Jump Around!! NU wins second straight stunner

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.

Wisky 2014 team totals

#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.

beauty ISO in rain vs Wisky 2014

#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.

  • cmlukey

    Is there any doubt that when Campbell is back he and Godwin need to be the starters?

    • DenverWildcat

      Could be a nice combination. Competition is a great motivator.

      • LTP

        Fitz made light of this in the postgame saying that the media is going to call for Godwin to start over Ibraheim.

    • Richard

      Tough call. Traveon Henry isn’t fast, but he’s a hitter.

    • JM

      Henry looks heavy and slow. Too much time in the weight room.

      Could be a shift to OLB in his future.

    • Chasmo

      The two safety positions have different roles to play in the various defenses NU employs and so while Godwin might be better in pass coverage than Henry is, do we really want him learning a new position at this point in the season — especially when he’ll be the starter at Campbell’s position next year?

  • Bandcat

    So very happy we have got a ground game…the growing pains were painful but it appears we are capable of really opening it up offensively.Go Cats !

  • NUinNY

    Really terrific win. For now, just insanely happy! But it’s in my nature to look at what comes next, so I guess here’s where we are:
    – Illinois and Purdue. These should be wins. I take nothing for granted, but the team that’s shown up (and the coaches that have shown up) the past two weeks will win these games. Up to 5 wins.
    – Michigan. The Ann Arbor tire fire continues. That team can run, and it’s hard to believe they’re as bad as they look. But, again, our guys should be favored. Hopefully this takes us to 6 wins. (And man do I want for our guys to beat Michigan.)
    – Iowa and Minnesota. Not sure what to think of these two. These should be the most evenly matched games on our schedule, and possibly season defining. There is a big difference between 6-6 where we get one major upset and two bad losses and 8-4 where we just got off to a slow start.
    – Nebraska. I will be screaming like an idiot. But I’m watching MSU v. Nebraska right now, and Nebraska looks crazy tough (although MSU is imploding*). Just not sure NU has the personnel to win this one.
    – Notre Dame. I suppose you never know…

    *edit: was imploding. still, wow.

    • DenverWildcat

      If we can beat Wisconsin and Penn State, we can beat Minnesota and Iowa.

      • NUinNY

        I don’t disagree re being able to beat MN and Iowa…

        Although my current read is that Penn State is not a very good team. But maybe I’m underestimating them.

    • fred

      Hackenberg was being labeled as at least one of the league’s best QBs. Gordon was/is described as the league’s best RB. If no big injuries, things keep getting fixed and no mental lapses, …

    • PBRCat

      Your analysis of the remaining schedule mirrors my own thinking. The postseason is within reach, provided Northwestern beats the poorer teams and manages to score an upset win somewhere along the way. I really want to lay one on Michigan after the recent near misses against the Wolverines.
      This was a narrow win and not ever team is going to commit key turnovers in the red zone and gift the Wildcats via numerous penalties. I cannot wait to read the Milwaukee Journal’s coverage of the contest to see how they assign the blame to the Badgers.

    • LTP

      I actually really like the Minnesota match-up. It’s almost identical to Wisconsin with even less of a pass threat (hard to believe) and a very good, but not Melvin Gordon good ground game.

      • Agreed – IF the Wildcats maintain the intensity and focus. If they get lackadaisical, then it could be a sad road trip.

  • CatInTheHat

    Raise your hand if you wouldn’t have laughed heartily with cynicism if, two weeks ago, you were told with a straight face that we’d be undefeated in conference and in possession of the division lead after two Big Ten games. I certainly would have. This is why we’re fans, and I’m loving it! For at least another week, we can dare to dream. Loved the secondary play, the responsiveness, even the play calling much of the time. Wonderful to see. GO CATS!!!!!

    • LProf

      I wonder if I should get my reservations for a hotel in Pasadena. Am I wrong that this is turning into the strangest season ever, maybe even stranger than 1995?

      • Al

        Even if we win the Big Ten, we wouldn’t go to the Rose Bowl, which is a semi-final playoff game this year.

      • PBRCat

        1995 was not as strange as the potential 2014 season. The 1995 Wildcats were one play away (a muffed snap to the punter which set up a field goal for Miami of Ohio) from finishing the regular season 11-0.

    • LTP

      Hand raised.

  • DenverWildcat

    I am most impressed by the way coach Fitz seemed to have evaluated the problems after the first two/three weeks and made changes in practices and his attitude to achieve better results from his players. Now the team has incredible momentum. Last year, momentum in the opposite direction sent the team into a tailspin after the loss to Ohio State. I am now very hopeful for a successful season assuming the energy level and sense of urgency remain high.

    GO CATS!

    • Chasmo

      I, too, am impressed by Fitz. It was interesting to see how he handled the intense criticism that was coming his way after the first four weeks of the season because he had never faced a situation like this before in his coaching career and at times he didn’t seem to handle it as well as he could have. But now I think most NU fans would agree that he has done a very good job turning this team around.

  • hoverlow

    I must say I am very happy with the adjustments these last two weeks. Maint by fitz and hank. The defense has been amazing. Still not happy with McCall and siemian. They are both huge weak links. It is great that players have stepped up and both fitz and hank have made the appropriate changes especially with personnel. Siemian will not win us games. McCall will not win us games with his play calling. Hopefully this defense continues.

    • garyca

      I agree with some disappointment in Siemian so far. However, I think he’s playing on a sore leg, and playing through it. I’m thinking, hoping, he returns to a pinpoint passer of a few years ago as the season progresses. If he does it will be a very good year.

      • hoverlow

        I hope you are right. That would be a big plus for a team.

    • Pikepole

      GREAT DEFENSE+AVERAGE OFFENSE=winning team.

    • bd8

      Siemian is playing injured and he won games for the ‘Cats last season.

      And let’s remember, PSU and UW have 2 of the better defenses in the conference.

      • Chasmo

        Trevor won one game for the Cats last season — the season finale vs. Illinois. Aside from that game he struggled all season long. He has continued to struggle this season, with Wisconsin being the latest example of his missing wide open receivers. IF Trevor doesn’t improve, it’s going to be impossible to beat Nebraska or Notre Dame and every other game on the schedule will be a battle. Let’s hope he can regain his 2012 form at some point this season.

  • David

    Besides the more aggressive play calling and blitzing…the biggest thing I have noticed the past two weeks is that we now have DBs who attack the ball and do not grab the receivers.

    • jeffkosnett

      And yesterday we had refs who didn’t call interference every time a DB was within breathing distance of a receiver. I won’t say we got breaks….we got good officiating for once.

      • CatInTheHat

        I noticed that. I also noticed blatant holding by Wisco on 70% of plays, but it was called when it mattered, and we benefited.

  • catgrad96

    Siemian struggled with accuracy at times, but two throws on replay will not give him justice. Buckley fell down (our of screen) on a cut when he was “wide open” and Siemian “missed badly.” Same for an early Prater reception. The field was difficult in 1st half, so don’t go crazy, people. That said, ways to go, but what a game!

    • garyca

      yes I agree. on another play where the announcer said he missed, the receiver was knocked down prior to the throw, and not where he was expected to be.

      • fidel305

        Would only be true if he threw before the cut (or stumble or fall as u claim) . Not true if course.

        You can’t play WB with blinders on and ur eyes closed

        The throw where he locked on to a triple covered prater in the endzone and ignored the drag route that was completely open underneath is typical and why he will continue to be a problem

        McCall put a band aid on that wound by shutting siemian down and relying on a running attack to cut down on his mistakes and prevent him from beating us. That’s like stopping the heart to keep from bleeding to death.

        There will be times when we need a passing offense and that’s when it will all fall apart unless its fixed now

        • catgrad96

          Actually it was true. Called a timing route. I saw it because I was isolating on Buckley.

        • Bandcat

          Watch da Bears if you want to see a millionaire do many of the same things as TS…

          • bd8

            Or look at the QBs in the MSU/NEB game – funny how a good defense can make a QB look average (or worse).

  • David

    This game was shades of UM 1995. Tim Biakabutuka rushed for 205 and Michigan scored 13. In this one Gordon went for 259 but UW could only score 14. Lots of yards…but few points.

  • David

    Jackson had 33 carries and there was only one resulted in negative yardage.

  • fidel305

    Another great win by an opportunistic defense.

    And, Jackson had enough to carry the offense. I continue to be concerned about the passing game, tho prater is quietly coming on, and special teams.

    We should be able to compete in the B1G the rest of the way

    And, what gives with our conference? How can we have so many, one dimensional, fatally flawed teams? PSU can’t run or pass block. Wisky can’t pass and shockingly has no run defense. Nebraska , not only can’t pass, but can’t seem to do anything against decent competition (nothing new there under Bo Pelini). And Michigan? Yikes.

    • Chaddogg

      “Wisky under Anderson [sic] can’t pass and shockingly has no run defense.”

      Um, Wisconsin heading into the Northwestern game had the nation’s number 5 rush defense, allowing only 89 ypg rushing. What you witnessed Saturday was not a poor Wisky rush defense, but Northwestern’s rushing attack playing EXTREMELY well against arguably the best rush defense it’s faced this season.

  • 1990Cat

    Don’t look now, but Cal and NIU are both 4-1. Losing to both by one possession no longer looks so bad, especially as awfully as NU played against each.

    • bd8

      Still, should have won those games.

  • MB82

    I’m not sure why you’re complaining about the play calling in the last 6 minutes. I thought we absolutely had to be in run the clock mode, and we did have the one key third-down pass to keep the ball.

    • LTP

      I don’t disagree with burning clock down the stretch, but you still have to make first downs to win the game. Giving it back to them three times based on not getting those first downs, while burning clock, didn’t accomplish the goal. Remember Sparty 2012? Safe play action on run play that got a first down? We did pass once – to Vitale and it was a beauty that nearly sealed the game. Would’ve loved to have seen one pass when we were behind the chains to go for the clock-killing win.

  • JM

    A few thoughts:

    1) What an incredible job by our much maligned staff. Tempo, energy and play calling all dramatically better. And so is execution: the drops, missed assignments and whiffed blocks have been greatly reduced.

    2) Jackson, Walker and Igwebuike are getting most of the frosh buzz, but how about Xavier Washington. Second week in a row with an impact sack (in which he drove the UW tackle back)

    3) power I actually worked -against Wisconsin!-with Vitale at FB over Hanrahan.

    4) Trevor has raised his play -and also leadership with stuff like the reverse block. But accuracy is still an issue too often on a game when he was well protected.

    5) Henry appears to have put on too much weight and has been slow all season. Given Godwin’s ascension, I wonder if a Hall-esque shift to LB is in his future?

  • PBRCat

    So much fun! This was the most significant home victory by the Wildcats since 2012. Nonetheless, it was a tense affair because the offense stalled on several drives and the Cats left some points on the field again. NU found a dynamic playmaker in Jackson which is a huge lift. My doubts and pessimism are easing as now I can see a path for Northwestern to qualify for the postseason (winning the West Division is also a tantalizing prospect). Still the outcome was in doubt until late in the 4th quarter as it was really a one score game.
    Wisconsin’s penalties and turnovers handed numerous gifts to the Wildcats and were the real difference in the contest. Trevor Siemian had trouble in terms of creating misdirection on a few hand-offs, was too obvious on several passing downs as to staring at the intended receiver, etc. Northwestern missed on a few passing plays where the receivers were out of synch with the quarterback — one misconnection cost the Cats a possible touchdown reception — the receiver seemed to quit running on his route and failed to turn and look for the ball.
    It is still a big win and I will celebrate it! There was plenty of energy in the stands. I think that the rainy weather kept some fans away — I am guessing this was a near sell out in terms of ticket sales, but some people were no shows.
    Best of all, the Northwestern fans and students were in to the game. Sometimes, on this comment board there are complaints about a lack of enthusiasm from the Northwestern fans about standing and cheering, but yesterday the fans were fully engaged and it was genuine as it should be rather than robotic responses.
    Oh yes, I received an autographed football and made my first scoreboard appearance too. So it was a memorable day. Enjoying some celebratory beverages afterwards, I got to console several Badger fans in the spirit of charity and good sportsmanship. Go Cats!

  • Al

    I’ll admit it, I thought we were finished when Stave came in. I thought he was going to loosen things up through the air leading to more holes for Gordon to run through. Never so glad to be wrong! We’ve got some young guys who can really play!

  • timc

    Thought I would throw this in as we see many ask “just who is this team?” I am a close follower of the PAC12. Take a look at the fortunes of out first opponent Cal, and their staggering offensive production with one exception. This shows that we not only played a much tougher opponent than many thought but that we really have one special defensive unit!

    Sat,
    Aug 30

    Northwestern

    at Evanston, IL

    12:30 p.m.

    W, 31-24

    ABC/ESPN2 ▪ Notes

    ▪ Notes

    ▪ Quotes

    ▪ Photos

    ▪ Stats

    Sat,
    Sep 06

    Sacramento State

    Berkeley, CA

    12:00 p.m.

    W, 55-14

    Pac-12 Networks

    ▪ TuneIn Radio
    ▪ Notes

    ▪ Notes

    ▪ Quotes

    ▪ Photos

    ▪ Live Stats

    Sat,
    Sep 20

    Arizona

    at Tucson, AZ

    7:00 p.m.

    L, 49-45

    Pac-12 Networks

    ▪ TuneIn Radio
    ▪ Notes

    ▪ Photos

    ▪ Stats

    Sat,
    Sep 27

    Colorado

    Berkeley, CA

    1:00 p.m.

    W, 59-56 (2OT)

    Pac-12 Networks

    ▪ TuneIn Radio
    ▪ Notes

    ▪ Notes

    ▪ Quotes

    ▪ Photos

    ▪ Live Stats

    Sat,
    Oct 04

    Washington State

    at Pullman, WA

    7:30 p.m.

    W, 60-59

    • timc

      Sorry-that copy and paste decided to reformat! Hope you get the drift.

  • JerryW

    Hats off to the staff…. the play calling was fantastic…. they are giving these kids the edge, and letting them develop SWAGGER! What fun it must be to be a under recruited player putting it to these powerhouse programs….

    • PBRCat

      The playing calling rated a “B” grade at most. Wisconsin played poorly; Northwestern played better than average, Celebrate the upset victory and prepare for Minnesota, but recognize the fact that the Wildcats need to get better.

      • JerryW

        Spot on…a B, but for the Big Ten, a B is pretty good.This was NW’s best game this season. I know the oddsmakers considered this an upset, but I didn’t. I think if the kids keep their discipline and focus while the staff improves it game plans, then success will continue. SWAGGER. Get use to it. Yea, Minnesota, your going down. Playing to WIN is much funner than playing to GRADUATE. Its also funner to watch.