Week Three: Grading the Wildcats

Northwestern failed to piece together a complete, three-phase effort, but it still managed to earn a win; beating Boston College, 22-13. PurpleWildcats.com hands out the grades after the Wildcats' third victory of the season.

Quarterbacks

The Northwestern two-quarterback system was on full display Saturday, with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian posting nearly identical stat lines.

Colter played nicely, completing 16 of 20 passes, but his misses stood out. In the first half, he overthrew Kyle Prater on a deep ball. Later, he missed a wide-open Christian Jones in the end zone when the Wildcats desperately needed six points.

The junior finished the afternoon with one fumble and no touchdowns, as the story of the game involved several NU drives coming up just short.

Siemian first appeared at the beginning of the second quarter, and also struggled to close out drives. Though the sophomore spread the ball with more ease than Colter, he had a costly red zone fumble due to a botched exchange with center Brandon Vitabile.

The quarterbacks combined to complete 30 of 40 passes without an interception. The offense moved the ball consistently throughout, but struggled to dent the scoreboard. Much of the blame, as with everything on the offense, falls on the quarterbacks. Next week against South Dakota, they should taste the end zone early and often.

Fitzgerald will expect more from the guys under center in the coming weeks. The two-quarterback system, though, appears to be succeeding.

Grade:B-

Running Backs

We can only imagine how Mike Trumpy must have felt on the sidelines during the first two games of the season. Venric Mark earned the attention as he stumbled in a limited role.

Trumpy entered having carried the ball eight times for five total yards.

Venric Mark posted another solid performance, easing into the starter's role with a workmanlike 77 yards on 18 carries. He added seven catches, and most importantly, proved to be a useful asset even without breaking loose. Mark's longest play went for only nine yards.

Mark left the game in the third quarter, and Trumpy finally became the story. Trumpy, who tore his ACL against Illinois last season, dominated a fatigued Eagles defense. The junior had his first 100-yard rushing performance since Nov. 27, 2010, including a game-sealing 29-yard score.

The injury to Mark seems to be relatively minor. If the two backs with different running styles perform well simultaneously, that may create nightmares even for elite Big Ten defenses. Because when that happens, you see gaudy statistics, like 293 yards on the ground.

Grade:A

Wide Receivers

After being chewed out by Pat Fitzgerald this week, the receivers improved on their dismal performance against Vanderbilt.

Demetrius Fields played his role as a solid possession receiver, tallying nine catches. Tony Jones broke off a big play, which helped to settle Colter. Christian Jones, perhaps the most underrated of the group, continues to create difficult size matchups for opposing defensive backs.

Rashad Lawrence was widely expected to emerge as the breakout player on the Wildcats offense. Instead, he may begin to lose time on the field. With Cameron Dickerson creeping up the depth chart, Lawrence has failed to impress.

Meanwhile, Kyle Prater is still itching to break out. That will come, sooner rather than later.

Grade:B-

Offensive Line

When a Boston College defender jarred the ball loose from Venric Mark in the third quarter, it popped directly into Brandon Vitabile's hands. Heck, with this unit's improvement, he deserved some recognition.

Chuck Porcelli sat out with an undisclosed injury, and in his place, senior Neal Dieters certainly held his own. As the Eagles front four tired late in the ballgame, the NU offensive line thrived.

Colter faced significant pressure early on, but much less than in previous weeks. The BC defensive line hardly presented a formidable challenge, and the Cats took full advantage. Trumpy and Mark saw daylight on nearly every play.

Aside from the fumble under center and two sacks, it was an otherwise spotless performance from a unit that continues to improve. Credit Adam Cushing for leading a well-conditioned group.

Grade:B+

Secondary

Bend but don't break. It's the backhanded compliment this unit will have to accept. Anything but Syracuse, right?

Nick VanHoose returned from an injury sustained early in the Vanderbilt game. He yielded too much ground to receivers early on, but settled in nicely. Demetrius Dugar and Quinn Evans more or less split time opposite VanHoose.

Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig, bothered by inconsistency throughout his career, threw for 291 yards. That number could have been much steeper had he not missed several throws.

Where's Ibraheim Campbell? The pleasant surprise of the 2011 Wildcats made only two tackles, both assisted. Sure, it makes sense for BC to target the side Jared Carpenter plays on. Still, more should be expected from a dynamic playmaker in Campbell.

The decision to start Carpenter over Davion Fleming appears the correction decision, at least so far. Carpenter may not bring a great deal of speed to the unit, but displayed good awareness.

Meanwhile, Traveon Henry burned his redshirt and made an impact on the field with a pair of solid hits.

In two straight weeks, the Wildcats have allowed merely 13 points. That gashing at the hands of Ryan Nassib is becoming a distant memory.

Grade:B-

Linebackers

Chi Chi Ariguzo, for the second or third straight week, was the best defensive player on the field. Ariguzo may be the best player on Northwestern.

It might have sounded crazy in the preseason, but the sophomore earned that title for the time being. Venric Mark has been exceptional, but Ariguzo, fresh off being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, dominated once again.

Ariguzo paced the Wildcats with 10 tackles, recovered a fumble and led all players with two pass breakups. Damien Proby had a quiet night, and David Nwabuisi took a costly personal foul penalty late in the first half.

Ariguzo, as they say, has a nose for the ball. National recognition is next to come.

Grade:B+

Defensive Line

The NU front four's performance is best summarized with one statistic. Boston College on Saturday: 21 carries, 25 yards. Lead back Andre Williams ran for over 100 yards against the Cats last season. Tonight, he had little room to work.

Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams earned a mention from their coach after excellent outings. Arnfelt forced a critical fumble in the red zone, and Williams applied pressure to Rettig.

This may be the deepest Northwestern unit. Aside from the second half against Syracuse, their play has been nothing short of superb.

Grade:A

Special Teams

Jeff Budzien kicked six field goals last season. This afternoon, he kicked five.

Four of his makes came from 29 yards or less. Regardless, a confident kicker is a great asset to have prior to beginning conference play.

Brandon Williams had a quiet night punting. No opponent wants Venric Mark to touch the football.

In a game where the Cats needed him, Budzien delivered with a career performance. No complaints for this unit.

Grade:A- Coaching

The Wildcats earned three wins against three major conference opponents. They excel late in ballgames. The first 50 minutes have been anything but pretty, yet NU continues to eke out victories.

Fitzgerald errs on the side of caution disturbingly often. Today, though, the problems rested with execution. NU reached the red zone on five occasions, and failed to score a touchdown each time. McCall and Fitzgerald seem willing to spread the ball with Colter, their more mobile option.

Late in the game, Fitzgerald felt the offensive line could dictate play. The run-pass ratio was exactly 60-40, and the head coach showed faith in his offensive line at the correct moment.

Meanwhile, several units – the offensive line in particular – have shown improvement. It took a strong coaching staff for NU to win its first three games. Time for the group to work on maximizing potential leading up to Big Ten play.

Grade:B+


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