First off, congratulations to Wildcat LB, Collin Ellis, who earned B1G Defensive Player of the Week honors. With a pair of pick-6s he was a lock for the award, his first such one in his career. The last ‘Cat to earn the honors was Chi Chi Ariguzo, last September.
For as much as I’ve criticized the ESPN telecast on Saturday night, Mark Jones and company got one theme right. Daniel Jones’ injury (Fitz announced on Monday he is done for the season) on the non-pass interference pass interference call triggered a conversation about Northwestern’s 2012 season and, according to Phil Steele, our top three nationally least missed games due to injury stat. Mark Jones wisely weaved the dialogue around the early game injury crisis that was befelling our starters.
As a fan, I get caught up on meaningless things like individual accolades for our favorite players. Will Kain Colter get 1,000 yards rushing and passing? Can Venric Mark break the NU career all-purpose yards mark? Or, even on a bigger stage, can Venric work his way in to the Heisman conversation? All that went out the window on the first series of the first game of the year.
Venric has obviously been dinged up and Pat Fitzgerald has now acknowledged so. We’ll learn more this week, but all signs point to a leg injury for Venric, and fans and Venric are anxious for him to get to full strength:
Control what you can control in life then let go and let God do his work and in the end the rest will come to u. #cantwaittobefullyhealthy
— Venric Mark (@PurpleBlaze_5) September 1, 2013
The notion that our seasoned two-QB system would be able to keep Cal on its heels and start creating nightmares for opposing coaches watching tape is temporarily gone. Even if Venric was healthy, Trevor’s ability to run the option (limited at best) would’ve handcuffed one element of Venric’s game. Now, with Kain likely to miss this week and giant question marks surrounding Venric along with a hyper-focus on the CB slot voided by Daniel Jones, my framework for September has changed to include one thing: survive September.
Northwestern opens as 9.5 favorites against a Syracuse team that boasts quite a bit of talent. Granted, Drew Hall, the 5th-year senior transfer from Oklahoma is no Jared Goff, but make no mistake about it, this team has talent too. As I step back and assess September, all I care about is a)getting to 4-0 and b)getting enough Kain Colter and Venric Mark reps that we’re in good shape for Ohio State (by the way, is there a non-conference game that will get more attention from NU fans in years than the Ohio State @ Cal game in two weeks?). Throw out any stats other than wins.
As fans, we have no clue as to what’s going on inside the Nicolet Center today in the coaches’ meetings. How will we add some wrinkles to a Trevor-only QB attack? What can we do to maximize the ground game knowing the option attack was, well, ugly at best? The Maine game now becomes relatively huge, in my mind, as part of the overall planning for the season. Should Kain miss this weekend, we have two games to get our offensive flow back in effect – and that’s assuming that Venric gets to full strength during that time. We saw the 2014 ‘Cats preview on Saturday night, and while the resolve was impressive, we’ve got a ways to go. Granted, I expect Trevor to become QB1 and Matt Alviti to be the keep the “D” honest as QB1a in ’14. While we digress, how huge is that home opener going to be against Cal in a game that will have the Dykes vs Fitz integrity storyline?
This season, based on just one week, has thrown a significant wrench in to the Wildcat offense. Fitz is very much a long view type coach, meaning, he’s looking to get the ‘Cats to peak for that critical November stretch when we face Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. However, the first peak he’s aiming for is October 5 against Ohio State. You get the sense the war room in Evanston is all geared towards experimenting with short term solutions to get “w’s” but with an eye on exploding against Ohio State.
One other key takeaway here from Saturday night surrounds RS freshman Dwight White and the CB situation. Matt Harris, a true freshman, got his bell rung on the opening kickoff and didn’t return to the game. He was likely next up on the depth chart, behind White. We’re instantly thin at CB. However, folks need to reserve judgment on our secondary at this point. Dwight got flung in to a really challenging situation. Yes, Sonny Dykes and Goff targeted White and succeeded in getting productivity (including a bomb of a TD pass) with their attack, but it doesn’t mean Dwight isn’t going to be a great player. That is the best offense, or at least most challenging offense, we’ll face all season. Ohio State included. For Dwight to be getting his first reps in that situation, well, I’m confident it is going to pay big dividends in Big Ten play. You might remember Quinn Evans, the Stanford transfer, struggling early in the season, only to come on strong in the back half of the schedule.
This is not how I expected us to be starting September, but such is the long and winding road of a college football season. I’ve flipped my mind from the unstoppable 1-2 combo of Kain and Trevor and have reframed my mind to “survive” September so we can thrive in Big Ten play.