I find myself just staring at the B1G West standings and smiling. Northwestern is alone at 2-0 and it’s hard to believe that it’s the first time we’ve started that way since 2000. After assessing the rest of the conference play and looking at our schedule it is very hard not to dream about this season which was such a nightmare such a short time ago. Headscratching of epic proportions. With that in mind, let’s get to it.
Godwin Igwebuike – For the second time in two weeks a redshirt freshman making his first start on defense stole the show. Safety Godwin Igwebuike racked up three interceptions -the first time a Wildcat has done that since 1973 – and that was only part of his stellar play. Two of Godwin’s INTs came in the endzone, killing Wisconsin scoring attempts and shifting momentum in the game. His game-sealing INT flexed just how athletic this kid is. After watching the game on tape, his eight tackles were equally impressive as the picks. The lick he put on Tanner McEvoy early in the game to prevent a first down exemplified just how physical he and the young guns are.
Justin Jackson – #28 had that breakout game we knew was coming. Justin was sensational again after initial contact and grinded his way for 162 yards on 33 carries – the most carries by an NU running back since 2007 (Tyrell Sutton). Fitz is not one to lean to heavy on one back, but Justin made it impossible for him to not keep going to the well. He has an incredible knack for pushing the pile and getting an extra three yards on a carry.
NU O-line – Perhaps the most impressive turnaround is the NU offensive line. This line was getting pushed around by FCS Western Illinois just three games ago. For the second straight week they gave Trevor all the time he needed, while opening up consistent lanes for the NU ground game. Wisconsin was averaging just 89 ypg on the ground as a “D” and NU punished them with 203 yards on the day. Even in the short yardage situations when NU used Warren Long, the line created the push necessary to get the win.
Coaching Staff – From Fitz to Mike Hankwitz to McCall to the line coaches – everyone was under extreme criticism, and deservedly so. Now, it’ time to give them the props for reversing course. The aggressive gameplan on defense which was to make Wisconsin beat you through the air while trying to manage Melvin Gordon. On offense, we played with tempo, we played aggressively and we let it rip. Fitz went for it twice on fourth down early and McCall used a quick change play after the Jimmy Hall INT to go with the successful TD reverse to Miles Shuler. They cleaned things up on special teams and this team had its hair on fire from the word go.
Wisconsin Band – I love NUMB, but you can’t compete with the numbers of the Badgers band. #jealous (ed note: seeing as this commentary is dominating the comments section a few thoughts: 1) this was meant specifically to call out the volume of opposing teams’ bands that dominate the audio of Ryan Field 2)NU’s halftime show was fantastic 3)I am no judge of musical talent from a technical standpoint and I believe you all that we are superior in the intricate nuances of what makes a great band 4)I just wish we were double in size – that’s all!)
Tony Jones’ catch – He had only one deep ball, but man was that a beauty. Let’s hope it is a sign of things to come next week when Tony returns to the site of his first collegiate catch – a 47-yard TD bomb from Dan Persa.
Trevor Siemian – Fitz stated that Trevor is at about 75% on the ankle and on a miserable day like Saturday, there were a few balls that sailed. That being said Trevor did enough to get the win going 15-29-1 TD and no turnovers. You look at plays like the TD pass to Vitale and some of the downfield throws to Prater and you see the Trevor of the past. A few misses (Buckley, Carr) but definitely you can see this offense starting to take shape. Once again we spread the wealth with eight different receivers making grabs.
Kyle Prater – Kyle had 5 receptions for 55 yards but everyone seemed to be clutch. Kyle is becoming that possession go-to guy when we need sure hands.
Special Teams – After a horror show at Penn State, Northwestern cleaned things up nicely this week. Jack Mitchell went 2-for-2 on FGs, Chris Gradone had some very good punts again inside the 20 and our kick coverage team was very, very good.
Atmosphere – Yom Kippur played a role in this not being a sellout (about 43,000) which is too bad schedule-wise. Northwestern obviously has a large Jewish population and nowhere was this more evident than the lone empty spot in the stadium – a chunk of the student section. That being said, it was a very good atmosphere as the fans were on their feet throughout the day.
Nick VanHoose – Nick played an excellent game again this week. He made a fantastic PBU, he came up and levied some big hits on Gordon and was a nuisance all day long in the passing game. Great job.
Lack of holding calls – This isn’t sour grapes. After watching the tape last night it was frustrating to see so many holds not get called. Ifeadi in particular seemed to get no help. In fairness, the refs let both sides get away with a few but when it directly affects the outcome of the play you’ve got to make those calls.
Explosion runs – You knew Melvin Gordon was going to get his yards, but three runs totaling more than 150 yards isn’t good. The ‘Cats are lucky that Godwin has wheels and was able to track down Gordon to prevent him from TDs. Only one of the three huge runs resulted in a TD drive.
ESPN2 Announcers – Yech. They were pretty off. Lots of dead air, too many mistakes to count (including naming at least six wrong intended targets) and lacked energy. The in-game stats were pretty far and few between as you had no context for Justin Jackson’s day.