Venric-less ‘Cats Overcome Injuries, Psyche In 23-20 Win Over Sparty; The Great, The Good & The Disappointing

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State

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Exhausted? I know I am. The nervous energy for ‘Cats fans watching Northwestern (8-3,4-3) hang on to a 4th quarter lead was extreme. The ‘Cats finally reversed a disturbing trend of losing games by giving up late leads and hung on to beat Michigan State 23-20 (5-6,2-5) in another cliffhanger.  Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that this team was able to beat the best B1G defense on a day when we played a “B” game – we were outrushed, outpassed, had fewer first downs and lost in nearly every stat category except the huge one – turnovers. In years past, we’d need an “A” game to pull out that very same game. When you consider star RB/all-purpose man, Venric Mark, left the game midway through the first quarter due to injury and never returned and Kain Colter got dinged up in the third quarter and sat for the final 15 minutes due to injury, you really start to appreciate how we gutted this one out.

Before we dive in to The Great, The Good & The Disappointing, I want to start with the absolutely absurd. Several of you work at ESPN and I truly invite you to pass this along to the talent director at ESPN. Bob Wischusen and Danny Kannell called one of the most terrible games I can recall. The entire telecast seemed as if local homer announcers slipped in to the booth. I  did a double take from the very first words out of Kannell’s mouth when he claimed that no other team in the country has had a roller coaster ride with close losses than Michigan State. Huh? How bout looking no further than the other sideline? The telecast used the “Sparty has lost four B1G games by 10 points” throughout, with only one mention of Northwestern’s “what if?” season. But, that was hardly the egregious part. Michigan State was 5-5 and throughout the game they talked as if it was foregone conclusion that Michigan State would win the game. They never acknowledged NU was two games ahead of Sparty and had a lot to play for (OK, they did once). They gushed about Le’Veon Bell, but failed to setup the fact that this was a head-to-head match-up of the conference’s two best running backs. After two series, Venric didn’t return and they went TWO FULL QUARTERS before acknowledging it. The nation’s #1 ranked punt returner was missing, yet no mention of it. Kain Colter’s primary option in the option game – gone, yet no mention of the impact on the offensive strategy. Then, it became downright annoying. Tyler Scott gets held by a Spartan in the third quarter and gets thrown to the ground by a defender right in front of the ref and near a scrambling QB Andrew Maxwell. Kannell’s comment? He gushed about the “great block” and even mentioned throwing Scott to the ground (who got injured on the play).  Uhh, Danny, you can’t grab a guy and throw him to the ground, it’s illegal. Then, in the layup of all layups for setting up drama, Northwestern having to punt and Michigan State getting it back, every ‘Cats fan was thinking about Michigan and how damn similar this all felt, up three, no timeouts etc…and NO MENTION of it. Instead, the announcers talked about the unlikelihood of anything happening. Oh yeah, and thanks for that injury update on Kain Colter when he never came back in to the game.  Folks, that was an “F” telecast. But, like everything else after a win, I’ll take it as long as I can keep the “w”.

Let’s get back to the ‘Cats. This was a pretty big game for program momentum. I saw a lot of growth from Fitz in this game in terms of in-game adapting. The game-winning drive which ended in a Jeff Budzien FG was thanks to a series of controlled passes that had Trevor Siemian clicking and one mammoth catch from Dan Vitale in blown coverage.  Mark Dantonio had some real questionable play calls that led to a punt on 4th and 10 with under 3 minutes to go.  Michigan State had all three timeouts remaining so everyone knew we’d need to get at least one first down to get the win. Throughout Fitz’s career, this scenario would usually lead Mick McCall to go ultraconservative. I was expecting three off-tackle dives from Tyris Jones. Instead, Fitz and McCall went right back to what had worked on the previous drive. Sparty, expecting run, stuffed the box with 8 men. After the initial rush and Sparty timeout, Trevor started aiming for guys in the flat with high percentage passes. It worked. We even picked up a pass interference to extend the drive.  Ultimately, we came up short on 3rd and 5 with about 1:20 to go, but Michigan State had used all its timeouts and we came damn close to getting the first. We played to win the game. I texted every friend I could think of and said “win or lose I’m commending NU for the playcalling on this series”.  Yet, there we stood, about to punt to Sparty with a minute to go, or about 5 times as much time as last week. Same state, same direction and we all thought it, hopefully not the same result.

The ‘Cats bend but get a takeaway when we need it “D” was back on the field. I couldn’t help but ISO on Jones for obvious reasons. Andrew Maxwell went airborne as expected. An incompletion, a gift no-call on a likely pass interference on Demetrius Dugar and a dropped pass set-up a 4th and 10. This was the play. This was the moment of potential redemption. Maxwell fired a seed to TE Dion Sims who seemingly grabbed it in incredible traffic

THE GREAT

Ibraheim Campbell – My game ball goes right here to #24. On a day when the secondary was just getting scorched and tested out of lack of respect, Ibraheim was laying wood and making huge, gamechanging plays. He levelled Le’Veon Bell with a nasty hit early that knocked the bruising back out of the game. A 4th and 1 from the 1 early in the game when everyone in the joint new it was going to Bell, no problem, Campbell knocks Le’Veon for a loss and a turnover on downs. He was in multiple fumble recovery plays, had a pair of key pass breakups and of course, the defensive play of the game, a nasty hit on Andrew Maxwell as he released that forced a flutterball which LB David Nwabuisi promptly plucked out of the air and wound his way for a pick six TD to seize momentum of the game on the second half’s opening drive. A total of 11 tackles on the day – well done Mr. Campbell!

Dan Vitale – What a breakout game for the true freshman. The hybrid TE/FB has been a steady hand all year and each week seems to grow both in confidence and impact, but he was a beast on this day and really found his chemistry with Trevor Siemian taking over the role of Kain Colter as Trevor’s first look in his progressions. With Michigan State having tied things up at 13-13 in the third,  Vitale had back-to-back catches from Siemian of 24 yards and 13 yards that set up a Kain Colter to Tim Riley TD.  His 41-yard reception on busted coverage, set-up the game-winning points. Simply put, a huge day as he hauled in a game high 9 rec for 110 receiving yards. Great, great game, Dan.

Jeff Budzien – Mr. automatic PAT was perfect as usual on the pair of PATs, but more importantly he drilled all three FGs which turned out to be huge. Jeff was good from 23 yards, 43 yards and the game-winner from 27 yards with a tough angle. Conversely, MSU’s Dan Conroy missed one of his two, which turned out to be the difference.

The Front Seven – Sure, there was some inconsistency in terms of Maxwell getting too much time at times, but boy did this unit step up when it needed to. The ‘Cats talllied 6 TFLs, 3 sacks, several tipped balls and while the conference’s best RB upped his average with 133 yds on 32 carries, he really had only one “big” run – a 17 yarder at that. The Spartans had 156 rushing yards, but really had to fight for them. The intangibles of stiffening near the goal line grabbing a takeaway on a fumble and pitching a goal line stand contributed to our front seven playing loose and even blitzing more often. Sure, a ton of room for improvement, but they really contributed to the win bigtime. Damien Proby led the way with 12 tackles, despite several rests for injuries. Chi Chi, Drew Smith and Nwabuisi all racked up TFLs and Drew in particular stepped up with some serious swarming.

Protecting the Rock - On a day when the ‘Cats D would earn 4 takeaways, NU controlled the ball and had zero turnovers. Our QBs were great in their decision making to not force things and they did a great job of protecting the rock when they found themselves fighting and kicking for every yard.

THE GOOD

Offensive Playcalling – The opening drive was just brilliant playcalling by Mick McCall, despite the fact we came away with three points. When you consider the adversity we had thrown at us – Venric’s injury, Kain’s injury – it looks even better. If you combine both Kain and Trevor’s passing, the combo each had 13 completions for a combined 246 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.  It was great to see the staff calling for Kain to play with a much more balanced approach as he seemed to really gain flow with the up-tempo, short passing game mixed in to his repertoire. We continue to add new wrinkles each week and the use of Tim Riley surprised everyone and resulted in a TD.  I LOVED our aggressive play at the end of the game and our completely different philosophy of going for the win as opposed to trying not to lose.

Defensive Resiliency – The Michigan State gameplan was pretty simple. A heavy dose early of Le’Veon Bell to get the ‘Cats “D” to respect the run and then play action, play action and play action to throw wherever #22 or #27 were on the field. There is no way to sugercoat it, our secondary has a ton of room for improvement. On this day, it seemed every body blow by Michigan State was immediately followed by a statement. Jared Carpenter gets beat and hurt on a play then turns around and makes a pick. Quinn Evans gets beat and a bad personal foul, then soonafter makes a great breakup.  The front seven was a M*A*S*H unit getting dinged up seemingly on every other play, but it seemed every big play by Sparty would be followed by a key play – a TFL, a hurry, and of course the four takeaways. When Michigan State got within our five, we stiffenned. The fact we only turned 4 turnovers in to 5 net points (Kain’s safety came after a fumble recovery).  It wasn’t pretty, but it was resilient. Andrew Maxwell ended up 26-42, 297 yds, 2 TD, 2 INTs.

Nwabuisi’s Pick 6 - We gave the due props to Ibraheim up above, but boy was that a sweet return by David to really help Northwestern grab control of momentum and spark the team.

Trevor Siemian – Every commentator raves about it. Siemian’s ability to come in off the bench cold is really impressive. His first few passes were low percentage thread the needle types. Trevor really played with a lot of composure and seemed to pick up where he left off in Ann Arbor, which was his best performance of the season. Trevor was only 13-of-23 for 146 yds and had 0TD, 0 INTs, but the bulk of these plays were split up in to crunch time. Also, the ‘Cats receiving corps continued its case of the drops today as Trevor had at least three gimmes dropped.

THE DISAPPOINTING

NU Punting – I hate to single out specific guys, so let’s just say our punting game has gone south in the past two weeks. Low line drive kicks, lack of distance and some overall head scratching.

Colter’s Safety – The bootleg reminded me of Ricky Stanzi meeting Corey Wootton, Kain Colter’s roll in the end zone resulted in a slightly less sucky outcome. Colter was sacked by William Gholston for a safety and had time to get rid of the rock. It was a huge momentum swing in the wrong direction.

Lack of Trumpy – No disrespect to Tyris Jones, but when it comes to third and short and Venric Mark is out injured, I believe Mike Trumpy has shown over time he’s got the ability to get key yardage. I was stunned at the lack of touches to Mike in this game as he’s been clicking with an outstanding ypc click on the few touches he has been getting.

Summary

It’s a great win and Northwestern’s first against Sparty since 2007. It marks only the 7th win (7-18) in East Lansing and we’ve now won three of our last four there (’05, ’07, ’12) and are in a great spot to go 9-3 and then on to that all important bowl win. This really is a double whammy of the good variety. We may have put a team, a program that we believe we’re on the same level with, home for bowl season.  Meanwhile, after four straight seasons of declining win totals, we’re on the verge of matching Fitz’s highest regular season total and setting up the program for a potential very rare 10th win. When you consider this was a rebuilding year, it really could set us up for a huge 2013 season when we have nearly every playmaker back and the wind of a lot of wins, yet a taste of disappointment as well.

The ‘Cats mustered a mere 57 net rushing yards and beat a decent B1G team that featured a great defense. The ‘Cats totaled just 303 yards of total offense, were without the services of their two best players for significant parts of the game and won. We were terrible on 3rd down, going just 3-14 and punted 8 times in the game – yet, we won. It was an incredibly resilient performance after the crushing heartbreak last week down the road in Ann Arbor. Let’s give credit where it is due – to the coaching staff and the team. What a battle.

It’s been a crazy night as both #1 and #2 were upset in the BCS and TTFSB is the new #1. The Illini, our opponent and focus for the week continued its hapless ways dropping their 13th straight B1G game and dropped to 0-7 in league play. Meanwhile, that non-conference schedule we didn’t get credit for is starting to look a bunch better. Vanderbilt throttled Tennessee to get to 7-4 in the SEC and Syracuse beat Missouri a week after downing #9 Louisville and helping the perception of our wins as both will be bowl bound. BC let one slip away in OT to Virginia Tech, but what can you say? It was just that kind of crazy.  Oh yeah, then there is that little rumor about Maryland and Rutgers joining the B1G. Ugh, boy do I have some strong opinions on that. How will we get it all in this week?

Let’s take a look at some stats to stew on:

  • Pat Fitzgerald is now one win away from tying Lynn Pappy Waldorf for most wins (49) in NU History
  • The ‘Cats now have a winning road record (3-2) for the fifth straight year
  • Sparty’s safety was the first by NU since Illinois got us in 2006
  • NU improved to 23-12 in Fitz era games decided by 7 points or less
  • Fitz is now 11-8 in games decided by 3 points or less
  • Nwabuisi’s Pick Six was NU’s first since Jordan Mabin’s in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan 1. 2011
  • Tim Riley now has three career receptions with two of them going for TDs
  • Career highs on the day included Rashad Lawrence’s 6 receptions, Drew Smith’s 4 tackles and Quinn Evans’ 7 tackles
  • The ‘Cats scored in double digits for the 71st straight game.

FINAL GAME STATS

NU      MSU

Team Totals NU MSU
FIRST DOWNS 17 23
    Rushing 3 7
    Passing 12 15
    Penalty 2 1
NET YARDS RUSHING 57 122
    Rushing Attempts 27 39
    Average Per Rush 2.1 3.1
    Rushing Touchdowns 0 0
    Yards Gained Rushing 67 156
    Yards Lost Rushing 10 34
NET YARDS PASSING 246 297
    Completions-Attempts-Int 26-43-0 22-47-2
    Average Per Attempt 5.7 6.3
    Average Per Completion 9.5 13.5
    Passing Touchdowns 1 2
TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS 303 419
    Total offense plays 70 86
    Average Gain Per Play 4.3 4.9
Fumbles: Number-Lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties: Number-Yards 3-25 2-21
PUNTS-YARDS 8-300 5-213
    Average Yards Per Punt 37.5 42.6
    Net Yards Per Punt 37.1 40.8
    Inside 20 1 2
    50+ Yards 1 0
    Touchbacks 0 0
    Fair catch 3 0
KICKOFFS-YARDS 7-419 4-249
    Average Yards Per Kickoff 59.9 62.2
    Net Yards Per Kickoff 38.3 41.8
    Touchbacks 2 1
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD 2-9-0 1-3-0
    Average Per Return 4.5 3.0
Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD 3-57-0 5-101-0
    Average Per Return 19.0 20.2
Interceptions: Number-Yds-TD 2-43-1 0-0-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0
Miscellaneous Yards 0 0
Possession Time 25:41 34:19
    1st Quarter 8:25 6:35
    2nd Quarter 5:46 9:14
    3rd Quarter 5:40 9:20
    4th Quarter 5:50 9:10
Third-Down Conversions 3 of 14 8 of 17
Fourth-Down Conversions 0 of 0 0 of 2
Red-Zone Scores-Chances 3-4 3-6
    Touchdowns 1-4 2-6
    Field goals 2-4 1-6
Sacks By: Number-Yards 3-27 1-1
PAT Kicks 2-2 1-1
Field Goals 3-3 1-2

 

 

Northwestern
Michigan State
RUSHING No. Gain Loss Net TD Lg Avg.
Colter, Kain    6 29 1 28 0 22 4.7
Trumpy, Mike    7 15 2 13 0 5 1.9
Jones, Tyris    4 10 0 10 0 8 2.5
Mark, Venric    6 9 2 7 0 4 1.2
Siemian, Trevor 1 4 0 4 0 4 4.0
TEAM            3 0 5 -5 0 0 -1.7
Totals… 27 67 10 57 0 22 2.1
RUSHING No. Gain Loss Net TD Lg Avg.
Bell, Le’Veon   32 140 7 133 0 17 4.2
Mumphery, Keith 2 8 0 8 0 6 4.0
TEAM            1 0 0 0 0 0 0.0
Maxwell, Andrew 4 8 27 -19 0 8 -4.8
Totals… 39 156 34 122 0 17 3.1
 
 
PASSING Cmp-Att-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Siemian, Trevor 13-23-0 165 0 41 0
Colter, Kain    13-20-0 81 1 14 1
Totals… 26-43-0 246 1 41 1
PASSING Cmp-Att-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Maxwell, Andrew 22-46-2 297 2 44 3
TEAM            0-1-0 0 0 0 0
Totals… 22-47-2 297 2 44 3

 

  • SJ Wildcat

    Agree wholeheartedly on the ESPN announcers, but l too will take the win. Great to get props out to Dan Vitale — he was truly a difference maker in the win today. Now all we need to find out is why his fellow Wheatonite (Mike Trumpy) was not on the field more today. Trumpy did have one bad drop, but that did not keep Fitz from trotting out receivers who continue to make bad drops. I would have liked to have seen Trumpy get some carriers in the third and fourth quarters. Maybe he his hurt, maybe he is in the doghouse – who knows? Let’s hope Mark, Colter and the host of Wildcats who got dinged-up today can heal quickly so that the Cats can put a whopping on the boys from downstate next Saturday. Go Cats!

    • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

      I agree…I have Trumpy’s lack of playing time in “The Disappointing”

      • WildCat98

        Thank you, LTP. You pointed out every other criticism I wanted to list on my last post on the previous article. Considering it was a B1G game at noon on ESP2, I was a little surprised Doris Burke wasn’t calling the game, but I see she’s calling the BYU-San Diego St game. I know she has great respect for our program, really missed her today.

    • Doug

      I think these announcers were actually less biased than Griese was last week. That said, at least Griese had done his research. These guys talked about NU using a two quarterback system like it was the week after the Indiana game. Clearly they had not researched our team, taken the time to examine game tape, or even read a reasonable scouting report.
      It really pisses me off how blatantly ESPN panders to money (aka to the team with more fans). Its pathetic and can’t possible be considered ethical reporting.

  • DT

    Good job on your pick, LTP… Some redemption of sorts for your handicapping talents after a tough time last week.. Good to see NU keep attacking on both sides of the ball– as they traded punches with Sparty down the stretch. The only way NU is going to finish and win these close games as many folks observed and commented here the last few weeks.. Good to see our coaching staff get it as well.. Gutsy effort by NU in a very physical but sloppy game indicative of the Big Ten Conference in 2012. While NU has been a surprise to many this year, (or at least to me!) so has Sparty on the negative side of the ledger… Saw them play Boise State, Notre Dame and Nebraska and wondered how they had lost all the games they had this year… Easy to see why, with a marginal talent at QB, a back with lack of breakaway speed, and Wide Outs that had a hard time hanging on to passes.. We should thank them for leaving at least 10 points on the field, on MSU Senior Day at that. Ouch.. Anyway, BIG win for NU today, and good moment for our Head Coach with his dad at the end of the game… Certainly much better than what Lane and Monte Kiffin probably experienced…
    While today was a good win, the next two ARE MUST WINS… A loss to an abysmal Illinois team and loss #10 in a row for NU (and #5 for Fitz) in a bowl would render the good that took place this year against some long odds at that, more than a bit lackluster.
    Finally, with the success of Vandy and The Cuse today coupled with big losses for top teams– if a modicum of justice exists, NU should be in The Top 25 of The AP, Coaches Poll and BCS… The big thing for this program is to be standing in those polls after January 15th.. Then the divergent group of spin doctors and self promoters in the athletic department, football office, booster organizations et al can truly claim, “a great season”.. Much work to be done folks.. Much work.. Stay humble..

    • zeek

      Yep. The season starts anew right now. Illinois has to be a victory and the bowl game goes without saying this year.

      8-3 to this point is exceptional considering the preseason expectations, but we have a shot at 10 and that’s got to be the goal.

    • PBRCat

      I concur. Northwestern has to take care of business against Illinois and get the trophy at its bowl destination. Jeff Budzien had a great game. I am grateful for the victory, but was surprised at how closely the fourth quarter resembled last week’s game. Michigan State obligingly helped out by dropping passes with regularity (in addition to those passes which NU broke up). I do wish that Fitz would limit his excursions on to the playing field to celebrate with his players. Someday, a flag is going to be thrown. I am hoping that somehow the Wildcats can rate a better bowl game — I still feel that NU could be 10-1 at this point, but winning two more would make me feel better about a 10-3 log.

    • Polymersci

      DT, nice commentary as usual. Agree, the season starts anew today. A bowl win will erase all of the trauma induced in those maddening fourth quarter losses! Go Cats!

      • byebyefitz95

        Bowl win and ten wins would easily put us in the top #20 to end the season. Just think of how that will help recruiting.

      • DT

        Poly–Appreciate the kind remarks… Keep the faith!
        PBR– Great point on Budzien and moreover, the kid is money… Easy to overlook him and the difficulty we have had at kicker through the years…
        Zeek- Exceptional is a good way to describe the season, at least by our program standards to date… As you suggest, indeed, new season starts next weeek….

    • Jimgocats93

      Even though Phillips was on the sideline maybe the ghost of you-know-who was there – we got a few calls on the road in the state of Michigan!

      Gocatsgo!

      • DT

        Jimgo- Watching Boardwalk Empire last night, I was reminded of your pick for AD a couple times! All BS aside, tip of the hat to you in that you called the game with Sparty right, and your theory about better play from the Defensive Backs has held water as well– being contributory to an 8-3 record thus far… More power to ya….

        Happy Thanksgiving…

  • notsoutheastern

    Id put Carpenter under the great column as well. defense as a whole was great. yards don’t tell the story of the game. Another note on the espn telecast: Budzien initially missed his kick before HT when Dantonio tried to ice him. The commentators didn’t really mention it until after the second kick went in, but only as an aside. Surprised you didn’t mention it either. Icing the kicker never works!

  • David

    On that kick..the whistle blew pretty early…it might have affected his kick. The interesting question is….did Conroy expect Fitzgerald to to ice him on the kick he missed. Fitzgerald went over by the ref…but never called the timeout. Did Fitz psych him out?

    • David

      I intended to reply to not southeastern.

      • notsoutheastern

        i definitely think Conroy was thinking about whether he was going to get iced or not. So by icing our kicker, Dantonio iced his in reality

  • Mark

    Add to the Disappointing: ticket takers at the gate frisking fans! Huh? A guy who wanted to frisk my wife said he was “just doing (his) job.” My wife didn’t buy it. They were asking people to open their jackets/coats and then patting them down. Honestly, I don’t think ticket takers are trained like law enforcement officers or TSA. I couldn’t tell if they were worried about weapons or Twinkies (food items; not sure Twinkies qualify).

    I would not classify Colter’s safety as disappointing. Happened right in front of the NU fan section: if you want to play like you’re behind the whole day there are some things that won’t work out and if I’m remembering correctly Trumpy had barely gotten out of the end zone on the previous play. Also, better to take the safety than have an interception inside your own 15 yard line – especially when you just dodged a bullet and recovered a fumble.

    Another Disappointing: the MSU scoreboard folks made a point of rerunning calls that the Spartans “should” have gotten, but didn’t rerun the obvious hold and throw down of Tyler Scott.

    • JMarv

      I think they are looking for fans smuggling alcohol into the game. I grew up in East Lansing going to MSU games with my parents and back then after the game the student section used to be littered with fifths.

      • Michigancat

        Live in Lansing area, see lots of Spartan games. Nothing unusual. Very strict security for a lot of reasons…alcohol for sure (although my trusty flask made it in as usual) but more than a few gun nuts around trying to test state laws trying to limit guns in places like college stadiums (bill pending to end that!)

  • DS

    The ESPN announcers were horrible.
    1. How about Danny Kannell at the end of Q4 saying the ‘Cats should “run the ball and then punt to pin MSU back in their own territory”. Did they even watch the Michigan game?

    2. No mention of where Venric Mark or Kain Colter were for the entire 4th Quarter.
    3. Talking about how MSU had tough time “holding on” in the 4th Quarter. Huh? Do they know anything about the Cats in 2012?
    Awful

    • cardiac_cat_fan

      I agree, the announcers were pretty bad. It was so noticeable my girlfriend even asked “do the people talking over the game ever say anything nice about northwestern?” In the third the announcers kept harping on MSU players that are juniors coming back for their senior year and making a run. Hello? are you not watching NU’s mostly underclassman team play strong (and leading), but there’s no mention of the future in a positive light for NU.

    • Peter S

      There also wasn’t even a discussion of Michigan State punting with 3 minutes left in the game from the NU 42 yard line and 4th and 8. That was a gift to NU in my opinion, but the announcers talked like it was a no-brainer.

  • chartmoose

    An ugly win but a great program win!

    So much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving:
    – Great to be enjoying a season which has surpassed our preseason expectations. (I projected 2 fewer victories so far…)
    – So glad that we are even able to win when we face adversity (e.g., injuries to our best players)
    – So proud of our defense establishing itself this season & improving as the season has progressed.
    – OK, at this point I’m even glad that we had close games with the best teams in our division (Nebraska and Michigan). I would have preferred to get wins, but to feel close to a division title in a rebuilding year is a nice place to be.
    – Great that we are going bowling & likely to a “good” bowl game. Imagine how the MSU fans must feel — from a fantastic year last year to the risk of not going bowling at all (and missing all the associated practices that go with the bowl game…)
    – We found a great running attack & running back this year.
    – We really do have 2 quarterbacks we can win with…
    – The youth movement has come up strong & in places we didn’t necessarily expect (Who knew that Dean Lowry & Dan Vitale would become key contributors this year? Who predicted that?)
    – Our coaches didn’t go into a “conservative shell” to end the MSU game — I join LTP and all the others who would have supported their aggressiveness, even if we had lost…
    – Happy that our wins against the Cuse and Vanderbilt are looking better & better…
    – So glad that when we reach the offseason, we won’t need to collectively obsess over our steadily declining win total year over year…
    – So glad we have bowl practices for our young players & our offense. Sorry to call out a position group, but didn’t our wide receivers set a goal of being the best WRs in the conference & didn’t we as fans kinda drink the KoolAid too?
    – Still proud of what our program stands for & the successes of our program in the classroom.

    Now let’s flush the giving thanks & go beat Illinois.
    Go Cats!

  • JM

    Great road win, overcoming key injuries (and late-game demons). But can we add Maryland/Rutgers to “The Disappointing.” Actually, while awful for the B1G, the large NU fanbases in those markets might wind up being a good thing for the Cats in terms of road-game support. But I still hate it.

    • Scott

      Would LOVE to see Rutgers (not so sure about Maryland) in the B1G. Party’s at my house first time the ‘Cats come to Piscataway!

    • JMarv

      I’m not sure it is so bad for the big ten. Conferences don’t get credit in football by having every team be competitive. They get national recognition by having 2 or 3 or 4 teams in the top 10 and in the national title hunt. Also for winning bowl games. Right now the B1G has 1 team at 0-7 in conference and 2 teams at 2-5. The SEC has 3 teams at 0-7 and 3 at 2-5. No one gives the SEC grief for having lots of cellar dwellers. Same for the Pac12 and historically the Big12 as well.

      This also gives the conference the cover to redo the divisions. We can get rid of the awful names and actually make East/West divisions.

    • timc

      It will be really strange to keep calling it the Big TEN with 14 teams.

  • timc

    Don’t want to belabor this punting issue, but- final comment (promise). Williams is in a deep mechanical rut/flaw. I’m ISO on him. He’s taking two steps to his right which puts him against the grain on contact. That’s why he’s getting exactly the same result-the low line drive with no hang time. This is costing us and needs to be corrected. 10 straight like that tells me the coaches aren’t addressing this. So….Jeff Budzein, can you punt (and do kick-offs)?

    • bandcat

      The Rugby style kick in the Michigan game still gets to me.. While every punt this season has not been an Adventure as in recent seasons, it is becoming worrisome. Thank the likes of unsung special teams player Mike Jensen (who i would love to see catch some possesion type passes this year) and his fellow ST Gunners for a job well done this year. Teddy gave him some props on WGN broadcast…Go Cats!

      • timc

        He’s actually doing a hybrid of the rugby kick- moving to his right 2 steps instead of straight on like he used to. Greatly reduces accuracy and hang time. That’s the problem. As for Jensen I couldn’t agree more he was unbelievable in spring ball. Real possession guy. Puzzled by that.

  • Goldstjb

    So do I understand the bowl scenario correctly? If Wisc loses the Championship
    Game and we best Ill, the Outback bowl is obligated to take us?
    Would play a good SEC team.

    • gocatsteve

      Speaking of bowl selection, in his Tribune article today, Teddy Greenstein wrote that the Gator Bowl could pick Michigan State over us if MSU wins next week and becomes bowl eligible at 6-6. That’s incoorect, isn’t it? Even if we lose to Illinois (which we won’t), we’d be 8-4 and two games ahead of MSU. I thought a bowl selection committee can pick a Big Ten team with a worse overall record only if it’s within ONE game. Can someone confirm/ correct me on this

      • Jason

        From Brett Kurland’s post correction from Friday: http://www.laketheposts.com/index.php/2012/11/watching-the-bowl-watchers-wings-beer-northwestern/

        “The “two-loss rule” actually allows the bowl(s) to which it applies to select “any eligible team… except a team that has two fewer wins or two more losses (in all games) than another eligible team.” The full text of the rules is below. Also, the rule always applies to the Capital One Bowl and Outback Bowl, except for when the Big Ten sends a second team to the BCS. When the Big Ten sends a second team to the BCS, the rule no longer applies to the Outback Bowl.”

      • byebyefitz95

        It is so confusing…we are NU grads and should be able to figure this out haha!! In all seriousness who knows how it will turn out? We went to the Outback bowl with a worse record than Wisconsin a few years back (granted we did beat them to end the season and were riding a winning streak into the bowl game as well as Wisconsin was just in the Outback bowl the season before…but still they did have a better record). To be honest the SEC scares me and the thought of playing SC scares me as well. However with K-State and Oregon losing this opens up a chance for the SEC back in the BCS Championship and then they will send another SEC school to the Sugar most likely, so we would play an even easier SEC school than say Florida or SC. I got a headache just writing this.

  • DarkSide

    We had a nice, vocal, supportive Cats section at the game. Nice to be with so many purple clad fans in the road. At the Alumni Association breakfast, I was favorably impressed with Jim Phillips and Morton Shapiro. They have their eyes in the ball. We are in good hands at the upper levels of our administration. This should bode well for our future endeavors. We have so much to be thankful for this holiday. Thanks to all of our players, athletic department workers and coaches. Go Cats! Leave no doubt on the field. Eviscerate the Illini.

  • Michigancat

    Big win in game between two struggling teams. Without Mark? Without Colter?

    The Cats seemed to get just the right play at just the right time to keep the crowd out of it. Was in upper deck opposite the extra point after the pick-6, and one of my seatmates noted you could hear Budziens’ foot hit the ball. Dead silent. Big difference in final drive between Michigan (was there too…ugg) crowd and the State crowd.

    Great to see the rest of the offense step up. Watching the tape now…was dubious about that last pass interference call against State, but pretty clear that was a good call, and a critical one.

    Go Cats. Beat Illini. Then that bowl thing….

  • cardiac_cat_fan

    Great win for NU on the road against MSU. It was the second game in a row that the ‘Cats looked great on their opening drive against a stout defense. With everyone healthy, we can run on any one in the B1G.

    I have to ask. There was a play in the 3rd Quarter where Kain Scrambled out of the pocket towards the sideline, locked in on a wide open Kyle Prater, and then threw a bad pass that missed #21. If they connected it would have been a game changer.

    Is anyone else bummed about the use of prater or his development this season? I’m not dogging him, in fact I am rooting for him big time – he’s a sophomore in a new system so there’s a learning curve. I just felt bad for him because that could have been the play that gives him confidence on the field and in the offense. He’s got a tremendous upside, I just hope our WR coach and McCall can get the most of him.

    • timc

      I get what you’re saying. Must be something in practice that puts him way down the go-to list. But honestly the whole corps is underperforming. Too many drops, too many guys not finding a way to get open, and I think there’s an overall lack of confidence as a unit. Receivers need a swagger, and for a variety of reasons our guys just haven’t developed that this year. Just not a big play unit. Also, too many of them and too few balls to spread around. Hope next year they step up.

      • rararawrgocats

        Prater certainly hasn’t had a lot of balls come his way this year. There was an easy TD drop early on, and not a lot since then. He seems to be somewhere around our #5 WR after Fields, Lawrence, and the Joneses. He may even be behind Dickerson at this point, plus there’s Vitale at SB. But the season’s not over, and the kid has two more full seasons to make an impact.

        As for the WRs as a whole, there have been some drops, but to me the real difference the receivers haven’t been producing as much has been losing Persa and adding a running game. Colter and Siemian are both good QBs, but they’re not Persa as far as getting the ball to the right receiver – and they haven’t needed to be, with the running game working as well as it has (barring yesterday).

        8 receptions for Prater on the year, in case anyone is wondering – and 5 of those in the first two games.

  • Stephen Zgrabik

    Great win!

  • Polymersci

    Nice win for the Cats facing a lot of adversity. I too was very pleased when the Fitz/McCall braintrust kept with the aggressive playcalling at the end of the game. As many said, win or lose, I wouldn’t care as long as they didn’t go in the ultraconservative shell…

    The two quarterback system, well isn’t it nice to have a guy be able to come off the bench cold and throw bullets? Trevor was great again. Nice adjustments in the playcalling when Venric and Kain got dinged up. Great breakout game for true freshman Dan Vitale. Maybe the superback is back! Campbell was a beast. Looking up, keep the momentum rolling, get the Stove Pipe Hat (or whatever it is called) back in Evanston, and roll onto a bowl victory.

    Go Cats!

  • MySobriquetCat

    I think LTP’s quote from above deserves mention:

    “I LOVED our aggressive play at the end of the game and our completely different philosophy of going for the win as opposed to trying not to lose.”

    This philosophy might have gotten us a few more W’s this year and possibly made a few of our wins less close. I hope that Fitz & staff are finally getting this message. Please, please, please. We earned the sobriquet of “Cardiac Cats” not by losing games in the fourth, but by winning them.

    • Db

      i also loved the play calling, but let’s agree to exempt the Michigan game out of the ‘bad examples’. Giving the ball back with 18 sec left is a victory.

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    Thank you for mentioning at the top how bad the ESPN broadcast was yesterday. It truly was as if all 3 announcers (PBP, color, sideline) only prepped for 1 team. If it weren’t for following various NU beat media on twitter, I’d never have known Venric was announced as done for the game during halftime – and I don’t recall any mention of Colter being out either. Next time I see these 2 announcers on the bill, I’m doing what I should’ve done in the 1st place: mute the TV and turn on WGN radio online.

    And under the category of Vandy is turning into at least a decent win, two
    SEC coaches have now been fired after being whipped by Vandy. Kentucky
    earlier this year, and Tennessee today.

    I can’t make it to Evanston for the regular season finale, but I’ve
    made sure a Wildcat fan has my 2 tickets to use an cheer for the ‘Cats.

  • Henry in CT

    In the NYC metro area there is very little interest in Rutgers or in college football. ND and Syracuse have some interest and there is interest in UCONN because of basketball and now SNY actually televises all UCONN women’s basketball games. If I was the B1G I would talk to UCONN which is a basketball hotbed as well as a top 20 public university and Rutgers because this would be the best way to build fan interest in college football in the NYC metro area and provide the greastest exposure for the B1G and I would forget Maryland.

  • cs93

    Great win. I agree with all your points above. Better offensive playcalling. The secondary played well at times. Campbell was lights out. The ESPN team stunk and sounded ill-prepared. We need more Trumpy! I would like to read your thoughts on the prospect of Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten. I actually don’t mind going after Rutgers (good football program of late, good geography, and a good academic institution). But Maryland? Why Maryland? If we’re gonna go after an ACC school, why not go after Virginia or Virginia Tech? One positive: if Maryland and Rutgers do join, maybe the conference will re-visit those lame-ass division names. Leaders and Legends. It still makes me cringe. Ugh.

  • MarkMedill88

    First game I haven’t been able to watch all year and the Cats finally win a nail-biter. Guess I better stay away from the TV and Twitter feeds against Illinois. Judging from the well-written overview above, looks like the Cats addressed some of their late-game issues, but cracks are still there. Our secondary is still so worrisome, although it seems there were flashes of brilliance (a pick-six? from NU? say wha?). Hope for quick recoveries for Kain and Venric.

  • byebyefitz95

    I am not sure if anyone else has seen this but this team should be very proud of only turning the ball over 10 times this season. This puts us in 5th place (Tied with a few schools). Also we are in the top 15 in turnover margin forcing 21 turnovers. Here is a link.

    http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/team/1032

    • David

      Just think of how many picks our DBs have dropped…including two notable drops on that last drive of UNL’s….we could have another 7-8 picks. But we have protected the ball well this year.

    • DT

      Great point on the TO margin… Whenever NU has done well, seemingly that stat is huge..

  • Catfan49

    Great timely win. So nice to see aggressive play calling at the end and the secondary showing continued improvement. One area of concern is the lack of third down conversion production. Previous years under Persa we were seemingly autommatic, converting much of the time. Too many 3 and outs this year and thus too much time on the field for the D. If we hope to win a bowl game against an SEC team this will be a key.

  • cece

    all the bowl talk is making my hangover worse. Beat Illinois and everything will be just fine. we should be somewhere in Fla. but first things first. BEAT ILLINOIS!!!!!

  • NUARANINETYFIVE

    For those interested in the developing story regarding the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, hers a positive ‘terps evaluation:

    http://www.testudotimes.com/2012/11/18/3659926/marylands-probably-going-to-the-big-ten-but-why#comments
    These are interesting times.

    • HDB

      As indicated money is the big driver. As to including Maryland, the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area is the fourth largest in the U.S. It is also the most educated and highest income. The Big Ten Network is a money machine and will continue to grow if the TV viewing area is strategically expanded.

  • RG

    Anyone think Ohio State wants to shoot whoever made the decision to play that bowl game last year making them ineligible for bowl play this year. Talk about flushing million down the drain…….They would be playing ND for national title!!! WOW

  • 70alum

    I hate to single out one player for criticism as well, but the punting was not only poor on Saturday, we seem to forget a poor punt at what should have been the end of the game contributed to the Michigan loss. Hopefully, things will turn around in that regard. Also wondering seriously if we don’t have the makings of an elite QB in No. 13 – he certainly chucked the rock well the past two games in less than ideal situations, especially Saturday when there was zero running game to support him. He may not be very mobile, but he stood back there and winged it pretty good, even when the heat was on. Finally, I live in Md. and have been a big supporter of the school in terms of children who attended – and a fan of their last basketball coach, who didn’t grovel or kow-tow to recruits and who couldn’t stand the same athletic director who should have rightly given Ron Vanderlinden one more year, so he could have won like the guy who did win with Ron’s recruits. Maryland might be OK for the Big Ten, but Rutgers, a second-tier school athletically, at best, is absolutely not. Maryland will hold its own in basketball and the women’s lacrosse team will obviously become an instant rival for ours, but there’s nothing else there for either party. The only upside to taking in two new members is that Florida State will also bolt the ACC, leaving the conference looking like the fool it is for agreeing to the Notre Dave sucker-play in the first place.

  • Jimgocats93

    Great prediction LTP & a great game from a program perspective.
    1. Depth of talent – this was simply unheard of in times past. With the exception of QB’s in the waiting or Barry Gardner replacing Fitz, I haven’t seen this in my 20 years as a fan.
    2. Our DB’s have grown to the point that when they shut down Illinois we might actually start to consider them an asset. Think about the progression from Syracuse to the Michigan game. Week after week they were in better position to make plays and competed for balls (even w/ :18 left at the Big House). Saturday they made the preponderance of plays – not MSU. And Maxwell was light years better than when I saw him over a month ago.
    3. I want to differ with the crowd talkking about aggressive play calling at the end. Travor’s five yard out is Kain’s option. They are the same conservative plays just suited for diffeerent personnel.

    Which brings me to the two remaining improvements I would like to see that will get us 10-3 no matter what bowl we go to. (And I would rather pass on a top SEC team).
    1. Our receivers have got to make plays again. I think blocking has been so much the focus that they have lost their edge.
    2. Our OLine has got to step up like they have at the goal line and other short yardage situations. If they would take the game in their hands in the last five minutes we could easily be telling a different, perhaps much more Rosey story.

    There are still problems but OMG what progress!

    Crush Illinois!

    Gocatsgo!

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