Cats get by

Purple Reign breaks down Northwestern's too-close-for-comfort victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday. Ideally, a last second field goal would not have been needed. But nonetheless, the Cats sit at 2-0 as the schedule stiffens.

In the interest of keeping pace in this hurry-up-and-report Internet world we live in, today Purple Reign will forgo proper introductions, sequential thinking and edited (and reedited) prose. Today, after Northwestern's too-close-for-comfort 27-24 win against Eastern Michigan, we are instead going to look at some bullet points from the game.

Turnovers = Problem. This would fall in the "Always get the lead runner" and "Stay between your man and the basket" category of Sports Basics. But it's worth repeating that turnovers kill.

It looked like turnovers killed Eastern Michigan early in the second quarter after Ben Johnson returned an interception 70 yards for a TD to make it 21-0. But turnovers ultimately bit NU harder than the Eagles. Arby Fields – who came back down to earth with seven carries and five yards after his two-TD college debut – fumbled it with about 8:30 to go in the second. The ensuing EMU drive started at the Northwestern 12, which, in hindsight, could have been a huge turning point in the game. Alas, it was only a small turning point, as the Eagles chipped in a field goal to cut the lead to 21-3, which is where it stood at halftime.

(After his fumble, by the way, Fields carried it just two times for one yard. Nothing like the combo of fumblitis and a close game to relegate a freshman running back to the bench.)

Another EMU scoring drive was set up by a Brendan Smith fumble a few minutes into the fourth. The Eagles initially went three-and-out, but were granted a reprieve – not to mention about 40 yards of field position – when Smith botched the punt return. The ensuing 25-yards TD pass from Adam Schmitt cut the NU lead to seven, and at the point it was officially Game On.

Later in the quarter, a Mike Kafka interception set up the game-tying score.

Again, I know that "Don't turn it over" counts as one of the first things you learn in Football 101. Nay – in Football 1. But it's worth pointing out how badly the Cats struggled with turnovers; 17 of EMU's 24 points were the direct result of giveaways inside NU territory. Not going to work against better teams.

Simmons Solid. PR has been dropping hints – some subtle, other not – wondering aloud whether or not Stephen Simmons can hack it as NU's featured back this season. Well, on Saturday he looked pretty good: 73 yards on 13 carries – a 5.6 average – and two TDs.

What's all the better is that it's not like all of his yards came on one carry. On the one hand, you'd like to see big-play potential, but at the same time, steadiness is a coveted commodity. And steady, Simmons was. Eight of his 13 rushes were for between four and 14 yards, and one of the ones that wasn't – a one-yarder – happened to be for a TD. Not that the EMU defense could be confused for a Great Wall of Ypsilanti, but still, good showing by Simmons. (Oh, and no fumbles.)

Domeward Bound. Looking ahead, does anyone else want to join Purple Reign in worrying about Syracuse right about now? PR was roundly ignored/put in his place this summer when listing the four reasons he thought the ‘Cuse game could be hairy. But now…?

Seeing as Syracuse just played at Penn State, this was going to be the part where I said, "You can't put any stock into what happened at Penn State. That's a tough place to play, and you couldn't expect the Orange to hang tough with the Nittany Lions at home."

Well, Syracuse may not have hung tough, but they certainly didn't get blown out. Yeah, PSU built a 28-0 lead. Yeah, Greg Paulus had 105 yards* passing and two INTs. But all things considered, not too bad from the Orange; it was only 7-0 Penn State with 7:00 to go in the second quarter.

Since I was adamant about not getting too down on the Orange should they have gotten blown out, I will similarly not get worked up about a 21-point defeat. Just saying that Syracuse looked OK in a crazy environment. Plus the Orange will have played two bowl teams from '08, while NU has played Div. VII Towson and EMU. And the Cats made EMU look pretty good.

* Syracuse is doing a comically good job of protecting Greg Paulus. Not in terms of O-line work, but in terms of play-calling. If you've seen any of its first two games, Syracuse makes Northwestern's screen-happy offense look like a vertical passing game. It's dinks and dumps and screens and more screens. It's kind of funny – and even a wee bit effective; Paulus is completing 61.3 percent of his passes.

Anyway, along with NU's underwhelming showing on Saturday, Syracuse went into Happy Valley and played reasonably well. Should be an interesting game next week. And if anyone wants to join me in thinking it won't be a cakewalk, feel free.

Win a win. Having picked on the turnovers and been openly concerned about the Syracuse game, I will close by saying that a win is a win, and Northwestern won. When the season is over and bowl bids are being handed out, few people are going to mention that the Week 2 win was against EMU, and even fewer will mention that it was a near choke-job resuscitated by a last-second field goal.

NU is 2-0, which is exactly what it should be after two games. The crescendo-styled schedule is building up each week, and surely the Cats will benefit the next few weeks by having a few cupcakes under their belt – even if the second cupcake didn't go down as well as excepted.

To reach David Vranicar, publisher of Purple Reign, please write to

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