Grading The Wildcats

Northwestern pulled off the stunning upset of ninth-ranked Nebraska. It was the Wildcats' most well-rounded performance of the season. PurpleWildcats.com hands out the grades.

Quarterbacks: A

Dan Persa had a solid game before being injured in the second quarter, but the story of the day was the play of backups Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, who managed the game well enough to keep NU ahead the entire game.

Colter led the Cats with 115 passing yards, including an 81-yard TD pass to Jeremy Ebert and Siemian added 67 yards on an impressive touchdown drive as well.

Both Persa and Siemian had interceptions, but for the most part, the quarterbacks made smart decisions, especially on third down, and were able to make plays both with their feet and through the air.

Running Backs: A-

None of the running backs put up spectacular yardage totals—Treyvon Green had 57 yards on 14 carries and Jacob Schmidt had 54 yards on 13 carries—but they pounded the ball on the Cats' final scoring drive to run the clock down.

NU is clearly not a power-running team, but both Schmidt and Green were outstanding running between the tackles on the last drive and Green showed the power that allowed him to see the field as a true freshman.

Wide Receivers: A-

Once again, Jeremy Ebert quietly put together a big game, gaining 147 yards on six catches, including an 81-yard touchdown catch.

Colter added 57 yards and Drake Dunsmore added 39, and each had big plays of 32 and 23 yards, respectively.

The receivers had a tough time getting open at points, but overall, it was a solid game and there were a number of big plays that helped the Cats gain even more momentum.

Offensive Line: A+

All season the vaunted, veteran Northwestern offensive line has underperformed, but today it showed what all the preseason hype was about.

The quarterbacks had plenty of time to throw—that was crucial when Siemian and Colter were in—and the line opened up huge holes for the running backs.

This was undoubtedly the offensive line's best performance and it came against arguably one of the best defensive lines it had seen, and despite the lack of talent or experience at running back, NU resembled a power-running game at points throughout the game.

Defensive Line: A+

This game had disaster written all over it for Northwestern's defensive line, a unit that surrendered 150 rushing yards to Indiana's Stephen Houston last week, with the challenge of containing star running back Rex Burkhead.

However, the NU rush defense held Burkhead to just 69 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and held the Huskers to just 122 yards rushing overall.

That's amazing considering just how good the Nebraska run game has been and just how bad the Northwestern rush defense has been.

Nevertheless, it was an outstanding springboard for the defensive line into the season's final three games and it set a precedent to live up to in those contests.

Linebackers: A+

Despite getting the win last week, the linebackers' struggles with missed tackles were embarrassing and they allowed quarterback Tre Roberson to rush for over 100 yards.

Saturday's win against Nebraska was a complete turnaround.

The linebackers were instrumental in containing Martinez and they rarely missed tackles on Burkhead, who was stopped on big third and fourth down plays.

Secondary: B+

The biggest win for the Northwestern secondary was that it didn't give up any big plays—Martinez's longest pass went for 25 yards.

However, Martinez had one of his most efficient games this season, going 28-37 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The secondary still has holes to fill, especially in the middle of the field, and that will need to improve against better passers. However, the lack of big pass plays was definitely a big improvement.

Special Teams: B-

Venric Mark had some nice returns, but Northwestern's special teams were inconsistent on Saturday.

Jeff Budzien missed his one field goal attempt on the day—a 45-yarder with the wind—and there seemed to be miscommunication on a kickoff return, where it looked like Schmidt stole the ball from Mark.

Punter Brandon Williams was just okay, but okay is considered acceptable for NU punting these days.

Someday the Cats' special teams may come back to bite them, but they were able to escape Lincoln with a win despite the mediocrity.


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