Post Game


Michigan Post Game
by Jonathan Hodges


Northwestern responded in a big way on Saturday by taking a 16-7 halftime lead over a tough Michigan squad and keeping that lead into the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as NU fell to UM by a final score of 28-16.  Unfortunately four turnovers in that 4th period doomed the 'Cats as the Wolverines capitalized on two of those miscues taking the ball in for TDs on drives of only 16 and 26 yards.  All in all, CJ Bacher was responsible for all 5 of NU's turnovers with 3 interceptions and 2 fumbles - although the 2 fumbles and one interception came while he was under heavy pressure in the backfield, and another interception was a pass deflection off of a receiver.  In the end, though, it was the turnovers that killed the Wildcats' chances at a victory.

Offensively, Northwestern did very well in the first half, scoring on 3 of its first 4 drives of the game, and on the day NU had 417 yards of total offense, including 289 in the air from Bacher (on 22-42 passing) and 115 on the ground from Conteh (including his 49 yard scamper for NU's only TD of the day).  The 'Cats moved the ball quite well between the 20s on Michigan, although the last 4 drives of the game (fumble, interception, interception, fumble) will be what fans will remember - NU had its chances to retain the lead and/or retake the lead but gave the ball away every time.  While Bacher did an excellent job of running the offense earlier in the game and even running the ball on a few gutsy plays, the five turnovers cost NU the game.  NU's OL did an admirable job early in the game as CJ had all day to throw, but later in the game began to break down leading to the aforementioned turnovers plus 4 sacks totaling -29 yards.  Some of that can probably be attributed to the fact that Michigan did not really blitz much until late in the game - although if one saw any of Northwestern's last 2 games they would realize the blitz is a major weakness of the offense.

On defense, one must give the 'Cats a lot of credit - Michigan's go-ahead and final touchdown scores came on a very shortened field following NU turnovers.  On the Wolverines' first drive of the day, which ended in a TD, NU actually stopped UM on 4th down but was called for a facemask penalty which gave UM the chance to score.  Also, NU's defense had a couple of great holds deep in their own territory which led to 2 missed Michigan field goals - including one in the 4th quarter that kept Northwestern in the game.  Also, they kept Hart to 106 yards on 30 carries as UM seemed determine to run the ball but unable to come up with the type of game they wanted.  Great individual performances included Gill, who racked up 10 tackles including NU's only sack on the day, Kadela who keeps notching up the tackles (with 9 on the day), and McManis who broke up 2 passes (including one that was close to an INT) and had 7 tackles.  Unfortunately the great defensive effort wasn't enough as the offense's turnover issues didn't give them much of a chance.  Areas that could still use a lot of improvement are the pass rush - even when NU had guys deep in the backfield they could not put sufficient pressure on the QB - and generating turnovers, as the 'Cats were not able to turn the momentum when it really would have helped.

The final aspect of the game - special teams - NU did a pretty solid job.  The special teams player of the game has to be Amado Villareal who remains perfect on the season in the kicking department (he went 1/1 XPs and 3/3 FGs on the day including a career long 49 yard kick) as on the season he is 7/7 on FGs and 11/11 on XPs.  Demos did an average job punting and kicking on the day - although he had one kickoff go for a touchback and one punt inside the 20, he did have some poor punts (especially a directional punt early in the game and one that sailed into the end zone) as well as a kickoff out of bounds.  He has shown brilliance earlier this season so hopefully he can develop more consistency.  Finally, in the returns department, Simmons looks like someone who should be back there on every kickoff as he took one back 52 yards to give the 'Cats a shot late in the game - in addition to his 99 yard TD return from last week.  On punts, NU saw its longest return of the year as Ward returned 3 punts for a total of 25 yards with a long of 14.

Overall, although Michigan seemingly played conservative and didn't seem to do anything too special, the 'Cats put up a fight and had a solid lead until the 4 turnovers late in the game sealed their fate.  After last week's physical domination by OSU, though, Northwestern responded very well and showed that they can play a physical ball game with anyone and that the defense can also respond (holding UM to 7 points in the first half after averaging 14+ points in the first half in its first 4 games).

Player of the Game: UM QB Chad Henne, 18-27 193 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT: he started the game with a TD drive and left after apparently aggravating his knee injury, but came back in during the 2nd half to lead the Michigan comeback.  Credit must be given to him for leading his team to the win, especially given the fact that Hart was stopped cold for most of the day.

Solid NU Performances:
Amado Villareal (PK): 3/3 on FGs - including a career long 49 yarder, 1/1 on XPs.  Perfect on the year.
John Gill (DL): 10 tackles, 1 sack - he's the real deal and hopefully can fire up the rest of the line going forward.
Sherrick McManis (CB): 2 pass break-ups (one almost an INT), 7 tackles - he finds a way to get in on a lot of plays and even after coming off of a concussion contributed a lot of good hits on defense.
Ross Lane (WR): 6 catches for 87 yards including multiple clutch 3rd down throws (including a 3rd and 10 from NU's own 1 yard line).  This guy has great hands and should be the go-to-guy on any big play.
Overall Physical Play: NU was in this game all the way and gave Michigan all they could handle - it was the turnover that killed NU, not its style of play.  Keep up the effort and the wins will come.

What to Work On:
Offensive Flow/Run-Pass Mix: We saw one drive when NU picked up 3 straight first downs on running plays (with Conteh and Roberson) yet on the next set of downs we saw 2 incomplete passes and CJ scramble out of bounds for a loss when he was looking to pass.  We've seen very few drives this year when NU has effectively mixed up the play-calling all the way down the field and into the end zone - instead many of the drives on Saturday were cut short by incompletions or running into a wall of defenders.  This is something that has to be worked out between OC McGee and QB Bacher.
Defensive Pass Rush: NU had only one sack on the day, and generally the Michigan QBs had all day to throw.  Obviously Henne was slightly impaired with his knee ailment, but NU never got close to taking him down, even when the blitz was on.  The fact is that NU's front 4 must generate more pressure, and unfortunately that's something I don't think the 'Cats will be able to change in the middle of the season.  Gill has been the only consistent factor there, and while Mims has logged a couple of solid games, we have heard almost nothing from Ngene, Wootton, or Koehn.
Protecting the football: Thus far, NU did a reasonably good job of holding onto the football, but 5 turnovers are inexcusable.  Obviously interceptions come when a team passes as much as NU has been this season.  But the fumbles and getting rushed into throws that turn into INTs are just unacceptable - a sack may be a drive killer, but it won't necessarily give the opponent a short field.  If one remembers last season, NU lost to Michigan 17-3 in a game when the 'Cats had 5 turnovers and multiple chances to stay in the ball game.

Random Observations:
- Injuries: Seeing the flock of NU players without pads coming onto the field before the game and after halftime was disheartening.  Guys I saw out who would have otherwise been contributors were: Sutton, Simpson, Kwateng, Jeske, Yarbrough, and Smith.  Also, Belding came out during the middle of the game (although he went back in), and Koehn came out and later had his arm in a sling without pads.  With so many major contributors out things become worrisome, especially with 7 games left to play.  Hopefully all of the 'Cats heal and can see the field again this year.
- Colby Cushion: The notorious 10 yard cushion given to opposing WRs on the outside by NU cornerbacks was in full effect and UM coach Carr did everything he could throwing those quick passes to the outside receivers in order to pick up a good 5+ yards almost every time.  While this may be necessary given the fact that NU had a lot of guys in/close to the box in order to stop the run (which worked well this week), it doesn't show a lot of confidence in the defensive backs and basically gives the opposing QB someone who is always open and cuts down on NU's chances for picking up an interception.
- Screen Passes: Northwestern's offense seems unable to set up a screen pass - either the blockers don't block, Bacher can't deliver the ball to the right spot, the intended receiver can't catch the ball, or the play just blows up.  The plays are typically inserted at the right spot to be effective but NU just can't make it happen a lot of the time.  This is especially disheartening given the fact that these are the types of easy catches that should be on par with running the ball.
- Designed QB Runs: During the first 4 weeks of the season Bacher seemed afraid to run with the ball - only tucking it when he had wide open field ahead of him (which yielded some very positive results on a few of his runs).  This game NU inserted a lot of option plays and designed QB runs around the corner or up the middle.  A great example was a QB run around the right side - on one play he was stopped for only a short gain, but he ran the same play later for more yardage.  It is vital that this be a part of the offense in order to give Northwestern more offensive threats.  Of course, CJ must also take better care of the football in the backfield.
- Big Plays: NU did a pretty good job capitalizing on the big plays that it got - the first play from scrimmage which was a 64 yard pass completion (thanks to Ward who got almost all of that as yards after the catch - and his insight to get up and run with the ball after UM failed to actually get him to the ground while attempting to tackle him) which really put the wind in NU's sails, and the 'Cats' only TD of the day which was on Conteh's 49 yard run (he did a nice job of eluding the chasing defenders).
- Penalties: Once again NU seems to be on track, racking up only 2 penalties on the day for a total of 16 yards.  Unfortunately, that first penalty hurt - it was a 15 yard facemask penalty after NU had stopped Michigan on 4th down on the first UM drive of the day (which later led to a TD).  Northwestern must continue to play disciplined but tough football - not getting behind the chains because of penalties really helped the 'Cats.
- Red Zone: NU did a nice job in the red zone: Michigan went 4-7 in the red zone (although 2 were the missed field goals), while NU went 2-2.  Unfortunately, Northwestern was not able to reach the end zone in either one of its trips inside the 20 while all 4 of UM's scores from the red zone were TDs.
- 3rd Downs: Northwestern's D did an admirable job of getting off the field on 3rd downs - as it held UM to 7/17 (and 1/2 on 4th down - with the one conversion being thanks to the penalty).  Meanwhile, NU's offense did not fare as well, going 7/18 as they faced quite a few 3rd and long plays and were unable to convert many of them.
- 2nd Half Offense: While NU had its big come from behind win over Nevada featuring a lot of 2nd half offense, since then the NU O hasn't been able to put many points on the board at all.  Against Duke, NU had one TD in the second half, and against OSU its only points came from special teams.  And of course in this game, NU had zero points in the second half - with its last 4 possessions going for turnovers.

Final Thought:

Although it was a tough loss, especially considering NU had the lead and momentum in its favor for much of the game, it was encouraging to see the effort from the 'Cats.  The team played a very physical and strategically-sound ball game for the most part and was in it the whole way.  Turnovers are difficult things to predict, especially in a pass-heavy offense, and as we saw, a couple of miscues can lead to a huge swing in momentum that unfortunately for NU led to a loss.  Northwestern responded to last week's showing, though, and there are definitely opportunities for wins going further into the Big Ten schedule - given that NU continues to show improvement on the field.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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