DiNardo: NU must win November

It took a November to remember for Northwestern to save its 2011 season. This year's team has a chance for a special finish, aiming for a run to the Big Ten championship game. Once again, it will take a November to remember. Former Wildcat Jack DiNardo analyzes where NU stands.

Northwestern's 28 -17 victory Saturday over Iowa brings the Cats' to 7-2 on the season and 3-2 in Big Ten play. The Wildcats continued their recent command over the Hawkeyes winning their sixth of the last eight meetings.

A big question entering Saturday's game, in part due to comments made by junior quarterback Kain Colter following last weeks loss to Nebraska; was what is this team's offensive identity?

Pat Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall put this question to rest Saturday, and the answer is not what most expected from a Northwestern offense.

Northwestern ran the ball for an impressive 349 yards on 49 carries and only attempted 10 passes resulting in 7 completions for 84 yards. The running game featured another impressive performance by Venric Mark, who ran for 162 yards on 16 carries. But even more important to the Cats' success, was a rejuvenating game by Colter, who used his speed in NU's spread option attack and his escapability while scrambling to rush for 171 yards on 26 carries.

Additionally, Colter was able to connect on six of nine passes for 80 yards, an average of nearly nine yards per attempt.

Since the inception of the spread offense there have always been two distinct types: spread to pass and spread to run. And, although Northwestern's spread attack has had successful rushing production in the past, that production was always a result of having a threatening passing game. Now, for the first time, Northwestern is setting up its passing game by running the ball effectively.

Although Trevor Siemian may be Northwestern's best option as a traditional passing quarterback, Kain Colter and what he brings to both the running game and the passing game that is set up by the running game is Northwestern's best option for consistent offensive production.

Colter cannot do everything himself, however. The Wildcats' offense will continue to need big performances from Mark, the receiving core, and the offensive line where senior captain Brian Mulroe has been a force up front for Northwestern all season.

With a week to rest before heading up to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines, Northwestern will have plenty of time to fine-tune its new offensive game plan. With the possibility of representing the Legends division at the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis still in tact, the key to Northwestern's season will once again come down to wining in November.

Jack DiNardo was a standout defensive tackle with Northwestern's winningest-ever senior class. He graduated with a degree in political science and is now pursuing a master's degree in liberal arts. Each Sunday following a Northwestern game, DiNardo will offer a column sharing his perspective.

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