Post-Game Analysis: Illinois State
by Jonathan Hodges
The Wildcats took care of business against the FCS member Illinois State
Redbirds on Saturday, cruising to a 37-3 victory thanks to another efficient performance from QB
Dan Persa and a solid effort from the entire defense. Northwestern held a 30-3
lead at halftime and used much of the second half as a chance to get valuable
playing time for many younger members of the Wildcats.
offense started off the game in a groove, scoring on five of their first six
drives that included four touchdowns. Persa tossed two TDs to Drake Dunsmore
while running for another, and Arby Fields, who had a respectable game on the
ground, also hit paydirt. All in all, the NU offense racked up 318 yards of
total offense in the first half, with Persa accounting for 253 of those thanks
to going 19-of-22 passing during that time.
And the defense followed
suit, allowing just a field goal and racking up two interceptions in the first
half, both by LB Quentin Davie. Both of those interceptions set up
touchdown-scoring drives for the Wildcats, with the latter coming just 28
seconds before halftime, allowing NU to obtain a 30-3 halftime lead that put NU
in a position to essentially run out the clock in the second half.
run out the clock is what the 'Cats did in the second half. After a quick
three-and-out, Persa was given a rest for the remainder of game as redshirt
freshman QB Evan Watkins was given the reins in his first collegiate action. He
wasn't asked to do much, throwing the ball just four times through almost two
full quarters of work, and he completed two of those passes for 31 yards,
including a nifty 21 yard toss to true freshman Venric Mark.
The story of
the second half on offense was NU running the ball to bleed the clock. The
'Cats only amassed 84 yards of offense, but were able to find the end zone one
more time with a Mike Trumpy one yard run to cap off the scoring on a drive that
was set up by a Ben Johnson fumble return on what looked like an incomplete pass
but was ruled to be a lateral.
The second half was also a perfect
opportunity for Northwestern to empty the bench, and they definitely took
advantage, with a whopping 69 players getting some playing time during the
game. For Wildcat fans, it was definitely a comfort to spend much of the second
half with a significant lead and reserves on the field getting some
The NU offense looked very solid during an efficient first half,
while the defense made plays when they needed to in order to keep ISU out of the
end zone, which is a pretty good accomplishment on a day when two more FBS teams
have already fallen to FCS opponents (the Big Ten's own Minnesota to South
Dakota and ranked Virginia Tech to James Madison).
The result should help
'Cats fans rest a little easier with NU heading down to Houston next Saturday
night to face a beatable but still dangerous Rice team. Persa is a pleasure to
watch run the offense and the defense definitely improved some things over the
last week. Hopefully we will see the 'Cats continue to build momentum as their
opponents become tougher.
Player of the
Northwestern QB Dan Persa (19-of-23 passing for 240 yards and
2 TDs, 6 carries for 14 yards and 1 TD rushing) Despite playing just one
half, Persa gets the nod here thanks to another extremely efficient performance
as he led the 'Cats to 30 first half points with what looked like relative
ease. He was "this close" to another passing TD on a pass in the end zone that
just couldn't be hauled in by Sidney Stewart. The NU offense is definitely in
good hands with him at the helm.
LB Quentin Davie (3 tackles, 2 INTs, 45 interception
return yards) Davie showed his athleticism as he racked up two leaping
interceptions at the end of the second quarter, with both of those setting up NU
TD-scoring drives. He is a legitimate defensive threat on all areas of the
field: wreaking havoc in the backfield, taking care of the ballcarrier in the
middle of the field, and covering the passing game.
DE Vince Browne (5
tackles, 2 sacks for -16 yards, 2 QB hurries) Browne made a bunch of noise
in the backfield on Saturday, which helped significantly disrupt the ISU attack
and contributed to an overall solid effort from the NU D. He is definitely NU's
top pass rusher on the DL and should continue to annoy passers for the rest of
P Brandon Williams (4 punts, 41.8 yards per punt, 1 inside
20) Once again, Williams put up some solid punting numbers and allowed the
coverage team to take care of business with booming kicks. He deserves credit
because he put the NU defense in good starting positions when the 'Cats' offense
wasn't able to reach a first down.
SB Drake Dunsmore (5 catches for 30
yards, 2 TDs) Dunsmore is clearly Persa's favorite red zone target, having
caught three red zone TD passes from the QB so far this season. He also
contributes in the running game by throwing some key blocks. Look for these
trends to continue as the season progresses.
What to Work
Running Game: Yes, NU ran the ball early and often, with
Wildcat running backs amassing 151 yards on the ground. But those numbers still
aren't spectacular, as the RBs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Arby Fields
looked better, with 96 rushing yards and a TD while gaining an average of 4.4
yards per carry. But with a talented and experienced offensive line clearing
the way along with a very good looking passing game, the running game should be
better. At least there was improvement, although there is room for
Placekicking: A week after having a field goal blocked and
experiencing a bad hold that prevented an extra point attempt, Stefan Demos
missed a 45-yard field goal and an extra point. While leaving four points on
the field this week didn't hurt, NU will need to execute at a higher level in
the inevitable close games that 'Cats fans know will come.
Attendance: Listed at 25,471, attendance was
respectable on a day that included heavy rain up through the first few minutes
of the football game. Thankfully the precipitation subsided and gave way to a
great day for football, and it also thankfully didn't hamper attendance too
much. Yes, Band Day and the "Wrigley boost" helped, but NU will take it. The
attendance was also the best at Ryan Field for a non-conference game since
nearby Northern Illinois visited in 2005. Hopefully this is a sign of even
better things to come this season.
Atmosphere: First, the sound
system was a huge improvement, with two sets high-powered speakers now
positioned on top of the Randy Walker Terrace just beyond the north end zone.
NUMB didn't seem to be miked in the stands yet, but that is reportedly on the
table. The new inflatable tunnel and pyrotechnics during NU's pregame entry
were also a positive addition. Finally, the new home uniforms do look good,
although the jerseys appeared to be darker than they actually are as they were
quite wet at the start of the game.
Red Zone Offense: The
Wildcats were a perfect five-of-five on red zone chances, with all five turning
into touchdowns. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, Illinois State
converted just one-of-three red zone chances, and that was a field goal. This
difference in favor of NU definitely helped the 'Cats run away with the
QB Pressure: The 'Cats' pass rush, led by Vince Browne,
racked up three sacks and eight QB hurries on the day and significantly
disrupted ISU's passing offense. On the other side of the ball, meanwhile, ISU
had just one sack (for -1 yards) and one QB hurry, which allowed Persa to once
again put on a show.
The Wildcats took
care of business and a very efficient first half allowed the reserves to get
some valuable playing time through the second half. Northwestern has outscored
its last four FCS opponents by a cumulative score of 145-24 after the
disappointing loss to New Hampshire in 2006. The game definitely increased the
confidence and comfort level of the 'Cats heading into the two win-able but
challenging remaining non-conference games at Rice and versus Central
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