We’re going to go bullet-point format this morning as we’ve got a lot of ground to cover to help you the most resourceful person at your tailgate – whether in Ryan Field – or at one of the 30+ venues you gather at with fellow Wildcat fans across the country. It’s the 2012 home opener. Let’s get ready. It’s game face time.
Mr. Cat 95
That’s the handle of a former Rose Bowl team member who is the defensive voice of reason from the WildcatReport message boards. He delivers straight down the middle objective analysis of our team’s play that I admire. He also posts in a walled area that subscribers have access to, so I don’t want to totally betray what he said, but, again, it mirrors a lot of what Brian Peters was kind enough to share with us. I won’t go in to too much detail, but I can tell you that he really admires the talent level on half of our secondary, believes our technique from our D-line has big room for improvement and that are linebackers are lights out the best unit on defense. The one mystery that has been supported by two highly respected former players is the fact Jared Carpenter is starting over Davion Fleming. Fleming clearly graded out better than Carpenter, so that is one to keep a close eye on.
The Matthews Factor
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews has four straight games with 130 receiving yards. Yikes. Guess who will be looking to run routes in Mr. Dugar’s direction?
Field of Dreams
The featured picture in today’s post came courtesy of a Fitz Tweet from NUFBFamily. Clearly, the end zones are being painted to reflect the classic stripe feature that is the signature theme of the new uniforms. You can bet Mike Polisky and crew will have some nice gameday window dressing surprises for us at Ryan Field leveraging the Under Armour partnership.
Northwestern is 0-4 in night games under Pat Fitzgerald. We lost to a hapless Duke team in ’07, suffered a really tough loss in which we were favored over an injury-riddled Purdue team in 2010 and of course dropped the Michigan and Penn State games after holding double digit leads last year. The Purdue game was the only one where it felt like the lights actually played a factor with muffed PRs on special teams. Here’s to ending the drought as Ryan Field at night just is a hell of a gameday experience.
It’s the heat of political debate time and I’m not an idiot. Not going there. However, I think NU and Vandy fans can come to agreement on one thing. It makes ZERO sense to have non-conference match-ups enable visiting teams to have their conference’s refs calling the game. This is the ultimate poor mans’ hedge strategy. “Yes, you’ll be playing in a hostile environment, but you’ll have your refs!” Huh? Syracuse fans are going nuts over the personal foul late push/hit on Trevor Siemian on that 3rd and long that setup a 1st and goal with under a minute to go. If you’re honest, and the shoe was on the other fit, you’d be bitching about it too. How can any sane men and women agree that a direct tie to the zebras with one team, a team they will see later that year and year TO year makes any sense? Why not mandate a conflict of interest clause? Would it hurt to have an ACC crew? What’s the counter argument? Inconsistency of how a game is called? How is that different from the way it is now? Please, someone step up with me here and lets’ get this on the CFB media agenda. It’s as senseless as the UNC scandal not getting the attention it deserves, seemingly contradicting the NCAA’s hypocritical approach to stepping in, only when it seems fit, like Penn State. We’ll be going back to this. God help us if we have a controversial call decide this game. More on this in the next two weeks. I fear the ACC refs that are coming BACK to Ryan Field next week (need I remind you of Duke ’07?).
Jordan Rodgers Factor
The Vanderbilt QB is a good, not great QB. Keep in mind that he averaged 50% last year in the air. He bottomed-out in one game with just over a 20% completion mark. He was just 13/23 in the season opener including a brutal interception that cost at least three points. Rodgers threw for 214 yards against a top ten team. I’m convinced after watching how Ryan Nassib went 3-step on us most of the game that Jordan will do much of the same. Simply put, we need to get to 3rd down and bring the house to make him uncomfortable.
Finding the Kill Switch
One of the most interesting trends in this game will see if either team can overcome each program’s Achilles heel (God, still hate that term and what it conjures up with Dan Persa) – their respective ability to put a team away. Fitz, in year seven, has yet to develop a program that is known for that. Yes, the Cardiac ‘Cats moniker promises a brand that delivers close games. It doesn’t promise that it can put teams away when it has them down. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has a brand that is actually similarly known for being competitive in just James Franklin’s 14 game tenure, but it is known in the inner CFB circles as a team that simply can’t close out games. Vandy had really no business having Arkansas, Georgia or even Florida or Tennessee on the ropes in 2011, but they did. But they lost. They did do what critics will pin on Fitz as an annual shortcoming – they ran the non-conference table, and did so in convincing fashion, beating the teams they were supposed to beat, soundly. Yes, this included, dare I say it, the common opponent of Army. So, on this opening night, you get the sense that the leading vote in the LTP poll about what fans expect is going to be spot on – “I have no clue, but I’m expecting Cardiac ‘Cat-ness”. A Vandy comfortable win would be just as shocking as a Northwestern double-digit win. Both teams play up, but can also play down. This leads you to believe that, much like the candidates, they’ll gravitate towards the center and it will be a super tight game. The little things will be huge.
Punt Return Stat of Note
Try this one on for size:
- Venric Mark leads the entire nation with a 67 yds per punt return average (134 yds in game one).
- In 14 games, James Franklin’s punt return defense has given up a TOTAL of 104 yards.
- Talk about something’s gotta give.
The Connor Shaw Lift
If you’re really looking for the silver lining to give NU a decided advantage, look no further than South Carolina QB Connor Shaw’s week one performance. The QB took a shot in the first half and was sent to the lockerroom for some pixie dust. He returned, eventually and was visibly incapabable of throwing a ball without his arm appearing as it was going to fall off. So, he went run first and second and the Vanderbilt defense struggled mightily to stop him. Connor put up 97 gross rushing yards when everyone watching knew what was coming. With all due respect to Connor Shaw, whose grit it out even though he was in pain, starkly contrasts Kain Colter who got leadership love for tapping out, Colter should be striking much greater fear in to Vandy fans. The true dual threat nature is going to be THE thing to watch. You also know that Trevor Siemian will be getting some reps in the game and the pacing should be more multi-gear. That gives me some solid hope.
Band of Brothers
Based on reports from Chris Emma of Scout and Louie Vaccher of Rivals, NU has now offerred three sets of brothers of current players. 2013 commit, Kyle Quiero’s younger brother along with Cameron Dickerson’s younger brother are a pair of New Jersey prospects eyeing NU. Now, safety Hunter Bates brother, Dillon, a 6-3 OLB has received an offer.
Home Opening Love
Fitz is 5-1 in Northwestern home openers. The most promoted stat last week was his 6-0, now 7-0 record in season openers. However, Fitz has only lost one game in the first two games of a season – UNH in 2006, his first game as head coach at Ryan Field. His wins aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, but a win is a win as he and we like to say. In ’07 it was 27-0 over FCS Northeastern, in ’08 it was a rare cruiser over Syracuse 30-10, in ’09 another FCS bombing of Towson 47-14, in ’10 it was FCS Illinois State and a 37-13 victory and of course last year it was yet another FCS romp over Eastern Illinois 42-21.
Bye-Bye Carrier Dome
Fitz was on the SCORE earlier this week talking up Northwestern football. He promised we would never return to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse after suffering through the 95-degree heat with no air flow. The ‘Cuse is on the schedule in 2013 at Ryan Field in September. There is no other match-up with Syracuse currently scheduled through his contract (2020).
Now Playing In Nashville
I returned the favor with Vandy blog Anchor of Gold and laid out my answers to their astute questions. Take a gander when you can HERE.
I’ve got a parking pass for the game tomorrow and stitching together the rest of the season. Special shout out to Scott for going above and beyond. Still no season pass, but lots of single games. Keep ’em coming!
The much anticipated debut of freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo will occur at DE on Saturday night. At some point. The guy is #2 on the 2-deep and will be filling in for the injured Deonte Gibson. This is a preview/primer of the future of NU at DE as the top-rated defensive prospect (by some) in the Midwest will take his undersized frame and try to be a difference maker in getting at Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers. Kudos to InsideNU for this interview with the highly hyped freshman. Check it out HERE.
LTP Purple Challenge.
We are rolling. We’ve got a few more anyonymous NEW season ticket holders, Jeff K., Richard M. and others. We’re within 30 of our goal. Let’s pour it on between now and kickoff. GREAT work folks. Spread the word, bring ’em to the Vandy game and close the deal. Simply put, we have between now and the game to reach our goal of 200 NEW season tickets. 30 tickets we CAN DO THIS. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with reports on your success!
LTP N Flag Club Grows
They are pouring in this week. Today we feature former ‘Cat Nate Williams who has moved on to New Orleans, LA and is doing great and gainfully employed. Check out his flag and the color of that ‘Cat house! Thanks Nate. You’re on the board.