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    The Skip Report: The Win Over 'Cuse Revisited

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Christian Jones was part of a downfield passing attack that allowed Northwestern to build a 34-7 halftime lead on Syracuse.

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Christian Jones was part of a downfield passing attack that allowed Northwestern to build a 34-7 halftime lead on Syracuse.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Sep 8, 2013

    Take a look back at Northwestern's Week Two triumph over Syracuse, through the eyes of players and coaches who made it happen, as well as those of veteran NUsports.com scribe Skip Myslenski:

    ••••••

    It was the second play in the fourth quarter of the `Cats Saturday swamping of Syracuse. They were up 21, with the ball on the Orange 47 and, from the sidelines, the coaches signaled for a corner route to wideout Tony Jones. The ball was snapped. The Orange blitzed their right corner and slid its safety over to cover Jones. With that, he would recall, "I knew I was one-on-one with the safety and that Trevor (Siemian, then the quarterback) would definitely be looking my way. We actually had a corner called. But the safety came down and was flat-footed and I was like, `I can't run the corner here. Let's just go deep.' Luckily, Trevor was on the same page with me and when I went by him he threw it up top to me and I made the play."

    The play went for the fifth of the six touchdowns the `Cats would score on this evening.

    ••••••

     

     

    Last fall, even as they rolled to a 10-3 record and a Gator Bowl win, the `Cats rarely exhibited a vertical game. They averaged just 5.9 yards per passing attempt, just 9.1 yards per pass completion, and so it was no wonder that they worked on this part of their game as they labored toward this season. "We were really focusing on being more of a deep-threat receiving corps," wideout Rashad Lawrence would say the Monday before it began. "That's something we focused on starting in the spring."

    "When you look at something we tried to fix coming into this season, it was definitely getting the ball downfield and having some big plays in the passing game," quarterback Kain Colter would add Saturday. "We've got some guys outside who can make those big plays. This year in particular we felt we had weapons on the outside and we felt that was something we wanted to capitalize on and something we didn't do in past years. It was something we really worked on in the off-season."

    "We got together for a lot of extra sessions after workouts, throwing and catching and running more routes," Jones would conclude after his brilliant evening, which he ended with nine receptions for 185 yards and that touchdown. "As far as the preparation, I don't feel that's changed. You're just seeing more execution this year than last."

    A riffle through the play-by-play of their `Cuse game shows just how good their execution was here. There's Christian Jones for 16 yards and then Tony Jones for 10, for 26, for 10, for 32 and 43. There's Christian Jones for 14, Lawrence for 11 and 28, Cameron Dickerson for 16 and Tony Jones with his 47. "A lot of it was game plan," Pat Fitzgerald would later say of this vertical success. "We saw a high-pressure team that was going to do a lot of things in the passing game that we thought we had answers to. Based on the outcome, I thought they (his quarterbacks) executed the game plan really well."

    As a result, here is how well the `Cats have executed the vertical game in their first two wins. They are averaging 10 yards per-attempt (up 4.1) and 13.7 yards per-completion (up 4.6).

    ••••••

    That vertical game was surely the highlight as the `Cats dismantled the `Cuse, but -- just as surely -- there were other performances of note. Colter returned from the injury he suffered against Cal to go 15-of-18 for 116 yards and a touchdown, and to run for 87 more and another score.

    "He was really hungry to play today. I think he felt he lost an opportunity a week ago," Fitzgerald said of him. Siemian, in turn, spelled him seamlessly, finishing 15-of-19 for 259 yards and three more scores. "We've been doing it for a long time now," Colter would say of their rotation at quarterback. "Everybody tries to make a big thing out of it, but we're used to it at this point. I feel everybody on the team, you never know when your name's going to get called. When you're in the game, you've got to produce. For us, we were both producing today. We were just rolling through it." (Do the math. Together the pair completed 81 percent of their attempts.)

    Colter was sacked three times. But one came after he fumbled a snap and Siemian was not molested at all. "I'd say the guys up front, those five guys played a heck of a game, made it real easy for us," the latter would pointedly say. "Against such a heavy blitz team, we really didn't have a whole lot of pressure in our face."

    "I think kind of overlooked here right now is the play of our young offensive line," echoed Fitzgerald. "I think that group is really starting to come together. There's a lot of room for improvement there. But I think they're starting to get an attitude about them."

    The same can be said of the `Cat defense, which picked off `Cuse quarterback Drew Allen four times to run their interception total for the season to seven. "One thing we pride ourselves in is being able to get the ball back for our offense. We know our offense can score many points," said safety Traveon Henry, who had one of them and a spectacular one at that. "So we emphasize rips, strips and tips because tips equal picks. That's something we try to replicate from the Bears. We know they really stress it in practice. So whenever someone's running the ball, we're always trying to strip it, trying to rip it, trying to cause as many turnovers as possible."

    The `Cats nearly got one on Syracuse's first offensive play of the night when defensive end Tyler Scott raked Allen's arm and caused a fumble the Orange would ultimately recover. But the line he anchors dominated the pit, limited the `Cuse to just 3.9 yards per rushing attempt and tipped away five of Allen's attempts. "We've got to adjust our pass rush," said Fitzgerald, whose team on consecutive weeks has faced opponents who favor the short passing game. "You've got to get your hands up and you've got to be able to tip ball. I thought the line again adjusted to the volume of the three-step or quick-game that we saw from Syracuse."

    There was, in fact, just one discordant note to the `Cat performance here, and that was their play in the third quarter. They entered it up 24, but surrendered a touchdown on the Orange's first possession and then struggled offensively through all of its 15 minutes. "I really didn't like our third quarter," Fitzgerald would bluntly say. "I thought both offensively and defensively we did not come out the way we need to. We were lethargic, we didn't play emotional, and that's on me and on us as a staff. We've got to get the guys going better and come out and start the fight again in the second half."

    "If you look at the third quarter, we've got to come out stronger than that," Colter later echoed. "We had a chance to really kick the team out of our place and we didn't capitalize. We've got to put a foot on the throat and finish teams off."

    ••••••

    Some quickie quotes and observations:

    • Of Tony Jones Fitzgerald said, "It's back-to-back weeks that Tony's played at an elite level, at an All Big Ten level. We've got to continue to find way to be creative to get him the football, to move him around so people can't say, `There he is at X.' We've got to do some things to make people account for Tony. He's a big-time player."

    • When Syracuse faced a long-yardage situation, the `Cats d line was often comprised of ends Scott, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. It's called their Cheetah package and it's aim, said Lowry, "is to get more pass rushers on the field."

    • Of the team's performance Colter said, "It can be a lot better. We expect to do things like this and when we don't, we're pretty disappointed."

    • Defensive tackle Chance Carter had three of the `Cat tips and Lowry and had of their interceptions.

    • And finally, Henry, on his interception: "We were in a two-deep coverage. I had to cover the right half. I read the quarterback. I saw the opportunity to make a play. From there, I got real excited. Kind of like a squirrel trying to get a nut, that's what it was."

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