2013 Northwestern Preview – Offense

Posted Jun 1, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Offense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2013 - Offense

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What You Need To Know:  While the offense didn't explode, it was extremely effective. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall got less out of the attack than he did two seasons ago, but the running game was terrific thanks to Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter. They're both back along with Trevor Siemian, quarterback No. 1A in tandem with Colter, and all the top receivers return. It wasn't an efficient passing game, but it dinked-and-dunked its way down the field when it had to. The problem this year is a line that needs some major rebuilding and retooling around left tackle Jack Konopka and center Brandon Vitabile.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Trevor Siemian
128-217, 1,312 yds, 6 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Venric Mark
226 carries, 1,366 yds, 12 TD
Receiving: Christian Jones
35 catches, 412 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Venric Mark
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior OT Paul Jorgensen
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE/SB Dan Vitale
Best pro prospect: Mark (as a kick returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mark, 2) QB Kain Colter, 3) C Brandon Vitabile
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Skill Positions
Weakness of the offense: Efficient Passing Game, Line


The quarterback situation relies on feel, but it has to be more efficient and has to be more effective. The most dangerous all-around playmaker is senior Kain Colter, a 6-0, 190-pound scooter with tremendous athleticism, speed and quickness, but he has a mediocre arm and doesn't make big things happen down the field. He completed 67% of his passes for 872 yards and eight scores with four picks, finished second on the team with 891 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, and at times he has worked as a wideout catching 16 passes for 169 yards. He's deadly accurate on his short-to-midrange throws, and he makes things happen by keeping plays alive with his legs, but it's hard for him to find much of a groove being moved around so much. However, when he's on, he's devastating with 161 rushing yards and four scores along with nine catches for 131 yards against Indiana, and completing 9-of-11 passes for 102 yards and three scores with 88 rushing yards and a score against Illinois.

6-3, 210-pound junior Trevor Siemian was brought in when the team was looking for a bigger passing presence, but strangely enough he wasn't as accurate as Kain Colter and wasn't quite as effective outside out of a 308-yard day against Indiana. While the Florida native isn't Colter running the ball, he can move a little bit, but he's at his best trying to push the ball down the field a bit completing 59% of his passes for 1,312 yards and six scores with three picks.

At 6-4 and 235 pounds, sophomore Zack Oliver is a huge passer and should be the future of the passing game. A great recruit for the program out of Baton Rouge, he saw a little work completing two passes for 14 yards, but he'll push Siemian hard for time next year.

Watch Out For … Matthew Alviti, a fantastic local recruit who doesn't have the size at just 6-0 and 185 pounds, but he's a dangerous all-around playmaker who can throw well and make big things happen on the move. He's a big-time passer who fits the Northwestern mold – he would've been a far bigger recruit if he was bigger – but he's a baller.
Strength: Experience and options. Who's going to be the starting quarterback? That's not a negative considering the coaching staff plays around with quarterbacks depending on the situation. Defenses have to prepare for everything every week, and both Colter and Siemian can produce.
Weakness: Deep balls. Northwestern has a dink-and-dunk passing game that almost never blows the top off a secondary. Siemian can throw it deep, but he doesn't. This isn't the most efficient passing attack, even if it's accurate.
Outlook: The Wildcats had no problems whatsoever replacing Dan Persa with Colter and Siemian doing a nice job. Now they have more experience and now they should be even more dangerous. It would be nice if the passing game was more efficient, but as long as the quarterbacks are keeping the chains moving and aren't making big mistakes, they'll be fine.
Unit Rating: 8

Running Backs

There might not have been a more valuable all-around player in the Big Ten at times last year than Venric Mark, a 5-8, 175-pound senior who made his mark as a special punt returner over the last few years and, despite slipping a bit last year, a great kick returner. Last year he showed he could carry the workload with 1,366 rushing yards and 12 scores and 20 catches for 104 yards and a score. Very quick, very tough and very slippery, he darts in and out of traffic on a dime and is deadly in the open field, ripping apart Minnesota for 182 yards and two scores and rushing for 100 yards or more six times over a stretch of seven games. A true difference-maker whenever he has the ball in his hands, he returned a kickoff for a score against Syracuse, and he caught four passes for 126 yards against Michigan – he can do it all.

Veteran Mike Trumpy has been tried out as a starting running back and has seen plenty of time, rushing for 530 yards with four scores two years ago, but last season he took a backseat to Mark in the running game finishing with 349 yards and three scores. He came up big in the win over Boston College with 106 yards and a score, and he ran for 87 yards against Indiana, but he only carried the ball 34 times over the final eight games. At 6-1 and 210 pounds he has good size and excellent pop, but he has to stay healthy with wrist and ACL injuries on the résumé.

Is Treyvon Green ready to blossom? The star recruit in the 2011 class, he stepped in as a backup finishing third on the team running for 362 yards and four scores two years ago, but he only ran for 73 yards and a score in a limited role last season. The 5-10, 215-pounder is extremely fast with good toughness and a nose for the hole and cranking out the big play. The coaching staff will never be afraid to keep feeding him the ball if he can step up his play.

6-0, 205-pound redshirt freshman Malin Jones was a nice get last season and did a strong job on the scout team. After a good offseason, he's ready to make a big impact with a great combination of size and quickness inside or out. Former quarterback Stephen Buckley moved to running back right away and now will be a dangerous, slippery runner and receiver who can do a little of everything. The 6-0, 170-pound redshirt freshman is a running back, but he could line up in the Wildcat from time to time.

Watch Out For … Keith Watkins, Warren Long and Xavier Menifield, three nice true freshmen with the ability to make an immediate impact. The 6-0, 180-pound Long is a speedster with the upside to possibly work as a receiver if needed. At 5-10 and 190 pounds, Menifield isn't big, but the Californian is a tremendous athlete. The 6-0, 180-pound Watkins is the best on the lot who cranks out big yards in chunks.
Strength: Mark and Colter. Mark turned into a terror last year who needs the ball in his hands as much as possible averaging six yards per carry, while Colter was fantastic under center averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Weakness: Power. The running game relies on quickness and athleticism, but it doesn't have a thumper who can barrel for the hard yards when needed. Trumpy comes close, but he's hardly a battering ram.
Outlook: The Wildcats get production out of Colter and the quarterbacks, and several options are in the mix, but overall the results should be fantastic after cranking up the production averaging 226 yards per game after coming up with just 167 yards per game two seasons ago. Overall, after running for 2,932 yards and 31 scores, 3,000 yards isn't out of the question.
Unit Rating: 8


With size and decent deep speed, 6-3, 225-pound junior Christian Jones turned into a steady go-to target with a team-leading 35 tackles with 412 yards and two score averaging 11.8 yards per try. One of the team's top recruits a few years ago, the Houston native had the potential to go someplace much bigger before tearing his ACL. 100% again, he showed what he could to, but outside of a 47-yard touchdown against Iowa, he wasn't much of a gamebreaker.

Back at the outside X is the dangerous Tony Jones, a 6-0, 185-pound deep threat who led the team with four scores making 29 grabs for 335 yards. The junior didn't come up with any blow-up games, and he didn't use his tremendous speed well enough, but he has dangerous upside. As long as he stays healthy – a problem over his first two years – he'll need the ball.

Is junior Kyle Prater finally ready to do far more? The superstar USC recruit never panned out after getting hurt and finished with just one grab for six yards before deciding to transfer closer to home. At 6-5 and 215 pounds he has size and a world of talent, but he only caught ten passes for 54 yards last season. Based on the recruiting rankings he's the most talented target the program has ever brought in, but he has yet to show it. He'll work at the Y along with Pierre Youngblood-Ary, a 6-3, 185-pound sophomore who can play any spot in the receiving corps. The Orlando native is an elite athlete who can jump out of the stadium, but he only caught one pass for one yard in his first season. 6-2, 185-pound senior Rashad Lawrence started the first five games of the 2011 season and turned into a key part of the puzzle last year making 34 catches for 321 yards. While he only averaged 9.4 yards per catch, he's a dangerous athlete with the speed to go along with his size. He has all the tools to go along with his experience. Working behind him at the Z and seeing action at other spots will Cameron Dickerson, a 6-3, 200-pound sophomore with excellent size and athleticism. While he wasn't a top recruit, he showed good upside last season making nine catches for 54 yards with a touchdown.

The Wildcats use a jack-of-all-trades Superback position – part fullback, part tight end, part H-back – and sophomore Dan Vitale knows how to work the role. The 6-2, 220-pounder is a good blocker who carried it once for two yards but made 28 grabs for 288 yards and two scores highlighted by a nine-catch 110-yard day against Michigan State. 6-4, 240-pound sophomore Mark Szott is a bigger option with great hands and upside. A great recruit two years ago, he's a pure route runner and a terrific athlete, but he didn't catch any passes last season.

Watch Out For … 6-0, 185-pound Macan Wilson, one of the team's top receiver recruits with dangerous speed and great hands. The talent out of Houston has great hands with the potential to someday be the No. 1 target.
Strength: Experience. Demetrius Fields is gone, but including running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter, everyone else is back. There might not be a dangerous top target, but the offense can spread the ball around well.
Weakness: Big play. The 47-yarder from Jones was the biggest pass play of the season. It was a function of the offense, but the passing game came up with just 9.5 yards per completion. Secondaries aren't going to be too scared about getting beaten deep.
Outlook: The receiving corps rebuilt in a hurry, and now it's time to do something big. This was a nice, steady, dependable group last year, but the big plays have to start coming and more has to be done after the catch. There's great size and just enough speed to get by, and with so many options to spread the ball around, the quarterbacks have to take advantage.
Unit Rating: 7

Offensive Line

The line is the offense's biggest concern, but it has two nice pieces to work around in center Brandon Vitabile and left tackle Jack Konopka. The 6-3, 300-pound Vitabile took over the center job two seasons ago and hasn't let it go. A top recruit, he was considered one of the nation's best prospects for the pivot with great athleticism and perfect size for the position, and last year he turned in a great year blasting away for the running game and proving to be a terrific quarterback for the line. At 6-5 and 285 pounds, Konopka isn't big, but he got the job done in pass protection starting every game last season. The former tight end is a terrific athlete with excellent feet and the frame to get a little bit bigger. He has the tools to be solid again.

Looking to take over at left guard is 6-5, 280-pound sophomore Geoff Mogus, a good backup with the ability to work just about anywhere up front. He's not a blaster, but he's quick. He'll be pushed by 6-2, 280-pound junior Hayden Baker, a walk-on who saw a little time, but has the bulk and strength to provide a little power.

It'll be another fight for the right guard with 6-5, 290-pound sophomore Matt Frazier looking to slip in after spending most of last year on special teams. A great recruit for the team a few years ago, he should be a fixture up front for the next three season, but 6-5, 270-pound redshirt freshman Adam DePietro is a good, promising option who could slip outside to tackle if needed. He fits what the Wildcats want to do up front, and he showed great upside this offseason.

6-6, 295-pound junior Paul Jorgensen is a strong, physical blocker with good athleticism for his size. He could end up someday working at left tackle, but he'll start out on the right side after seeing a little bit of action. After hanging around for a few years, it's his time to shine, but 6-6, 285-pound redshirt freshman Eric Olson is a good talent who could end up starting at either tackle spot before he's done. A fantastic athlete, he had to choose playing football over college basketball.

Watch Out For … center Brad North, who could play either guard spot but will be tried out in the middle over the next few seasons. The 6-2, 280-pound North is a very smart, very tough drive blocker out of Texas with excellent upside.
Strength: Konopka and Vitabile. If you're only going to have two starters returning, they might as well be at left tackle and center. This was a great run blocking unit last year that should shine at the two most important positions.
Weakness: A starting five. Center and left tackle is set, but it's going to take the entire offseason to come up with the other spots. Injuries have been an issue, and the Wildcats don't have the sure things at guard to count on right away.
Outlook: The line came through with a huge season for the ground game and only allowed 16 sacks on the season. This is an athletic line with options for a few of the spots, but it's going to take a while to come up with the right starting five. The line should take a step back, but it won't fall off the map.
Unit Rating: 6.5

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