The Great, The Good & The Disappointing

Colter heisman pose at IU 2011

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.

THE GREAT

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.

THE GOOD

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).

THE DISAPPOINTING

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!

  • zeek

    I still don’t get why people were ragging on the talent on our defense.

    This wasn’t a talent issue as I’ve said multiple times.

    Indiana started a very young defense and offense. Our senior-laden squad on both sides of the ball should have been more than equipped to handle Indiana’s talent level on both sides of the ball. That’s just a fact.

    Yes, I get that it’s easier to recruit and develop skill players faster and that they’re more ready out of high school, so Indiana’s offense was going to be able to move the ball.

    But the fact is that our defense should have been able to handle Indiana’s offense.

    Indiana’s offense was nothing like Denard + Michigan’s offensive line which seemed to manhandle us or SH + Jenkins which was automatic against us.

    Yet, we made Indiana’s offense look like it already had several all-Big Ten candidates. That’s on the coaching. 100%.

    • zeek

      I will though agree that you have to give our coaching staff credit for recognizing that our defense is unable to stop anyone and so they’ve gone with the Texas Tech-shootout mentality for winning games.

      We’ve been harping on the idea that the only way to win games is to keep scoring in the 2nd half. And we finally did that today.

      If Indiana can score 38 points on us, anyone can. That’s just a fact.

      We need 40+ to win.

      I hope our defense can put something together to at least look better against Nebraska, although I’m not really hopeful on that. Their squad looks noticeably better than they did earlier in the season (and healthier).

      Our offense should be able to score though, so we can at least make a game of it unlike Michigan State.

      • PBR Cat

        The Wildcats might have one or two more wins on the season if the coaches recognized the need to win games on a “shoot out” basis weeks ago. Conservative offensive play calling and attempts to milk the clock while nursing a lead most definitely cost the Cats several games. I cannot stand it when the team is in good field position and Fitz chooses not to use “time outs” or to take a shot at the end zone before the half expires.

        We had another such opportunity yesterday and did not take it. Fortunately, it did not matter THIS TIME, but in a couple of other contests (Army, Illinois, Iowa and Penn State) the failure to put more points on the scoreboard turned potentially winnable games into losses.

        The defense looked really bad yesterday, so much weak arm tackling. The offense is going to have to average 40+ points per game to offset the lackluster play of the defense. Allowing Indiana to score 38 points is inexcusable. As much as I would like to see the Wildcats manage to secure a fourth consecutive bowl game, which seems like a long shot right now, I cannot see the team winning a bowl against any opponent with the defense playing so poorly. I think that a Mid American conference opponent could beat the Northwestern defense now.

        • Jim

          Totally agree with Zeek and PBR about the necessity of “shootout” approach at this juncture !

          The risk-reward, probabilities etc. almost mandate this approach, at this juncture.
          There seems to be little that can be done, that hasn’t been tried, to squeeze out the margin from the defense.
          The offense seems to have increased their capacity to deliver.
          In the end, it requires taking your best shot !

          • Kevin D

            Not so fast my friend on the talent issue…

            While there appears to be several layers to why this defense is struggling, to say talent isn’t an issue is pretty bold. How many real NFL prospects do you see out there? I refuse to believe that you think that isn’t a HUGE issue for a BCS team expected to compete.

        • Hank

          Agreed. I think it’s safe to say that the only way this team can win is to treat the offense as defense and put up serious points each week.

  • Henry in CT

    First of all Stanford is a very special situation with a very special player that had a very special coach that put this team together. Saying that if Stanford can do it so can NU is like saying that just because you win the lottery I can too. And BTW Stanford was lucky to beat a so so (for them) USC team which was shredding them. The really good programs are the ones that stock up the good athletes on defense. They win more with defense than offense.

    It always comes down to whether one team can stop another. It’s really as simple as that. Look at how the good programs in the SEC as well as teams in the B1G like Nebraska, OSU and PSU do it… with defense. PSU is 8-1 having lost only to Alabama and they have an average (at best) offense and the same for OSU. Of course there are great offenses like Oregon last year but on average the teams with the better defenses prevail.

    And that’s why you can hope for miracles like NU gets every year against better teams but in the end having a Swiss cheese defense gets you every time.

    • CEBPD

      Agreed, but you also forget a few other things about Stanford compared to NU.

      First, California is a talent rich state. a HUGE state with lots of great players. Who is Stanford’s competition in the state? you’ve got Cal(downswing), USC(downswing for their standards), UCLA?(downswing), Oregon recruits there, but also nationally.

      Who does NU compete against for great talent? nebraska, illinois, iowa, michigan, notre dame, wisconsin, ohio state, purdue, indiana. So many more players.

      Not to mention Stanford plays in a bad Pac-12. The announcers said it themselves that USC was stanfords first big test. They don’t play the tough B1G schedule that Nu faces.

      Stanford gets better recruits and plays in a not as tough conference. good formula for success.

      And let’s be Honest…Stanford has a higher academic reputation than NU.

      Oh and California…

  • vaudvillian

    Obviously our passing game went nuts yesterday, but I think yesterday’s game shows why it is so important for us to have a 100+ yard rushing game from a running back. Schmidt straight up the center was working, so we were staying ahead of the chains. And having a real running game allowed us to bleed clock in the 4th quarter. That’s been one big reason (along with the D) why we haven’t been able to protect a lead. I know we all want to take our offensive explosion with a grain of salt (though I really don’t want to go down the “jIU” path) — but hat’s off to Schmidt. Dunsmore had a record day and deserves the attention he’s getting, but let’s give Schmidt his due. We know we need to upgrade our D to challenge for a B1G title…but I think we also need a return to the days of 1000-yard rushers.

  • PBR Cat

    The Wildcats really cannot look past any team on their remaining schedule. There is no margin for error left. Minnesota will be looking to salvage something when the Golden Gophers travel to Evanston. The Rice Owls have been averaging about 24 points per game despite their W/L record and the team would relish the prospect of beating another Big Ten opponent (Rice upset Purdue earlier this year). These are supposed to be the “automatic games” on the remaining schedule, but many of us assumed that Army was going to be a walk in the park too.

    Unless the Wildcats improve on both sides of the ball (taking the reins of off the offense and better tackling by the defense), “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” may be the Christmas carol of choice for the 2011 team.

  • Jim

    Colter 8 Game Cumulative Stats-3 Categories: 158.7 y/p/g

    1. 459 rushing yards which translates into 57.4 net yds. per game.
    2. 531 passing yards which translates into 66.4 yds. per game
    3. 379 receiving yards which translates into 34.9 yds. per game

  • Smolmania

    I would also add Venric Mark’s participation in the offense in at least the “good” portion of this thread. Every time he touches the ball in space he has a chance to make something happen. Apparently something happened early on, perhaps even during the off season, that placed Venric in the doghouse, but I for one am excited to see him back getting the ball on offense (yes, he needs to catch that damn punt, but I’m talking here about on offense!). With Colter and Mark, we have two extraordinary athletes — at least for us — on that side of the ball.

  • wildcat6

    Congrats to Jacob Schmidt…well done, young man! So so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a milestone game than you – shows what hard work and perseverance will do.

  • NoDG

    It is time to change the name of the University to NorthwesDern and finally put a “D” back in the picture. Coach Walker was alive and well on Saturday as his two proteges obviously continue his “we will just outscore them philosophy”. I cannot believe how fundamentally poor these two teams were on defense. The only difference was Indiana admits to having scout team members playing for them. What really blows my mind is that NU finished second in the Big Ten back in ’70 & ’71 because of Mike Adamle and a secondary that was the best in the conference. The Coach was a man named Bob Zeaman who went on to become a successfull NFL secondary coach for the Oakland Raiders for years. Why do I mention this, because Jerry Brown seams to have forgotten everything that Coach Zeaman taught him, especially keep your cushion, keep your eyes on the QB and fly to the football; not to mention things like stance, position, tackling and taking on lead blockers. I realize it is too late for this season, but Coack Fitz please make some evaluations and changes for the years ahead. This group of Seniors are too good and you owe it to them to not have future teams be this disgraceful on Defense. We will never get to the next level without some changes!

    • CEBPD

      The problems on D are part because of awful coaching, but also because of talent. I’m sorry if people say we have talent, but we don’t. the D-Line is undersized, can’t shed blocks, can’t deflect passes. the LB’s don’t know how to make plays, fill gaps, etc., and the secondary is a bunch of converted O-players who don’t have defensive fundamentals.

      • Hank

        Don’t apologize. It seems like defense has been the bane of NU football for some time now. (Minus the kicking game, which appears to be on the mend.)

        Aside from wrangling an occasional ridiculous INT there isn’t a whole lot you can count on week to week.

        Do we have a few talented individuals? Sure. Is the defense as a whole talented? No. The problem is that our talent can’t be everywhere on the field. Those few guys who are performing well can’t compensate for the habitual weak tackling and mistakes made by everyone else.

  • bandcat

    Keep the offense clicking… \Go For Broke\ on defense against Big Red…Cain Can……..Shadow the T man……Go Cats!

  • PDXCat

    “that look like NU circa 1994 that just don’t know how to finish”. Really? How about circa 2010/2011?

    • Lake The Posts

      @PDXCat – I’m trying to be nice. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind, however I’m talking bigger picture about programs on the brink of breaking through to a new level, like out of the basement in to the middle tier. See Vandy, Duke.

      @all – I had meant to put “including Venric Mark on offense” as part of the “good” portion of the gameplan. Sippin on Purple has a fantastic breakdown of his plays on

  • cardiac_cat_fan

    go ‘cats! i’m glad to see the wildcats win a game in convincing fashion over an opponent they should beat. further more i am glad to see Mick McCall show some creativity and aggression with his play calling for once. The disguised receiver options, play action pass and vertical routes were a sight for sore eyes. let’s keep this going next week. get your guns ready :) these seniors deserve a bowl game!

  • skepticat

    @zeek
    “This wasn’t a talent issue as I’ve said multiple times.”

    How do you look at a poor defensive performance against a poor-to-mediocre offense and conclude that’s NOT a talent problem? Coming into our game, the Indiana offense averaged 21 points a game, and they topped that by 17 against us. In fact, the 38 they scored matches their season high, which they scored in their only win so far this season … against South Carolina State.

    @LTP
    We put up 59 points, and the first thing you call out as disappointing is Fitz taking his foot off the gas? We established a 3-4 touchdown lead, and then matched every Indiana score with one of our own. If anything, for once Fitz didn’t. I know the theme since the Army game has been “pass, pass, pass, pass, pass … and then pass again,” but you NEED to be able to run the ball, especially at the end of games, to take time off the clock and hold onto leads. And with Indiana fielding a run defense that ranks 117 out of 120, we SHOULD be able to run against them. And if the box score is to be believed, we did: 317 total run yards (compared to 299 passing!), or 5.7 yards/carry. You don’t forsake the run when you’re trying to take time off the clock and are picking up a 1st down on every 2nd rush attempt.

    More disappointing is not only did the defense perform badly, they seemed to actually performed worse. So far we’ve given up 38 points to Illinois, 42 to Michigan, 41 to Iowa, 34 to Penn St. Are you telling me the Indiana offense is 4 points worse than Michigan’s?

    The fact that we scored 59 points and won by 3 touchdowns instead of 6 is really the story of our season. In fact, given Persa’s inconsistent health and having to rotate QB’s, the lack of a consistent running threat (either through injuries of lack or a star player — take your pick), and even inconsistent performance by the O-line, I think the offensive coaches actually deserve a lot of credit for putting together an offense that, while inconsistent at times, has had us in every game and has certainly scored enough points for us to win any of them. I don’t know if anybody noticed, the only other offense to break 20 points against PSU’s 10th-ranked defense is … that’s right, Alabama. It looks like we really have some nice depth on that side of the ball.

    Anyway, if Minnesota’s stunning win over Iowa proves anything, it’s that anything can happen on any given Saturday in the Big Ten. Lincoln, Nebraska’s officially on notice: a purple s*** storm is heading their way. :-)

    • Lake The Posts

      I indeed lauded Fitz and McCall and the entire offense for a near perfect game. However, our genteel ways (see end of first half, early 4th, are TOO nice. Yes, I pointed out the Alabama stat – we put up more offense than anyone else on the stat line, but it doesn’t matter. We can’t stop a soul. Will need a 3 TO margin to win and the same type of execution with the McCall Let it Rip philosophy in Lincolon.

    • Jm

      AMEN!

      ….on all of your points, especially …

      ….” an offense that…has had us in every game and has certainly scored enough points for us to win any of them.”

      In reality, there are two separate NU teams this year.

  • El_SupaKat

    It’s sad when Morty in his “Hands Up In the Air” has better tackling technique than our defense . . .

  • PBR Cat

    Another point about unleashing the offense, in addition to the obvious reason (permitting the team an opportunity to win \shootout\ games which can cover up the deficiencies of the defense) is that in all likelihood, if Northwestern becomes bowl eligible, the Wildcats may be competing for the invitation to the Pizza Bowl.

    Admittedly, that is a big \if\ since the Cats need to win at least three out of four in order to become bowl eligible. Ideally, the Wildcats would win all four games, but that seems to be an absolute stretch. In any event, \shootout\ victories by high scoring offenses make for entertaining games and that is something that bowl game representatives will be looking at when they make their recommendations.

    For the remainder of the season, the offense ought to be allowed to pour it on. Being gentlemen and trying to run out the clock prematurely has cost us a win or two this year.

  • PDXCat

    Taking a knee before halftime. It gets at Fitz’s way too conservative approach. Playing not to lose. You’ve got 45 seconds, they haven’t stopped you all day, and you play into their hands and try nothing. Pathetic. I think when I was 8 my mom introduced me to “you’ve only failed when you’ve failed to try”. If you’re winning going away then perhaps there’s gamesmanship. It’s the first half. Your starters are in. Play to win. Pathetic.

  • http://www.milwaukeepanthertracks.com/ Colin in Milwaukee

    GO CATS. Impossible is nothing. 6-6. Leggggggoooo.

  • TypeO

    Poor tackling is an epidemic at all levels of football including the NFL. Nonetheless NU’s display has been particularly pathetic all year, and Saturday’s might have been the worst. What are they teaching these guys?

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Nebraska5010
Minnesota4110
Iowa4110
Northwestern2210
Wisconsin3100
Illinois3201
Purdue2301

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Maryland4110
Ohio State3100
Michigan State3100
Penn State4111
Rutgers4101
Indiana2201
Michigan2301