Weekly Wildcat Watch

In this Weekly Wildcat Watch, Purple Reign rounds up articles that take a look at: How a former Northwestern All-American is gearing up for a triathlon (at the age of 60), how NU's running game would be better against Miami (it wasn't) and Fitz's displeasure with his squad's ground attack (expressed via some four-letter words.)

As always, a quick look at Purple Reign's coverage last week…

First there was this article about Northwestern's defense. It was titled "In defense of the defense," so you can probably guess that the article, well, defended the defense, which has been ripped a bit this year by media folks.

Purple Reign, however, is one outlet that has abstained from dissing the D, and here's why:

The stat that leads to most of this quasi-criticism of the Wildcat defense is probably this one: NU ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense. The Cats give up 26.2 points per game, and if you take out the Towson game – which we do here pretty much any time we talk about statistics – the D is actually giving up 29.3 points per game. Two of the last three weeks NU's opponents have scored at least 35 points….

Against Eastern Michigan, the Eagles' four scoring drives began, on average, from their 46.5 yard-line – right around midfield. Included in there were possessions that began at the NU 12 (following an Arby Fields fumble) and the NU 35 (following a Brendan Smith fumble). Not a lot of field for the D to work with….

Think about this: If you take away the points that NU ha¬s given up on drives that started inside its own 21 yard-line – three drives for 17 points – then the Cats would be giving up an average of 22.8 points per game. That would be fourth in the conference.

A message board response to the article pointed out that PR neglected to discuss how often other teams – teams with better statistical defenses – had to face drives that started inside the 21. So PR did a little homework and found this out:*

* Stats were heading into last weekend's games.

Penn State, which leads the conference in points allowed, has had to defend just one drive the entire season that began inside its 21 yard-line. That was against Syracuse, and the Orange scored in one play -- a 16-yard TD strike. So PSU has a 100 percent TD-allowed ratio for drives inside its 21.

Ohio State, second in points allowed, has also faced just one drive that started inside its own 21. It came against USC after Prior threw an early pick; the Trojans got a TD. That is the only drive that the Buckeyes have had to defense inside their own 20. In fact, they have allowed just one drive -- ONE -- to start inside their own TERRITORY the past three weeks, let alone their own 20.

Iowa, No. 3 in points allowed, has not faced a single drive that began inside its 21. Enough said.

Michigan, No. 4 in points allowed, has also not had to defend one drive that began inside its 21.

Same goes for Indiana, which ranks No. 5 in points allowed.

In a three-way tie for No. 6, Wisconsin has allowed one drive to start inside the 21; it went for a passing TD. Wisconsin is tied with Minnesota and Michigan State at No. 6, at 24.6 points per game....

Thus, onto Minnesota, which has seen just one drive start inside its 21 -- it went for a field goal. (By the way, NU's [average] starting field position against the Gophers was its OWN 23.1 yard-line.)

Michigan State, the final team tied at 24.6, has also not faced a single defensive possession where the opponent started inside its 21.

So the top scoring-defense teams in the conference have prevented their opponents from scoring on drives that started inside the 21 exactly zero percent of the time. The only difference between them and NU is that they haven't had to deal with as many inside-the-21 drives.

You surely understand the crux of the article: Northwestern's D has been left out to dry on multiple occasions by the thus-far turnover-prone offense. It doesn't seem to Purple Reign that there is much of a way to argue that, but oh well.

While PR finds the Cats' defense easily defensible, the same cannot be said of the running game. That topic was discussed at some length here.

And there was no more obvious example than Saturday against Miami (Ohio), when the Cats had on of their most woeful running performance to date – and that's saying something.

The team netted 128 yards, but it took 41 carries to get there – that's 3.1 yards per carry. Kafka led the team in rushing with 53 yards, and he was the only Wildcat to score on the ground; he had a pair of rushing TDs. Take out Kafka's performance, and NU's running backs had 26 carries for 75 yards, less than three a pop, and no one who had more than one carry averaged more than 2.9 yards. Yeesh….

* No Wildcat running back with more than one carry has averaged more than 3.0 yards per carry in since the Minnesota game, back on Sept. 26.

* In the past four weeks, the Wildcat running backs have teamed up for just two rushing touchdowns. (Kafka has four over that span.)

* No Wildcat running back has gotten more than 50 yards since Week 2 against Eastern Michigan.

* Not including the Towson game – in which NU outrushed the Tigers 221-65 – NU has been outrushed 651 to 516 by Eastern Michigan, Syracuse, Minnesota, Purdue and Miami. (All stats hitherto are current. All subsequent stats are through Oct. 7.)

What's more, Syracuse ranks dead last in the Big East in rushing yards, and Minnesota is dead last in the Big Ten in rushing – and both teams outrushed Northwestern. What's more, Miami ranks No. 12 out of 13 teams in rushing in the MAC, yet NU had just a two-yard edge on the RedHawks.

So Northwestern has been getting out-performed on the ground despite playing a cross-section of the dregs of three different conferences' running teams. (Eastern Michigan, by the way, ranks sixth in its conference, as does Purdue.)

It gets worse: Minnesota and Purdue rank ninth and 10th in the conference in rushing yards allowed. Oh, and they're 10th and 11th in rushing TDs allowed. Yet NU was stymied.

Those are the nuts and bolts of the article. Pretty staggering stuff, really. The Cats haven't been able to run at all, and moreover they haven't played the stiffest Big Ten defenses yet. Not a good combo. There are rationalizations and justifications for why the running game has bogged down, which are discussed in the article.

But still, the upcoming schedule looks like a dark cloud hovering in the distance – it's coming whether NU is ready or not, and it could get ugly. Will the Cats have the safety of a running game to protect it from the onslaught? We'll see.*

* If you think Fitz isn't taking the team's running problems seriously, think again. Click here. Warning: Explicit content.

There were other PR stories this week – this look at Miami's brutal schedule and this piece about the intriguing situation that has transpired at QB for Miami. But the one about the D and the one about the running game were the ones that warranted proper recapping.


And the non-Purple Reign stories...Let's start with this one from the Tribune, which, in hindsight, is pretty interesting. It's about the return of Stephen Simmons, NU's top back, and how his recovery from an ankle injury should help NU's running attack against Miami. Well, NU's attack didn't have much bite, and neither did Simmons.

Northwestern's weekly injury report deserves attention for a name that does not appear: Stephen Simmons. NU's top tailback is finally past the ankle injury that shelved him for three games.

Simmons averaged 4.8 yards per carry against Towson and Eastern Michigan. His replacements, albeit against tougher competition, have not measured up: Arby Fields, Jacob Schmidtand Scott Concannon.

The article makes sense: Simmons' return should have helped. It didn't. Simmons had two carries and two yards in his return. How to read that? Is Simmons still a bit dinged? Did Fitz and the coaching staff want to continue testing Arby Fields? Don't know for sure, but Simmons' return didn't help the running game much at all.

This one and this one discuss the season-ending injury suffered by Michigan State's Glenn Winston last week. Winston ripped up his ACL in the Spartans' win against Illinois. Not only will he miss this weekend's game against the Wildcats, but he is done for the season.

This article speculates about the Cats' hoop prospects this season. It's titled, "Why This Will Be Northwestern's Year." It is from Bleacher Report, and while Purple Reign generally abstains from linking to Bleacher Report articles – actually, this is the first ever – this one was deemed worthwhile because (a) basketball season is coming up soon and (b) there isn't much coverage from more, uh, traditional outlets concerning NU hoops.

Now that the Bleacher Report floodgate has been opened, here is an article about Northwestern's tailgating scene. After conceding that the attendance at Saturday's game was paltry at best, the article goes on to say:

If there's one thing Northwestern does right, it's the fan experience before the game even starts.

Now, a disclaimer, this is not the epic tailgating scene that exists at Big Ten powerhouses like Penn State or even lesser schools such as Indiana. The fact that it's not huge like other schools' tailgates is what makes it underrated. Most students' superficial impression of NU tailgating is that it's terrible.

But that's not true at all. Bigger is not always better.

Rounding this out…this article is about how NU's new president, Morton O. Schapiro, is a "sports nut" who is committed to seeing NU succeed in hoops and football.

This article is about former Northwestern All-American running back Mike Adamle, who is competing in an upcoming triathlon. Dude's 60. Pretty interesting stuff.

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