The conversation around the west lot tailgate was pretty consistent. “Who the heck is this team?” – the most common phrase among Wildcat faithful, including many former players. And that was BEFORE the game. After NU held off Wisconsin 20-14 to move to 2-o in B1G play the conversation turned to all of us hoping this same squad continues the magic they’ve found. Let’s walk through the top ten takeaways from Saturday’s shocker.
#10 – A new award – After last week’s B1G Freshman of the Week award went to redshirt freshman Anthony Walker, Fitz joked about the fact they may have a new award this week called co-B1G junior of the week. How about Northwestern redshirt freshman of the week? Godwin Igwebuike would have that honor, along with the game ball on defense. Godwin stepped in for the injured Ibraheim Campbell and promptly picked off three passes, including two in the endzone to lead the ‘Cats on the ultimate bend-don’t-break kind of day. Godwin levied some huge hits and had eight tackles on the day as well.
#9 – Action Jackson – Justin Jackson was fantastic as he racked-up a career high (I know, five games) 162 yards on 33 carries. Once again he did the little things after initial contact and kept those legs churning to get extra yards. It’s so clear he’s going to be a special player.
#8 – Hat tip, Melvin Gordon – You knew it was coming and we still couldn’t stop it. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon put up video game numbers on us with a career high 259 yards on 27 carries, besting his national best yard per carry average as he had 9.6 per touch on the day. Three carries alone amounted to more than 150 yards, including his first touch of the second half which we warned about all week. He was averaging 38.3 yards on that first touch of the third quarter and he had a 61-yarder on Saturday. Yet, despite his heroic performance, NU’s “D” managed to keep Wisconsin off the scoreboard. It was the first time Wisconsin failed to score 20 points in 18 games.
#7 – Key PBUs – I knew it was coming. Not to gloat, but the Five X Factors from the Gameday Central seemed to all be spot on. One was a warning for Joel Stave. Gary Andersen pulled Tanner McEvoy and put in Joel Stave, who is apparently cured of the yips and I thought “uh-oh”. We haven’t fared so well with multiple QBs this year. But, credit our DBs who came up huge on a couple of near home run balls on the play action. Both Matt Harris and Nick VanHoose made fingertip saves on what would’ve been TDs.
#6 – Quick Start – The ‘Cats simply owned the first quarter and the first half for that matter. NU’s offense was moving between the 20s and the “D” held Wisconsin to a shutout after the first half. The Badgers were even more one dimensional with McEvoy than we thought and you had that feeling that the 10-0 lead should’ve been much more. It was clear the team was in this one and staking that halftime lead was a huge confidence builder.
#5 – Siemian Success – Trevor was far from sensational (15-29-182 – 1 TD), but he did enough when he had to to win this game. Trevor sailed more than his fair share on Saturday, but he also stepped up in clutch situations, including the key 4th down pass to Shuler to set-up the first TD and the game-clinching pass late in the fourth. Despite the numbers to support this, you get the sense he’s getting much closer to that complete game clicking with the offense. Another performance like that from Justin Jackson and it should really open things up for him.
#4 – Great personnel calls – I loved seeing Warren Long in short yardage situations. Mick McCall also used several players in great size matchups down the seam. I wasn’t thrilled with the ultraconservative last five minutes – I get it – but, we felt like we resorted to the hang on for dear life mode. I thought it was a very well-called game. Clearly the Miles Shuler touchdown makes everyone look good and it was called at the right time.
#3 – The little things – Speaking of Shuler’s TD, how about that block by Trevor Siemian? It’s plays like that that will help this team get to the next level. NU did a lot of the little things right. The line played great and opened up some serious holes for a team rushing total of 203 yards – against a team that was giving up a national top five 89 ypg. Wisconsin had more penalties and NU’s special teams was huge in the field position battle, which we dominated. The ‘Cats had zero turnovers on a rainy, windy day at Ryan Field. The very same things that were unsightly three weeks ago were now advantages for us.
#2 – Energy & Tempo – Once again you could just feel it. The sideline was jumping. The “D” was making hits and creating havoc in the backfield. The offense dictated the tempo and had Wisconsin on its heels on several occasions. You wonder just what could be if a modicum of this showed up in the first three weeks of the season.
#1 – Aggressive playcalling – I said it all off-season and through the first three games. Bravo, Coach Fitz and staff – you made gutsy calls. You went for it on 4th down in several situations and man, did we love it. For 54 minutes you called this game like you were out to make a statement. The playcalling mirrored the player aggressiveness and now, just like that you’ve got us looking at the rest of the schedule thinking “we could win this thing.” Love it.