Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats
Getty Images, USA TODAY SportsKain Colter (left) and Trevor Siemian (right) have split QB duties this season for Northwestern.
The Wildcats have a balanced offense, gaining 51.6 percent of their yards on the ground and 48.4 percent through the air. They are the only Big Ten team that averages more than 225 yards passing and rushing.
Yet, Northwestern’s offense is drastically different dependent upon which quarterback is under center.
Colter (140 plays) and Siemian (141 plays) have split the team’s snaps. The Wildcats have run the ball 75 percent of the time with Colter under center, including 82 percent on first down.
With Siemian taking the snap, Northwestern runs on 50 percent of its plays, including 51 percent on first down.
In Northwestern’s season opener against California, Colter was injured after two plays. Since that game, he has taken almost 22 more snaps per game than Siemian.
The Wildcats have 52 offensive drives this season. The two quarterbacks have shared snaps on five. There have been only two drives on which they both took multiple snaps and one was in Week 1 against California when Colter was injured.
With him under center, Northwestern uses zone-reads on 60 percent of its running plays, compared to 28 percent with Siemian. The Wildcats average 7.4 yards on such plays with Colter and 5.3 with Siemian.
Siemian excels at the passing game. Colter does have a better completion percentage, but Siemian’s average pass travels 4.4 more yards downfield. Colter has recorded almost 75 percent of his pass yards after the catch, compared to 34 percent for Siemain.
Siemian has completed 50 percent (10-of-20) of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer. Colter has one such completion in eight attempts.
In addition, Siemian has taken one sack in 78 dropbacks, compared to Colter’s six in 51 dropbacks.
Northwestern will have a tough task against Ohio State's defense, which is allowing 17 points per game. The Buckeyes have one of the best run defenses, allowing just two rushing touchdowns all season. In addition, the Buckeyes are allowing the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game in the FBS.
Brian Bennett: The first thing I look at for Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups in any given season is where the games are staged. Big Ten teams don’t seem to think the West Coast is the Best Coast; they are just 5-20 in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000, and that includes an 0-3 mark on the road versus the Pac-12 last year. (The league also has just one win in its past 10 Rose Bowls, but not all of those games came against the Pac-12.)
The two most interesting games -- and what look like virtual toss-ups -- are Wisconsin at Arizona State, and UCLA at Nebraska. The Badgers have a lot of returning talent, but a new head coach and different schemes on both sides of the ball. It’s also going to be a clash of styles, with the Badgers’ power running game going up against Arizona State’s spread offense. Will Gary Andersen’s team have its new systems figured out by then, and is Wisconsin’s defense -- particularly its inexperienced secondary -- fast enough to handle the Sun Devils?
UCLA-Nebraska is probably not getting enough attention as a must-watch game this year. Last year’s shootout in Pasadena, Calif., featured nonstop pingpong action, and both teams figure to have topflight offenses again. The Cornhuskers have a perilously young defense, but Bo Pelini’s teams usually defend much better at home than on the road. Quarterback Taylor Martinez -- who grew up a Bruins fan but was recruited by them as a defensive back -- will be highly motivated to beat UCLA his senior year. This is Nebraska’s only major test in the first seven games, and it’s one I think the Huskers have to find a way to win.
Finally, there’s Washington at Illinois. The Illini get the benefit of home turf, sort of, as the game will be played at Soldier Field in Chicago. We’ll see if Tim Beckman’s crew will inspire enough fans to show up by Week 3. While Washington has been mediocre for what seems like forever, I can’t confidently pick Illinois to beat any half-decent power conference opponent at this point.
In the end, I say the Big Ten manages a winning record this time around against the Pac-12, taking the two games in Berkeley, Calif., and the one in Lincoln, Neb. A 3-2 mark sounds about right, though if Wisconsin can pull off the win in the desert, that could be a good sign for both the Badgers and the league as a whole.
Kevin Gemmell: I'm going 3-2 also, but in favor of the Pac-12. After all, if we were in total agreement, it would make for a pretty boring Take 2. So I'll play the contrarian when it comes to UCLA-Nebraska.
Both halves of the Pac-12 blog have been saying we believe Washington is going to get over that seven-win hump this year after three straight seasons of mediocrity. The Huskies have a lot of pieces in place with a returning quarterback, a 1,400-yard rusher, good receivers, a good line and the top tight end in the country. Their defense made huge strides last season in the first year under Justin Wilcox, and we're expecting another leap forward in 2013. What scares me is Washington's inconsistent play on the road the past few seasons. During the Huskies' trio of 7-6 seasons, they are 14-5 in Seattle (last year they played at CenturyLink Field) and 6-11 on the road. The past two years they are 11-2 at home and 3-8 on the road (0-2 in their bowl games at neutral sites). If the Huskies want to have a breakout year, they are going to have to win away from home. Steve Sarkisian actually talked about this in a Q&A we did back in April. But they certainly have the talent to win this game.
The ASU-Wisconsin game is really a critical one for the Sun Devils. It kicks off a four-game stretch (with no bye weeks) that also includes Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. ASU is another team looking for some national credibility, and this is its first opportunity to get some. You're right to talk about the ASU offense, but that defense -- which ranked first nationally in tackles for a loss and second in sacks last season -- is going to be crazy good with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford leading the attack. I'm banking on a good game, but ultimately one ASU wins at home.
That brings us to UCLA-Nebraska, a game I'm also surprised more people aren't geeked up about outside of the respective fan bases. This should be a fantastic showcase for both leagues. Brett Hundley impressed in his freshman campaign, and I think this game is going to be a spotlight for two of the country's most athletic quarterbacks. I was in Pasadena for the game last season, and what actually stood out to me was UCLA's defense -- particularly in the second half. The Bruins allowed only six points, and kept Martinez to 11 yards rushing and the Huskers to 106 total yards in the final 30 minutes. They should be improved in Year 2 under Jim Mora and Lou Spanos. If the Bruins pull this one off, it's going to be because of what they can do defensively.
Jan. 1, noon ET, Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN2)
Mississippi State take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: What started as a possible dream season for the Bulldogs, quickly turned ugly when the month of November rolled around.
The Bulldogs started off the season 7-0 and rose as high as 11 in the BCS rankings. While the early part of the schedule was very favorable to Mississippi State, this team showed a ton of promise with how balanced it was on offense and how much its secondary frustrated opposing offenses.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Bulldogs allowed an average of 327 yards. The 95 points allowed by their defense was the lowest total through the first seven contests for the Bulldogs since the 1999 team held opponents to 74 points.
Quarterback Tyler Russell was also one of the nation’s most efficient passers and was one of just three quarterbacks with 15-plus touchdowns and just one interception through seven games.
But after being blown out by 31 against Alabama and setting foot in November, the Bulldogs fell apart. The lack of a consistent pass rush and execution issues on offense set the Bulldogs back, as they went 1-4 in their past five games and were outscored by 93 in the process.
The season ended with a 41-24 loss to archrival Ole Miss in Oxford. It was the Bulldogs’ first loss to the Rebels since 2008.
Even though the regular season ended in a very unflattering way, the Bulldogs could still finish the year with nine wins for the second time in four years.
Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern not only reversed the recent trend of declining wins totals this season, but it left its fans wanting more. The Wildcats went 9-3 to match their best regular-season record under seventh-year coach Pat Fitzgerald, and they were a play or two away from winning the Legends Division. If they had held onto late leads against both Nebraska and Michigan, the purple could be heading back to Pasadena.
Although finishing games was a struggle at times, Northwestern exceeded almost all expectations with a young roster. After finishing no better than 45th nationally in rushing during Fitzgerald’s first six years, the Wildcats’ ground game surged this season (14th nationally, third in the Big Ten). Junior running back Venric Mark blossomed in his first season as the starter, and, along with quarterback Kain Colter, formed one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous backfield tandems. Northwestern used both Colter and sophomore Trevor Siemian at quarterback and went from a pass-first offense to a run-driven attack, as Mark earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and finished ninth nationally in all-purpose yards (170.7 ypg).
A much-maligned defense had some hiccups along the way but made obvious strides, too. Linebacker David Nwabuisi saved his best season for last, and younger players like safety Ibraheim Campbell, cornerback Nick VanHoose and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo stepped up.
The next step is obvious: winning a bowl game for the first time since the 1949 Rose. Although Northwestern moved down a few spots in the selection order after being pegged for Capital One on Saturday night, the Wildcats have a winnable game against struggling Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Here’s a quick look at the Northwestern Wildcats' 22-13 win over the Boston College Eagles at Ryan Field on Saturday.
How it happened: Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien tied a single-game school record with five field goals Saturday to lift the Wildcats to their third consecutive win. Budzien made field goals of 42, 20, 29 and 41 yards in the first half and hit one from 19 yards in the second half. Northwestern running back Mike Trumpy put the game out of reach with a 27-yard touchdown run with 1:37 left. The Wildcats totaled 560 offensive yards and were 12 of 19 on third down. Boston College accounted for the game’s first touchdown when Chase Rettig connected with Johnathan Coleman for a 31-yard score in the second quarter. Boston College kicker Nate Freese made field goals of 21 and 34 yards.
What it means: The Wildcats improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2010. Last season, Northwestern lost in Week 3 and went on to have a five-game losing streak.
Outside the box: Northwestern running back Venric Mark was on his way to his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game, putting up 77 yards before leaving the game with a lower-body injury in the second half. The last Northwestern running back to rush for back-to-back 100-yard games was Tyrell Sutton.
Up next: Northwestern will host South Dakota (1-1) next week. Boston College has next week off before playing Clemson on Sept. 29.
Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)
Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.
That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.
Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.
As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.
The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.
This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.
Colter’s personal safety has ranked somewhere behind victories, touchdowns and yards during his first two games at starting quarterback, and so far, the renegade approach has paid off.
On Saturday, Colter followed up his respectable debut against Boston College with an even stronger performance against Eastern Illinois, rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns in Northwestern’s 42-21 win.
Northwestern left guard Brian Mulroe and the Wildcats offensive line were trying to block for Colter on those runs, but it couldn’t be certain if they were getting the job done, or just getting in Colter’s way as he improvised.
“It’s awesome because you’ll be blocking one way, and he just makes a play,” Mulroe said. “He’s just a playmaker as you guys saw today. He’s a warrior out there. It’s awesome blocking for him.”
Count Eastern Illinois coach Bob Spoo among those who were impressed.
“He’s got excellent speed,” Spoo said. “He’s got great elusiveness. I thought their whole running game -- he and all the running backs were going north and south. They didn’t hesitate to take you on straight ahead. And, that was impressive in my mind. He is a fine football player.”
But … there’s always a “but” when it comes to quarterbacks who have that careless nature. Everyone from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to injured quarterback Dan Persa, who took his share of licks last year due to the same approach, to New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi have advised Colter to be less of a stuntman when he runs.
A few days following Northwestern’s win over Boston College, Girardi, an NU alumni, left Fitzgerald a voicemail. Girardi congratulated the Wildcats on their season-opening win, but he also had a message for Colter.
“He said, ‘Tell Kain Colter that he needs to slide,’” Colter said. “He said, ‘My 9-year-old son taught Mark Sanchez how to slide, and he’ll be able to teach you, too.’ It was funny. It was a good, little wake-up call realizing that Girardi’s watching the games, and he’s out there seeing me play.
“It’s not a joking matter. I take it seriously, so I feel like I do need to slide to try to keep myself healthy throughout the season."
Colter says that, but the heat of the moment is what gets to him. When he took off from the pocket for his final touchdown Saturday, he was eyeing the end zone, not Eastern Illinois safety Nick Beard who was running like a train at him. Beard got a good piece of Colter’s right shoulder and spun him nearly 360 degrees, but Colter stayed on his feet and stumbled into the end zone.
“You know what? I realize (the big hits) after the game,” Colter said. “During the game, especially in the red zone, you know you smell blood. You want to score a touchdown. You know you want to get those tough yards.”
Northwestern running back Jacob Schmidt saw a lot of those hits Colter took up close, and he could attest they were just as gruesome as they were on TV. If Schmidt had his way, Colter would pull back on the reins, but Schmidt also realized that recklessness was working for Colter.
“He’s a tough one,” Schmidt said. “I think he showed that last year in the bowl game and so far this season. He’s a tough nut. I’d like for him to slide a little more. But when he’s out there making plays, hey, let the kids make plays and we’ll fix him.”
Colter realizes, though, if one of those 240-pound, muscled linebackers does land a massive blow just precisely it could easily put him on the sideline. Realistically, he’s more like Humpty Dumpty than a quick fixer-upper like Schmidt would suggest. It’s just not that easy to put a 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback back together again.
“In the open field when it’s maybe two defenders on me, I need to maybe just get down,” Colter said. “Get the yards I can and just slide. It’s going to be a long season. I’d like to think that I need to be in there to help the team in any way possible. I’d like to get in there and keep my body healthy throughout the season.”
And just maybe, Girardi’s son won’t be needed after all.
Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)
Sept. 3: at Boston College (7-6)
Sept. 10: Eastern Illinois (2-9)
Sept. 17: at Army (7-6)
Nov. 12: Rice (4-8)
Legends division games
Oct. 8: Michigan
Oct. 15: at Iowa
Nov. 5: at Nebraska
Nov. 19: Minnesota
Nov. 26: Michigan State
Oct. 1: at Illinois (protected)
Oct. 22: Penn State
Oct. 29: at Indiana
Gut-check game: Michigan. Northwestern has performed well on the road and in early kickoffs under coach Pat Fitzgerald. But when the spotlight shines on the Wildcats, they seem to struggle. They host Denard Robinson and Michigan at night in a game that pairs the Big Ten's top two quarterbacks (Robinson and Dan Persa). Northwestern could enter this game anywhere from 5-0 to 3-2, but these are the types of matchups the Wildcats need to start winning. They also must get accustomed to playing under the lights because their two games after Michigan also take place at night.
Trap game: At Indiana. The trip to Bloomington takes place after three consecutive night games and before a crucial Legends division trip to Nebraska on Nov. 5. Although Indiana has played Northwestern tough over the years, this is a cross-division game against an opponent most will project at the bottom of the conference. Indiana's staff has familiarity with Northwestern as head coach Kevin Wilson and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Johns both have spent time with the Wildcats.
Snoozer: Eastern Illinois. Northwestern has an attractive home schedule that includes two night games (Michigan and Penn State) and should help boost attendance. But it'll be tough to get excited about this Week 2 matchup against an FCS opponent that went 2-9 last season. Expect a small crowd and not much buzz in Ryan Field, although Persa's first home game provides some intrigue.
Non-con challenge: At Boston College. Northwestern will be tested right away in the season opener. Boston College typically boasts a strong defense, and this will mark Persa's first game since suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon Nov. 13. The Eagles won their final five games of last season and, like Northwestern, seem to play well in close games. While Boston College lacks a dynamic offense, Northwestern's defense has a lot to prove after the way it finished the 2010 campaign. Northwestern's Week 3 trip to Army also could be tricky.
Key stretch: October has been an erratic month for Northwestern in recent years, and the Wildcats will be challenged this fall. They open October against an Illinois team that seems to be on the rise. Northwestern then plays three consecutive night games -- Michigan, Iowa and Penn State -- before wrapping up the month at Indiana. I could see the Wildcats finishing anywhere from 4-1 to 1-4 during this stretch.
Analysis: Northwestern undoubtedly gets a break on the crossover games as it misses both Ohio State and Wisconsin and hosts Penn State at Ryan Field. The division schedule, however, isn't easy as the Wildcats must visit both Nebraska and Iowa, although they've won their past three contests at Kinnick Stadium. Fitzgerald's teams typically fare well on the road, which is good given the two nonconference games away from Evanston. The big key will be surviving October and getting to November with a chance to make some noise. Northwestern could really benefit from playing its final three games (Rice, Minnesota, Michigan State) at home.
More B1G schedule analysis
Adam left me strict orders not to stir it up on his blog while he's out sailing around the world (only the Big Ten blogger could afford such a vacation), so I'm here solely to help while he's away. There are no hidden agendas. In other words, you're not going to hear me asking if the Big Ten is ever going to win another national championship or hear me dredging up Ohio State's record versus the SEC in bowl games.
Nope, I'm merely here to provide a few links, and here goes:
- A Lincoln, Neb., boy is an inspiration to his favorite athletes, including members of the Nebraska football team.
- A Q&A with future Minnesota speedster Marcus Jones, who will start out on offense for the Gophers.
- Ken Gordon of The Columbus Dispatch provides a few observations from Ohio State's workout Monday morning.
- Former Ohio State tight end/offensive lineman Andrew Miller decides to call it a career in football.
- Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and former Michigan State players Lorenzo White and Gene Washington are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
- Penn State, with just about everybody returning in the secondary, is looking to settle a couple of starting spots.
- A recap of Purdue's spring practice: Day 3.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is eager to adjust the Wildcats' attitude.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Five lessons from the week that was in the Big Ten:
1. Iowa is foolproof in the clutch -- After a long stretch of heartbreaking losses from 2006-2008, Iowa has won its last five games decided by five points or fewer. The Hawkeyes have fallen behind in both of their Big Ten games and rallied behind tremendous special teams play, opportunistic defense and a resilient quarterback in Ricky Stanzi. Since upsetting Penn State last November, Iowa has displayed a team-wide confidence when things get close. The Hawkeyes might not be able to live on the edge much longer given their schedule, but they're a good bet when the score gets close late in games.
2. Ohio State's defense is the Big Ten's best unit -- Jim Heacock's defense once again has made the Buckeyes the team to beat in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes rank seventh nationally in points allowed and 11th in total defense, and they're forcing more turnovers than they have in past years. No Big Ten offense comes close from a talent and execution standpoint, and while Iowa's defense has been solid, Michigan exposed some weaknesses Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Despite losing several national award winners, Ohio State's defense repeatedly makes big plays and rescues an offense that still hasn't found its rhythm. Sure, the Buckeyes allowed yards to Wisconsin, but they forced major mistakes and didn't wear down despite being on the field for 42:47.
3. Minnesota can run the football -- Tim Brewster wants to restore Minnesota as a rushing powerhouse, and the Gophers took a big step Saturday. Eight players combined for 207 rush yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's victory against Purdue. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley provided a spark off the bench, and quarterback Adam Weber got more involved in the run game with nine carries and a touchdown. Weber only attempted nine passes in the victory, two of which were intercepted. Wide receiver Eric Decker might be the Big Ten's best offensive player, but Minnesota knows it needs to run the ball to win Big Ten games.
4. Big Ten getting defensive -- It's very clear midway through the season that the Big Ten won't be an offensive league in 2009. While veteran quarterbacks have struggled a bit and one potential juggernaut (Illinois) has totally crumbled, the league's defenses are once again the story. Both Ohio State and Penn State boast top-20 units, and Iowa has at times been the league's most impressive defense. Minnesota's linebackers have sparked an improved defense, while both Michigan State and Northwestern are starting to see their veteran-laden units step up. Both Michigan and Wisconsin showed good things on defense despite losses, while the league's bottom three (Purdue, Indiana, Illinois) are all struggling to stop anybody.
5. Michigan not a finished product -- Credit the Wolverines for never giving up and always finding ways to hang around in games, but it's clear that head coach Rich Rodriguez is still very much in the building stage. Michigan is still too prone to defensive breakdowns, and its special-teams play, aside from all-world punter Zoltan Mesko, left much to be desired against Iowa. Despite Tate Forcier's late-game magic earlier this season, Rodriguez didn't go back to the freshman quarterback in crunch time after some earlier struggles. The talent is there and Michigan will continue to improve, but things aren't falling into place just yet.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State