Painting Northwestern-Iowa By The Numbers

It’s time now for our weekly glimpse at the head-to-head numbers in hopes that we can offer you some facts to support your speculation on the potential gameplans for this weekend’s match-up.  Before looking at the numbers, the common sense strategy in this game, with Iowa potentially down to their 33rd string RB and Northwestern in to their 3rd string at CBs would be a simple game of the erratic James Vandenberg testing our corners all day long. We’ve been solid against the run all year and Iowa has struggled to pass. On the flip side, the question mark of Venric Mark’s health could impact our gameplan (he’s expected to play), but we’ll need balance to win this game as Iowa, as usual, has been pretty solid in both phases of defense. Let’s take a look at the numbers…

Northwestern Offense VS Iowa Offense

Offense Passing Rushing Total Offense Scoring Offense 3rd Down Conv. Red Zone Offense
Northwestern 172.8 ypg 223.6 ypg 396.4ypg 30.8 ppg 53/122 43.4% 29/31 (15 rush, 4 pass TD/10 FG) 94%
Iowa 189.0 ypg 135.4 ypg 324.4 ypg 20.9 ppg 36/100 36.0 % 20/25 (8 rush, 2 pass TD, 10 FG) 80%

I’m not sure they keep a stat on this, but the fact the ‘Cats are dead last in both passing offense and passing defense, yet are 6-2 has to be some kind of record. It’s downright absurd and really defies logic.  Clearly the ‘Cats have obtained success with their surprising ground game, which now ranks 3rd in the B1G and 17th in all of the FBS.  Fans are praying that Mick McCall actually lets Kain Colter throw this week, which he has barely done since the Syracuse game. Northwestern’s passing game and likely the already potent ground game have both sufferred as a result as we’ve become beyond predictable based on our QB personnel.  The ‘Cats are an unfathomable 110th in passing offense and 12th as we mentioned in the conference.  Our total offense is a meh 6th in the B1G and 67th nationally. Our 30.8 ppg is 5th in the B1G and 52nd nationally and if the season were to end today, it would be the first time a McCall offense averaged over 30 ppg during his tenure. If your looking for highest ranking team stat then look at our red zone productivity – we’re tied for 6th in the entire country (surprisingly with Indiana).  Our 3rd down conversion ranking is 45th in the FBS.

Iowa and offense have been an oxymoron this season. Despite the amazing story of converted FB Mark Weisman and his wondrous rushing ways, the Hawkeyes muster an 88th best ground attack with 135 ypg. Their passing attack is slightly less anemic than ours and shows just how far the B1G has fallen in this category as 189 ypg in the air is better than five other B1G teams, yet is tied for 101st nationally. The Hawkeyes total offense is 11th in the B1G and 105th in the nation and their meager 20 ppg is 10th and 101st respectively. Simply put, they’re an unintimidating bunch when they have the ball, but as exhibited against a fantastic Sparty “D”, they can win games with their defense. Add in the fact the Hawkeyes have lost two offensive linemen for this game (one for the season) and their star RB is questionable at best and you have an even further indication that this is going to be a mirror image of what we tried to do against Nebraska last week (albeit, credit to the Huskers for taking us out of our gameplan and NU not being able to beat them long) and I suspect James Vandenberg will throw more deep balls along the boundary than he has all season combined.

Northwestern Defense vs Iowa Defense

Defense Passing Rushing Total Defense Scoring Defense Sacks/TFLs 3rd Down Defense
Northwestern 280.0 ypg 121.3 ypg 401.0 ypg 23.0 ppg 2.0 pg/5.3 pg 46/123 37.4%
Iowa 212.8 ypg 131.3 ypg 343.9 ypg 20.1 ppg 1.3 pg/5.1 pg 39/105 37.1%

If you’re a Northwestern fan you’ll want to focus in on the ‘Cats rushing defense which has dropped to 4th in the B1G and 29th in the FBS, but is just 21 ypg behind Michigan State.  Truth be told, holding Nebraska to 201 ypg on the ground was a big win, considering the Huskers prodigious rushing attack of nearly 300 ypg. Our scoring defense of 23 ppg is respectable, yet only 7th in the B1G and 43rd nationally, but Hawkeyes fans should be eyeing our woeful pass defense which is 110th in the land and last in the B1G, despite vast improvement thanks to the stellar play of Nick VanHoose and Ibraheim Campbell. The stats plummetted in concert with VanHoose’s injury last week – we got gashed for 140 yards in the air after he left the game. The ‘Cats are 70th in total defense, but the stats don’t seem to really underscore the improvement of this unit which frankly has won us several games and kept us in many others, including Nebraska, when the offense has gone through way too many of its dry spells. A much underreported stat this year is sacks, as we’re 4th in the conference with 16 (2.0 pg), one shy of our entire 2011 season mark, which was the scarlet letter for inefficient pass rush.

The Hawkeyes “D” conjures up the word “solid”. Every category for the Hawkeyes is top 40 in the nation on this side of the ball with the exception of their pass “D” which is a respectable 44th. They’re 33rd in the nation in total defense, 28th in scoring defense and 39th in rushing defense. They are 6th in the B1G in nearly every defensive category and therefore decidedly average in an average conference this year. However, they’re across the board consistent in their average ways which makes them a good-not-great unit, but one that you know you’ll have to really earn every yard. Nothing screams out as an overt weakness which again underscores the notion that a balanced attack of rushing and passing will likely be needed to beat the Hawkeyes.

We didn’t go in to special teams where Iowa is very below average, especially in net punting, which, assuming Venric plays and returns punts, is a huge advantage for us, as he is tops in the nation.  The Hawkeyes, conversely, are 88th in punt returns as a team. Northwestern is inexplicably woeful in kickoff returns (117th in FBS) despite the nation’s leading punt returner handling the same duties. It is partially because Tim Hanrahan doesn’t seem to want to let Venric ever leave the end zone, but that’s a different story altogether (touchbacks don’t count against the average). Mike Meyer had been automatic for Iowa in FGs, but has had a rough go as of late. Jeff Budzien has transformed in to one of the elite placekickers nationally and had he been one foot to the left on that 53-yarder last week, he may have sewn up the Lou Groza award in October.

Cool Chance To Meet Fitz

There is a lot of chatter here on playcalling, personnel and the like. Well, now you can discuss it face-to-face. Our friends at the BTN have a pretty neat contest going on so I’m passing it along:

Hey, NU fans – here’s a chance for you to win an exclusive meet and greet with Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Sign up at BTNRewardsU today and start earning points through social media activities. The winner and a guest will attend a closed Northwestern football practice from 8:30-10:30 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2012, meet Coach Fitz and have your pictures taken. You’ll also win a signed Pat Fitzgerald football and Northwestern football gear. Must be 18 years of age or older. http://bit.ly/RewardsU

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  • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

    I’ll be at the Iowa game, but when I return home to re-watch the broadcast, here are several two-word phrases I’ll be listening for, and would love to hear for once with respect to Northwestern:
    * “Killer instinct”
    * “Nice catch!”
    * “Colter drops back” (OK 3 words, but work with me on this)
    * “Kyle Prater”
    * And, of course, “Wildcat win”.

    • The first phrase is the one I’ve been wanting badly. ‘Cats have now lost 5 B1G games in last 9 after having double digit leads in second half. Fitz quote to Teddy yesterday was that the media is overanalyzing. I believe it hasn’t. Until we can learn to put teams away we will be a middle of the pack team. How refreshing would a 3 TD win feel?

      • NUBobby95

        Why does it seem like when we really need to be able to run the ball an burn clock, we pass and when we need to pass to put a team away, we run? We do lack that killer instinct and it comes from the mind boggling play calling. On defense, the shell we go into in the 4th Q sucks. If we are going to give up big plays, I’d rather see it happen because we blitzed a safety or did something creative and not because the QB has all day for a play to develop.

        • CMF

          Agreed. Our 4th quarter play calling is the most disappointing thing about the last couple of years when we blow leads. I get it that our defense was like swiss cheese last year, but we still could have won a couple of those games had we stayed aggressive with a mix of pass and run. This year has been especially frustrating because our defense has played well enough to win. We don’t need to be running post patterns and go routes, but we still need to be calling high percentage passing plays that will keep the clock moving. Fitz’s halftime speeches talk about going out there like it is 0-0…well, the coaches need to call the game the same way. Deferring to runs up the middle with 8 minutes left up 2 scores or with 5 min left up 1 score is not going to do it. We have been burned too many times. Once we are up 2 scores with under 4 min left, then we can turn to a predictable run-only offense.

          As a side note – the Patriots have given up double digit 4th quarter leads the last 2 weeks (although they won last week). It’s nice to know HOF coaches and dynasty teams blow leads like us as well.

          • That’s my pro team. Don’t think the coincidence on Sunday of the Pats blowing their double digit lead hours after the ‘Cats did didn’t become verbalized in front of the TV on Sunday!

  • dadr

    How is NU last in passing offense if Iowa has fewer passing yards per game than we do?

    • Typo on my part. 189 ypg not 139 ypg…

      • Catatonic Joe

        Iowa rushing yards should be 135, not 189.

  • Mark

    If CJ is right about UNL bringing a safety up that means Colter has to pass on 40+% of his plays. If, as was speculated, Colter is not passing due to an injury unknown to us here on LTP then that’s a different issue. In that case I say make Siemian the full-time 100% QB so he gets all the practice reps and game snaps. Use Colter as both a WR and a RB with the possibility of a pass. But the Cats are going to face other physically talented teams who will use man to man press coverage and shut down the short passing game. Go Cats!

    • I don’t think he’s hurt…I really believe it is as simple as inconceivable stubbornness on play calling…especially after reading the article from AR. It’s dangerous to insert tone in to the written word, but I felt as though Kain was at best frustrated with the lack of certainty on the playcalling and the advance knowledge of the gameplan..did you guys get that sense?

      • PDXCat

        It’s a couple times now that the team has expressed publicly its displeasure with play calling/roles/game plans.This used to be a no-no (was it Adonis that was scolded for his outing of Fitz’s Iowa hate?). Obviously we aren’t in the locker room, but what does it say about the team/coach relationship when players are saying in interviews “gimme the damn ball!”?

  • Teaser alert..just learned our ESPN.com man Adam Rittenberg has a post coming up on Kain Colter with an interview that seems to address a bunch of the questions we’ve been asking.

  • hudhaifa

    I loved the article about what you can do as a fan. Bottom Line LTP this will never change. I grew up a Wildcat fan when I was younger. I am now 33 and in the military overseas. I have seen 2 people in my 11 years of service wearing WILDCAT stuff. I tell people I am a Northwestern fan and they laugh or say that’s in Washington State and I walk away with some smart ass comment. We had season tickets for 20 years. I got kicked out of a game for standing up during the 94 season vrs Minnesota for standing up. Didn’t matter since we had 6 season tickets I came right back in. I will never forget the ROSE BOWL some lady told me to sit down and my mom turned around and told the lady to STFU we have had tickets for 20 years and this is the ROSE BOWL. I have 0 NORTHWESTERN ties. How many of you’re friends that attend games have 0 Northwestern ties? That is the only way to make the change. The only Northwestern ties we had was #5 from the Rose Bowl team used to couch surf during the 97 season when he got hurt. After the 98 game loss to Duke after meeting him after the game he apologized to me for losing. I was more pissed off than he was. I bleed purple I am pissed off for days after a loss to this day. I have seen the bad years since I was 3 years old. GO CATS!!!

  • Catatonic Joe

    Congrats to Patrick Ward for being named one of 15 finalists for the National Football Foundation’s scholar athlete of the year!
    The announcement is on ESPN.com

  • Henry in CT

    This is one of the two games remaining that we should win. We’re a six point favorite at home and they are offensively challenged. I think if we play Colter at QB all the way we win a low scoring game because they are marginally worse than we are and if we don’t take any chances and make any mistakes we will win a close ugly game.

  • cardiac_cat_fan

    here’s the ESPN B1G article: http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/63083/wildcats-colter-we-dont-have-an-identity

    looks like us as fans aren’t the only ones upset with the game planning & play calling. Mick McCall is the main reason NU is 6-2 and not 8-0. hopefully he’s not too stubborn to change his philosophy. Venric is the 18th leading rusher in the nation and we still don’t want to commit to the option. hope this changes.

    go ‘cats!

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/chi-cubs-cracking-down-on-resale-of-season-tickets-20121024,0,4359123.story

    Coming back to the issue of NU season ticket holders flat out reselling tickets and season parking passes on the secondary market. Maybe NU can do something like this, too?