Syracuse has a tough road test on Saturday as they try to avoid an 0-2 start. In order to find out what the Orange are up against in the Northwestern Wildcats, CuseNation.com spoke with PurpleWildcats.com publisher Nick Medline. He gives us the inside scoop on all things Northwestern.
McAllister: What type of offensive scheme will Syracuse be facing on Saturday?
Medline: NU runs the spread offense with different results from each quarterback. With Colter in the game and Mark at full strength, expect a run-heavy diet filled with zone reads. With Siemian in, there should be a 50-50 run/pass split, designed to work in backup running backs and every wide receiver. Usually, NU leans on its short passing game, though that could change on a game-by-game basis.
Medline: Kain Colter runs like few other quarterbacks can. He and Venric Mark excel in the zone read, which can cause nightmares for opposing defenses. Though he's still an inconsistent passer, Colter makes enough throws to some of NU's reliable receivers. Opponents respect Colter as a dual threat, and respect Trevor Siemian as well for his different passing approach.
McAllister: Northwestern utilizes a two QB system with Colter and Trevor Siemian. What type of a threat is Siemian and how does he compliment Colter?
Medline: Trevor Siemian usually enters the game three drives in, and presents a much different look than the option-based offense run by Colter. He thrives on mid-range passes and showed last week that he can distribute the ball especially well.
Siemian managed to keep Dan Vitale, Tony Jones and Christian Jones involved on Saturday—and each member of the trio hauled in five catches. Though less skilled as a runner, he provides a sharp and effective alternative to Kain.
McAllister: Venric Mark really hurt Syracuse in the Dome last year, but he is nursing an injury. What are the chances he's 100% come game time and how much of a factor will he be on Saturday?
Medline: Pat Fitzgerald expects Venric Mark (lower body injury) to play this week after his quiet 11-carry, 29-yard outing. By all accounts, he was banged up, but should see more action come Saturday. Coach Pat Fitzgerald might continue to ease Mark in–waiting until he reaches full strength–but the scrappy running back could very well have another stellar performance against the ‘Cuse.
McAllister: What other running backs will be in the mix for Northwestern?
Medline: Even if Mark is able to contribute, offensive coordinator Mick McCall likes working in numerous backups. Last week, junior Treyvon Green raced for 129 yards—the best game of his career. Green seems like more of your conventional back, with great field vision and big-play ability.
After that, Mike Trumpy averages 4.7 yards per carry in his solid career as an NU backup. If Syracuse D-line shows any weakness in the early going, expect Trumpy to barrel through for consistent gains.
McAllister: At wide receiver, Kyle Prater is a big name, but he's not a starter currently. Break down the top receiving threats and what we should expect to see from them.
Medline: Christian Jones— He could be a legit No. 1 option for Northwestern. With his route running, size and consistency, Jones is a quarterback's dream. Watch him closely should that passing game get going.
Tony Jones– With his speed, Jones can create matchup problem. He's an easy candidate to become the vertical passing threat, especially after his beautiful touchdown grab in week one.
Rashad Lawrence— Lawrence emerged as Colter's primary short-range option last season. He's your classic possession receiver looking to do more in 2013.
McAllister: Dan Vitale is listed as superback. Explain the position and Vitale's role in the offense.
Medline: It's impossible to define. Think tight end with more flexibility and well-rounded athleticism. Regardless, we've seen Vitale become a more comfortable pass-catcher. He's a strong player and quiet threat for this team. That 100-yard performance is indicative of the sophomore's very high ceiling.
McAllister: Up front, how good is the Northwestern offensive line?
Medline: This O-line needed to replace three starters heading into 2013. They did so well, with Paul Jorgensen (RT), Geoff Mogus (LG) and Ian Park (RG) settling in throughout fall camp. The biggest strength is Brandon Vitabile, the veteran center and vocal leader of this unit. After that, Jack Konopka moved back to left tackle and had an excellent opener. With so many newcomers, though, this unit will still have to prove its chemistry against the Syracuse front.
McAllister: What defensive system will be Northwestern utilize to try to slow down the Syracuse offense?
Medline: Hankwitz runs base 4-3, with fairly heavy reliance on the front four to generate pressure. Against a more conservative offense, the Wildcats would generally adopt man coverage. They always have the guys to make it work.
McAllister: What should we expect from the Wildcats' defensive line?
Medline: Led by potential All-Big Ten defensive end Tyler Scott, NU boasts an impressive foursome at defensive end. Scott, Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson could start for most Big Ten teams. The talent is there, leading to sacks and a pass rush that should frustrate Drew Allen. I do hope to see more from the defensive tackles (Chance Carter and Sean McEvilly), who frequently disappeared late in the Cal game.
McAllister: At linebacker, there is a lot of experience there. What should we expect from this group?
Medline: It's a solid group of linebackers. Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo return some experience to the linebacking corps. Then, Collin Ellis returned two interceptions for touchdowns this past week. Though defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz employs a more conservative scheme, the group can make plenty of plays.
McAllister: In week one against Cal, the secondary seemed to struggle a bit. How good is this unit?
Medline: You have to start with the safety tandem, which can succeed in any situation. Traveon Henry and Ibraheim Campbell are two of the most exciting players to watch for this team, whether they apply hits to ball carriers or sneak in for impressive picks. In the second quarter at Cal, however, NU lost starting corner Daniel Jones with a season-ending knee injury.
That proves devastating for a team not loaded with positional depth. Nick VanHoose had an excellent redshirt freshman year in 2012, and needs to match that performance this year. Now, the Wildcats rely on redshirt freshman Dwight White to pick up the slack. If Syracuse hopes to win on Saturday, then it will need an excellent game from Drew Allen—who can exploit the defensive backs.
McAllister: How good is Northwestern on special teams?
Medline: Kicker Jeff Budzien is one of the favorites to win this year's Groza Award. He's an outstanding kicker and made all three of his field goal attempts in week one. Brandon Williams, the punter, can be inconsistent but overall good.
As for the return game, Fitzgerald once again plans on letting Tony Jones take punts rather than Venric Mark. That's certainly a good thing for Syracuse. And regarding coverage units, NU does fairly well with its crew of hungry redshirt freshmen.