rush – is a thing of beauty, but we all know it could have easily been X2. Great job Dan!
Drake Dunsmore – Any time you set a school record you deserve the “Great” category. Drake Dunsmore hauled in 4 TD passes, an NU record, with a hattrick in the first half alone. Two of this TDs from Persa were ones that had a seemingly 6-inch window of success and he drilled them. Dunsmore caught one with one hand that seemed impossible based on the defender position. The other impressive TD was an incredible athletic play by Dunsmore to haul it in on the fall with a defender in his face.
Kain Colter – Mr. Triple Threat was just inducing head shakes of disbelief even among NU fans. Colter’s stat line – 6 rec/115yds, 2 (of 3) completions for 2 TDs (38 yds) and 40 yds rushing. His play action TD to Ebert looked like vintage Michigan State against us and his ability to turn a fumble in to a big gain is a feat only he can do. Colter’s athleticism is downright sick. His intuition is underrated as he released on the coverage as Persa scrambled for the easiest 58 yard reception he’ll ever have. Kain was a joy to watch.
Jacob Schmidt – There was a Barnett/Darnell hug moment between the senior over-achiever and Fitz after Jacob eclipsed teh 100-yard mark rushing (15 car, 110 yds, 2 TDs) for his most successful statistical day of his career. Jacob has squeezed every ounce of talent out of his ability and you have to applaud the effort. He had a near perfect day and was also an unsung hero springing blocks to keep Persa’s shirt clean all day.
Offensive Line – Indiana is no Penn State, but you have to give credit when the results are what they are. A week after giving up 5 sacks in a half, the O-line gave Persa and Colter all the time they needed to tie an NU record of 5 TD passes to go along with 317 rushing yards. I’m hoping the confidence builder can carry-over to Nebraska.
Finishing – C’mon, admit it! After the Venric Mark fumble and immediate TD conversion by Indiana to cut the lead to 10 (31-21) you thought “here we go again, a one possession game for the final score”. I’m not afraid to admit that is what I thought. However, NU was able to finally put a team away when they had the lead, although, it wasn’t until midway through the fourth that I felt secure.
Brian Peters Pick – Peters first half INT was a thing of beauty an a sensational catch as he hauled in his third pick of the year and 10th career INT. That play seemed to be a huge momentum turner for NU.
Playcalling – It’s hard to squabble when you score 59 points, but I thought it was clear we were having our way with the secondary in the first half and as Glenn Mason said at halftime on BTN – “throw the ball guys!”. It didn’t seem to matter as we had our way with both the run and the pass and the reps at both while getting success and nearly 10 yards PER PLAY make you understand why. My one beef is the fact we were up 14, had pulled Persa and Colter scored on the first play of the 4th quarter and we retreated to gentlemen’s mode. We would throw one pass the rest of the game as we unnecessarily showed sportsmanship with a lot of clock left in a game where our “D” could not stop anyone.
Fitz’s Sportsmanship – Up 59-38, NU took a knee at the Indiana 5-yard line instead of breaking its school record for Big Ten total points (61 vs Illinois, 2000).
Gas Pedal – As mentioned above, as a program I feel we are as concerned as not blowing some one out as we are about ensuring victory. There is no one, and I mean not a soul, that would’ve accused us of running up the score had we been passing with Trevor in the 4th quarter to get him much needed game reps. We were only up three scores and to me, the game was far from over. To this point, I was extremely disappointed we took a knee at the end of the half. We had nearly a minute and multiple time outs left and had scored on every single drive to that point. A 65-yard TD drive in :47 wasn’t a long shot, it was a probability. When you have a defense like ours you MUST look at EVERY possession as an opportunity to put points on the board.
Northwester Defense – Specifically Fundamental Tackling – Adam Rittenberg hit on this in his “molding the D to be like Fitz” post earlier this week. It is hard to imagine the pain and suffering Fitz must go through when watching our team on tape. The lack of basic fundamental tackling is aggregious. I stopped counting the plays and missed tackles in the first half as I got to double digits. Give Tre Roberson, a slippery QB like Kain Colter, a lot of credit, but there are so many non-Roberson whiffs its making me nauseaus. The biggest trend I saw was the sizzle over substance trend of guys hurling their bodies with arms in to knock offensive guys down. Ibraheim Campbell did this and bounced off one player on one play and whiffed on another. I’m not picking on Campbell as Peters, Browne, Proby and Ellis did the same thing. Mabin was in there going strip first, but forgot to wrap-up Houston who then blew by him for a big gain. Northwestern was in position many times at the line of scrimmage, but would then get cute instead of squaring up and wrapping up. It was an epidemic. If it doesn’t get fixed this week, Rex Burkhead will put up 300 yards rushing on us. I would not want to be in the tape room with the defense to watch this game. There is no way to sugarcoat it, our defense is not good. I hope they use this as bulletin board material, but we’re back to 2005 where scoring 40 doesn’t ensure victory.
Jack Konopka – I rarely single out players, but his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final minute of the first half was that bad. He pushed a Hoosier in to the bench well after the whistle and well in to the sideline, negating great field position on a potential important scoring drive. The play happened behind Fitz who didn’t see it and didn’t know about it as Jack was right back on the field and I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have been had Fitz seen it.
Summary – Congrats to NU for getting back on track with the type of offensive explosion game we’ve been thirsting for. The revised goal of “just get in a bowl game, ANY bowl game” is still alive and that can get us to the next week.The chances against Nebraska are likely slim, but that won’t stop this team from believing. Believing needs to translate in to defense fundamentals and we’re beyond dinged up as a unit. The offense has its MOJO and I’m hoping the confidence of clicking in this game carries over to Nebraska. It was fun to watch a lot of points and a big margin of victory win. The 21-point margin is second only to the 48-26 2008 homecoming win over Purdue in terms of Fitz era Big Ten wins. It is the 6th biggest win in his career (Four FCS wins, Purdue and then this one). It feels good to break the streak and I’m trying to not go “there” about the Army decision to not use Persa as that game in particular is stinging right now more than any other. The pain of how wide open this Legends division race is is also compounding the “what if?” factor of this season. We are who we are and at 3-5 with four to go it’s time to build support for the ‘Cats this week in what would be a program turning upset at Nebraska. Considering Minnesota has found its groove with Gray, we need to stop counting on “Rice, Minnesota..and…” as the course of action. Let’s get fired up for Lincoln and hope we can continue the D-magic as we face T-magic. Go ‘Cats!