No one expected the quarterback situation to gain clarity in a matchup against lowly South Dakota. In the first quarter, though, a couple of plays sent minor ripples of fear through Northwestern.
First, Kain Colter took a tough blow from Chris Frierson on a first-down scramble. Colter sustained a wrist injury and eventually went to the locker room. Later, Trevor Siemian was shaken up after a hit from Charlie Goro forced an incompletion.
Colter returned in the second quarter and appeared to be his mobile self, escaping for a 24-yard run almost immediately. Siemian also took the field in the second and made a nice throw to Rashad Lawrence.
In their first four possessions, the Wildcats threw only six times— an unsurprising statistic and an unsurprising overall result.
On the second play from scrimmage, Venric Mark ran for 47 yards. He was miraculously caught from behind by Chris Lundy, who – if anything – guaranteed placement on Mark's ever-growing highlight reel. Mark also plunged into the end zone with a powerful six-yard score in the second quarter.
Treyvon Green had a dazzling 33-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, juking defenders in a moment straight out of video games.
With 264 total yards on 50 carries, the running game lived up to lofty expectations.
Tony Jones has clearly emerged as a prominent offensive weapon for Northwestern this season. Jones made a nifty play along the sidelines on a 42-yard reception from Siemian. Coming off a strong performance in the Boston College matchup, Demetrius Fields made a pair of grabs.
Northwestern fans did not enter the game hoping that the receivers would need to perform. Their quiet night is difficult to grade, but no major drops to note. Expect the unit to be more than ready next week to torch the Indiana secondary. Maybe Kyle Prater will even show up.
The rapidly improving offensive line looked solid for most of the game. They easily opened up holes for Venric Mark, as NU established the running game early on.
The pass protection was less dominant. Trevor Siemian faced pressure and took a sack. Of course, there was precious little note. The game may have functioned as extra rest for the Cats o-line before the Big Ten opener next week. With 144 first-half rushing yards, the line deserves some props.
Josh Vander Maten completed only nine of 20 throws in the first half. He was forced out of the pocket on several occasions due to decent coverage downfield. Granted, a decent outing against South Dakota is not much of feat. But three weeks ago, the secondary did not seem like it could stop anything.
One of the strong suits of this Northwestern team excelled yet again on Saturday. Save for a few Vander Maten scrambles, the linebackers helped to stymy the South Dakota rushing attack.
David Nwabuisi made plays all over the field, showing off his superior ability. Chi Chi Ariguzo – easily a candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year – continued his breakout season with five tackles, one for loss.
One of the only negatives: Drew Smith struggled in a backup role. Still, this unit makes up for its lack of depth with pure talent.
Defensive player of the game: Quentin Williams. The senior plugged up the run game throughout the afternoon. Even more impressive, he impacted the passing game. Williams recorded a sack and two pass breakups. Early on, it seemed as though Vander Maten struggled to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage.
Brian Arnfelt had a solid night as well. Arnfelt made an athletic play to corral a fumble after a second-quarter botched snap. The front four could have pressure Vander Maten more consistently, but the entire defense walked all over the Coyotes on Saturday.
Not much to report, as special teams coverage did its job.
It came as no surprise that a Pat Fitzgerald team focused on the task at hand. Northwestern put on a physical performance Saturday, which should delight the head coach.
It seemed strange, though, that Kain Colter remained in the game with the outcome well in hand. Fitzgerald likely has his reasons, but a serious injury in a game against an FCS opponent would have been devastating.