Christian Jones, wide receiver
In the NFL, we would have labeled it a salvaged fantasy football week. Instead, Jones was a difference maker despite hauling in only one catch. He lined up to the right of Kain Colter, jockeyed for separation and left a flat-footed corner in his wake. Jones boasts an excellent combination of size and speed out wide. With two weeks to revitalize the passing game, Northwestern should try to lean on its physical receivers. The paltry throwing output – barely averaging more than 100 yards in the past month – depends on solid execution from wideouts.
Yeah, this bunch was strong again. The statistics give them some credibility. The Wildcats had 49 carries and gained 349 yards on the ground – good for 7.1 yards per carry. They sent a message almost immediately. With Colter in the backfield for The Opening drive, NU ran the ball on 10 of 11 plays, which led to a touchdown. If that initial experiment went awry, Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall could easily have looked to Siemian more often. The success of Colter is predicated on a steady, consistent offensive line. This base unit has improved and thrived. They dominated Iowa on Saturday and look ready for a tougher battle against Michigan
Cooler (or Warmer?) Bowl Games
Northwestern faces two difficult games following its bye week. Michigan, of course, will look to rebound from a surprise loss to Nebraska. Chances are a rout of Minnesota will not satisfy the Wolverines. Then, Michigan State looked impressive in its win against Wisconsin. Not to mention: both of these matchups come on the road. Wins this late in the season are tough to come by. Usually, by the end of the year, Cats fans are looking for an ideal bowl matchup. A seventh win, and third conference win, certainly helps NU's chances. Assuming the Cats roll over a lifeless Illinois, one win would place them squarely in the picture for a somewhat prestigious Jan. 1 bowl game appearance. Eight wins, with a 5-3 record in the Big Ten, is nothing to scoff at. Nine wins, though, would qualify as something special.
Seven victories, none very pretty. You could easily argue Iowa is the best win for NU this season, and the Hawkeyes looked horrendous. With a combination of bad quarterback play, questionable coaching decisions and injuries, Iowa posed less of a challenge than in previous years. If the Cats fail to pick up a win in their upcoming road contests, they may end up with a disappointing 8-4 regular season record. Even with all of the major conference wins, the résumé could be more impressive. Although I should note that unlike in many previous years, this Fitzgerald team has yet to suffer a bad loss.
The passing game, aside from one throw
Kind of difficult not to touch on this point. The throw to Christian Jones accounted for 56 percent of the passing output. I would love to see this addressed on forums in upcoming weeks: How much does the passing game need to be incorporated if NU hopes to beat Michigan? I don't think they can get by against the Wolverines making one or two throws. This offense can pound the ball with Colter and Venric Mark, but the Cats need to keep a sturdy Michigan defense from stacking the box. They can do that by airing it out. Colter has the capability of doing so, and don't expect Trevor Siemian to see much action at the Big House.
Several commits have visited NU in recent home games, standing on the sidelines to watch the Cats go to work. Many members of the incoming class may be forced to do that for another year. Fitzgerald practically models the Penn State tradition of letting players sit out a year before seeing action. That model has worked in the past. Look at Ibraheim Campbell, the redshirt sophomore who ranks as one of the top safeties in the nation. Aside from brief flashes from Dan Vitale and Dean Lowry, the freshmen have made little impact on games. Only Vitale, Lowry and Henry have burned their redshirts this year. That's fine, but it might be nice for NU to see promise from its young core in future seasons.