Line is an e-mailed description of NU's next
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat,
GallopingGrapes, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus. For
the 2009 season it returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes
Towson Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat
Matchup: Towson Tigers (0-0, 0-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-0, 0-0) Date: Saturday, September 5, 2009, 11:00 am CDT Television: Big Ten Network Makeshift Line: NU (-27) (Difference in Sagarin ratings plus 3 for NU being the home team) Outlook:
It's football season again, 'Cats fans, and so with it, the Lowes Liners return for an eleventh season. (It's like ten, it's just one more)
It's been a long eight months since NU was on the losing end of what was arguably the most exciting bowl game of the 2008 season, coming up short in overtime against Missouri in the Alamo Bowl following a strong 9-3 regular season. While last year ended on a sour note, there are plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2009: Coach Fitz has three years under his belt and seems to have the program moving in the right direction, the Barnett-era slogan "Expect Victory" is actually something being believed in, and the quality of the defense appears to be improving year over year.
Once again, the non-conference portion of the schedule sets itself up for NU to have a few wins under their belt ahead of the conference schedule. Aside from the visit by Towson, Eastern Michigan comes to Evanston and the 'Cats visit Syracuse before Big Ten play starts. They jump into the conference schedule with a visit by Minnesota and a trip to Purdue, and close out the non-conference slate with a home game against Miami (Ohio). The balance of the schedule includes home games against Indiana, Penn State, and Wisconsin, along with road trips to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Champaign.
It's tough to improve on a 9-3 record, and I can't say I'm confident NU will equal that mark, much less beat it. The returning defense is solid, with eight returning starters and a secondary that's considered by some to be in the top two in the conference, a seemingly unfathomable thought for NU fans as recently as three years ago. The question marks are on offense, where virtually all the skill positions have new personnel. At the helm will be QB Mike Kafka, who showed signs of brilliance in the Minnesota game last year. He can move the ball on the ground very effectively, but the passing game will be a question mark. Stephen Simmons will be the main option at tailback, likely giving up his effective role as a kick returner.
NU needs the running game to be effective in order to be successful. Since 1999, the 'Cats are 43-16 when rushing for more yards than the opposition. When passing for more yards in a game over that span, they're only 31-30. What does that tell us? It remains to be seen, but it could be that Kafka's running ability may be more valuable to the team than his throwing ability.
Defensively, all eyes will be on Corey Wootton, the preseason All America at defensive end who is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Alamo Bowl. He can be a difference maker on the field, a big end that can rush the passer and is agile enough to make interceptions as well (four in three seasons). He has the ability to take over a game, and force the opposing quarterback into poor decisions. There to pick up the slack is a secondary that returns four starters, all of whom earned postseason recognition last year. The unit is led by team captains, cornerback Sherrick McMannis and safety Brendan Smith. This quartet in the back should be strong enough to carry the team through parts of the schedule where the offense is likely to struggle, keeping games close and low-scoring.
This week, though, scoring should not be a big concern. The Towson Tigers are not really on the map as far as a big (or little) time program. They're part of a group called the FCS, which stands for Football Conference Subdivison, whereas NU is a member of the FBS, the Football Bowl Subdivision. The difference? Too hard to explain, but I have an idea how. Let's just say that NU is a member of the major group of schools playing college football. We'll call this group something simple like Division 1-A. Towson, is part of a less major group of football-playing schools. For the sake of ease and argument, we'll call this group Division 1-AA. Isn't that simple? I thought so. So in straightforward terms, NU is playing a Division 1-AA school this week, and one they should beat handily.
Like last season, anything less than 7-5 and a bowl bid would have to be considered a disappointment. Is this the year NU ends the 60+ year bowl drought with a win? We'll see. They'll have to get at least six wins, which is very doable. The first of those comes this weekend, where Kafka shows what he's capable of against a team NU should trounce, while the defense keeps the clamps on Towson.
NU 34, Towson 3. Take the 'Cats and lay the points.
EMU Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Matchup: Eastern Michigan Eagles (0-1, 0-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0) Date: Saturday, September 12, 2009, 11:00 am CDT Television: Big Ten Network Makeshift Line: NU (-21) O/U 53
Apologies, 'Cats fans, for the late Lowes Line.There was a scheduling snafu at our questionably organized head office,
leaving this game uncovered.But fear not, your heapin' helpin' of
'Cats predictions are here in plenty of time for kickoff.
What did we learn from last week's drubbing of Towson
State?Well, that nerds can turn into a bully when an inferior
opponent shows up.NU had little trouble dispatching the FCS (read
Division I-AA) Tigers 47-14.NU built up a 30-0 lead in the first
half, scoring touchdowns on each of their first four drives, and cruised from
there.Quarterback Mike Kafka had a good outing, going 15 of 20
for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no picks (he was a non-factor in the running
game).Backup Daniel Persa saw some action, and both of his passes
were complete.One to Eric Brewer for a 72-yard touchdown.The other to a Towson Tiger defender.Oops.NU running game consisted of tailback by committee, with four backs
getting 5 or more carries.Three of those averaged more than 4
yards per carry, with junior Scott Concannon at the head of the class, averaging
a sparkling 8.0 yards per carry, and tossing in 2 touchdown runs for good
measure.All told, the NU offense rolled up 485 yards of total
offense.Certainly a good start to the year.
We also learned, via post-game conversation with head
coach Pat Fitzgerald, that $52,000 doesn't seem to buy enthusiastic sideline
cheerleaders.Look for more energy on the sidelines this
week.If anyone can motivate more energy, it's Mr. Fitzgerald.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 'Cats held the
Tigers to a touchdown in each half, limiting them to 205 total yards, including
a measly 65 yards rushing.The Tigers were 5 for 13 on third down
conversions, and the NU defense won the turnover battle, picking off 2 Tiger
passes v. the one pick thrown by Persa.
In comes Eastern Michigan.At least this
time the 'Cats are playing an FBS opponent, though Eastern Michigan will likely
be in the half of FBS that makes the top half possible.The Eagles
faced the vaunted attack of the Army Black Knights, losing 27-14.Army is back to running the option, and it revealed that that Eagles are
very vulnerable to a running attack.The Black Knights rolled up
300 yards on the ground (they passed for only 8...I guess they leave that to the
Air Force?).EMU is led by senior quarterback Andy Schmitt, who
was generous with the ball against Army, throwing two picks against one TD
pass.The other offensive playmaker is junior tailback Dwayne
Priest, who compiled 83 yards rushing on 19 carries.Schmitt can
be deadly with the ball, however, as his 58-of-80 for 516 yards and 5 TDs
against Central Michigan last year proves.That was under a spread
offense scheme, and this year the Eagles have moved to a pro-style offense under
first-year head coach Ron English
The 'Cats and the Eagles have played twice prior, once at
Ford Field in Michigan and once at home.Neither game was a thing
of beauty.NU defeated the Eagles 14-6 at Ryan Field in 2006, and
completed the home-and-home sweep 26-14 a year later.NU should
have no problems continuing its dominance against EMU in 2009.Hopefully this will be a better game than those two clunkers.
The Eagles defense will struggle to contain NU's spread
offense.Not only do they have to completely switch schemes,
facing a spread offense a mere week after Army's triple option, but they no
longer practice against a spread team, now that the Eagles offense is a
pro-style setup.Look for NU to run early and run often, with some
plays looking like jail breaks.There should be plenty of yards to
go around for all NU backs, and Kafka should improve over last week's meager
rushing effort.On defense, NU's improved secondary contains
Schmitt, and prevents the Eagles from getting a foothold in the game until it's
Pick:NU 42, EMU 17
Take the 'Cats and give the points.
Season to date: Straight up, 1-0; Against
the spread, 1-0
Syracuse Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-0, 0-0) at Syracuse Orange (0-2, 0-0) Date: Saturday, September 19, 2009, 6:10 pm EDT Television: ESPN Gameplan and ESPN 360 (i.e., no TV for me) Line: NU (-4)
Sadly, I can’t do a song parody for this week’s Lowes Line.
Nothing rhymes with Orange. Or with Syracuse. An
allegorical preview that makes strained allusions to the Glorious
Revolution, Scottish protestants and the Dutch seems too pedantic, even
On the other hand, one would think that there is a wealth of potential
material to be mined from the vapid history of Syracuse mascots.
I imagine that a mascot dust-up this weekend would involve little more
than a perplexed Air Willie trying to decide how to react to a giant
orange beachball whose primary offensive attack consists of running
into a wall, Mr. Kool-Aid style, only to bounce back in a spray of
pulpy citrus. And this is the mascot that replaced the oddly
offensive “Saltine Warrior” who held sway over Syracuse athletic events
for more than 40 years. I can see where the average Native
American might be offended by the comparison to a lightly-salted, dry
(and somewhat bland) cracker. But it never seemed to bother the
Syracuse football team, whose play over the last few seasons could be
fairly compared to said crackers.
Wins against Towson and Eastern Michigan tell us next to nothing (other
than inciting some nervous jitters after letting EMU back in the game
last week). Coach Fitz has basically limited the Wildcats to the
covers of their playbooks, and has taken the opportunity to go deep
into his positional rotations in both games. Unlike NU’s first
two opponents, however, the ‘Cuse has some real talent, is from a BCS
conference, plays in a tough home stadium (the non-air conditioned
Carrier Dome) and has already played more of a Big Ten schedule than
has NU this season. [Syracuse lost in OT to Minnesota, and was
outclassed by Penn State last week.] Fitz will need to crack open
his playbook this weekend.
As hard as it is to believe, the Orange will put some legitimate talent
on the field tonight. The headlines are all about former Duke
guard Greg Paulus, who looked downright frisky against Penn
State. He won’t threaten the Heisman lists this year, but after 4
years in the Duke basketball cauldron, he has much more poise and
maturity than most first-year QBs. Paulus will win a game or two
for the Orange this season, you can book it. It helps that he has
a top flight WR in Mike Williams. Williams can keep a drive
alive, and NU’s top corner, Sherrick McManus, has a gimpy hamstring
that could keep him out of the game. Also, Delone Carter and Antwon
Bailey are solid running backs. There isn’t a true “44” on
campus, but Syracuse isn’t an empty cupboard. The main problem
for the Orange on offense is their line, which (in the words of one of
my colleagues who is a Syracuse alum) “sucks, sucks, sucks.” I
didn’t think they looked that bad against Minny and JoePa, but I’ll
trust the opinion of the only breathing Syracuse fan I know.
Hopefully, NU’s defensive line will eat ‘em up.
Speaking of eating, the Syracuse defense in recent years has been
stinkier than Swedish surstromming (trust me, that’s pretty
stinky). The defense is still not exactly good, but it is
anchored by a future NFL tackle named Arthur Jones. Frankly, I
can’t get a read on NU’s offense yet, which worries me. Have they
been handcuffed by a “just enough to win” strategy in the first two
games? Once the playbook opens up a bit, will the offense be
ready and clicking? I hope so. The key to this game will be
NU’s offensive efficiency – control the ball, no turnovers, dominate
time of possession. The Wildcats shouldn’t need big play flash
against this weak sister of the Big East. Steady, mistake-free
game management should get the job done.
My biggest fear is that the Wildcats come out flat, expecting to
sleepwalk to a win against another crummy opponent. A big play or
two from Paulus/Williams, an off day by Kafka and Co., and NU could be
looking at a disappointing loss. Syracuse has the benefit of
intangibles: home field (the Carrier Dome is not a good place to
visit), and a desperate need to win this game. The Big (L)east is
down, down, down this year, and a lousy team like Syracuse could make
some unexpected noise. Also, the Orange have a Div-IAA/FCS team
on their schedule next week, and they would love to be 2-2 going into
conference play. The players, coaches and fans view tomorrow
night as a pivotal game for their season. I suspect the Wildcats
are thinking about this game as a win, but so is Syracuse.
hate to do this, but a Dookie and Oranges makes for an unappetizing
combo. The Wildcats stumble on the road in an upset.
Syracuse 20, NU 17. Take Syracuse for the outright win.
Minny Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Wildcats (2-1, 0-0) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1, 0-0)
September 26, 2009, 11am CDT
Television: Big Ten
Location: Ryan Field,
Line: NU (-1)
Last week at the
‘Cats game in Syracuse; NU was missing several defensive starters. Coach Fitz
hoped his offense could make up for the potential defensive let down. It almost
did. Mike Kafka was 35-for-42
for 390 yards and four touchdowns, including a 3-yard TD run and TD catch. The
35 for 42 set a new NU single game completion percentage record. Unfortunately
one of those misfires was intercepted in the closing seconds of the game
allowing Syracuse to kick a FG for its first victory of the year.
This week NU hosts
the Gophers of Minnesota. Historically NU and Minnesota have been very evenly
matched teams. The last two games between NU and Minn. have been especially
exciting with the outcome being decided on the last play of the game.
In 2007 in Evanston,
the Gophers blew a 35-14 lead to allow the ‘Cats to take the game into OT. In
the second overtime, Minn. went for two points after a touchdown run by
quarterback Adam Weber. Weber's pass fell incomplete and NU won 49-48.
Last November at the
Metrodome, Minnesota entered 7-1 and ranked No.20 in the nation. After opening
5-0, the Wildcats lost two of three and trudged north without quarterback C.J.
Bacher, running back Tyrell Sutton and linebacker Malcolm Arrington. Somehow,
backup Mike Kafka crafted a dream game. He galloped for a Big Ten quarterback
record 217 yards, threw for another 143 and had a hand in all but three yards of
the Wildcats' total offense. In final 5 minutes of 17-17 tie game both teams
were trying not to lose. Then Minnesota decided to try and win the game and
lost it. Minn QB Weber threw late over the middle. Safety Brendan Smith
intercepted it and weaved his way for 48 yards and a touchdown to give NU a
Of course the best
ending between NU and Minnesota was 2000. There are no words that can compete
with the video, so here it is:
Last week the Gophers
fell to eighth-ranked California 35-21 after being tied with the Golden Bears
21-21 early in the fourth quarter. Cal running back Jahvid Best tied a school
record with five rushing TDs and went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the
seventh straight game.
This year should
prove to be another close and exciting game as the teams are once again evenly
matched as evidence by Minn. beating Syracuse in OT and NU losing to Syracuse on
the last play of the game.
Minnesota is led by
their All-American receiver Eric Decker. He is a man among boys on the field.
NU must be aware of him at all times and keep him double covered on third down
if they expect to win. The stat of the game should be third down completions
for first downs to Decker. If NU can hold the Gophers to three or fewer the
‘Cats can win. More than three and the Gophers will roll (or dig or whatever
The Minnesota defense
is decent but not outstanding. I would say the same about NU’s but now I am
starting to wonder. The defense was supposed to be the strength of NU’s team
this year but giving up 34 to Syracuse turns that notion on its head. Sherrick
McMannis, NU’s shutdown cornerback does appear healthy enough to start. He must
have a big game for NU to contend.
On Saturday look for
the points to come early and often as both offenses should be better than the
respective defenses. After close losses in 2007 and 2008 I think the sun will
finally shine on Minnesota and they will squeak out a win.
Pick: The law of
averages catches up with the ‘Cats allowing the Gophers to pull out a close
Minnesota 30 – NU
27. Gophers win outright.
Season to date: 3-0
outright, 2-1 against the spread.
Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) at Purdue Boilermakers (1-3, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, October 3, 2009, 11:00 am CDT
Television: Big Ten Network
Line: Purdue (-8); Over/under 57
The 'Cats slink into West Lafayette on a 2-game losing streak. I think all
we've learned about the 'Cats thus far is that they're a good bully when
inferior opponents come to call, but revert to the Mildcats when any sort of
decent opponent arrives. Which team will show up today against the
Mike Kafka has not been the running threat he showed against Minnesota last
year. His throwing has been uneven, resulting in a sparkling 72% completion
percentage, but only 5 TDs against 3 interceptions. He needs to get started and
be more effective with the football. This was highlighted last week against the
Gophers, as Kafka's two fumbles late killed any chance the 'Cats had to come
back against the Gophers. The 'Cats are running the ball by committee, with 3
backs having more than 20 carries (Simmons, Schmidt, Fields). Andrew Brewer has
been the receiving leader with an 18.7 yards per catch average (that statistic
is somewhat inflated by his 72 yard TD reception).
The Boilers open their Big Ten season fresh off a heartbreaking loss against
Notre Dame, losing the game in the waning seconds of the game. That has been a
recurring theme for the Boilermakers this season, as each of their three losses
have been by three points or less (one of those losses was at home to Northern
Illinois). The Boilers represent the 4th team in 2009 (out of 5 opponents) led
by a first-year coach, in this case Danny Hope. Under center is senior
quarterback Joey Elliot who tends to be as generous with the football as Kafka.
Elliot has thrown 7 TDs, but completed passes to guys in the wrong uniforms 6
times; not a good ratio. Sophomore sensation Ralph Bolden leads the Big Ten in
rushing, averaging 122.0 yards per game.
The key to this game will be the defenses of each team, and how they stop the
threat posed by their opponents' offenses. Can the 'Cats contain Bolden and
prevent him from running wild? Can they do this while giving proper respect to
the passing attack posed by the Boilers (while Drew Brees and Joe Tiller are
gone, it is Purdue after all). Can the Boilermaker defense contain Kafka's arm
and the three-headed backfield of NU?
Neither team's defense has played consistently well against quality opponents.
The Boilers allowed the Fighting Irish to march down the field and score the
winning touchdown late in the 4th quarter. The 'Cats defense couldn't hold the
Gophers off the board after scoring to close the third quarter (in fairness to
the defense, the second TD surrendered to the Gophers came after a turnover deep
in Cat territory). In case it's not apparent, smart money takes the over in
Pick: It's a shootout, last team with the ball wins. I think the Cats have it
last. The Boilers' close game woes continue.
NU 34, Purdue 31.
Season to date: Straight up, 4-0. Against the spread, 3-1
Miami (O) Preview and Prediction
Matchup: Miami Redhawks (Redskins until recently) 0-5 at NU Wildcats 3-2
Date: Saturday, October 10, 2009, 11:00 am CDT Television: Big Ten Network Weather: Sunny, high of 56F Line: NU (-18.5); Over/under 55.5
WOW!! Are the cardiac 'Cats back?? After a dismal beginning that
included a fumble on their first play from scrimmage and a 21-3 hole,
NU then went on a 20 play 9:30 minute drive and came away with nothing,
nada, zilch, zero. Stopped on 4th and 1, many a NU fan walked away
disgusted. BUT WAIT, an int and a quick scamper from Arby Fields-- who
appears to be the heir apparent to Sutton-- made it 21-10. A fumble on
the subsequent kickoff led to a Demos field goal, and it was 21-13.
Kickoff again and Purdue went out to run out the clock. Purdue fumbled
again and the 'Cats kicked a field goal to end the half down only 5,
13 points in the final 1:31 has to be putting some serious gray in the
Boilermaker coach. Of course he deserves it after calling a timeout as
time was running out against Notre Dame the week before. Seriously, the
Irish had 4th down with about 30 seconds to play on Purdue's 3
yard line, needing a touchdown. Notre Dame lacking a timeout was
scrambling and PURDUE calls timeout to set up their defense.
WHAT!! Needless to say the stinking Irish score and win, but I
The 3rd quarter was punctuated by defense and NU kicking another field
goal. Trailing 21-19, NU forced the 6th turnover by the Boilermakers
and Kafka made them pay. With 2:09 left, Kafka scored and the 'Cats
went up 27-21. Purdue wasn't done and it took a 4th and goal stand as
time was expiring for the 'Cats to hold on as they won their first,
much needed Big 10 victory.
The Redhawks from Oxford, OH (a great campus in a good college town)
were manhandled by Cincinnati last week, falling to 0-5, and have lost
their last 10 in a row. Miami has been shut out by the likes of
Kentucky and Boise State, and it was beaten soundly by Western
Michigan, Kent State and the aforementioned Bearcats. The
Redhawks are led by QB Zac Dysert who leads the team in passing.
He also leads the team in rushing with a whopping 135 yards in 5 games
(that can't be a good stat).
This game shouldn't be close. Fitz needs to get the 'Cats to come out
and take the Redhawks out of the game early. A comfortable 24-3
halftime lead should be exactly what Fitz should be shooting for in
this game. Kafka has to limit mistakes and Arby just needs to pound the
ball down their throats. Enough of the analysis, if the 'Cats plan on
getting to a bowl, this is a must win and the 'Cats need to make a
statement. This will get the 'Cats to 4 victories, needing 3 more to
get to a bowl.
Pick: It shouldn't be close. NU 34, Miami 13. Take the 'Cats and the points
Season to date: Straight up, 5-0. Against the spread, 4-1. Vegas here we come.
MSU Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Northwestern University Wildcats (4-2, 1-1) at Michigan State University
Spartans (3-3, 2-1) Date: Saturday, October 17, 2009, 11:00 am CDT Television: ESPN2 Weather: Partly cloudy, high of 48F, slight
chance of rain Line: NU (+13.5); Over/under 51.5
“Underwhelmed” is probably the best way to describe a Northwestern fan’s
reaction to last week’s game.Against a
substantially weaker opponent, Northwestern controlled the game, but failed to
deliver a knockout blow and allowed the Miami RedHawks to remain within
striking distance throughout the game. NU’s defense clearly overmatched the Redhawks. However, the concern is
the team’s offense that seemed unable or unwilling to take advantage of a weaker
team.Kafka went 15 for 31 for only 191 passing yards, but also limited critical
mistakes that have hurt the 'Cats in their previous games.Hopefully, the team was experiencing a
temporary letdown against an inferior opponent and will turn up the intensity
Next up are the
Spartans of Michigan State.What is it
about this team? Since I grew up within
spitting distance from the MSU campus, I usually cover this game for the Lowes Line, and
each time I shake my head at the Spartan’s failure to reach their potential.
Year after year, they enter the season
with high hopes only to fail in big games by the end of the season. The big knock is usually a lack of discipline
and that trait has been a constant for as long as I’ve been following
football… regardless of coach, players, or opponent. This year seems to be no different.On one hand, they beat Michigan two weeks ago
in OT (always a big game), they’ve been in every game so far, and have shown
flashes of a powerhouse offense. On the
other, their three losses were by 8 or less and they lost to Central Michigan
University in a game they were clearly supposed to win. For NU, that means if they can get ahead or
stay close, MSU may fold under the pressure.
enters the game as a two touchdown underdog and based on the Spartan’s ability
to score, I can see the underdog tag, but two touchdowns seems a bit high. The Wildcat defense is significantly better
when Sherrick McManis is on the field, as he should be for his second straight game
on Saturday. The secret may be NU’s
ability to slow down an above average MSU rushing attack and force them to throw
into the NU defense’s strength. Let’s
hope Corey Wootton is able to continue his progress and contribute a sack or two
to the cause. On offense, it’s the same
old story.MSU is clearly vulnerable if
Kafka can avoid the drive killing interceptions and fumbles that can cost them
NU is rightly
an underdog, but the game is definitely winnable if the 'Cats can avoid falling
behind early. The more pressure on MSU
at home, the better.Still, I’m calling
for the 'Cats to lose the game by less than the two touchdown spread and I’ll be
happy to have underestimated them if they can pull out a
MSU 30, NU 27. Take
the 'Cats and the points Season
to date: Straight up, 6-0. Against the spread, 4-2. Vegas
Indiana Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat
Matchup: Indiana Hoosiers (4-3, 1-2) at
Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 1-2)
Date: Saturday, October 24, 2009, 11:00 am CDT
Television: Big Ten Network
Line: NU (-6)
What can you say about this year’s Homecoming game for the
‘Cats? It’s an absolute must-win if a bowl game is in the cards, period. No two
ways about it. The question out there is whether this team is good enough to
really warrant a postseason berth at all. Look at the results to date: Losses at
Syracuse in giving the game away down the stretch, at home where they folded in
the second half against the Gophers, and at East Lansing, where the defense
played for 3 quarters against Michigan State. Wins in beating up on a Div 1-AA
team, needing a last second field goal against Eastern Michigan, turning six
turnovers into no more than 27 points in a close one at Purdue, and only putting
up 16 points against a winless Miami (OH) squad. Hardly impressive. They say you
are what you are, and NU is indeed 4-3, but it has not been pretty to date. Best
case scenario, do we really need to spend Boxing Day watching a 6-6 NU squad get
the crap kicked out of them by a MAC team in, of all things, the Little Caesars
Pizza Bowl? Bottom line, this Lowes Liner doesn’t think the 'Cats have the
special sauce this year to pull an upset that gets them to a guaranteed
postseason berth. I’d love to be proven wrong, and it all starts with Indiana
this week in Evanston.
Last week against the Spartans, NU showed pockets of brilliance,
putting on a stoic display on the defensive side of the ball for the first
thirty minutes, holding MSU scoreless. Then the third quarter happened, and
Sparty & Co. never looked back. Kafka played well, completing a high
percentage of his high-percentage passes in going 34-47 for 291 yards and two
TDs. What is somewhat unclear is why the offensive line continues to struggle.
The running game for NU is almost non-existent, and it results in Kafka throwing
the ball quite a bit, which is fine as long as it yields something. The spread
offense for four yard completions is the gameplan, and in the words of Dr.
Ullery, is "the new three yards and a cloud of dust."
Indiana comes in fresh off a win over what has become a joke of
a team in Illinois. How did that Illini program do a 360 so quickly? (No, not a
180, but a 360, in bad to good and back to bad again). Never underestimate the
influence Chief Illiniwek had. Anyway, the Hoosiers have gotten to 4-3 by
beating up on inferior competition, losing games they would never likely have
won, and taking one of their few chances for a conference win. Indy is led by
junior QB Ben Chappell, who has had some impressive outings, most notably last
week against Illinois where he threw for 333 yards and three TDs. But he also
has the tendency to throw 'em away as well, as his 7 INTs in the seven games
attests. The running game is by committee for the Hoosiers, mostly split between
senior Demetrius McCray and freshman Darius Willis. The defense is not
impressive, and NU should be able to move the ball on this squad. The lingering
question isn't whether the 'Cats can move the ball successfully, which they have
been doing all year, but whether they can put points on the board.
NU's defense should be able to contain the Hoosier offense. A
question mark is in the secondary, which had periodic lapses last week. Once
again, Kafka's 'Cats will move the ball up and down the gridiron, but will they
take advantage of what will likely be several trips to the red zone? Hopefully
the 'Cats get the running game going, and that Arby "Beef n' Cheddar" Fields
provides a little more of a balanced offensive attack.
Point to Ponder....those who ignore history are doomed to repeat
it -- last time Indiana won in Evanston, a newly elected Democratic president
was also nine months into his term, with grandiose plans to revamp the
healthcare system and giving millions of voters buyer’s remorse, scratching
their heads and saying they can’t believe they voted for this guy. The year: 1993. Hopefully the Evanston drought continues for Indy.
After all the negativity, you'd think I'd go against the
'Cats. Not on Homecoming. Not with household name and Bears linebacker
Nick Roach as the parade's grand marshall. But not with the spread.
Pick: 'Cats win, Hoosiers cover: NU 24, Indy 20. Take the
Hoosiers and the points.
Season to date: Straight up, 7-0. Against the spread, 5-2.
Penn State Preview and Prediction
Matchup: #12 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-1, 3-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (5-3, 2-2) Date: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 3:30 pm CDT Television: ESPN Line: Penn State (-15)
What a game last week for homecoming. The 'Cats spotted the
Hoosiers 21 points before blinking an eye (scoring on 1st play from
scrimmage), managed a field goal, and then on the ensuing kickoff gave
up a 93 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Cardiac 'Cats
cut it to 28-17 by halftime after Kafka threw to Zeke to finish out the
half. The 3rd quarter was marked by a blocked punt for a safety
(could have been a touchdown) and then Indiana marched down the
field. Up 28-19, Bill Lynch (the IU coach) decided to go for it
on 4th and goal from inside the 3. The Hoosiers didn't make it
and the 'Cats had some life. Lynch could have gone up 2
touchdowns with a chip shot field goal. Needless to say, they
didn't make it. Early in the 4th quarter, Kafka hit Brewer for a
huge play and the 'Cats pulled to within 2. This set up the final
drive. As time expired Demos kicked a 19 yard field goal to give
the 'Cats 29-28 homecoming victory. A collective sigh of relief
from every 'Cats fan as the Lowes Line stays perfect straight up and
moves to 6-2 against the spread.
This week is going to be a challenge. The once-beaten Nittany
Lions come visiting the 'Cats as 15 point favorites after a convincing
victory at the Big House-- 35-10. The Wolverines opened the game
with an 11 play 70 yard touchdown drive but were held to 180 yards and
3 points the rest of the game. The Lions are led by senior
quarterback Daryll Clark. Clark is the Big 10's leading passer
with 148.4 rating and has 17 touchdowns on the season. Junior
running back Evan Royster handles the smash duties with a nice 5.7
yards per carry average but most of the damage will come through the
air. Penn State's defense is 18th in the nation in interceptions
with 10 and if Kafka isn't careful, they very well could pad those
stats this weekend. Kafka leads the Big 10 in passing yards but
his 3 interceptions last week almost killed the 'Cats. NU has to
find some consistent rushing attack. Is Scott Concannon the
answer? Last week, he carried 16 times for 73 yards and
hopefully he can provide some consistency in the backfield. The
NU defense is struggling with injuries and CB Sherrick McManis left the
game last week with an injured leg and is doubtful this week.
Late afternoon start on ESPN, the tailgates will be open all day and
the beverages will be flowing (wait a minute, NU doesn't want the
undergrads to have fun anymore, scratch that). Late afternoon
start, the alumni will have the wine and scotch flowing. It will
be a raucous crowd (do you think attendance might break 25,000?) on the
big stage. Can the 'Cats pull out a huge victory???
Weather:60s, Mostly Sunny, Very Slight Chance of
looked good early last week as NU lead the PSU Nittany Lions 10-3 in the second
quarter, but an injury to Kafka seemed to take the wind out of the team’s sails
and they ended up losing 34-13.Kafka’s
backup, Dan Persa, was unable to lead the offense to additional points, settling
only for a single field goal.Persa’s
post game quotes suggest he was not mentally prepared for the adversity of
facing a tough defense, but there were glimmers of hope for the future.The defense held up reasonably well for the
majority of the game, but lapses in the fourth quarter lead to three Penn State
touchdowns in four minutes when the game was tied at 13-13.Fortunately, Kafka is expected to play this
weekend since Persa demonstrated he needs a little more maturing before taking
last week was a challenge, this week is approaching a suicide mission.Iowa enters the game ranked No. 4 with no
losses.Although they’ve trailed their
opponent in 8 of 9 games and trailed in the fourth quarter in 4 games this year,
their relentless rushing attack, solid quarterback play, and strong defense have
come back every time so far.Statistically on both offense and defense, the two teams’ totals appear
evenly matched (in fact, their average score per game is exactly the same at
25.7/game) but further examination reveals the only difference that
matters:Iowa has allowed 16 touchdowns
(or 15.8 pts per game) against it this year…Northwestern:29 tds (or 24.8 points per game).The totals also hide the fact that Iowa’s
tandem running backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher both average more than a
yard per carry more than NU’s best rusher.
Wildcats have shown that they can raise to the challenge and remain competitive
with better teams (of course, they’ve also shown they tend to perform poorly
against worse teams), so this should remain a watchable game, particularly
considering the Hawkeye’s penchant for playing from behind.Unfortunately, it would seem that Iowa’s
consistent pressure on the defense will eventually wear the 'Cats down and lead
to late mistakes, just as it did last week against Penn State.
formula for success is simple...they have to avoid turnovers.If they do that, then they have a chance to
score more than 20 points and NU’s high risk, high reward defensive approach
just might produce something magical as the Hawkeyes are susceptible to the
But don’t bet on it. Hawkeyes 34 - Wildcats 20. Take the Wildcats and the
to date: Straight up, 9-0. Against the spread, 6-3
Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (6-4, 3-3) at U of Illinois Fighting Illini (3-6, 2-5)
Date: Saturday, November 14, 2009, 11:00 am CST
Television: ESPN Classic
Line: Illini -4
Last week The Lowes Line had this to say heading into Iowa City:
My formula for success is
simple...they have to avoid turnovers. If they do that, then they
have a chance to score more than 20 points and NU's high risk, high
reward defensive approach just might produce something magical as the
Hawkeyes are susceptible to the interception.
It wasn't an interception but a sack that turned out to be the magical
play for the 'Cats' defense. Early in the second quarter Cory
Wooten sacked Iowa's Stanzi in the end zone. The ball came loose
and NU recovered for its first touchdown of the game. Even worse
for Iowa was that Stanzi's ankle nearly snapped in two on the
takedown. The life was sucked out of the Iowa crowd as Stanzi was
helped to the sidelines, not to return.
Kafka started at QB for the 'Cats but was ineffective as he could not
run at all. Third down conversions that he would have easily
scrambled for were not to be. He was replaced by Persa who looked
better than last week and engineered and short field TD drive after
another Iowa INT, but Persa is unwilling or unable to throw
downfield. Iowa quickly realized that and when dared to throw
Persa would come up short.
NU led 14-10 at half and the second half remained a pillow fight as
both offenses were ineffective. Surprisingly Iowa was not able to
run the ball on NU, even though NU was NOT stacking the box.
Later in the half Persa took a hard hit and was taken to the locker
room for x-rays on his hand. Kafka re-entered the game and
engineered a FG drive with some pin point passing. 17-10
'Cats. Iowa got the ball back one more time but the Wildcat D was
too much for the inexperienced Iowa back-up QB. Fitz gets his
first signature victory as the Wildcats of Northwestern defeat the
previously unbeaten Iowa Hawkeyes 17-10. The SI cover jinx is
REAL! Oh yeah, and good luck to the Iowa back-up QB heading to
the Horseshoe this weekend for the de facto Big Ten championship game.
This week the 'Cats head down state to Champaign Urbana to face the
middling Illini. This is the inaugural game for the "Land of
Lincoln/Obama" trophy that replaces the Sweet Sioux tomahawk. NU
will have both Kafka and Persa available for the game but neither at
100%. Kafka has unevenly improved as the year has
gone on and is the better choice. Your quarterback must be able to throw the ball, at least occasionally, to win.
Illinois has plummeted from their Rose Bowl trip of a few years ago,
and no one seems to know why. Juice Williams is still there but
it banged up and questionable for the game. This game is really
not about UI though as the 'Cats just need to play solid to win.
As always they must win the turnover battle. Also the offense
must have at least one long sustained drive each quarter to give the
defense a rest. The defense is decent but as shown in the PSU
game if put back on the field repeatedly after several 3 and outs, they
This is another must win game for the 'Cats if they want to go
bowling. Yes, they are bowl eligible but so will almost everyone
else by the end of the season. They need this game to guarantee a
winning record and a bowl trip.
Earlier in the week I was very confident in the 'Cats but that feel has
been dwindling. Still after watching last week's game I have to
believe in them.
The Wildcats win by a hair, 26-24.
Pick: Take the 'Cats, they will win (or at least cover).
Season to date: Straight up, 9-1. Against the spread, 7-3
Wisconsin Preview and Prediction (Plus Bonus Hoops Preview)
Date: Saturday, November 21, 2009, 3:30 pm EST Television: Big Ten
Network Line: Wisconsin (-6)
I had to settle for catching last week's rivalry game against Illinois on
XM, which broadcast the Illini home feed. It made the game seem to be a much
closer affair than it really was (at least in the second half). This was mostly
due to a surprisingly poor day from kicker Stefan Demos. Given the second tier
broadcasting work from the Illini radio team, it was impossible to tell if NU's
OL was doing great work protecting a still-lame Mike Kafka, or if the 'Cats were
just amazingly lucky to avoid disaster on every single offense snap. It was
similarly difficult to discern how Northwestern's defense could possibly stop
the reincarnation of the Joe Montana 49ers masquerading as the Illini offense
(unless you consider the fact that the Wildcat 11 were aided by 5 extra
defenders disguised as corrupt, biased or blind zebras). As you can tell, I did
not enjoy my limited choice of Wildcat football broadcasters last week. I'm
glad they will be watching Air Willie on tv from their cold, dank winter hovels
in downstate Illinois this winter.
Today's tilt promises to be a massive improvement, thanks to BTN in HD.
The little grapes and I are already geared up, ready to cheer the boys on in a
tough season finale against the 'Sconsin Rodents. Even PurpleCatDog is so
excited that he can't stop butt-scooting across the newly steam-cleaned family
room shag. Thanks to the unbalanced schedules in the Big Televen, NU hasn't
faced their surly northern neighbors since 2006, when Coach Fitz was still
working through his first year on the job. History and karma on on the side of
all that is pure and good (i.e., Northwestern). The Badgers haven't won in
Evanston in 10 years, and they will be facing a disgruntled former
employee staring across the field from the Wildcat sideline (NU defensive
coordinator Mike Hankwitz). The outcome is likely to have minimal impact on
each school's post-season bowl prospects, so they can each just go play football
without worrying about the Big Ten out-of-town scoreboard.
We are expecting a good, old-fashioned tussle between solid teams. NU's
defense and passing offense have proven to be just fine this season, and the
offensive line really is coming together. NU still has a hard time rushing the
ball, which is not only frustrating, but likely fatal against a power team like
Wisconsin. Having watched a fair number of Badgers games this season (have I
mentioned my passionate love affair with BTN-HD?), it is hard to be particularly
scared or impressed. They are a good team, not great, but solid everywhere.
They are the type of team NU could knock off if they hit on all cylinders, but
they are also the type of team that will likely live up to a mid-teens ranking
and take care of business in a game they are expected to win. Look for Kafka to
have a good numbers day, with not enough points to show for it. Look for the NU
running game... and just keep looking. Look for NU's defense will keep it close
for much of the day. But most of all, look for Wisconsin to pull away a bit in
the second half, just enough to cover.
Pick: Wisconsin 31, Wildcats 21. The Land of Porn and Cheese
Season to date: 10-1 straight up, 8-3 ATS. Top that,
BONUS ANNUAL NORTHWESTERN HOOPS PREVIEW
This is a hard one to write. I spent a couple of weeks thinking of clever
and exciting ways to lead into the one hoops preview I've been wanting to write
for years. I was ready to make the call. This NU hoops team was ready to break
the seal and to make the school's first trip to NCAA nirvana. I was even trying
to figure out which first round site was the most likely place to host a 10-seed
Northwestern team, so I could line up tickets now.
Then Kevin Coble broke his foot last week (Lisfranc fracture, surgery, out
for the season). Then senior swingman Jeff Ryan shredded his ACL in the opening
game against Northern Illinois. Rat farts.
But here's the thing. There are 5 stages of hoops disappointment (I am
making these up as I go):
- Denial (Kevin Coble can rehab it and make it back for the stretch drive!
- Rage (I stuffed all of my basketball preview magazines into the toilet
for a massive flush. A bad idea, by the way.)
- Hunger (I missed breakfast this morning, and am taking the little grapes
out for a Jersey Diner special to lay a base for the NU/Wisconsin game).
- Acceptance (I tuned in the Butler game on Wednesday night anyway. I was
glad I did.)
- Hope (NU is still making the NCAA field. Book it.)
You read that right. Even with our best player on the shelf, I'm still
calling for the end of our basketball exile. So there, fate. You can shove
those lightning bolts right up your tailpipe.
There is no denying that losing Coble is a massive, massive hit. It's
tempting to say that NU will need to wait a year, get Coble back from a medical
redshirt as a fifth-year senior, and predict a NCAA berth in 2011. But while
Coble is the WIldcats' best player, he wasn't going to get them over the hump on
his own. The remaining players are darn good in their own rights.
If it weren't for Michigan State star Kalin Lucas, I wouldn't hesitate to
name Michael "Juice" Thompson the league's top point guard. Juice can be an
assassin from behind the arc, and he runs Coach Carmody's offense with a steady
hand, good head, and enough flair to make NU's system offense really fun to
watch. In Coble's absence, it will be Thompson that will need to lead this
team. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a true back-up, so he'll also probably
need to lead the league in minutes played. It's a tall assignment for the 5-10
Thompson, but you can tell Carmody believes he can handle it.
G-F John Shurna started all 31 games as a freshman last season, then spent
the off-season playing on the gold medal United States U-19 team. Shurna needs
to raise every part of his game (especially his 3-point shot) if he's going to
help fill the playmaking hole left by Coble. It says here Shurna will shine as
Guard and sixth man star Jeremy Nash was one of the most exciting players
on the court for most of NU's games last season. Nash thrives in the Wildcats'
1-3-1 zone defense, where sometimes it seems like he's a 9-foot tall dervish on
springs (rather than the modest 6-4 guard listed in the program). This is where
the loss of Coble is most directly felt, as Nash will be pushed into a starting
slot. It's hard to imagine that he can bring the same energy throughout a long
season as a starter as he does off the bench. Nash will need to pace himself a
bit, which hopefully won't also mean holding back too much.
The Wildcats' two big freshmen last season, 7-0 Kyle Rowley and 6-11 Luka
Mirkovic, are more experienced sophomores. Rowley in particular already looks
much improved since a year ago. Both bring slightly different things to the
table, and Carmody will go back and forth with them quite often through a game
(Rowley typically starts, but Mirkovic will get more minutes).
Coach Carmody landed two more excellent freshmen in this year's recruiting
class. G/F Drew Crawford was a bit of a coup. The son of the veteran ref is
from Naperville, and already this season it looks like he will play a major
role, maybe even taking control of a starting spot. Fellow freshman guard Alex
Marcotullio is a shooter. Maybe not Craig Moore, but he's got the talent to
contribute right away this season.
NU's bench is deep and experienced. Forwards Ivan Peljusic, Davide
Curletti and Mike Capocci will get plenty of minutes. The loss of senior guard
Jeff Ryan will hurt the team's depth, and more responsibility will fall on guard
Nick Fruendt as a result.
The Big Ten is a very good conference this season, especially at the top
(Mich.St., Purdue, Ohio St., Illinois). But the middle is a scrum of quality
teams, and any of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and NU will able to make a
good case for an NCAA bid in March. So if the conference is that good, why do I
think that an NU team without Kevin Coble can compete? Well, for as deep as the
conference is, every team has its flaws. That gives Coach Carmody an opening in
every conference game. I'm not convinced that Michigan or Minnesota are any
better than NU (even without Coble). Wisconsin and Penn State lost too much
from last season, and lack the experience enjoyed by the Wildcats. NU has a
very workable nonconference schedule, which includes enough RPI-boosting teams
that a 8-2 record seems not only possible, but likely. (By the way, make sure
to go see Luke Harangody and Notre Dame next weekend. He's good.) On the flip
side, losing any of those expected wins (say to NCSt or Stanford) would be an
At the end of the day, I just liked the way NU played this week against #10
Butler. Sure, NU lost by 13, and got blown off the floor early in the second
half (when it was painfully obvious they really, really, really, really, missed
a playmaking scoring machine like Kevin Coble, who could have kept NU in that
game when Butler went on its run after halftime). But NU showed toughness,
resiliency and, weirdly, confidence against a very good Butler team. The
Wildcats are deep, experienced, good defensively, good shooters, and they have
been thinking of themselves as a tournament team all this time also. Darn it,
I'm not giving up the dream that easily. I'm sticking with NU as an at-large
selection in March (probably as a 12, rather than the 9 or 10 I was hoping
for). When Coble comes back as a 5th year senior, he will need to help get the
Wildcats to their first ever back-to-back tournament appearances.
Lowes Line Outback Bowl Edition
By Jersey Cat
Bowl - Northwestern Wildcats (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) vs. Auburn Tigers (7-5, 3-5
<>Date: Friday, Jan. 1,
2010. 10:00 am CST>
After what has to be
considered by all NU fans as a successful season, the 'Cats end up playing in a
New Year's Day bowl game for the first time in thirteen years. Since 1995, NU
has played in a bowl game on six occasions, losing them all. This year, after
an 8-4 regular season, NU is back in the postseason, taking on Auburn in the
Back in August,
plenty of ‘Cats fans were looking happily at the very weak out of conference
schedule, yet being concerned at the fact that long standing skill position
players, specifically at quarterback and tailback, had been lost to graduation
in the form of CJ Bacher and Tyrell Sutton. Although the non-conference
schedule was not very intimidating, the Big Ten slate was. In this Lowes Liners
opinion, 7-5 would have been a successful year. For the most part, NU won the
games they were supposed to, except for the Syracuse debacle, and got the few
needed upsets to make it a very good year. In particular, the wins against Iowa
and Wisconsin made the season. It looked bleak after the second half collapse
against Penn State, even though QB Mike Kafka left with an injury. But NU came
storming back in November, finishing the season with three strong wins on their
way to playing on New Year’s Day.
Northwestern QB Mike
Kafka has had a very solid year, hitting about 65% of his passes for close to
2,900 yards. The passing game is definitely the strong suit of the Wildcat
offense, and Kafka has a cadre of receivers to throw to, including four who have
had over 30 receptions on the season. The running game has been less
spectacular, and the overall success the ‘Cats have had is actually impressive
when you consider opponents are able to prepare more for the passing game,
knowing it’s coming. That said, this Auburn defense is not exactly the Steel
Curtain. They give up almost 27 points a game, and NU should be able to move
the ball and score some points on this squad.
gives up a fair amount of points, just north of 23 a game, and containing this
Auburn offense will not be easy. Tiger running back Ben Tate is a quality back,
averaging 5.2 yards per carry on his way to over 1,200 yards for the year. NU’s
Corey Wootton, the standout defensive end who injured his knee in last year’s
Alamo Bowl, finally started to come back into his own in November, and he’ll
need to be in top form for the ‘Cats to get the victory. Auburn offensive
coordinator Gus Malzahn is one who lays claim to inventing the “Wildcat”
offense, and the Tiger spread will be in full effect in Tampa, something NU has
not had to spend a lot of time defending in the Big Ten.
The field conditions
could play a significant impact in this game. Reports call for a 60-70% chance
of rain during parts of the game, which could slow down the offensive attack for
both teams, and holding onto the ball could become a challenge. I like the
experience of the NU secondary, and in all honesty, I can’t imagine a team
wanting a win more than NU wants this one. Coach Fitz has publicly stated that
nothing short of a bowl victory should be the goal for the season, and ending
the sixty-one year drought since the lone NU bowl victory is squarely in the
crosshairs of the team.
Pick: War Eagle
talons clipped, 'Cats end bowl drought.
Auburn 31. Take NU and the points.