Grading The Wildcats

PurpleWildcats.com hands out the grades after Northwestern's "business-like" win over the Rice Owls.

Quarterbacks: A-

Dan Persa threw for a career high 372 yards and added four touchdowns in an outstanding day for the passing game.

He completed 25-of-32 passes, with the only low points coming on two interceptions.

Persa relied on the big play today, with a 90-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ebert, along with a 50-yard pass to Demetrius Fields.

Running Backs: C

With such a pass-heavy gameplan, there wasn't much work for the running backs today, as most of the carries came in garbage time.

Kain Colter led the team in rushing with 39 yards, while Adonis Smith added 37 and Jacob Schmidt 27.

Northwestern finally got its power running game going last week against Nebraska, but took a step back this week, mainly because a power running game wasn't needed.

Wide Receivers: A+

Jeremy Ebert had a huge day, catching seven passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard touchdown reception, which was the second-longest pass play in NU history.

Demetrius Fields had a big day, as well, pulling in two catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. He had a big 50-yard reception and maneuvered nicely around Rice defenders for a 15-yard touchdown.

Drake Dunsmore added 59 yards and Colter had 27.

Offensive Line: B

Today's performance wasn't anything special for the offensive line, which was outstanding against Nebraska, but it wasn't bad either.

Persa was sacked just once and typically had plenty of time to throw.

There were issues opening up holes in the running game, but that was mainly because Rice stacked the box, especially early against NU's run-heavy gameplan.

Defensive Line: B+

While it didn't record any sacks, the NU defensive line did a good job pressuring Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi, forcing him into bad throws.

Defensive lineman Tyler Scott recorded an interception when Fanuzzi was hit as he threw on one of many forced passes.

The run defense took a step back from last week, as Rice running back Tyler Smith picked up 84 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but it was still a solid performance overall.

Linebackers: B+

The NU linebackers have seemingly solved their tackling woes that plagued them through the Indiana game, turning in slid performances against Nebraska and Rice.

The unit did a good job holding Rice when its players go to the second level, as the Owls' longest run was only 16 yards.

The pass coverage was decent—Rice found some openings on dump-off passes over the middle of the field—but overall it was a big improvement over just two weeks ago.

Secondary: A

The Wildcats' secondary has finally figured out how to limit the big play, as only one Rice pass went for more than 15 yards.

Redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell has started to improve, leading the team today with nine tackles.

The unit seems to have solved its communication breakdowns from earlier this season and it is avoiding the momentum-changing plays that hurt the entire team in games early in the season.

Special Teams: A-

With the exception of one terrible bloop-kick, the Wildcats' special teams played surprisingly well today.

Fitzgerald still clearly doesn't have full confidence in kicker Jeff Budzien, as he elected to go for it on fourth down into the wind rather than kick a mid-range field goal, but it didn't come back to bite the Cats.

Punter Brandon Williams was very solid, as well, averaging 44 yards per punt and downing both of his punts inside the 20—one inside the five—in his best performance of the season.

The NU special teams still clearly aren't dominant, but they showed good improvement today, which will be needed if games are close down the stretch.


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