CFN Take: Northwestern Gets Up Fast On Purdue

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Nov 22, 2014


Northwestern Wildcats 2014 ... Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern Wildcats

2014 Schedule
2014 Record: 5-6

Aug. 30 California L 41-24
Sep. 6 Northern Illinois L 23-15
Sep. 13 OPEN DATE
Sep. 20 Western Illinois W 24-7
Sep. 27 at Penn State W 29-6
Oct. 4 Wisconsin W 20-14
Oct. 11 at Minnesota L 24-17
Oct. 18 Nebraska L 38-17
Oct. 25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 at Iowa L 48-7
Nov. 8 Michigan L 10-9
Nov. 15 at No Dame W 43-40 OT
Nov. 22 at Purdue W 38-14
Nov. 29 Illinois
Nov. 22 at Northwestern 38, Purdue 14
And You Care Because … Northwestern shocked Purdue right away with a fast scoring drive finishing with a 25-yard Dan Vitale touchdown catch, and a nine-yard Justin Jackson run and a 64-yard Tony Jones punt return for a score on the way to a 24-0 lead. The Boilermakers scored late in the first half on a 19-yard Akeem Hunt touchdown, but it was all Northwestern in the second half highlighted with a 68-yard Jackson dash in the fourth.
What Else? Turnovers: Purdue 5 – Northwestern 2
- Northwestern RB Justin Jackson ran 23 times for 147 yards and two scores
- Purdue QB Austin Appleby completed 26-of-48 passes for 251 yards and two scores and two touchdowns
- Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 7-of-12 passes for 93 yards and a score with a pick before suffering a leg injury.
Game Rating: D

Nov. 15 Northwestern 43, Notre Dame 40 OT
And You Care Because … Jack Mitchell forced overtime with a 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play, and then won it for Northwestern by hitting a 41-yarder after Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza missed a 42-yard attempt. In a sloppy, wild game, the Wildcats scored 14 unanswered points on two Mitchell field goals and a Trevor Siemian six-yard touchdown run, along with a two-point conversion to offset yet another mistake-filled day from Everett Golson and the Irish. Golson ran for a 61-yard touchdown, and threw three touchdown passes to William Fuller from 23, 23 and 11 yards out, but the last scoring play was Notre Dame’s last.
What Else? Notre Dame QB Everett Golson completed 21-of-40 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, and ran ten times for 78 yards and a score. WR William Fuller caught nine passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns
- Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 30-of-48 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
- Northwestern RB Justin Jackson ran 23 times for 149 yards and a score
- Turnovers: Notre Dame 4 – Northwestern 4
Game Rating: A-

Nov. 8 Michigan 10, at Northwestern 9
And You Care Because … Down seven, Northwestern got a three-yard Tony Jones touchdown catch with three seconds to play. Instead of trying for the tie with the extra point, the Wildcats went for the win and the two-point conversion, but QB Trevor Siemian slipped, fell down, and Michigan came away with the win. Michigan started the scoring on a three-yard De’Veon Smith run midway through the third, and the two teams traded field goals in the fourth, with Matt Wile putting the Wolverines ahead with just over three minutes to play on a 37-yard field goal. NU went 74 yards in 14 plays for the touchdown before the ill-fated conversion attempt.
What Else? Michigan RB De’Veon Smith ran 18 times for 121 yards and a score
- Third down conversions: Northwestern 10-of-21 – Michigan 1-of-12
- Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 32-of-49 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions
- Michigan QB Devin Gardner completed 11-of-24 passes for 109 yards and two picks
Game Rating: C+

Nov. 1 at Iowa 48, Northwestern 7
And You Care Because … Iowa got out fast and didn’t stop, scoring 24 first quarter points helped by two Mark Weisman touchdown runs from eight and 14 yards out, and a blocked punt for a score from Ben Niemann. Northwestern got on the board in the second quarter on a one-yard Justin Jackson run, but that would be all the fun the offense would have all day as Iowa scored 24 unanswered points including Weisman’s third TD run of the day and a 31-yard Tevaun Smith touchdown catch.
What Else? Total yards: Iowa 483 – Northwestern 180
- Iowa RB Akrum Wadley ran 15 times for 106 yards and a score, and Mark Weisman ran 20 times for 94 yards and three touchdowns
- Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 8-of-18 passes for 68 yards, and Zack Oliver completed 1-of-6 passes
- Iowa quarterbacks combined to completed 17-of-25 passes for 262 yards and a score
Game Rating: D+

Oct. 18 Nebraska 38, at Northwestern 17
And You Care Because … Ameer Abdullah broke the game open in the second half with three one-yard touchdown runs after running for another one-yard score in the second. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson ran for touchdowns from two and five yards out, but couldn’t get into the end zone the rest of the way. Down 17-14 after the Wildcats got a 29-yard field goal late in the first half, Nebraska scored 24 unanswered points.
What Else? Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah ran 23 times for 146 yards and four touchdowns, and caught four passes for 13 yards
- Northwestern RB Justin Jackson ran 22 times for 128 yards and two scores
- Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong completed 18-of-29 passes for 221 yards, and ran ten times for 55 yards
- Total yards: Nebraska 471 – Northwestern 290
Game Rating: C+

Oct. 11 at Minnesota 24, Northwestern 17
And You Care Because … Daniel Cobb and Mitch Leidner pounded out the ground game for Minnesota, with Leidner running for two one-yard touchdowns and Ryan Santoso hitting a 25-yard field goal, but Northwestern kept pace with Trevor Siemian hitting Justin Jackson for an 11-yard touchdown and tying the game up with a two-yard run. However, on the ensuing kickoff, Jalen Myrick returned it 100 yards for a score, and the Gophers held on for the win.
What Else? Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner completed 10-of-15 passes for 153 yards and an interception, and ran seven times for 31 yards and two touchdowns
- Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 32-of-50 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran for a touchdown
- Minnesota RB Daniel Cobb ran 30 times for 97 yards
- Northwestern yards: 393 – Minnesota yards: 274
Game Rating: B

Oct. 4 at Northwestern 20, Wisconsin 14
And You Care Because … Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon ran wild, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a miserable day from the Badger passing game. Northwestern’s Godwin Igwebuike picked off three passes including one in the end zone on a horrible throw from Joel Stave, and one to seal the win on UW’s final drive. Trevor Siemian found Dan Vitale for a five-yard score, Jack Mitchell hit two 22-yard field goals, and Miles Shuler ran for a 16-yard touchdown, but Wisconsin stayed alive late on a 19-yard Kenzel Doe touchdown catch. Mistakes killed the Badgers in key moments as the Wildcats hung on.
What Else? Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon ran 27 times for 259 yards and a score
- Northwestern RB Justin Jackson ran 33 times for 162 yards
- Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy completed 4-of-10 passes for 24 yards with an interception, and ran once for eight yards, and Joel Stave completed 8-of-19 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions
- Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike made eight tackles with three interceptions
Game Rating: B

Sept. 27 Northwestern 29, at Penn State 6
And You Care Because … Northwestern dominated throughout with Trevor Siemian running for two one-yard touchdowns for a 14-0 first quarter lead and with a defense that only allowed two Sam Ficken field goals from 42 and 36 yards out. The Wildcats scored 15 unanswered points with a pick six from Anthony Walker and a third Siemian one-yard touchdown run – the D took care of the rest pressuring Christian Hackenberg all game long.
What Else? Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 21-of-37 passes for 258 yards and a pick, and ran for three touchdowns
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards with an interception
- Penn State finished with 50 rushing yards on 25 carries
- Northwestern RB/FB Dan Vitale caught seven passes for 113 yards
Game Rating: C

Sept. 20 Northwestern 24, Western Illinois 7
And You Care Because … Western Illinois tied the game at seven early in the first quarter, but then it was all Northwestern the rest of the way. The Wildcats scored the game’s final 17 points and won for the first time in 2014, despite being outgained by the Leathernecks. Northwestern scored three times on the ground, including a pair from rookie RB Solomon Vault.
What Else? The Wildcats’ bend-don’t-break D allowed 292 passing yards to Trenton Norvell, and had trouble stopping WR Lance Lenoir. But three fumble recoveries and a pick helped keep the Leathernecks off the board for the final 51 minutes.
- Western Illinois had 22 first downs and controlled time of possession, but couldn’t extend—or finish—drives. To be more competitive this season, the Leathernecks must do better than 4-of-17 of third downs.
- Northwestern was fine on the ground, getting 92 yards and a touchdown from Justin Jackson. But QB Trevor Siemian was unable to make plays downfield. He completed 15-of-25 for just 117 yards and no scores.
- The Leathernecks need to spend more time on pass protection. They struggled with the Northwestern front seven, especially DE Ifeadi Odenigbo and LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, who had two sacks and 12 tackles, respectively.
Game Rating: D

Sept. 6 Northern Illinois 23, at Northwestern 15
And You Care Because … Northwestern took a 7-3 lead in the third quarter on a 19-yard catch from Kyle Prater, and then Drew Hare and the NIU offense took over with 20 straight points. Hare, who didn’t play in the first half, ran for a four-yard score and found Da’Ron Brown on scoring plays from 18 and 59 yards out. With Trevor Siemien out late, Zack Oliver connected with Pierre Youngblood-Ary for a 54-yard touchdown with 2:34 to play, but the Wildcats didn’t get any closer.
What Else? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Northwestern just isn’t playing well – duh, that might be obvious, but the team is simply not executing. Nine penalties, a big turnover, and no running game have been disastrous.
- Northern Illinois used three quarterbacks, combining to hit 13-of-23 passes for 180 yards, but it was Drew Hare who ran for two scores and ran for 31 yards and a score. It was a share-the-wealth game for the Huskie runners.
- The wheels could completely come off. No Venric Mark, no Christian Jones, no Tony Jones, and now Northwestern might be without its quarterback Trevor Siemien, who missed the last few minutes with a leg injury.
- The Wildcat offensive line has been miserable. NIU teed off for five sacks with OLB Rasheen Lemon leading the team with nine tackles with two sacks. Jason Meehan added two sacks.
Game Rating: C+

Aug. 30 California 31, at Northwestern 24
And You Care Because … Cal jumped out to a 17-0 lead helped by two short scoring passes from Jared Goff, and was up 31-7 on a 76-yard Trevor Davis pass play and a one-yard run from Khalfani Muhammad. Northwestern came roaring back with 17 straight points and was driving late, but Trevor Siemian was picked off and Cal ran out the clock.
What Else? Northwestern woke up too late. It was awful on both sides of the ball early on, and it was getting its doors blown off in the second half, but it showed good fight to get back in the game with Siemian throwing well and finding his groove. It was too late.
- Cal LB Jalen Jefferson ended up saving the day with a huge sack and interception to stall Northwestern’s final drive. Fantastic, he led the game with 16 tackles with a sack and the pick.
- Jared Goff didn’t have to throw a bazillion times for Cal to win, completing 21-of-34 passes for 281 yards and three scores with a pick. The running game wasn’t there, and things started to bog down late, but the offense worked early.
- How did NU do without RB Venric Mark? Justin Jackson led the way with 40 yards and the team ran for 108 yards and a score.
Game Rating: B+

2014 Preview 

What the hell was that?

Coming off a brilliant 10-3 season, Northwestern started out 4-0, and while it was a bit shaky, it was still on a roll having won seven in a row going back to the end of 2012. Everyone got jacked, College Gameday rolled into town, and the Wildcats had Ohio State in trouble late, but stalled and ended up losing 40-30 – with the final score looking worse than the game thanks to a fluky late touchdown.

Little did anyone know that they season ended on October 5th.

It’s not like Northwestern was supposed to take a step back or letdown after the Ohio State loss – on the contrary, the team battled hard and gave the more talented Buckeyes all they could handle. But what followed was a bizarre string of losses in just about every way imaginable. It was if Northwestern spent 2012 figuring out ways to win, and then balanced it out last year by inventing new ways to lose.

It’s not like crushing defeats were anything totally new to the Wildcats – they had both Michigan and Nebraska dead in 2012, only to lose late on painful huge plays – but 2013 was something different.

Want to lose in a brutal slugfest? Ohio State 40-30.

Want to lose by not showing up the following week in a letdown alert game against a team looking to make a statement? Wisconsin 35-6.

Want to lose by doing everything right but hang on to the ball? Minnesota 20-17.

How about losing in overtime – Iowa 17-10 – or on a Hail Mary – Nebraska 27-24 – or on a miraculous late drive and three overtimes – Michigan 27-19 – or by just losing the will to live against the best team in the Big Ten - Michigan State 30-6?

To try to look on the bright side, it really did take a few crazy plays for the season to go into the tank, and while you are what your record is, 5-7 could’ve very, very easily have been at least 8-4. That’s Northwestern football, though – it’s just never going to have the talent to not get by on full effort and a few breaks here and there.

Even if last season was a humbling experience at a time when it seemed like the program was just about to take off, it’s not time to assume that it’s back to the days of good old reliable, homecoming game Northwestern.

If the program and the school can overcome what’s sure to be a season-long distraction with the unionization movement likely to reload, there’s enough talent returning on both sides of the ball to get right back into the hunt for really big things. 18 starters return, and with no Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule, it really might be possible to prove that 2013 was just an aberration.

What to watch for on offense: Be prepared for more of a passing game. Northwestern’s offense was at its most dangerous when Kain Colter – Captain Unionize himself – was running the ball and doing whatever was needed for the zone-read attack, but Trevor Siemian proved to be a solid passer when given the chance. Now there’s no Colter, and it’s all Siemian’s offense to run. Fortunately for him, even without top target Christian Jones (knee) and versatile running back Venric Mark (transfer), the receiving corps is loaded with three of the top five pass catchers back. It’ll be tempting to keep feeding the backs the ball to blast away for the running game, but Siemian’s passing numbers should be special if he gets time to work – not a given for a line that allowed 35 sacks last season.

What to watch for on defense: The back seven could be surprisingly fantastic. All four starters are back in a secondary that could hit, but gave up a few huge plays at key times over the last few seasons, allowing close to 3,100 passing yards per game in 2013 with 20 touchdown passes. However, the Wildcats came up with 19 picks and did a good job despite the lack of a top-shelf pass rush. Leading tackler Damien Proby is gone from the middle of the linebacking corps, but Collin Ellis can move inside, Chi Chi Ariguzo appears ready to blossom into an even bigger performer in his final year, and there’s hope that if the line is a bit more productive and a lot healthier, the defense as a whole will start to become far stingier.

The team will be far better if… the lines can stay healthy. The Wildcats never quite seemed right up front on either side last year, needing to rotate in several different bodies on both sides to fill in the gaps. The result was a lack of consistency for the running game, not enough of a pass rush or big moments behind the line, and too many moments when the opposing lines on both sides were able to do what they wanted. There’s hope this season with all five starters back on the offensive line – the result of some parts getting their feet wet when needed last year – and the defensive front will have a good amount of depth to rely on. It’s hard to be tough when you’re patching holes, but this year, Northwestern should have the problem solved.

The Schedule: It's a sneaky-tough non-conference schedule to start, but the big boy is in late November with the first game against Notre Dame since the mid-1990s. The Wildcats have to come out hot and need to be ready for shootouts against Cal and its passing game and NIU and its revamped ground attack before getting an unnecessary week off. Unfortunately, the time off comes before Western Illinois.

NU couldn't ask for much more in West play with big dogs Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Ryan Field, and while playing Michigan from the East stinks, at least it's in Evanston. However, that means the tough home games have to be wins and there can't be mistakes on the road at Minnesota and Iowa. The run of three road games in four weeks in November will make-or-break the team and the season.

Best offensive player: Senior C Brandon Vitabile. This would've been Venric Mark, but he transferred after being suspended for the start of the season. The O line has to be tighter in pass protection, and it has to be far more consistent, but VItabile is a strong, veteran leader for a front five with all five starters back. The hope will be for QB Trevor Siemian to carry the attack, and it would be nice if other skill stars could emerge after losing Mark and Jones, but Vitabile will be the one who helps pave the way.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Chi Chi Ariguzo. The team’s leading returning tackler, Ariguzo will be the main man for a good back seven that should be one of the best in the Pat Fitzgerald era. A 12-game starter, he can work at either outside linebacker spot, but is better on the weakside, where he was a steady and consistent tacklers and a dangerous playmaker in the backfield. In a perfect world, he won’t have to be as much of a pass rusher – the line will do more of the job – but he should still be a double-digit tackle for loss guy again.

Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman PK Hunter Niswander. It’s not like Northwestern won a slew of close games last year – the problem was the other way – but Jeff Budzien was still one of the team’s best weapons and one of the nation’s best kickers, hitting 23-of-25 field goals only missing from 42 and 49 yards out early on and making his last 17 of the season. However, he didn’t come up with any big bombs. Niswander is a big kicker with a huge leg and 50+ range. He nailed 111 extra points – an Ohio high school record – in 2012, and he should be ready to step in for Budzien right away. He should be the difference one way or another in a few games.

The season will be a success if ... the Wildcats win eight games and start looking more like 2012 again. There aren’t a lot of layups on the slate, but there isn’t a game that’s an absolute loss, either. Even if it’s a 7-5 regular season and a bowl win to close out, it would be a great bounceback campaign. However, with so much returning talent, and a coaching staff that won’t accept anything less than a Big Ten title, even 8-5 would seem disappointing – it shouldn’t be.

Key game: Sept. 27 at Penn State. Even when Northwestern was rocking and rolling in recent years, there were problems with the Nittany Lions with the last win coming in 2004. Penn State was wounded in 2012, but still won 39-28. In the last Joe Paterno victory before all hell broke loose, Northwestern lost 34-24 in 2011. This year, there’s a chance the Wildcats start off hot with nice home wins over Cal and Northern Illinois on the way to a 3-0 start, but beating Penn State in the Big Ten opener would do wonders to show that this really is a new year with a new attitude. With Wisconsin to follow and a road game at Minnesota and Nebraska to come after, winning in Happy Valley would be big deal.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Northwestern 175 - Opponents 126.
- Second Half & OT Scoring: Opponents 199 – Northwestern 139
- Fumbles: Northwestern 11 (lost 7) – Opponents 11 (lost 4)
- Punt Return Average: Northwestern 7.1 yards – Opponents 3.8 yards
 
- 2014 Northwestern Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players


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