Five Necessary Improvements

Northwestern improved to 2-0 on the season against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois, but the ‘Cats were far from perfect. As the season moves forward and the schedule gets tougher, NU will have to make serious improvements in several areas to continue winning.

1) Big Plays: Week one against Boston College, the ‘Cats gave up a 69 yard run on the first play from scrimmage, and then gave up a 72 yard pass and 76 yard run against Eastern Illinois. Besides big plays, the NU defense has stepped up in a major way.

However, big plays are absolutely killer, and NU simply can't afford to give up runs and passes over 20 yards, let alone over 65 yards. Big play makers like Denard Robinson or the entire Wisconsin offense will take advantage of that in a big way, and break open games against the ‘Cats unless the big play defense improves.

2) Passing Game: Kain Colter proved against BC that he can throw the ball, and throw it well, but his accuracy still isn't 100 percent. Throws are slightly behind or above receivers, which throws off the rhythm of catching on the run.

NU didn't show much by way of a passing attack against Eastern Illinois because it didn't have to in order to get the win, but look for NU to pass it more going against Army.

The Wildcats have to have a strong, dual-threat offense against the Big Ten, so the passing game needs to improve mightily before Illinois, which it almost certainly will.

3) Turnovers: Bryce McNaul had a pick against EIU, but he wasn't the only one who had an opportunity. Several other Wildcat defenders dropped potential passes, something Fitzgerald talked about in his postgame press conference.

He said the ‘Cats need to get turnovers when possible to sway the momentum of the game. If NU drops easy interceptions against better opponents, they're giving offenses a second chance to score, one that most Big Ten offenses will take advantage of. The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.

4) Pressure: It was most apparent during the first half of the EIU game, but Panther quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had far too much time in the pocket. The Northwestern secondary has proven to be somewhat of a weakness in the past, and the best way to counteract that is to get pressure on the quarterback and force him to make quick decisions.

The longer the NU secondary has to cover receivers, the less likely the coverage will hold up. Quick pressure forcing quick passes will keep the secondary in good position, and may also help with #3 in creating more turnovers.

5) Stay healthy: This is obviously mostly out of the Wildcats' control, but there are things that can be done. Kain Colter allowed his body to take a beating against EIU, similar to what Persa did all last season. That is simply unacceptable.

With Persa out, Colter simply must slide as often as he can to avoid an injury that would leave NU with a 3rd string, unproven QB. IF NU can get the passing game going, it may take pressure of the running backs, who are a tough group, but somewhat susceptible to injury.

Adonis Smith limped off the field last week, and Mike Trumpy is still not cleared to play medically. If Northwestern wants to compete, they must do everything possible to keep the star players healthy and on the field.

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