PW Top-Five: Improvements

This week, takes a look at the top-five improvements Northwestern needs to make to be successful in 2011.

5) Tackle: A habit that surely left Pat Fitzgerald with more than a few sleepless nights, the Northwestern defense seemed to forget how to tackle in more than a few games last year. NU gave up 5.1 yards per carry and a stunning 185 yards per game last season on the ground.

Numbers like that simply won't cut it, especially in a strong running league. The Wildcats were also extremely vulnerable against running quarterbacks, and with Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson on the horizon, the NU defense will get torn apart unless the tackling is improved.

4) Running game: Mike Trumpy stumbled onto the scene halfway through 2010 as the feature back for NU, and even had 100-yard games against Indiana and Illinois. If Trumpy can avoid injury in 2011, he has the potential for a strong season. Persa carried the load on the ground last year, and his body took a beating.

If Trumpy can take some of the running strain off Persa, the NU quarterback will be able to stay healthy and focus on the passing game. Persa will have the dual-threat available when needed, but an improved running game can only help the ‘Cats.

3) Play to potential: Northwestern has an unfortunate pattern of playing to their opponents level. The ‘Cats had near victories against Michigan State and Penn State, and defeated a ranked Iowa team in 2010. NU also snuck out a 1-point win against Minnesota, a 3-point win against Indiana, a 5-point win against Central Michigan, and suffered a stunning loss at home to Purdue.

One of the major signs of a good team is the ability to blow out an inferior opponent. NU will certainly face inferior opponents in 2011, and lopsided wins will be a confidence boost going into the tougher games.

2) Halftime adjustments: Take a look back at Michigan State and Penn State last season, as painful as it may be. Two of the most important games for NU, and 17-7 and 21-7 halftime leads, respectively. Penn State outscored Northwestern 28-0 in 2nd half, and MSU outscored the ‘Cats 28-10 after the break.

NU has to be better down the stretch to be successful in 2011. The team played well in the 2nd half against teams like Minnesota and Indiana, but those games should be wins. If NU wants to have a truly successful season, the team must get out in front of strong opponents just like in 2010. The difference maker between an average and above-average season will be whether the ‘Cats can hold those leads.

1.)Win a bowl game: This monkey needs to come off Northwestern's back. Three-straight bowl games is an impressive achievement, but Northwestern has hit a road stop in the development of the program. Winning seasons and bowl appearances will no longer cut it in Evanston.

If NU wants to be a contender every season, success needs to be measured by bowl wins. Northwestern has experience heading into 2011, and with Persa at quarterback, it is the perfect season for a bowl victory. If not 2011, when?

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