Improvements Needed

It was ugly, unexpected, and tough to watch. It wasn't even close to the finish Northwestern wanted, falling to Army 21-14 on the road. But, believe it or not, this does not spell the end of the Wildcat's season.

Let's look back two seasons ago. Mike Kafka is a new starter, unproven except for a bit of playing time the previous season because of injuries. Northwestern started 2-0 with a blowout win against Towson and a close win against Eastern Illinois. The Wildcats then went on the road to Syracuse (in New York!) and lost a 37-34 heartbreaker.

Sound familiar?

Well, then keep remembering. In 2009, NU finished the Big Ten season 5-3, finishing 8-4 overall, good enough for a trip to the Alamo Bowl against Missouri. While Northwestern lost in overtime in that bowl game, there are a lot of similarities between that season and this one.

Kain Colter has yet to prove himself at quarterback, specifically in the passing game. In fact, Trevor Siemian finished the Army game because of a lack of offensive power throughout the game.

The difference between this season and 2009 is Dan Persa, and of course the fact that the rest of the team is full of talent.

Persa, last season's first team All-Big Ten quarterback, will likely be back for the Illinois game, meaning he will be available for the Big Ten season. And though he may not be the Persa of 2010, even Persa at 85 or 90 percent health is a formidable opponent for Big Ten defenses.

Beyond Persa, the rest of the team is ready for a turnaround. The Northwestern defense proved how tough it can be against Army. The defensive unit was on the field for over 40 minutes and gave up just 21 points. With that much of a triple option running attack and an offense struggling to move the ball, it would have been impossible for the defense to not get tired.

The offense was, of course, the main issue. No movement on the ball, no time of possession. But it was a learning experience. Though Northwestern is likely out of the running for a National Championship with the loss, that was an unrealistic goal to begin with. But Northwestern's goal of winning the inaugural Big Ten Championship game was left undamaged.

The Wildcats will play eight Big Ten games this season, most of them against teams superior to Army, especially on defense. But Northwestern has now had the tough loss of the season, the one game that many good teams drop, but learn and grow stronger from. And NU fans should be happy that the game happened outside the Big Ten schedule.

Northwestern has a tough, but manageable schedule with no Ohio State, no Wisconsin, and games against Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State at home. The Army game was a showcase of how much can go wrong for this football team. But if the passing game develops, the offense moves the ball more efficiently and puts points on the board the way it is capable of, the ‘Cats could certainly turn the season back around.

So all hope is not yet lost for Northwestern. The team will obviously need to improve for success to continue, but don't be surprised if this team comes out of the bye week with a vengeance to open Big Ten play at Illinois.

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