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NCAA Football Big 10 FootballMichigan State SpartansNorthwestern Wildcats

Beyond the Box Score: Northwestern Holds Off Michigan State Late

Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

Finally, the Northwestern Wildcats win a game in the 4th quarter! You wouldn’t have thought it would have been after 10 games, I’m sure, but the Wildcats were able to hang on for the win in East Lansing today. The difference? Aggressiveness.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been telling the media his team was close to getting over the proverbial “hump” when it came to their late game meltdowns. Today, he helped get them across the finish line. This despite losing star running back Venric Mark early on and then Kain Colter later in the game. I’ve been one to roundly criticize Fitzgerald in the past but today he proved his worth for Northwestern.

The late game play calling from both the offense and defense were what Northwestern fans have been begging to see. The Wildcats didn’t just keep running into a brick wall to try and milk the clock. They let hot quarterback Trevor Siemian throw the ball on the final drive and for the most part he got the job done. Then later on defense, the Wildcats brought pressure and got physical with the opposing wide receivers. They let the refs figure out how physical they could get and that got them a much needed win.

Now the Wildcats have something to play for against their in-state rival, the Illinois Fighting Illini. Tim Beckman‘s squad actually showed up today and nearly took down the Purdue Boilermakers. Nathan Scheelhaase is still a weapon at quarterback and at least 3 players on the defense will be playing on Sundays at some point. A win on “Senior Day” will give the Wildcats nine victories and almost assure them of playing in Florida on New Year’s Day.

I actually think there’s an excellent chance they’ll return to Tampa to play in the Outback Bowl. That game is on ABC and is considered, at least psychologically  a relatively prestigious bowl game. It would come down to the Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers for the two Florida spots (the other being the Gator Bowl). I have the Badgers losing next week at the Penn State Nittany Lions and then in the Big Ten Championship versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

It would be an easy argument for Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips to make. Do you want a 9-3 team or a 7-6 team with 3 straight losses? The choice is clear. Additionally, Northwestern fans travel well despite the national view on Wildcat fans. “Senior Day” is always a big deal but suddenly the Northwestern coaching staff has another motivational tool up to use and they can thank themselves for that.

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*QUICK HITS*

Dan Vitale, tight end- The freshman “superback” was outstanding again for the Wildcats. His routes were crisp and he has great hands. A real mismatch for any defensive coordinator.

Daniel Jones, cornerback- That poor kid was caught up in a lucky catch last week by Roy Roundtree and kept getting a lot of heat. Today, he was excellent. He had two huge pass breakups on deep balls and stood up the task of playing one on one on the outside.

Dean Lowry, defensive end- This kid is getting pressure constantly off the edge and he’s just a true freshman. I’d put his weight around a paltry 230 pounds, just wait until till he hits the weight room.

Brandon Williams, punter- He’s had a great season but what was up today? Did he lose confidence after the poor punt late against the Michigan Wolverines? He’ll need to bring his “A” game moving forward.

Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts!