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Saturday, September 8, 2012
Instant analysis: Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 13

By Adam Rittenberg


Some quick notes and nuggets after Northwestern rallied to defeat Vanderbilt 23-13 on Saturday night at rainy Ryan Field ...

It was over when: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter reversed field on third-and-long and raced in for a 29-yard touchdown with 1:24 remaining. Moments earlier, Wildcats defensive end Tyler Scott sacked Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers with 2 minutes remaining, forcing a fumble that the Wildcats recovered at the Vanderbilt 21-yard line with 1:47 left..

Gameball goes to: Northwestern running back Venric Mark. He's almost always the smallest player on the field, but Saturday night he was the best and the toughest. The junior had 23 rushes for 128 yards and a touchdown, recording his first career 100-yard rushing performance. He added a 14-yard reception. Mark is the biggest reason why Northwestern is 2-0, coming out of nowhere to claim the team's top running back spot in the preseason.

Stat of the game: Northwestern had just 85 yards and converted only 2 of 6 third-down chances in the first half. The Wildcats racked up 228 and converted 5 of 10 third-down chances, while Vanderbilt went just 4-of-15 on third downs.

What Vanderbilt learned: You have to put your foot on a team's throat when you can. Vanderbilt thoroughly dominated the first half, outgaining Northwestern 232-85 and running 12 more plays than the Wildcats. But the Commodores led by only seven points after a Rodgers fumble in the red zone. Vanderbilt let Northwestern's defense gain confidence, and the 'Dores didn't do enough in the second half, especially with their offensive play-calling. The offensive play-calling was baffling at times, as Vanderbilt didn't capitalize on an obvious advantage with wideout Jordan Matthews.

What Northwestern learned: The defense has some fight in it. Despite losing top cornerback Nick VanHoose on the second play, the Wildcats dug in and held Vanderbilt in check for most of the game. The much-maligned unit bought a stagnant offense enough time to get rolling, and Northwestern once again came up big in the fourth quarter behind quarterback Trevor Siemian. Although  Colter once again got the start at quarterback and scored the final touchdown, Siemian looks like the better trigger man for the offense.

What it means: Northwestern remains an extremely dangerous team in close games, especially when you don't put the Wildcats away when you can. The defensive performance raises the ceiling for the Wildcats' season, and a very favorable schedule awaits Pat Fitzgerald's squad with three more home games before trips to Penn State and Minnesota. Vanderbilt continued to struggle in close games and faded in the fourth quarter. The 'Dores will point to another highly questionable call, one that prolonged Northwestern's go-ahead drive. But they didn't do nearly enough on offense to win this one.