1. A lot is being made in Columbus of the two-quarterback system Northwestern uses. How does the offense generally deploy each QB and what is each one's strengths and weaknesses?
"If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none." That's the common saying that Northwestern continues to defy. You can't argue with the success of offensive coordinator Mick McCall's two-quarterback experiment. Each player brings his different skill-set to keep defenses off balance. When both play well, the opponent will struggle with substitutions and big gains. The Wildcats offense provides so many complications: Several tailbacks, two quarterbacks, a superback and the receiver-by-committee approach. Of course, though, it requires strong performances from every component.
Kain Colter cannot win football games with his arm alone. The QB "1-a" –- as he's called –- often falls victim to inconsistency. He might have more career overthrows than anyone in the Big Ten. But he's expert in the zone read, especially alongside dynamic running back Venric Mark. Colter has run for at least 65 yards on 11 separate occasions in his career. When he makes enough throws to keep opponents from crowding the line, this offense is difficult to contain. He's an outstanding athlete and competitor, and his play in the option should contribute to the upset effort.
Trevor Siemian functions as a traditional pocket passer. He's been clutch throughout his career, especially in 2012 games against Syracuse and Michigan. Siemian can spread the ball to various receivers, including breakout player Tony Jones and trusted junior Christian Jones. Though the junior can run "keepers" with some success, he's prone to struggle under pressure and needs to complete more of his midrange passes. Credit McCall with helping to develop Siemian, who averages 9.6 yards per passing attempt so far this year.
2. It sounds as though Mark is going to play. What does he add to the offense and how well have Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy done in his absence?
Judging from practice, I'd expect Mark to be near full strength against OSU on Saturday. After sustaining a lower body injury in the early stages of training camp, Mark tried to play in the season opener against Cal. That failed, as he gained just 29 yards on 11 carries, and tried to recover in time for this game. They didn't need him against Syracuse, Western Michigan or Maine. They certainly need him this weekend.
Last year, Mark rushed for 1,366 yards in an unbelievable season. He earned first-team All-American punt returner honors, and if he does take PRs this weekend, I expect Cameron Johnston to boom everything out of bounds. No need for the Buckeyes to risk it. Otherwise, he's an outstanding running back with big-play potential. If he's at 100 percent–or anything close–it will certainly impact the outcome.
3. Northwestern has given up a lot of passing yards thus far, but it has 10 interceptions in four games. Is that a fair representation of how the defense has played so far or are some of the stats misleading based on the opponents the 'Cats have played to this point?
The cornerbacks have been atrocious so far this season. Redshirt sophomore Nick VanHoose struggled in the first month and has regressed from his excellent 2012 season. Unfortunately for NU, in the season opener, Daniel Jones suffered a knee injury (probable ACL tear) that will leave him sidelined for the remainder of the season. That forced redshirt freshman Dwight White to step into the starter's role, which he was entirely unprepared for. In each game, including Maine, White was torched by the opposing quarterback. Expect Miller to attack him in the early going; it's been NU's major weakness in 2013.
Aside from that, though, the Wildcats boast some impressive playmakers. Heck, even defensive end Dean Lowry (arguably the team's best player in recent weeks) hauled in an interception. Eight of the team's 10 interceptions came from the safeties and linebackers. Some of that, of course, boils down to luck. But it's a skilled unit overall, much improved from past seasons, that can disrupt Miller and the OSU playmakers.
4. Who are some of the impact players on Northwestern's defense that Ohio State fans should be aware of?
Dean Lowry — Quickly shedding the underrated tag. True sophomore with shocking potential, who's been exceptional alongside senior Tyler Scott.
Ibraheim Campbell — The safety broke a school record, snagging interceptions in five consecutive games. He's been outstanding throughout his NU career.
Chi Chi Ariguzo — High-impact linebacker. Major, versatile playmaker from the outside.
5. What's the buzz around this game from your end. Obviously there is a lot of hype to it, but as someone who is there, can you describe how excited the Northwestern fan base is for this one?
i) People are psyched for GameDay. I've never seen the Northwestern fan base more excited for anything, much less a sporting event.
ii) NU still embraces the underdog status. Very few fans, even, expect the Wildcats to win on Saturday.
iii) The first half play will be enormous. NU needs to keep the momentum to energize the raucous fan base. We're hoping it'll be a classic.