B1G Perspective

Last week Kain Colter spoke out to ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg claiming the offense had “no identity”.  The most common meme in the wake of the ‘Cats somewhat dominant win over Iowa was that Colter had delivered the missing identity with his B1G Offensive Player of the Week performance, highlighted by 166 rushing yards on 26 carries and accounting for all four NU TDs.  Still, as we sit on the sidelines for week 10 of the season, this season feels like it is missing something, not only for NU, but for the much maligned Big Ten Conference as a whole. By this point in the year, you usually have an excellent feel for which teams will win and which ones won’t. however, in part because of the conference’s mediocrity and in part because of the individual teams’ inconsistent play, no one really knows what to expect, aside from the train wreck that is Illini football.

Northwestern, as you know, plays at Michigan a week from Saturday, then returns to the Wolverine State to play Michigan State on the 17th before closing out at home with woeful Illinois.  I think most Wildcat fans look at those three and see one definite win (Illinois) and a likely loss at Michigan (assuming Denard is healthy) with Michigan State being a coin flip. The Wolverines are a very beatable team, however, and I’m loving the timing of our bye week, despite the stat that JHodges or NUHighlights threw out yesterday – NU is 0-7 after bye weeks under Fitz. If there is a year to be different and break the trend, this is it. This season defies logic conference-wide.

As we look ahead to Michigan, there are some telling stats that should telegraph our game plan.  First, Michigan is a mirror image of Northwestern on offense. The Wolverines offer a high-powered rushing attack thanks to Denard, with the 27th best rushing game at 206 ypg, even after their stats took a hit with his injury in the loss at Nebraska. The Wolverines are almost as woeful as we are in passing with a 172 ypg in the air (11th B1G, 108th in FBS).  Conversely, they boast the #1 ranked pass defense in the nation.  As you know, we’re dead last in the B1G in passing  (163 ypg, 110th FBS), so it doesn’t get much more mismatched than this.  Michigan has a slightly above average rush defense (146 ypg, 6th B1G, 46th FBS), but an overall top 10 total defense (9th) giving up only 291 ypg along with a scoring defense that surrenders only 17.3 ppg good enough for 14th in the land. The bottom-line is that we’ll have to take our strong running game, with Kain in the shotgun, and beat them on the ground with the occasional keep them honest pass, just like we did against Iowa.

Michigan State, meanwhile, really terrifies me from a match-up standpoint. If you watched them against Wisconsin, you say to yourself “how are we going to get yardage against these guys?”.  They are an elite defense. This is by far the best defense we’ll face all season and even in a bowl game. They simply don’t give up rushing yards – just 91 per game – and rank 7th in the country.  They give up only 176 ypg in the air and boast a top 5 total defense and 10th in the country in scoring with just 15 ppg. You wonder how a team that is so stellar on “D” can have such an average record. You watch them hold Montee Ball to 16 yards and think there is no way we’ll move the ball against them, but then you remember this very team lost to Iowa. At home. The Spartans can’t score. They struggle mightily to move the ball at all and Andrew Maxwell has had a terrible season, yet, they still average 229 ypg, which is 3rd in the B1G – I expected to see them near the bottom in passing since every game I watch they can’t seem to get a first down in the air. Even their highly touted feature back in Le’Veon Bell, who is a beast (averages 118 ypg), has Michigan State averaging only 131 ypg as a team on the ground – dead last in rushing in the conference. They muster only 19 ppg, which is highly inflated by one non-conference win. Consider this – Sparty has scored more than 16 points in a B1G just once (31 vs Indiana).  On the flip side, they’ve given up 17, 19 and 12 in their three B1G losses. Northwestern’s string of nearly 70 straight double-digit scoring games could be in jeopardy. I had Sparty as good as dead this season, thinking they’d lose to Wisconsin, drop to 4-5 and be mailing it in by the time we came to town. Now, we’ve got to root for them this week to knock off Nebraska, which isn’t out of the question, except for the fact I don’t know how they’re going to score points. Should they beat Nebraska, this team will be playing for something – bowl positioning, and have some life in them and we know how much they’ve mastered us since our last win in the series – 2007.

And then, there is Illinois. I’m really starting to believe Tim Beckman may actually get fired after one season. The Illini AD’s stubbornness is likely the best job security he has going, though. He may be gone as well, though. The program is an absolute train wreck with zero signs of progress, and worse, a significant regression after a 7-win season and bowl win that you know has the Zookster just chuckling some place. I know you’ll warn me about overlooking an Illini team that will have our game as their bowl game, and you may be right, but man am I excited to play them. I want this one badly after the past few years of losing to them and then watching their sophmoric stunts in the wake of victory.

I believe we’ll win two out of three, but I’m starting to like our match-up with Michigan better than Michigan State, at least on paper. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see us win all three – I think the difference between Michigan and us is negligible at best and I think we’re better than Michigan State this year, but I fear a Penn State reprise with our “D” being on the field all day.  I’m feeling good about our chances with the Illini and can’t wait.

Now, a couple stat notes to keep you going today…

  • Venric Mark is now 13th in the country and 2nd in the B1G in rushing with 119.7 ypg, only 2 ypg behind B1G leader Braxton Miller.
  • Venric is 6th in the country in all-purpose yards with 184 ypg and he’s tops in the B1G. UNC’s Giovani Bernard is #1 with 214 ypg.
  • You need 1.2 punt returns per game to qualify, therefore Venric doesn’t qualify, otherwise he’d be #1 in the country.
  • The ‘Cats are 2nd in the B1G in sacks allowed with just 1.3 pg, obviously in part due to the preponderence of rushing plays.
  • Who would have thought that after 9 games, Tony Jones would lead NU’s receivers with a mere 29 ypg receiving?
  • Imagine if you had said that going in to week 10 NU would have as many B1G wins as Iowa, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana combined?

Michigan Gametime Set

The ‘Cats-Michigan game gets the 11 am ct slot and will be on either ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 pending the outcomes of this weekend’s games.

‘Cats on Deadspin

I’m not going to link to it, but by now you’ve likely seen the photo of a student at Saturday’s game reading a book in the student section which has fanned the flame of the nerd perception of NU around the Big Ten Bloggetariat.

  • DarkSide

    Venric needs to get some passes thrown in his direction. Other than the BC game (7 catches), Venric has been averaging two receptions per game. Get him the ball in space and let him do the rest.

    Beat Michigan. Go ‘Cats.

    • Henry in CT

      If we could get him the ball in space, we would.

  • Henry in CT

    NU is a team with an identity; it is Kain Colter. He is as much the face of NU as Denard Robinson is the face of Michigan. However I believe there is one very important difference and it is that Colter is a much smarter player than Robinson. Colter may get us to the promised land but I doubt that Robinson can do it for Michigan. The rest of the analysis is right on. We are going to have to beat UM and MSU with game planning and scheming but the important point is that both games are winnable. And looking back, PSU and UNL were winnable as well. It shows the kind of intellectual game that college football can be.

    • DT

      Henry, from our chat the other day, I’m a bigger fan of Colter’s ability than you are seemingly… BUT– I’m not sure where all this “smarter” than Robinson talk comes from… Robinson had an abysmal game with some awful decisions against Notre Dame, but I’m not sure Robinson has done anything to warrant he is not Kain’s equal in terms of game intelligence… Both, are terrific athletes, no doubt…

      LTP– Be careful what you wish for… Fact of the matter, is NU should be 2-0 returning from its tour of Michigan… Illinois is awful, playing almost to a FCS level week to week. While that would be cause for celebration going 3-0 and maybe even playing for The Big Ten Championship, 10-2, pretty much assures 0-10 in bowl games, given a probable match up against say, an LSU, Florida, K-State, etc. Paradoxical to say the least.. Net/net, we would not be lining up against 7-5 Auburn ala 09 or a disappointing Mizzou team ala 08… Going to see the top tier of teams trying to prove something ala Nebraska in 00… I’d look for the same type outcome unfortunately if indeed NU winds up on New Years Day or by some stroke of fate, The Rose Bowl.. Heaven help us against Oregon or SC… No shot.. Be lucky to keep within 30 points of either…

      • CatInTheHat

        This isn’t your father’s…er, at least mid-2000s…USC. They are heavily beatable, but I also don’t see them headed to Pasadena. Oregon? Yeah, they’re going to blow away just about anyone they play, save for maybe Alabama, and I’m not convinced they wouldn’t outscore them too. Oregon is an absolute Godzilla. You never know what magic Phillips is going to work regarding bowl placement, but if we win between 8-10 games, I see us either in the Outback (indeed versus some SEC behemoth, angry that they didn’t get a BCS bid) or BWW/Insight vs. a worthy but well-matched opponent whom we could beat if we play our best game.

        • DT

          Cat- I saw enough of Matt Barkley and Mr. Lee on Saturday to state with a high degree of confidence that NU would not have a chance defending that passing attack with what is the weakest pass “D” in the Big Ten… Yes, I know Syracuse hung with em to some extent out East, and they lost The Saturday Game, and to our soul mates at Stanford, BUT…. We would need to score 40+ points to have a chance, and while certainly not the “D” of that mid Y2K you reference, SC would not give us 40 points, particulary with the would be game in LA, and weeks for Monte Kiffin to prepare… Oregon? It could happen if they lose that PAC-12 Championship game to SC, UCLA, whomever… Don’t count on that… Nor would we want it…
          If NU WERE to run the table the rest of the way, finishing 10-2 or 10-3 with a loss at Indy, almost certain The Cap One Bowl would be the destination at that point.. Probably Georgia, South Carolina, possibly LSU or Florida waiting for them there.. Good luck to us… Maybe, I still have earnest memory to my last trip there in The Citrus Bowl against Peyton Manning or watching a finesse offense from Hawaii try to hoodwink better athletes from Georgia in The Sugar Bowl five years ago… Either way, was football carnage, that would befall the 2012 Wildcats the same way…Finally, I agree that The Outback or Insight would be possible… Texas or West Virginia very possible in the Insight… We would indeed need to play our very best to win any of these games.. Very best game…

      • TENman

        DT- I’m in agreement with your point that this year, for NU, the better the bowl, the bigger the blowout. But consider this. Assume that whatever the regular season outcome, NU will not fall to Dallas Bowl or Pizza Bowl. Under that scenario , the possible bowl destinations will be the Rose, Citrus, Outback, Gator, BWW, and MCC. Simply due to the depth of the SEC and B12 this year, NU will be a 10+ point underdog in any of those bowls. Why not then at least take the trip to the better bowl?

        • DT

          @6cf02e37fc5958006cf8f9e2b34ce1ec:disqus– Speaking for myself, I’d like to have the destination for our trip be where they are 10 point U-Dogs, not 15-20+… While some here seemingly enjoy a thrashing in big ticket environments in lieu of beating (or in our case to date losing to) a so called “lesser opponent” (keep in mind, NU is the only Big Ten program to lose the current Pizza Bowl…) in the often referenced ‘shitty bowl”, count me in wanting a match up most preferable to getting this 800 lbs. gorilla off the programs back (and the stuffed one off the sideline) in what is an uncacceptable bowl losing streak spanning 3 coaches in the Modern Era of NU Football since 95. Net/net, I don’t care against who or where the game is played, I want a win… Taking that a step further, it almost takes some pressure off Fitzgerald and Phillips to some extent to play in a bigger ticket bowl, in that most apologists here will say what great year NU had to get there and how far the program has come… Heard that crap in 96 and 2000.. Tired of it then, no time for it now… Another bowl loss in my mind negates anything positive that has come out of this season, in a woeful Big Ten at that…

          • TENman

            @bb8bfcc2b089972ef60f21e4992beabd:disqus – I know you’ve made your opinion regarding the NU’s bowl losing streak known in the past, and I was just wondering whether this year, given the poor bowl match up options across the board, whether you might relent a little. What may come to pass that will play into NUs favor in drawing a less formidable bowl opponent this year is a mercy pass over by the more pretigious bowls. Regardless of record, I’m thinking the the Cap One, Outback bowls may be reluctant to pitch SEC #2/3 against NU. Even if NU runs the table, those bowls might not want to face the prospect of hosting a 50-10 laugher.

            As you can tell, whatever the bowl destination, I’m very pessimistic this year about our chances of a bowl victory, and am thinking that that elusive goal will have to wait another year. That being the case, I don’t see as much downside as playing in the more prestigious bowls this year.

          • DT


            Thanks, Ten… You make a ton of sense… Was watching Treme the other night, and the hustler played by John Seda (I think it is…) says, “I go where the money is”… In the case of NU, they should try to go where the best chance to win is.. I’m probably in a minority here these days, but this program is stuck in neutral until they get the W…

          • PBRCat

            Apart from being played on December 26th, I have nothing against the Pizza Bowl (formerly the Motor City Bowl). Easy drive from Chicago, Ford Field is a good facility, a MAC opponent, and a hotel room in Windsor. It is an inexpensive trip, plus the opportunity to collect a trophy now. For 2012, however, I do not see the Wildcats being Detroit bound. Probably Minnesota, Iowa, or Indiana, provided that the Hoosiers become eligible, will fill the B1G slot there.
            Honestly, I think that Northwestern would be a huge underdog in most of the prominent bowls. After making five trips to Texas, I am not sure that I would sign on to visit the Lone Star State again. I enjoyed myself on those visits, but would probably watch it on television rather than going to one of the previous venues again.

          • DT

            @pbrcat:disqus – NO problem with any of what you mention… Makes total sense to me… Oddly enough, for many of the reasons you suggest, the only bowl game I would consider attending in person this year would be The Pizza Bowl… Let some of the newbies and twentysomehting folks full of piss and vinegar take up the travel slack… Having walked out of bowl losses from California, to Texas to Florida, I’ll keep the shrinking greenbacks in the billfold until these guys win a game and leave the perpetual optimism that Vegas is wrong to folks like LTP and other optimists that contribute here seemingly thinking– Fitz turns Houdini in besting programs NU will meet with a probable 9-3 record…

          • DT

            @pbrcat:disqus- PBR, given your mention of Windsor, I’m going to assume you are a Patron Of The Arts and member in good standing of that fine institution known as The Windsor Ballet?
            Have your passport ready these days!

          • PBRCat

            Sounds like “Deja Vu” or the “Cheetah Lounge.”

      • BosCat

        The way I see it, if we go 3-0 or 2-1 that gets us to 10-2 or 9-3. Trip to Indy depends on how Nebby does, but for bowls: realistic chance that nobody else gets beyond 7 wins (including Wisconsin: W at Indy; loss OSU; loss at PSU). Mich would also be at 7-5 (5-3) if they lost to us and OSU. If Wisky loses conf champ, then worst we could do is Outback, although I don’t think we could fall past Cap One since they can’t have a team with 2 fewer wins jump up (I believe).

        I certainly get the whole it’s who the committee wants to invite thing, but for either Cap One or Outback it would means we get passed by a team two games worse than us

      • There are only two teams in the country that “scare me” – Alabama and Oregon. I feel the rest of the top 20 is in parityville.

        • DT

          Whatever… None of it is favorable to a program currently playing 40-50 level D-1…

          • NUmanager

            If we get to Indy, getting through Indy and to the Rose Bowl is very possible And we very well could get Oregon St. in Pasadena (if Oregon plays in Nat Champ Game). I’d take that over a very possible Geno Smith-WVU pairing.

          • DT

            Manager- On paper at least, I’d take my chances with The Beavs (though I don’t think they will be attending The Rose Bowl with at least 1 if not 2 additional conference losses probable…) over Geno Smith as well, albeit OSU has a great coach in Mike Riley and a “D” that stoned Bucky pretty well earlier this year on The West Coast… Really comes down to favoring the potential to come out ahead in a probable shootout with WVU, as opposed to struggling for points against a very solid “D” from The Beavs…

      • Henry in CT

        DT – What I said was that with virtually no semblence of a passing attack it is difficult to see how we can get anywhere no matter how good the running game is but then of course this is the B1G. It wont be the same against a quality opponent in a bowl. As to Colter vs Robinson, the NU offense depends on Colter’s decision making since on virtually every play Colter has to decide to throw it, give it to Mark or keep it himself. It is his decision making as well as his running ability that makes it work. With Robinson it is more about him just running which is fine with them because he doesn’t have much of an arm and he makes bad decisions. That makes them totally one dimensional so if the opponent can shut him down or knock him out Michigan is in trouble. Try to force him to throw and hope your DB’s can cover their receivers.

        • DT

          @d7c2fdcc058d566bdff003fbdbea68f4:disqus -Gotcha… I still say, Colter is capable of throwing the ball and expanding the proverbial playbook if McCall and Fitzgerald have the stones and good sense to let him execute the total scope of the “O”–giving him more confidence in his passing success. The Wide Outs and Slot guys need to start making catches as well and make plays that might not be right in the hands chest high… Colter is more than capable in making passes this “O” needs to spread the field successfully, sustain drives and TOP and hopefully, put more points on the boards they no doubt will need in a bowl game against a better team then they have faced all year… How I see it…

    • I personally resisted the idea of Colter being the “face” of NU football, but actually I think he’s earned the position.

      Now he has to go and win 2 of 3, then 2013 will be the “year of Colter” and watch out BIG.

      • DT

        Rockin’ Roy–

        Colter has earned the right to be the so called, “Face of the franchise’ if you will.. Chances are, NU gets that 2 of 3 in 2012…

        That said, let’s put down the Koolaid a sec, and consider an addition to the NU schedule in 2013 being the the 10/5 game against Coach Meyer and his Buckeyes… Ole Urban is not shy in pointing out that Braxton Miller is the best athlete he has ever coached, period… Let’s not forget as well, Ohio State will be bowl eligible and in the second year of Meyer’s tenure and recruiting. Be that as it may, if you still see it as “the year of Colter”, good on ya!

  • KP

    Thank god the Michigan game is early. Detroit doesn’t have any late flights out; Ann Arbor really needs an airport of its own.

    More on topic: How many punt returns during the Michigan game does Venric need in order to qualify to be ranked?

    • UVA Cat

      Mark currently has 10 punt returns through 9 games (1.11 per game). So, he’d need 2 punt returns during the Mich game to get to 1.2 per game. Plus he’d obviously also have to have those 2 returns be for decent yardage.

  • An additional note: In Big Ten play only, Venric Mark is the leading rusher in the conference.

  • Guest

    Haven’t seen the photo, but is everyone sure it’s not just the media guide? ;) Regardless, I’d rather have a student reading a book at the game, in the stands, then back in their dorm or the library. For “Nerdwestern”, I’d call that progress. Maybe for Illinois, they’ll just bring flash cards…

    • KP

      It looks like a book, but not a “textbook” necessarily. Whatever, midterms are coming up – I give him props for making it to the game even if he had to resort to bringing a book.


      • DT

        I give him points for Standing UP!

    • KP

      Agreed. If he’s a student, he probably has midterms so I’ll give him props for making it to the game at all. I’ve been to more games as an alum than I have as an undergrad.

  • WonderShredder

    Haven’t seen the photo, but is everyone sure it’s not just the media
    guide? ;) Regardless, I’d rather have a student reading a book at the
    game, in the stands, than back in their dorm or the library. For
    “Nerdwestern”, I’d call that progress. Maybe for Illinois, they’ll just
    bring flash cards…

    • Siren

      I can’t link to the article, because deadspin isn’t loading for me. I do remember, however, that when they first posted, an anonymous commenter claimed to be reader in question. He said he was a high school student going to the game with his dad, reading a book about basketball. So take that for whatever it’s worth.

      • WonderShredder

        I’d say the high school vs undergrad point doesn’t change much: if he’s a warm, purple-clad body taking up space – and, especially embedded with the students, he’ll inevitably participate in some kind of cheering, maybe at the end of a chapter – inside the stadium, then it’s all good.

        • KP

          Debatable if he’s purple clad. He’s wearing black track pants and a gray hoodie but you can’t see the front. The captcha was kicking my butt so I’m going to try to just upload the image rather than link to it.

  • UVA Cat

    I, too, like our match up with Michigan the more that I looke at it. What team, other than ‘Bama, has scored the most points vs. Michigan this year?? Answer: Air Force, which runs an offense that is not unlike ours–very run oriented with an option look. The key, I think, will be to contain Robinson who, I assume, will be playing by the time we meet them next weekend. That, and avoiding the three and outs, in order to allow our defense to stay strong for the entire game.

  • <>

    Who’d have thought that a Northwestern graduate would have written “who’d of thought?” ;-)

  • A picture of a student reading at the game has been taken many times – at least they don’t have the picture of me drinking SoCo every time the Griffins scored (back in 1972).

    Venric is effective running because he can get lost behind the O-line which gives him that split second advantage going North South. When you throw to him, he’s out in the clear where those safeties can find him. Maybe that shuffle pass would work, however, NU got away from it after a couple of bad fumble losses.

    Nebraska showed that if Robinson is gone, Michigan can’t move the ball, but I’d be surprised if the backup guy was as unprepared next week as he was Saturday.

    That’s all I have