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Vicious Electronic Questioning: Northwestern
This week's guest is Northwestern blog Lake The Posts, your one-stop shop for Wildcat bloggin. No chit chat this time, just a barrage of questions.
I kind of expected Northwestern to be their usual 6-6, 7-5 selves with a significant upset somewhere along the line. Then you lose to Duke and get housed by Ohio State. So... uh... what happened?
So did NU Nation. [Yikes... N_ Nation is not a good thing to call yourself around these parts. -ed] The Duke game exposed the fact that our much anticipated defense is really not much different than it has been for most of this decade - which is to say - not good. Those in the know here thought this unit was the best since '95 in terms of potential, but they simply haven't produced. Part of the problem has been from very conservative play-calling -- minimal blitzes and pressure packages. The Duke game scared all of us b/c we are very sensitive to "Dark Ages" (pre-95) references. When you are the holder of the all-time DI losing streak (which we STILL are at 34 games) and you play someone who has lost 22 straight the Lou Holtz in all of us gets scared of the karma and many predicted a tight game. The actual game was a result of poor game management - we actually took 3 points off the board in the FIRST half to go for a 4th and 3 and likewise went for TDs instead of the sure FGs in the second half that would have won the game.
The Ohio State game has sent the Purple mafia on a tirade thinking the 2 week stretch has diminished 12 years of respectable play. That is why this week's game is so big for us. Purple pride is on the line.
Were these losses fluky in any sense -- turnovers and rabbits tripping quarterbacks and so forth and so on -- or were they more indicative of systemic problems that will last the season?
No - that is the scary part. Duke beat us from start to finish and made our D look terrible in the process. We looked like a HS team against the Buckeyes. It was worse than the score indicated. The only "fluke" is that Tyrell Sutton, our best player, sat out both games due to an ankle injury and is questionable again this week. The difference between our program and yours is speed and depth. Sutton is the glue to the spread b/c he is the best receiving RB in the conference and there is a huge drop-off to our back-ups. The systemic issues are 1st half terrible play followed by 2nd half respectable play which leads to coaching questions. There are a lot of head scratchers about the validity of our coaching staff right now.
Michigan fans are always a little jumpy against the Wildcats because NU's run-based spread option has been successful in the past. And I'm not sure if you know this, but Michigan is rumored to have some slight issues with that sort of offense this year. Any chance Northwestern puts up 30? Is Bacher much of a runner?
Great question. With Sutton - yes. Without - not a chance. How good he'll be even if he plays is the big question. We are deep at WR, but have no gamebreakers. Our lone true stud (Andrew Brewer) is out for the year (see depth comment above). We truly spread the wealth and ding you to death with 5-7 yard passes. Bacher has shown that he is mobile, not like Juice Williams, but he has had several key runs (3 of 20+ in 4th quarters) when the game was on the line. We like Bacher, but he has been inconsistent - although part of the blame rests with the WRs who have been less than reliable.
It is not the Zak Kustok or Brett Basanez spread by any means. Bacher has only played 8 games and is just starting to develop the flow - that was until the last two weeks. Despite last week's debacle, he is third in the conference in passing. He always seems to make one or two bad decisions a game that lead to INTs. I like him though.
How is the offensive line? Michigan's overrun a couple of meh lines the last couple weeks... can NU avoid this fate?
Good not great. Our center, Trevor Rees, is the anchor, but all bets are off after last week's showing when OSU absolutely crushed us on the line giving Bacher zero time to find receivers. It was downright scary.
Ryan Mallett is likely to start, [Just IMO. -ed] which means Michigan will be running on most plays that don't start with "third" and end with something like "and sixteen". How is NU's young defensive line holding up? How did Beanie Wells do?
Our D-line was supposed to be the crowned jewel of the entire team. It has turned out to be the biggest disappointment. We rarely get penetration and have proven uncapable of not getting scorched in the secondary. We seem to faceguard and yet never know when the ball is arriving - it is a trend that has been with us for years and is infuriating. Beanie Wells ran at will against us. We tend to go "nice stop, nice stop...oops 20 yard run...nice stop nice stop....oops 30 yard pass".
What's the general opinion on Pat Fitzgerald? It seems too early to have anything definitive, but are there some positive indicators?
General opinion is hot seat -- already. I love the guy. His passion is unquestioned and who better to be at the helm than a smart guy who was the heart and soul of the team that turned around the program. Last year, everyone was in shellshock and chalked up a mulligan. Fitz inherited the reigns with 6 weeks til the first game, had a slew of new coaching staff and had the unenviable task of keeping assistants 20 years his elder part of the "team". General consensus is that he needs to get "his" guys in at the assistant spots and most people want to see D-coordinator Greg Colby gone. The players love to play for Fitz, but there is a major learning curve he's going through having jumped from LB coach to head coach. Bielema was groomed, Fitz was bodyslammed. It has been an extremely disappointing year to date, and the true test will be how we play in October. Attendance has been laughable. The MSU and Minnesota games are must wins after this weekend. No confidence in the program right now, but we're all trying to point to something positive. Grasping. Anything. We keep hitting rewind on the 2000 game.
Michigan 41 NU 14.
[Wow. I can't imagine Mallett-led Michigan putting up more than 30 on anyone with a pulse. -ed]