Still Room To Improve

The media and the majority of NCAA analysts picked Boston College to handle the Wildcats at home, a pick made more popular by the late scratch of Dan Persa from the lineup. But the ‘Cats survived BC, and picked up an important, difficult win.

"I thought we had a lot of positives that came out of today," Pat Fitzgerald said in his postgame press conference.

"We have little technical things, little formation variations, some things we really have to clean up on both sides of the ball that are going to give us a chance to improve."

Northwestern controlled the line of scrimmage well on the defensive end, including putting a lot of pressure on the Boston College quarterback.

"We didn't have too many sacks last year, and as a defensive, as a front, that was something we really wanted to focus on," defensive lineman Tyler Scott said. "[The key was] being physical up front. That's where it starts and then our linebackers fed off us. We really focused on it in camp…we were really prepared for what came through."

Despite the control the defensive line appeared to have, the defense was not perfect, giving up 479 yards. NU looked particularly susceptible on third downs, allowing Boston College to go 8-17 on 3rd down conversions.

"Some of the times, we were trying to stop the run so much, we put corners on one-on-one situations," cornerback Jordan Mabin said. "Towards the end of the game we started switching up the coverage's a little more, mixing a little bit of zone, a little bit of man, I think that helped us a lot."

Passing defense was a problem last season, most specifically in the Michigan State loss where Kirk Cousins threw for 331 yards. Big pass plays can be a problem for the ‘Cats, and BC had 375 yards in the air. As the season progresses, the NU secondary will have to improve those numbers.

"At the end of the day we got the win, and that's all that matters. We'll go clean up the mistakes this week in practice, and hopefully we'll come out next week a little bit better," Mabin said.

On the other side of the ball, the line was impressive. Boston College led the nation in rushing defense last season, but NU was able to move the ball on the ground, totaling 227 yards.

"That was an emphasis for us the entire off-season, especially going through camp, to improve our run game," Al Netter said. "We knew our running backs were going to have to step up and we were going to have to open big holes for them. I think we trusted the run game throughout, we used the run game to set up our pass, and that's definitely an improvement."

The improvement of the running game likely took pressure off Kain Colter, but Colter himself contributed 71 yards and a touchdown. It's hard to criticize an offense playing with the second-string quarterback, and NU performed well enough to win, which was exactly the goal.

The offense can produce without Persa, that much is now clear. When Persa returns, whether against Eastern Illinois, which seems very unlikely, at Army, which is also increasingly unlikely, or to open the Big Ten season at Illinois, the offense has proved that there are weapons besides number 7.

Fitzgerald and his staff will find things to correct, and the Wildcats will make improvements. As Fitzgerald said, "it's not about sexy, it's about winning." This week, the ‘Cats met that goal. Next week? Expect to see an even better version of this team.

"There are some things we really have to clean up on both sides of the ball that I think are going to give us some chances to improve," Fitzgerald said. "That's what our focus will be. Most programs and teams make their biggest improvement from week one to week two, and that will be our challenge here as we go back to work this week."

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