Sept. 15, 2013
In his day-after review of Northwestern's 38-17 win over Western Michigan Saturday at Ryan Field, Skip Myslenski details the ways in which the measures of evaluation for the Wildcats have changed:
This is the reality for the 'Cats this season. They scored 38 points and defeated Western Michigan by 21 Saturday night at Ryan Field. They had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the game (Kain Colter and Treyvon Green), averaged an even six yards per-carry on the ground and ended the evening with 471 yards of total offense. They played solidly on defense, the Broncos getting the first of their touchdowns on an explosion play (a 75-yard pass) and the second after a Mike Trumpy fumble set them up just 24 yards from the end zone. But still, later, Pat Fitzgerald would be asked if he thought his team had overlooked them. "I don't think our guys overlooked Western Michigan at all. I just don't think we executed very well," he said.
"So am I disappointed? No. We won. I'm incredibly encouraged. I'm encouraged by the fact that I just walked out of the locker room and the guys weren't going absolutely crazy. There's a very high standard here and high expectations. It's about playing to the best of your ability ... I care about our guys striving to be the best they can be and at times today they weren't that."
That last fact was glaringly obvious on the `Cats first three possessions. The initial one started on Western's 45 after true freshman Matthew Harris returned the opening kickoff 47 yards. But after Green gained 15 on a pair of runs, Colter not only threw into double coverage. He threw high over the head of superback Dan Vitale and was picked. "My fault. Made a dumb decision," he later said.
The second began on Western's 27 after a shanked punt, but on this series superback Mark Szott was called for holding, wideout Rashad Lawrence was called for a false start, Colter was sacked and the 'Cats netted a minus-18 yards while going three-and-out. Trevor Siemian was the quarterback for the third, which began on Western's 45, but after finding Christian Jones for 18 and a first down, the drive stalled and the 42-yard field goal attempt of the usually reliable Jeff Budzien sailed wide left.
They came up empty, then, on three possessions that began in Western territory, and so it was no wonder that Colter now had a discussion with his offensive line. "I said we need to stop being so pretty and to start running inside zone (blocking schemes), to be a hard-nosed football team and start running the ball," he said. "That's what we did."
They started doing that on their fifth possession, which found Colter back at quarterback. He opened it by running for 11, Green followed by running for 14 and now Colter found wideout Tony Jones for nine. Then it was Malin Jones for one, Trumpy for four, Trumpy for five and Colter on a quarterback draw for four and the first `Cat touchdown of the night.
Their sixth possession, a 65-yard scoring drive, was more of the same; 40 of those yards came on the ground, 10 came through the air and 15 came on a Bronco pass interference penalty. Then came the seventh and it went like this: Trumpy for 14; Colter for five; Trumpy for five; Colter for 12; a Colter pass to Kyle Prater for four; a hold on Tony Jones that ended as a net minus-six; Colter for 12; Trumpy for four and the touchdown that put the 'Cats up 21-10. Added up, that's 52 yards on the ground and four in the air.
It was no surprise, then, that at evening's end their net rushing yards would be 332 while Colter and Siemian combined to throw for only 139.
Green, for the second time in three games, led the `Cats in rushing, ending his night with 158 yards on 20 carries (7.9 ypa) and a pair of touchdowns. "He's probably in the best shape of his career here," Fitzgerald would say of him. "He has had a look in his eye and an attitude about him this whole off-season that (said) he was not satisfied with his role a year ago (which was minimal). And that he was not going to let any kind of circumstances derail him from where he's at now. He's playing at a very high level right now."
"I'm just doing my job," said Green himself. "An opportunity presented itself, so I'm just stepping up into a role where a guy's down."
QUICKLY NOTED: The guy down, of course, is Venric Mark, who sat out for the second straight game with a lower body injury. "I think I've said it all along. He's day-to-day," Fitzgerald said of him. "He's improving day-to-day. I think he's feeling better and better. He's getting impatient. He wants to play. But we're taking a long-term, smart approach to hopefully make sure that when he comes back he's 100 percent and ready to go. It's a long season, so just trying to be smart."
A surprise Saturday night was the appearance of 6-foot, 195-pound, true freshman running back Warren Long, who gained 13 yards on his two carries. "He's a good player. He's been playing really well," Fitzgerald said when asked why he burned Long's red shirt. "He's a really dynamic player, and we're looking not just at the running back position. We're looking at the football team. We're looking at the overall speed of our team. We're looking not only for this week, but also down the road."
The 'Cat defense limited Western to 17 first downs, which is one way to measure its solid play. Another is this: Take away the 75-yard completion that went for one of the Broncos' scores and they gained just 127 yards on 15 completions (an average of 8.5), just 170 yards on 71 offensive plays (an average of 2.4).
Safety Ibraheim Campbell's second-quarter interception, which set up the 'Cats first scoring drive, made it five games in a row that he has had a pick. "I'm just doing my job. Nothing special about it," he said of his streak.
Trumpy's fumble was the only `Cat turnover of the night, but both Colter and Prater also put the ball on the ground. Colter's came when he took a big hit at the end of a scramble, which was why he was later asked about his aggressive style. "When I'm out there running," he said, "I'm trying to get any yard that I can. Especially in that situation, we never got a huge lead. So I was in an aggressive mindset the whole time, trying to get as many yards as I could the whole time. That's just the way I play. I'm not going to go out there and play scared."
AND FINALLY, Fitzgerald, to give another measure of the 'Cats' reality this season: "I love it that 471 yards and 38 points is kind of not acceptable. That's a good thing. That's a real positive thing."
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