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NCAA Football Big 10 FootballMinnesota Golden GophersNorthwestern Wildcats

Beyond The Box Score: Northwestern Survives On The Road

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Northwestern Wildcats fans will be muttering the same phrase over and over again this afternoon, “a win is a win is a win”. That was an ugly ball game in Minneapolis but the Wildcats were able to hold on despite a late rally by the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Northwestern again got off to a hot start thanks to an early Gophers TD but the offense sputtered again. Thanks to an injury to Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray the Gophers couldn’t finish it off the comeback. Enough nonsense, the Wildcats are bowl eligible for another year. Let’s get to the nuggets.

“THE FIVE”:

Venric Mark- He was awesome once again. His burst to the outside was impressive, his cutback ability showed against an aggressive Minnesota front 7 and even as a decoy he made the Gophers nervous. I really want to see how he does next week against a Nebraska Cornhuskers D that is talented but inconsistent. Will he really be able to run inside the majority of the time? Also, why does the coaching staff go to Mike Trumpy when Mark is having a good game? Let Mark take himself out if he’s tired. The ‘Cats had very few snaps in this one.

Pick a quarterback please- I frankly don’t care at this point if it’s Kain Colter or Trevor Siemian but the coaching staff has got to stop hedging their bets. The offense got no rhythm behind either signal caller because they kept switching them up even every couple plays! Siemian was OK throwing the ball but had so few opportunities to do so. Meanwhile, Colter had a nice run but couldn’t really get the option game going. Let Colter get the majority of snaps at receiver this week. He had two costly drops and you’ll need Siemian’s downfield passing threat against the better Big Ten teams.

Major props to the left side of the offensive line- Patrick Ward, Brian Mulroe and Brandon Vitabile were all great. They opened up huge holes again for Mark and without them there’s no way Northwestern wins this game. Problems remain on the right side but for the first time in a long while, Northwestern can actually say they have some consistency on the offensive line.

The secondary- Again it was a problem today and Minnesota can’t really throw the ball. Redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose can play. He had a couple big pass breakups including two on certain TDs (deep ball in 2nd quarter, 4th quarter slant). The Wildcats clearly have one starter locked down however on the other side it has been a disaster. Quinn Evans has not been good. He racked up another pass interference penalty today and was pulled late for Daniel Jones. Jones has shown a poor football IQ as he constantly let Minnesota receivers just settle underneath the coverage. The Gophers don’t have any burners. Read the scouting report.

Run defense- Northwestern certainly won’t stop any high powered passing attacks this year. Lucklily for them, the Big Ten outside maybe the Ohio State Buckeyes, doesn’t exactly light it up through the air. However, they will continue to see power football and today certainly wasn’t your traditional run attack but it was effective nevertheless. Both Gray and Donnell Kirkwood got big rips on the ground off a variety of looks. The major issue today was tackling. The Wildcats failed to wrap up and tried to utilize arm tackles against these bigger rushers. And no this wasn’t just an issue late when again the defense looked tired.

MOVING FORWARD: Northwestern is 6-1 but I’m still not that impressed. Let’s be honest. The Wildcats have beaten bad to average competition. Next week they’ll welcome the Cornhuskers to Ryan Field. What looked like a huge matchup before both Northwestern and Nebraska lost last week still has significant meaning. Nebraska’s pass attack is clearly better than a year ago thanks to Taylor Martinez‘s improved passing mechanics and the one/two running punch of Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah will take apart Northwestern unless they get back to basics. I don’t like the Cornhuskers D though. They have major communications issues and take too many chances. Look for a relatively high scoring contest in Evanston. If the Wildcats can get that one they can start to think big.