Northwestern: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and the Beautiful!)

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on October 8th, 2011 at 10:20 PM

The Good:

1. For the most part, Denard's passing (ducks and horrors aside).  He was more accurate than not, and given how NW was selling out to stop his running, it was essential that he get something going in the air.  For the most part, he did...especially in the second half.

2. Devin Gardner.  He wasn't in all that much, but I thought he was impressive when he was.  It's good to know we have him to fall back on.  

3. Second half adjustments on defense.  How good is Mattison at identifying what's wrong early on and correcting it?  I think he's got to be one of the best; it almost reminds me of what Chip Kelly does when Oregon struggles early on offense.  Maybe that's getting ahead of things, but 28-0 in the second half against a potent offense like Northwestern's is mighty impressive.  

4. Second half adjustments on offense.  Okay, here it's not so much a schematic thing as an execution thing.  We were sloppy in the first half, and coldly efficient in the second.  Sure some things didn't work, but we always had something else to fall back on when they didn't.  

5. The D-line and Demens.  Interior running was a non-factor, and Persa had a nightmare of a day when he wasn't getting rid of the ball within 3 seconds.  

6. The way our team actively creates turnovers.  At this point, it's clear that our guys are coached to do this, and they do it with regularity.  

7. Roy Roundtree.  He made some excellent catches, and showed that he's still the man.  

7b. Junior Hemingway.  Some huge catches.  

The Bad:

1. The first half.  We were lucky to only be down 10 pts, and looked sloppy, confused and unprepared for a road game.  

2. Interior running.  Sure, we got some plays in, and that Denard scramble on the broken play was sick, but by the 3rd quarter we couldn't get anything going through the middle...and this against an undersized, non-elite front 7.  

3. Defending perimeter running and passing.  This was a serious problem, especially early on.  Guess we adjusted to it well, though, as it was less of a concern later on.  But it was worrying, and option teams like Nebraska could make us pay if we don't improve on this.  

The Ugly:

1. Denard's 3 interceptions.  These were really terrible, and a continuing problem for him.  We're lucky that they didn't hurt more than they did, but unless he can fix this problem, they'll cost us a game eventually.  

The Beautiful:

1. We're 6-0 for the first time since 2006.  

 

Comments

RickH

October 8th, 2011 at 10:25 PM ^

The problem Denard has is throwing off his back foot and locking onto his targets too much sometimes.  His first two picks were overthrown because he threw off his back foot.  Just needs to keep working and he definitely made up for it in the second half.

After the first couple of minutes, I knew it'd be a rough first half but I'm confident in our second half adjustments.  Thought we'd blow them out of the water in the second half, which we did.

Yost Ghost

October 9th, 2011 at 1:10 AM ^

each time he threw the replay showed he was throwing from his back foot. In the second half he was stepping into his throws. He even said as much in the post game. It must be the growing pains of adjusting to the pro style. I had a feeling this could be a lingering issue from spring. If he can restrain his eagerness just a bit, throw the ball like he's capable of while limiting himself to the short and intermediate throws he'll be a very consistent passer.

BrownJuggernaut

October 9th, 2011 at 2:39 AM ^

...so I had to plus 1 you. 

I don't think he overthrows it when he throws off his backfoot so much as the ball floats on him when he throws off his back foot. When he steps into his throw, he has a lot more control over where the ball is going. 

***

Some other comments related to the "Bads" is that I thought the playcalling was a little weak at times. I would've liked to see a bit more triple option in general and more Devin running the option in the goal line situations, especially when Denard was out. We should be utilizing Devin more in power runs even. It's not the worst thing to get Denard off the field for a play here and there. He ran the ball 25 times and this was probably his least effective performance of the season, rushing wise. I thought Borges could've done more to mix it up and keep Denard from taking a pounding.

The BTN announcers mentioned it some point but have you guys noticed Denard making the wrong read on option plays where he should have made the pitch but held onto the ball himself? Is he too intent on putting the team on his back? I'm not saying this is a bad thing or anything at all. It might be something to keep an eye on.

Lastly, is Denard looking too much for Hemmingway? I think they made good adjustments, but it seemed that early on, he was tossing a lot of balls in Hemmingway's direction. Once they started going for the shorter quicker routes, he started getting in a better rhythm and finding his other receivers...

***

Speaking of BTN announcers, how annoying was it when they kept referring to DG as a freshmen. I mean technically, this could be his RS Freshmen year, but we haven't gotten confirmation on the medical red shirt yet...

***

There are so many improvements that need to be made.

jackw8542

October 8th, 2011 at 10:29 PM ^

It looked to me like the run blocking was really bad.  The backs were being met in the backfield, often nearly as soon as they got the ball.  If Lewan is supposed to be such a stud, why aren't there holes over the left side?  When Jake Long played that position, Michael Hart could always count on an opening on one side of Long or the other.  That just doesn't seem to be the case with Lewan.  Also, the efforts to go up the middle from first and goal at the one were totally ineffectual; there was no push whatsoever from our offensive line.

Yost Ghost

October 9th, 2011 at 1:15 AM ^

part of the problem was they were stacking the box trying to contain Drob. That's obviously not going to help your run blocking. Once Drob was more consistent with his throws the run game seemed to open up.

M-Dog

October 9th, 2011 at 5:45 PM ^

I was watching a youtube video of Michigan in the 1992 season Rose Bowl against Washington.  I was curious, so I started counting.  One, two, three, four . . . ten!  They had ten men in the box against us.  And this was with Elvis who could throw.  Wheatly ran wild on them anyway.  Imagine how the box was stacked against Bo's teams.  Yet Michigan could run anyway.   

Louie C

October 9th, 2011 at 2:34 AM ^

Unless somebody with a better football acumen corrects me, it seems like the blocking scheme was more "manball" instead of zone. I noticed that the blocking schemes seemed to be a more tighter for a lack of a better term.

KAYSHIN15

October 8th, 2011 at 10:33 PM ^

whether or not we have great Coordinators on O and D then they were answered. Borges and Mattison are great at what they do. It also illustrates how badly RR and his crew were were being outcoached on a weekly basis for 3 yrs.

Little brother, get ready to be put back in your place. Go Blue!

acnumber1

October 8th, 2011 at 10:34 PM ^

...sideline reporter saying that someone suggested that Denard practice taking snaps after he banged up his left hand and Denard responded by smiling his 'Denard smile'.

bfradette

October 8th, 2011 at 10:35 PM ^

I think this is where we see that an offense that can hold the ball and give the d time to rest, analyze and adjust is vital.

In previous years, when the d struggled, the o still scored in 2 minutes or less. Right back out without time for rest or adjustments. 

This year, the d struggled mightily against a team that just couldn't be called for a penalty, and just wouldn't make a mistake. The o then held the ball, and we had a chance for our coaches to out scheme their counterparts. I think having NFL quality coaches playing a chess match against college level opponents is showing it goes about as well as you'd expect. 

I was hoping for 8-4 with a defense ranked in the 60's nationally in ppg allowed (to me, the stat that matters). Last few years, I felt our first few wins were just us giving big ten opponents good film to plan with. Now, I feel like what we do with Denard and Devin on the field at the same time is just unfair. I feel like we are going to keep coming back with new stuff every week, and it will always be tailored to defeat our opponents in detail.

Feeling good. ramble over. Hail!

go16blue

October 8th, 2011 at 10:38 PM ^

By my count, Denard didn't set his feet on 4 throws. 3 of those were picks, another was a jump ball. When he did set his feet, he was dead on a lot.

champswest

October 8th, 2011 at 10:59 PM ^

 

The Bad:

1. The first half.  We were lucky to only be down 10 pts, and looked sloppy, confused and unprepared for a road game.

Disagree.  I didn't think we looked sloppy, confused and especially not unprepared for a road game.  The difference was all in Denard's 3 pics.  That was 3 scoring opps we lost and 3 additional that they got (which resulted in 10 pts.)

This team will go as far as Denard's arm takes it.  (Which could be a long way if he keeps working on his fundamentals and throws the way he did in the second half).  Otherwise, teams will do like NW did in the first half (and the good teams did last year), which is stop DR's running and make him throw

RickH

October 8th, 2011 at 11:16 PM ^

Well, that just affects the offense, we still have the defense to look at.  The offense looked decent, not good as usual but not horrible either.  The defense is where I saw the majority of the problems in the first half.  We came out extremely flat, not hitting or having that toughness.  This caused bad tackling and coverage, simply letting Northwestern run into the endzone twice without even touching the guy as somebody ran past the runner.

hart4eva

October 8th, 2011 at 11:08 PM ^

I think you're spot on with #3 of the good. The second half adjustments gave me faith going into the half that we would turn things around despite that first half being pretty ugly. And sure enough, that's what happened.

I definitely like the comparison to Chip Kelly and the Oregon offense. He pulled off some second half adjustments again this week against Cal. Time will tell if that comparison holds, but I think it's pretty appropriate right now.

rcm

October 9th, 2011 at 1:32 AM ^

3. BWC SPEEED

This is where I would put a video of BWC booking it across the field sideline to sideline to get off for a substitution. I would extend it to include how he couldn't stop, ate it hard on our sideline, then got up and got a big cheer from our section of the stadium

BlueDragon

October 8th, 2011 at 11:13 PM ^

The stat of the game, to me, is 28-0 in the second half.  Awesome halftime adjustments for dealing with triple option and Screeen Pass FTW on D and NW stuffing the box like a Thanksgiving turkey on O in the first half.  Denard's passing was night and day in the two halves, and this time it was enough to win.  If he can avoid being a turnover machine through the air, we should be OK.

I also find the process of "breaking in" for Devin Gardner as a playmaker to be intriguing.  He had control of a key red zone drive and made a beautiful rollout-and-bumrush-for-sideline play with his feet.  TP made his bread and butter on bootleg runs to the sideline and it was awesome that Gardner scored on 3rd and Goal with one of them.

Borges's adjustments throughout the game were enough to win this time, in spite of 3 ugly INTs.  I do not think we can count on the pass as reliably as we can count on our fine ground game, but the second half of this game is a huge step in the right direction.  Seeing Denard convert 3rd and 9's through the air makes me happy.

JCM26

October 9th, 2011 at 12:19 AM ^

Denard grew up a bit tonight by realizing (again) his impatience and the "make it happen" attitude usually result in unfavorable endings - such a interceptions and inaccurate throws.  Denard has an arm to get the ball down the field with accuracy but not when he doesn't set up correctly to deliver the ball.  Yes I know he made a miracle throw in the ND game with a defenseman pulling him down.  But plays like that are very rare.  Basically Denard is a playmaker on offense.  Al Borges is turning him into a pro-style QB.  This conversion is taking time as I'm sure Denard has been playing his way for some time now.  Appartently it worked well in HS but is a liability in a big time college atmosphere.   When breaking down  film this week Coach Hoke and Coach Borges can point out to Denard his night and day play in this single game - no need to contrast his play over two games.  I sincerely believe Denard will be fine for the remainder of the season.  He will have his moments when he hears Deerfield Friday night HS cheers and echoes bu thopefully those will fade as the season progresses.  That said I'm so proud of this team for breaking through in B1G play.  By the way the dfeense was awsome again.

JCM26

October 9th, 2011 at 12:19 AM ^

Denard grew up a bit tonight by realizing (again) his impatience and the "make it happen" attitude usually result in unfavorable endings - such a interceptions and inaccurate throws.  Denard has an arm to get the ball down the field with accuracy but not when he doesn't set up correctly to deliver the ball.  Yes I know he made a miracle throw in the ND game with a defenseman pulling him down.  But plays like that are very rare.  Basically Denard is a playmaker on offense.  Al Borges is turning him into a pro-style QB.  This conversion is taking time as I'm sure Denard has been playing his way for some time now.  Appartently it worked well in HS but is a liability in a big time college atmosphere.   When breaking down  film this week Coach Hoke and Coach Borges can point out to Denard his night and day play in this single game - no need to contrast his play over two games.  I sincerely believe Denard will be fine for the remainder of the season.  He will have his moments when he hears Deerfield Friday night HS cheers and echoes bu thopefully those will fade as the season progresses.  That said I'm so proud of this team for breaking through in B1G play.  By the way the dfeense was awsome again.

Umfan77

October 9th, 2011 at 12:21 AM ^

Not trying to be a downer But Denards ints were ugly. We will not survive against good teams if this continues. Hopefully Denard will be more magic than tragic. When really good teams stuff the box and shutdown Denards running lanes, he will have to be a better decision maker. It wasnt just his lack of fundamentals but his bad decisions to throw off his back foot and throw god knows where? Make no mistake it was a team win but the defense lead the way in the second half.

funkywolve

October 9th, 2011 at 11:14 AM ^

Actually, I thought the offense did great in the second half.  Denard didn't make any bad reads and the offense effectively and efficiently moved the ball and dominated the time of possession.  The defense did their part but with UM hogging the ball in the second half, the defense wasn't on the field all that much.

uminks

October 9th, 2011 at 12:02 AM ^

The team looked nervous and uptight for much of the first  half.  They came out and played much better ball in the 2nd half. The second half will give this team some confidence when traveling to E.Lansing!  DROB will need be on since MSU will play him tight. He will need to hit passes to open up the running game. I'm feeling better that the team will be up and playing well next week!

shep4569

October 9th, 2011 at 12:49 AM ^

M adds another two scores if Denard doesn't throw the picks. When he threw the second, he had Koger running unabated into the endzone. So painful to watch, but they looked very prepared for this game. Offense finally got rolling and the defense adjusted, as has become the theme this year!! :D

Picktown GoBlue

October 9th, 2011 at 1:37 AM ^

I'd put the 5 penalties for 65 yards.  Maybe not all of them may have been good calls, but for the most part they were deserved...and many of them hurt.

On the good side, phenomal 3rd and 4th down conversions tonight 14/17 and 1/1.

And, not sure where to categorize it, we still have not given up a play of 40+ yards, but they did get a 39 yard pass to Jones on our D, so they were knocking on the door (and set up the touchdown to put them ahead 21-14).  And Persa was able to get a couple more pass plays of 20+ yards on us.  Would be interesting to see how these numbers compare to his healthy numbers from last year to see if we actually shut him down a little (since it didn't feel like it until near the end of the game).

bziegs99

October 9th, 2011 at 2:02 AM ^

Like the way we played in the second half. Lots of bright spots out there. I like the way Countess recovered after getting beat early. That kid is really tough