Nevada Analysis


Navada Post-Game Analysis
by Jonathan Hodges

Another sunny day at Ryan Field and another Cardiac 'Cats win (Northwestern 36 - Nevada 31) propelled Northwestern to a 2-0 record as the Wildcat fans endured yet another nailbiter.  While virtually all aspects of the game put NU in a 24-10 hole at halftime and a 31-27 hole with only 2 minutes remaining in the game - all of those units had a hand in the comeback victory in the final minutes of the game.

We saw the defense look inept and feeble at times particularly in the first half, but then finish off the game by stopping Nevada to get the ball back with less than 2 minutes left in the game (also thanks for the "play of the game" - the personal foul that put Nevada way behind the chains) and then finish off the game with 2 sacks (one for a safety).  The offense clicked right away by scoring a TD on the opening drive of the game but then went into a shell until later in the game - including the amazing 80 yard drive to cap it all off with CJ Bacher's 3rd TD pass of the day to Ross Lane.  The one unit that was "on" for most of the day was special teams - Villareal went a perfect 2/2 on FGs (including a 46 yarder) and 4/4 on XPs, Demos hit 3/7 punts inside the 20 plus had some more solid kickoffs, and finally McManis had a 43 yard kickoff return.

While there were glaring deficiencies in Northwestern's performance today, the one thing that showed especially in that final 2 minutes of the game was the resolve of this team and the ability to pull out a close victory.  I believe that this "Cardiac 'Cat" attitude is something much more valuable than comfortably beating a team (although not good for 'Cats fans' hearts).  Also, there are still a number of things to be worked on, but a lot of things during the game actually worked well.

Overall, it was a heart-pumping victory and it was great to see another 'Cats victory - which will hopefully be a springboard for the next few weeks of the season.

Player of the Game: CJ Bacher (20-45, 227 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, 60 rushing yards): while he threw 25 incomplete passes, including 3-4 overthrown passes to an open Lane, he showed great leadership abilities by leading the NU offense 80 yards in less than a minute (including 2 QB scrambles - both for first downs) and was a key factor in the 'Cats win.

Honorable Mention: Amado Villareal (2/2 FGs (incl. 46 yd), 4/4 XPs): the 2 FGs he hit during the middle of the game ended up being a key to NU's win, and he remains perfect on the season (4/4 FGs, 7/7 XPs) - providing a consistent kicking force for Northwestern moving forward.

Other Solid Performances:
Stefan Demos (3 punts inside the 20, 1 kickoff touchback, 63 yd kickoff average): once again punted and kicked flawlessly and provided NU an advantage in the "hidden yardage" forcing Nevada to move the ball even further to get within striking distance.
Reggie McPherson (1 INT, 38 yd return, 10 tackles): grabbed NU's first takeaway of the season and had a significant return (setting up a FG) and was in on a number of tackles - showing his experienced leadership.
Brandon Roberson (128 yds, 1 TD): the stats were a bit deceiving as 76 of those yards came one one option play (which was quite a run), but he provided a rushing threat (albeit rarely used) as he filled in for Sutton who was injured early in the game.

What Needs Work:
Offensive Line (right side): Still allowed 2 sacks, had a holding call, (and the rushing game was rarely called upon, so it makes that tough to evaluate).  They should have performed better at keeping the defenders out of the backfield - and this level of play will not hold up for the rest of the season, especially going into Big Ten play.
Defensive Line: An absolutely poor performance in the first half and much of the second half - netting only 3 sacks (2 of which were on the final 2 plays of the game) and allowing Nevada's RBs and QB to get into the secondary untouched almost every time they touched the ball.  For much of the first half, Nevada's relatively inexperienced QB looked like a Heisman contender as he had all day to find the open receiver.
QB/WR sync: CJ overthrew an open Lane multiple times, he threw too short or too long along the sidelines to Thompson a couple of times, and the gaffes continued.  If NU is to rely on the pass as much as it did against Nevada, the QB and receivers must be in sync to net better than a 44% completion rate.
Secondary: While the lack of a pass rush is to blame for some of the passing gains for Nevada, the DBs left some to be desired as they left plenty of room for the Nevada receivers to catch the ball - oh and there was that almost-back-breaking TD as time expired in the first half with a Nevada receiver sneaking past the coverage as 2 DBs stood by and watched.

Random Observations:
- The offense looks as though it has virtually abandoned the run, even with Sutton in the game.  It appears as though they'll give Tyrell enough carries to get to 100 yds (maybe) but otherwise it's all about the pass - see the first drive again today (and CJ's 45 passing attempts).  It is to be seen if this will be effective against tougher competition - we saw what happened against Nevada with NU unable to control the ball without a significant rushing game.
- Penalties: once again NU looked good in terms of penalties (3 for 35 yards - the worst of which was Wootton's personal foul that kept one of Nevada's drives going) especially since Nevada ended up picking up 7 of them including the "play of the game" that killed their chance to run out the clock.
- Turnovers: NU won the turnover battle (and still has not coughed up the ball this year) which definitely played a large part in NU's victory.  This was definitely a significant improvement over last season when NU had 3 5-turnover games and couldn't buy a takeaway - especially early last year.
- Sutton's injury: Tyrell came back in the game on one play (a 32 yard reception) although he came out after that as he should have been able to break out for even more yards if he was at full speed.  He was running and on his feet on the sideline for the remainder of the game so it seems like a precautionary measure and hopefully he will return when called upon next at full speed (especially since NU didn't exactly rely on the running game for the rest of the game).
- Simpson's injury: Eddie went out relatively early in the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury and did not return.  The other LBs (Kwateng, Dinard, Williams, Davie) got significant playing time - we'll have to wait and see how this affects NU's defense for the rest of the season.

Another heart-stopping NU win, Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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