Post-Game Analysis: Central Michigan
by Jonathan Hodges
For the second time in three seasons, the Northwestern Wildcats (4-0, 0-0) went
undefeated in regular season non-conference play thanks to a 30-25 win over
Central Michigan (2-2) in an error filled game for both teams (and the
officials, for that matter). While it wasn't pretty, it was a win for the
'Cats, and we'll all take that any day.
NU started things off pretty well
in the first quarter with an 11 play 73 yard touchdown drive on their second
possession of the game capped off by, what else, Dan Persa's 7th TD toss of
the year, a 24 yarder to Jeremy Ebert on a third-and-long. Although NU had the
extra point blocked, it was still a decent start to the
Unfortunately, the NU defense didn't fare quite as well, allowing
CMU to answer quickly on a 5 play quick strike TD drive that included two plays
of 20+ yards. Thankfully NU DT Jack DiNardo kept the Chippewas from taking the
lead by blocking their extra point attempt, which turned out to be just the
second of multiple special teams gaffes for both sides.
continued in the second quarter when DiNardo blocked Central Michigan's
potential lead-taking FG attempt, again preserving the tie game. That gave NU
momentum, and the offense took advantage by driving down and punching it in for
a 13-7 lead thanks to a Jacob Schmidt TD run and (finally) a successful XP
NU would get the ball back on the second play of the ensuing drive
thanks to a fumble recovery by senior Corbin Bryant, putting the Wildcats in
great field position at the CMU 25. But, the moment everyone knew would come
eventually did: Persa threw his first interception of the year (after 92
consecutive pass attempts without an INT on the year), which also ruined a prime
red zone opportunity.
The first half wasn't quite over though, as CMU
systematically drove down the field and tied the game on an 11 play 88 yard
drive. The 'Cats would give it one last shot to take a lead into halftime, as a
23 yard pass completion from Persa to Demetrius Fields gave PK Stefan Demos room
for a 45 yard field goal try. Unfortunately, the kick went wide right and NU
went into halftime tied against a feisty opponent.
After forcing a
three-and-out, NU had a relatively long (play-wise) 11 play 46 yard drive for a
FG to give them a lead early in the second half. It wouldn't take very long for
NU to break it open, though, as Quentin Williams dropped back into the flat and
intercepted a pass on the very first play after the ensuing kickoff. On the
next play following that, NU took a two score lead thanks to another Persa to
Ebert TD toss (their 4th such connection of the year).
punts, including a rather bad one by Central Michigan, NU would add to its lead
thanks to a 5 play 47 yard drive, with all of those yards on the ground and
capped by a 13 yard Schmidt TD run as he earned his first multi-TD game of his
career. That put NU up by 17 in the fourth quarter, leaving the 'Cats feeling
rather comfortable at that point, especially after forcing a CMU three-and-out
on the ensuing drive. To that point, the Chippewas had gained just 56 yards and
1 first down in the second half.
But a big mistake on the following drive
would give CMU new life. NU, trying to bleed the clock, had moved the ball for
one first down and Arby Fields had the football and headed towards the sideline
on the outside but fumbled, and a Central Michigan recovery gave them a chance
to try and surmount a 17 point comeback with 11:07 remaining in
A three-and-a-half minute drive concluded with a touchdown,
but yet another blocked extra point (this time by Niko Mafuli) left CMU down
30-19. The Wildcats did all they could to bleed clock and were about to double
their efforts to four minutes thanks to a costly facemask personal foul on the
Chippewas. But NU was forced to punt, and CMU had the ball at their 14 yard
The Chippewas had a little bit of trouble moving the ball down the
field, though, and eventually faced a 4th-and-15 from the NU 45 yard line. But
CMU QB Ryan Radcliff completed a 20 yard pass to convert followed by a 25 yard
TD toss to WR Kito Poblah, who led all receivers with 6 catches for 89 yards on
the day. CMU was forced to go for two which was thankfully quashed by the
Northwestern defenders as Radcliff was sacked.
The final play of
consequence in the game was the ensuing onside kick, which NU's Drake Dunsmore
recovered with relative ease as he moved forward and tightly grabbed onto the
football to secure the win for the 'Cats.
One item which I didn't mention
in my review of the game was the amount of sloppy play on both sides of the ball
and from the officials. There were a total of 20 accepted penalties for 196
yards combined, along with 5 combined turnovers and 4 plays changed by replay
(for the officials). Oh, and don't forget the three blocked extra points (two
by the 'Cats and one by CMU), the blocked FG (by NU) and the missed FG (by NU's
Demos). While, as noted by Persa in the post-game press conference, it was a
boost in confidence to realize NU can win a game against a respectable opponent
while making so many errors, it still wasn't pretty.
But, the most
important thing is that Northwestern pulled out the win and did indeed come out
of non-conference play unscathed. It sounds like Coach Fitz and the 'Cats know
they won't have very long to celebrate, though, with a lot of things to correct
before hitting the road to play the Big Ten 2010 lid-lifter in Minneapolis next
Player of the Game
Nobody. That's right,
nobody gets my nod for player of the game. While Persa had yet another solid
outing (23-of-30 for 280 yards passing and 2 TDs along with 13 carries for 55
yards on the ground), he did throw his first interception of the year, which was
also in the red zone. Ebert had 2 TD grabs and 83 receiving yards on the day to
lead the 'Cats. And the defense added three more takeaways. But the most
memorable aspect of the day was the gaffes all over the field on both sides of
the ball, and that prevents anyone from winning this
Northwestern Honorable Mentions
Persa (23-of-30 passing for 280 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 13 carries for 55 yards
rushing with sacks removed) Persa had, well, yet another great performance
throwing the ball while also running a bit with some success. He did throw his
first INT of the year, though (which everyone knew would come sooner or later,
so at least he got it off his back).
WR Jeremy Ebert (5 receptions for
83 yards and 2 TDs) Ebert has been Persa's favorite target in 2010,
amassing 17 catches for 331 yards and 4 receiving TDs on the season, leading the
'Cats in each of those categories.
DT Jack DiNardo (2 blocks)
DiNardo single handedly kept 4 points off the scoreboard for CMU, and as you may
have noticed by the final winning margin of 5, those points were quite
significant. Although he didn't make as much noise on the defensive unit as
earlier games this year, he made his presence felt on special teams this time
RB Mike Trumpy (12 carries for 53 yards) Although he
didn't rack up a ton of total yards and he didn't find his way into the game
until the second half, Trumpy made an impact on the offense, actually breathing
some life into the Wildcat running game. His first carry of the game was a nice
11 yard run and he also added another 11 yarder along with runs of 9 and 8 yards
later on in which he made the moves he needed to and ran north-south in order to
pick up valuable yards on the ground, something other NU RBs haven't necessarily
done this season.
What to Work on
The 'Cats had 11 penalties for 106 yards on the day which
either put the NU offense well behind the chains or kept the defense on the
field for longer than necessary. Coach Fitz's teams have routinely been at or
near the top nationally in least penalties and penalty yardage and this was a
very uncharacteristic performance from the team. Add to that the extra point
that was blocked and the field goal that was missed, and that equals a
significant amount of costly errors. Needless to say, Fitz will have them
working to correct these mental lapses heading into conference
Yes, NU outgained CMU 149-76 on the
ground (moving NU to 9-0 since the start of last season when outrushing its
opponent), but they weren't exactly pretty doing so, averaging just 3.3 yards
per carry on the day. Also, NU still hasn't had a run of longer than 25 yards
since the 2008 season, and the ability to break off a long run is something that
can give a huge boost to the offense.
The NU defense did a pretty good job on the day, but in the end
gave up 9 plays of 20 yards or longer (just one of those was a run). Some of
that has to do with injuries to NU safeties, with both Jared Carpenter and David
Arnold out due to injury, forcing sophomore Hunter Bates and redshirt freshman
Davion Fleming into a lot of action, particularly since NU used a lot of nickel
defense that had both of them on the field in addition to Brian Peters, one of
the regularly starting safeties.
There was a nice crowd for the
game, most decked out in purple include the essentially full student section,
and the recorded attendance actually topped 30,000 (30,075) for the first time
in a non-conference game since 2005 against Northern Illinois. This was in fact
the first thing mentioned by Coach Fitz in his post-game press conference.
Hopefully it is a trend that will continue with some important October games
coming up against Big Ten competition.
NU's weakest position at this point definitely looks like
safety, where two potential starters were sidelined for this game. But,
Carpenter may be able to return shortly (he was listed as doubtful, not out,
heading into this week) and Arnold is expected to return sometime soon. The DL
got a bit of a boost with the return of Mafuli this game. And on the OL, Keegan
Grant returned from his illness and actually started this
Points off Turnovers
Northwestern went +1 on
turnover margin in the game, moving them to +7 on the season. The 'Cats also
turned 2 of those turnovers into touchdowns, giving them an impressive 55 points
off turnovers so far this year (13.8 points per game off turnovers). NU's
opponents have just 21 points off turnovers (14 of them came in this game),
which comes out to 5.3 points per game off turnovers.
The 'Cats have outscored opponents by a combined score of 64-18
in the first and third quarters. They haven't fared so well, though, in the
second and fourth quarters, outscoring opponents just 56-44 (opponents have
outscored NU 25-23 in the fourth).
NU Likes 30
'Cats' offense has scored exactly 30 points in two straight games (and 37 the
game before that) and has averaged exactly 30.0 points per game this season.
The last time that NU scored 30 or more points in three straight games was
during the 2005 season.
It was a great
day for football weather-wise and a nice crowd turned out to see the 'Cats put
up an imperfect but winning effort to close out the non-conference schedule.
With both Minnesota and Purdue (NU's next two opponents) falling to MAC
opponents today, Northwestern's path to bowl eligibility looks very attainable.
But with many miscues to correct, the 'Cats know that they will have tough
sledding in each remaining game with 8 Big Ten matchups coming up, so expect
Coach Fitz to focus on these details as NU prepares for their first ever trip to
TCF Bank Stadium to face Minnesota next week.
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