Three basics for ‘Cats comeback

Some simple steps that could boost Northwestern heading into the Iowa game.

Never lose the running game

On Saturday, Northwestern abandoned the run once again. After Stephen Buckley decimated the Minnesota front seven throughout a first-quarter touchdown drive, we barely heard from him again. Buckley ran for 58 yards on nine carries, with his workload fairly light after he demonstrated his immense potential. Perhaps he came up hobbled at some point, but regardless, the disappearance of the run game created several problems for the Northwestern offense.

Namely, Trevor Siemian struggled to lead the pass-heavy attack—chucking up 21 incompletions in a sloppy performance. It's difficult, though, when the team avoids its strengths. In last year's 10-win season, the ‘Cats ran the ball on nearly 63 percent of plays. The numbers reversed against Minnesota, which made little sense due to Siemian's struggles and a lack of quarterback relief.

Treyvon Green dominated in September and then disappeared in later games. He failed to establish any rhythm on Saturday, with the offensive line consistently struggling to get any push. Mike Trumpy continues to be the ideal short-yardage back; everything else after that becomes a struggle. This team recruits a "stable" of running backs, designed to succeed when one player goes down. Unfortunately, though, the guys behind Mark failed to mobilize once again.

Give Matt Harris the full opportunity

We're in privileged position as media to watch Matt Harris's development. The true freshman was solid near the end of training camp, showing an advanced understanding of the playbook. Better yet, he's an outstanding athlete—another underrated recruit with an excellent backstory who found his home in Evanston. During game time, you might not immediately see his lofty potential. During practice, trust me: It's easy to spot.

Yet we're stuck with Dwight White, the redshirt freshman consistently burned by the deep pass. After he made some improvements in losses to OSU and Wisconsin, White regressed dramatically against Minnesota. Though he could emerge in later seasons, this one certainly isn't his to shine. With their 0-3 Big Ten record–and a porous group of corners–the Wildcats might as well give Harris a try. That's not to say Pat Fitzgerald and the decision makers need to panic. It's suggesting they can afford risks—especially ones that would build significant hype.

So cut the internal battle: Let one guy win it. Dwight White had seven chances to prove that he could hold down the starter's role. It's not even as if he was the starting cornerback by design: Why stick to him out of stubbornness? Matt Harris is far from the average freshman, with his poise and mentality disrupting quarterbacks on the practice field. He's earned the chance, and to transcend the Jerry Brown loyalty system.

Make Siemian earn every snap

It's one thing to say this (entirely true): Trevor Siemian can win football games for Northwestern. He anchored an impressive late scoring drive against Syracuse, guided the team against Michigan State—and in the loss to Michigan. Siemian flashed his potential against incompetent secondaries early in the season, but now, he's struggling. That can happen to every quarterback; Northwestern also has two of them.

If Kain Colter returns near full strength, he should be the absolute focal point of this offense. I don't trust Siemian–viewing his frustration even on the practice field–to recover in another difficult road environment. Meanwhile, Colter can help the team re-establish its running game—regardless of whether Venric Mark plays.

It is what it is. If the coaching staff wants to get stubborn and allow Siemian to labor through another poor performance, they'll be forced to answer difficult question. Let him in for the third drive, or whenever, but monitor his progress. They can't afford another loss.


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