This week Lake The Posts, a very fine Northwestern blog, was kind enough to tell us about the Wildcats and give us his perspective on the game this Saturday. He promised not to use any smart school words us state university educated people can't understand.
You guys aren't still mad about that whole 2005 thing, are you?
Not nearly as much as 2001! You'll see how the '01 game is the most underrated part of the demise of the most promising season we had. But yes, I was in the Cincinnati airport listening to the play-by-play of the Robinson-fumble game and nearly had police take me in to custody in the final minute of that game. Thanks for opening up that painful scab. Can we revisit 1995 please?
No. I don't remember anything between 1994 and 2005.
Before the season, Northwestern fans were pretty upbeat coming off of a 9-4 season and a narrow loss to Missouri in the Alamo Bowl. How would you say this season to date has met your expectations?
Abysmally short. The "realistic worst case scenario" heading in to the marquee home game of the year - Penn State - was 6-2. Most of us felt 7-1 was likely with the loss to Sparty being the lone loss. The reason for the optimism was the return of almost our entire defense including what was touted as the best secondary in school history. However, we've been absolutely decimated by injuries. By now you know we have likely 3 starters of our secondary out for Saturday and several back-ups out. No joke, Ricky Weina, an unrecruited walk-on played the entire second half at CB. Hence Fitz's predictions "guaranteeing" Penn State will throw "at least 10 deep balls" on Saturday. Our pre-season All-American Corey Wootton, an absolute DE terror last season has been painfully slow to recover from his blown knee in the Alamo Bowl. It is tough to watch as he hasn't been able to come close to playing to his '08 level.
When I saw Northwestern's poor rushing statistics I thought they must not be trying to run the ball much. But it turns out as a team they have 313 rushing attempts versus 305 passing attempts on the season, so they are trying to run the ball. Would you say the lack of production is more a function of the offensive line struggling or the lack of a feature running back to carry the load?
Wow. That number surprises me. The answer is both. Our OL has been terrible - again, a perceived strength since we return most of the starters but we also lack a traditional Damien Anderson/Jason Wright/Tyrell Sutton playmaker at RB. Mike Kafka, our QB is our best rusher, however our 4th string RB, Scott Concannon showed the first glimpse of hope at that spot last week by making guys miss and he was brilliant on the game-winning drive. He earned the starting nod this week. Kafka is getting 15 or so rushes per game so you can significanty reduce the touches by our true RBs.
Northwestern's passing defense is middle-of-the-road in the Big Ten right now. Being a defensive-minded coach, this has to be driving Fitz nuts. Is the problem a lack of experience? Is it a lack of talent? Is it injuries? What does Northwestern need to get better?
See above. Injuries. When we're healthy, we're very good. Sherrick McManis is a star CB - a true star on any Big Ten team, yet he's now out for Saturday. It's all injuries. When we lost one of our starters in the secondary for the ‘Cuse game, they just picked on then 3rd string Demetrius Dugar and Mike Williams picked him apart for nearly 200 yards. I can't remember a unit being so plagued by injuries. Despite the alleged upgrade in recruiting under Fitz, depth is still not our strength. If our 4 starting DBs were playing, I'd actually feel promise for Saturday. With the injury-depleted replacements (we have 2 back-ups out with injury) I fear for a long day. Clark should throw all day downfield.
I'm assuming some Penn State games this year. Where do you think the Wildcats will try to exploit the Nittany Lion defense when they have the ball?
NU hasn't really altered the offensive gameplan against anyone, other than throwing downfield more last week vs Indiana. We are extremely deep and talented at WR and walk-on, turned scholarship senior Zeke Markshausen is one of the surprise stories not only at NU, but in all of the Big Ten this season. He had 1 catch in his career prior to '09 and he has 58 this season, including 16 in a game at Michigan State. Kafka is extremely accurate until the 2nd half of last week when he threw 3 really bad INTs. We dink and dunk downfield and take the occasional 20-30 yard strike. Andrew Brewer has finally emerged as the true playmaker we knew he could be. I expect us to continue to throw 45+ times this weekend and see if Concannon can establish any kind of a ground game. We've yet to face a D anything close to Penn State, so we shall see.
And how do you think Fitzgerald will scheme to stop the Penn State offense?
I've got to believe you'll see one of the more aggressive blitz packages to date. If we give Clark any time it's over early. We're going to have to create a slew of turnovers - a la 2005 - to have any shot.
Care to make a prediction?
Penn State 41 NU 20
Thanks LTP. Good luck on your season.