Exhausted? I sure am. You know the trite postgame questions. “If I had told you before the game that we’d give up 99 plays, 455 passing yards, have no Kain Colter, very little Venric Mark and lose Daniel Jones you would have guaranteed me a loss” Truly, it was a crazy 44-30 Wildcat victory. It also was a gutsy win by the #22 ‘Cats who were carrying the weight of newfound external expectations and suffered wave after wave of adversity.
The ESPN telecast, in my opinion, was very poor. The two big storylines were injuries and, well, “injuries”. Kain Colter went down on the second play with what sure looked like a concussion (the wobbles usually give it away) and never came back, looking glossy-eyed with a steely stare the rest of the game. Venric Mark, who took a lick on the very first play of the game, saw extremely limited action, and came back at the end of the half for a series, yet ESPN did not comment or inform us at all about the All-American. The Sun-Times’ Seth Gruen reported freshman DB Matt Harris was injured on the opening ‘Cats kickoff and did not return because of an upper body injury. No word from the Worldwide Leader on that one either.
Meanwhile, as Wildcats dropped like flies in the second half, Sonny Dykes and Cal fans were irate, implying that the ‘Cats were feigning injuries to disrupt the Bear Raid offense. Another miss by ESPN’s crew as they never followed up on the fact our best defender, Damien Proby, who went off the field, didn’t come back. Where was the follow-up on the guys leaving and coming back in to support or refute the obvious hot-button story down the stretch?
My hat goes off to Jared Goff, who shredded NU for 455 passing yards (38/63) and looked razor sharp with each passing play. Two of his three picks were not his fault, and the pair of pick sixes (the key plays we’ll remember from this game) were lucky bounces that resulted in Collin Ellis’ game of his life. But, give credit to Northwestern. On the second play of the game, they took more than half of their playbook and threw it out the window when the elusive Kain Colter went out. A sold-out, pumped crowd and a clearly impressive athletic team were ready to have their big opening night party. Yet, Trevor and company took punch after punch and responded. There is in-game adversity and then there will be the Cal game. Bravo, fellas. Let’s get in to The Great, The Good & The Disappointing.
Update: Pat Fitzgerald took exception to Sonny Dykes’ accusations that NU was feigning injuries. You can read about it here in th Chicago Sun-Times. This storyline will go from simmer to heat between now and next year’s home opener vs Cal.
Before we do… a boxscore:
Team Composure – We mentioned it above, but there were so many reasons for NU to get off its game. Yet, we never lost our composure and despite a horrific third quarter, reversed the 2012 trend of losing late leads and stepped up to pull away when it mattered most. Think about all the major setbacks – Kain Colter, Venric Mark, Daniel Jones, Christian Jones. It was a M*A*S*H unit out there.
Trevyon Green – In the WGN postgame interviews, Trevor Siemian commented on just how amazing Treyvon was in fall camp. Treyvon put up 129 yds on only 16 carries (8.1 ypc) and a pair of TDs, but those numbers don’t account for the clutch factor. Treyvon responded to the Cal gutsy fake FG that went for a TD with a 36-yard scamper that settled the frenzied Memorial Stadium. Of course, his 55-yard game buster late in the 4th (complete with the smart move of wrapping up the ball and staying in bounds) was really the backbreaker in the game. His extra effort on the 3rd and goal from the 6th, which sealed the win with a TD seemed to be a fitting end to his best game as a Wildcat.
The O-line – This line is used to the Kain Colter, run first, option attack. They adjusted quickly to the pocket passing of Trevor Siemian and in the first half in particular, gave him fantastic protection. Siemian kept his jersey clean all night long. NU also produced 209 yards rushing on an unexpected balanced attack.
Colin Ellis – Game ball. Sure, Collin got very lucky to be in the right place at the right time on his all-time NU record setting PAIR of pick six TDs. However, #45 was swarming all night long and had a stellar game in addition to the ESPN-worthy highlight package.
Jeff Budzien – Ho, hum. Just another perfect night as he went 3-for-3 on FGs (35,19,32) and continued his streak of never missing a PAT, going 5-for-5.
Trevor Siemian – When you consider the circumstances, you could argue Trevor was “great”. However, he threw a couple of late jump balls, including one that was picked, on a night that started very good and dipped in the middle of the game. Trevor went 18/29, 276 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs. However, he was clutch in some key situations. Namely, 3rd and 3 inside our 10 with the game tied 27-27 midway through the 4th. He threw a seed to Christian Jones and then followed it up with a huge home run ball to Dan Vitale. Siemian’s TD pass to Tony Jones was a thing of beauty.
Tony Jones, Dan Vitale & Christian Jones – The ‘Cats WR corps played very well on Saturday night. Vitale finished with 5 rec, 101 yards, including that extra effort on a 55-yard bomb that nearly carried his defender in to the end zone. Tony Jones was just huge early, hauling in 5 rec for 70 yds, with that beauty of a TD in the first half. Christian Jones, who left for a bit due to injury, was clutch most of the night and racked up 94 rec yds on 5 catches.
Ibraheim Campbell’s INT – That was fun to watch. Cal had the ball at the 50 with 3:43 to go and the ‘Cats up 7 after picking off Trevor Siemian. The very next play Campbell played under and VanHoose played over the top on the Cal receiver and Campbell made a sensational grab which set-up the game-winning drive.
‘Cat Crowd at Cal – The corner of the nearly sold-out (58,000+) Memorial Stadium was decked out in purple. It was loud at times on big NU plays and looked great on the wide shot. Well done, ‘Cats fans! The ESPN commentators repeatedly calling it a “smattering” of purple was insulting. It was loud on TV and looked fantastic.
Locking Down Bigelow – Brendan Bigelow is going to have a beast of a year. The Cal starting RB exploded on the season opening drive and just gashed NU’s “D”. However, credit NU, as they held Bigelow to just 65 yards (16 carries) after he amassed half of that on the opening drive.
Kain Colter – The all-everything part of our offense – gone – on play number two. I just felt so bad for the senior. You hope he can come back soon as his lack of presence instantly changes the entire gameplan for our offense.
Venric Mark – Huh? What happened? Can someone please explain why he played so little? I can’t believe how little it was talked about by the ESPN team.
Conservative Pass Defense Playcalling – I get it. New true freshman QB and brand new offense with all kinds of wrinkles that we have no clue about. So, you feel it out and keep the plays in front of you for a half. Well, our four-man rush was relatively ineffective and our defenders were giving pretty big cushions at the line. When we did show once-in-a-blue-moon pressure, it seemed to rattle Jared Goff, but we did it too infrequently. We gave up 548 yards of offense. 99 plays. 455 yards of passing. I realize you can’t bring the heat every down, but Goff was way too comfortable back there.
Daniel Jones – When you see him writhing in pain (on a BS pass interference call, by the way) and the cart comes out you start thinking bye-bye season. Jones was much-hyped coming out of fall camp and it is terrible to see that happen. RS freshman, Dwight White, immediately got picked on by Goff and we’ll have to regroup and grow up quickly at that corner spot.
Pass Defense – Execution – Man, how many YACs did we give up in that one? Granted, the loss of Daniel Jones had obvious consequences, but our DBs were playing soft coverage much of the night and there is no way to sugarcoat the fact NU gave up 458 passing yards on 38/63. Now we know what it was like to be Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Get ready for Syracuse, because here comes the pass heavy gameplan.
Officiating – Inconsistent at best. For the record, while I thought Cal’s DE should have been flagged for the helmet to helmet, I didn’t think it was targeting. I also thought the refs missed a blatant horse collar on Venric Mark that was a sure TD (and cost us 4 points) and the Daniel Jones injury play pass interference was a miss as well.
All in all, it was a wild one, but it counts as a “w” and you take it and run. Northwestern wins its 9th straight season opener and 8 under Pat Fitzgerald. The ‘Cats went in to a hostile environment against an obviously very athletic team and won. Just like a #22 team should do. There are a lot of positives to take away from this one and a ton of things that need to be worked on for us to continue to win and then compete against Ohio State.
Let’s hear it from you. Share your observations.
Game Ball: Tied. Collin Ellis & Treyvon Green.
Can you imagine what this 2014 season opener in Evanston might be like? Geesh. Here’s to Fitz scheduling it at 11 am to get back at the timing factor.
Final individual stats, per ESPN.com:
What They’re Saying…
- Teddy Greenstein’s breakdown in the Chicago Tribune.
- Chicago Sun-Times’ Seth Gruen takes the overcoming injury angle here.
- The SF Chronicle takes the logical “costly TOs” spoil solid showing by Cal angle.