Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Midseason report: Northwestern
By Adam Rittenberg
Record: 2-3 (0-2 Big Ten)
The first half of Northwestern's season has mirrored its performances in recent games: things start off great, only to take a nosedive. After a school-record three consecutive bowl appearances, Northwestern entered the fall with high hopes and a Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Dan Persa. But Persa's surgically repaired Achilles' injury prevented him from playing in the first three games -- the senior had a setback in June, although it didn't stop the school from launching a Heisman campaign -- and likely cost Northwestern a Week 3 win against Army. The season still began with promise as backup quarterback Kain Colter led Northwestern to a road win against Boston College. But Colter struggled mightily in the Army game, and though Persa has performed well since his return for the Big Ten opener against Illinois, Northwestern is mired in a troubling trend. The Wildcats have blown double-digit second-half leads in each of their first two Big Ten games and gone on to lose. The second-half collapses mirror what we saw last year in losses to Michigan State and Penn State. The offense will produce with Persa on the field, but Northwestern's defense is a huge concern. Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in yards allowed and 11th in points allowed. The Wildcats can't get off of the field -- opponents are converting third downs at a 54.8 percent clip -- and their secondary has major holes. An inability to put together complete performances has hurt Northwestern, which might struggle to continue its streak of bowl appearances.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Kain Colter. While Persa has been terrific since his return, Northwestern is 0-2 with their leader on the field. Colter led the Wildcats to their only two victories, racking up 180 rush yards and four touchdowns against Boston College and Eastern Illinois. While his struggles against Army showed he hasn't arrived yet, he stepped up during Persa's absence. Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (26 receptions, 5 TDs) also merits a mention.
Defensive MVP: Safety Brian Peters. As poorly as Northwestern's secondary has performed, it would be even worse without Peters. The senior has recorded two interceptions, including a nifty grab in the end zone against Illinois, and added a forced fumble, two pass breakups, a sack and 35 tackles. Linebacker Bryce McNaul merits a mention here.