Grading The Wildcats

Northwestern earned bowl eligibility with a big win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. However, the Wildcats did not have their best overall showing. hands out the grades after the big win.

Quarterback: A-

Dan Persa had yet another solid day at quarterback, completing 22-of-31 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns, picking apart the holes in the Minnesota secondary for mid-range gains.

Persa had some big completions on fourth down in the redzone, as well.

The offense stalled midway through the game, due in part to a Persa interception, but it got its job done for the most part, and that starts at quarterback.

Running Backs: B

Jacob Schmidt has solidified himself as Northwestern's top running back, picking up 69 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He doesn't have breakaway speed, but he's done a good job running between the tackles as of late.

Adonis Smith got his most production in a while with 10 carries, but he struggled to pick up a lot of yards, as did Treyvon Green.

The running game clearly isn't that good, but it was adequate against the Gophers.

Wide Receivers: A

The last few weeks had been the Jeremy Ebert show for NU, and while Ebert still led the Cats with 62 yards, Persa did a good job of distributing the ball.

Kain Colter had five catches for 47 yards and a touchdown, Rashad Lawrence had four catches for 29 yards and Demetrius Fields added two catches for 34 yards and a touchdown.

The entire receiving corps has become more consistent over the past month, and that showed today, with nearly everyone contributing.

Offensive Line: B

The line wasn't outstanding against Minnesota, but it was adequate, adjusting to the Gophers' blitz-heavy defense.

The unit wasn't opening up big holes for the running backs and it gave up two sacks, but it was under more pressure than it has been in the past few weeks.

Defensive Line: B

This may have been the defensive line's worst performance since the Indiana game, as it gave up 157 yards and 129 yards rushing to MarQueis Gray and Duane Bennett, respectively.

The Cats had a tough time containing Gray and had trouble tackling him as well, due to his 6-4, 240-pound frame.

Still, it did enough to win and came up with two sacks and some big stops on third down.

Linebackers: B

The linebackers took a step back this week with some big missed tackles, especially against Gray.

They also struggled in contain against Gray, after having big games against Nebraska and Rice.

Secondary: B

Minnesota has lived off the big play this year, and while the secondary gave up just one big play—a 31-yard completion down the sideline on an outstanding catch—there probably should have been more.

The secondary left some big holes, but the Minnesota receivers were terrible and dropped a number of big passes that stalled drives.

That can't happen next week for NU, which will be facing a much better passing offensive in Michigan State.

Special Teams: A

This was arguably the best showing of the season for the Northwestern special teams.

Venric Mark nearly returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, taking them back to the NU 45 and the Minnesota 45.

Punter Brandon Williams had his best game of the season, averaging 58.3 yards on three punts, including a 77-yarder that was downed at the Minnesota four-yard line—it was the seventh-longest punt in NU history.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald clearly still has no confidence in kicker Jeff Budzien, going for it on fourth down, up ten and on the 20, but the other units are finally stepping up.

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