Post-Game Analysis: Minnesota
by Jonathan Hodges

Well, the Cardiac 'Cats strike again, and hopefully everyone had their AED (automated external defibrillator) on hand for this nail-biter.  Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) beat Minnesota (1-6, 0-4) by a final score of 49-48 in 2 OTs.  For the second straight game, NU QB CJ Bacher was right on as he passed for 470 yds and 4 TDs (plus one rushing TD), leading Northwestern back from a 21 point third quarter deficit to tie the game and take it into overtime for the eventual victory.

Through the past 2 Big Ten wins (both in OT), NU has proven itself as a major passing threat with CJ combining for 990 yards passing and 9 TDs over those 2 games.  Oh, and don't forget the offensive line who has only allowed one sack over the past 2 weeks after allowing 16 over the first 5 games.  Meanwhile, on defense, Northwestern has left a lot to be desired.  From the 2nd to 3rd quarters, Minnesota scored a TD on 5 straight drives and ran up a 21 point lead.  Also leaving some to be desired were the special teams who missed 2 FGs and had 2 kickoffs go out of bounds (one that was brought to near midfield as it was a short onside type kick).

In the end, though, Northwestern came out a winner, and that's what matters at the end of the day.  Two times this year NU has found itself in a significant hole and has come back to win (Nevada and Minnesota) and has 2 overtime victories (NU is now 8-1 all time in overtime).

Before the season I declared that the MSU-Minnesota stretch of games would be the defining games of the season.  And now that NU has pulled out heart-wrenching OT wins in both games, hopefully those victories will propel the 'Cats into a strong finish to the year.  At 4-3 and 2-2 in conference, NU has a very good shot at bowl eligibility, and despite the fact that Illinois and Indiana look much stronger than last year and Purdue looked strong early in the year, the 'Cats have a shot to win any remaining game.  There are still defensive issues, but don't count the Wildcats out of it yet.

Player of the Game: CJ Bacher (41-58, 470 yds, 4 TD, 7 carries for 29 rushing yds, 1 TD).  For the 4th week this season, the player of the game has to go to CJ Bacher (every NU victory).  In Northwestern's pass-heavy attack, NU lives and dies with the success of CJ.  In its 4 victories, Bacher is 122-180 ( 67.8%) for 1460 yds with 13 TDs passing, 0 INT, and 2 TDs rushing.  Meanwhile in the 3 NU losses, CJ is 69-124 (55.6%) for 777 yds with 0 TDs passing, 7 INTs, 1 TD rushing, and 3 fumbles.  Putting up insane numbers like he has over the past 2 games one can't count out Bacher for a season-ending award.

Honorable Mentions:
Northwestern Offensive Line: 0 sacks.  That may be the stat of the game - while Minnesota hasn't been much of a pass rush threat this year, the NU OL did its job and gave CJ time to throw.  Whatever they've been doing, hopefully it will continue as it gives Bacher a chance to excel.
Northwestern Receivers: Once again, give this entire group credit.  10 guys had a catch on the day, 2 of them (Lane, Peterman) had over 100 yards, and there were plenty of big 3rd and 4th down catches to go around - including Peterman's 4th down TD grab with the game on the line and only seconds remaining.  Also credit Jones for a tough TD grab that was upheld after review as he got his foot down before the rest of his body landed out of bounds.
Northwestern Offensive Coaching Staff: The second straight week with 40+ points; the last time this occurred was the Big Ten Championship 2000 season.  While some question NU's lack of a running game, the pass-heavy attack is now ranked 8th in the nation with 321.1 yds/game (passing offense) propelling the offense to 28th in the nation in total offense (441.6 yds/game).  Oh, and for those of you deriding the pass-first strategy, NU rankes 9th in the nation in time of possession at 32:27/game.
Omar Conteh: when called upon, Omar did well, with 14 carries for 83 yds (5.8 yds/carry), and a couple of significant carries with defenders on his back.

What to Work On:
Defense: Once again, the defense will take the heat for letting Minnesota go wild and drive for 5 consecutive TDs to take a 21 point lead.  The one thing they did manage to do was keep NU in the game late - 2 INTs, a punt, and a missed FG on Minnesota's final 4 drives in regulation helped NU dig itself out of the 3 TD hole.  And finally credit them for the big stop on the 2-pt conversion try by Minnesota in the 2nd OT.  And there was the goal line stand early in the game that kept Minnesota off the board in the first quarter.  Besides that, there is a lot of work to be done on a unit that gives up 419.3 yds/game on average this year.  NU has had a very tough time over the past 2 weeks defending the run out of a spread formation.  Oh, and zero sacks doesn't help matters much - NU has only 5 sacks in 7 games this year.
Special Teams: 2 missed field goals and 2 kickoffs out of bounds (one was on an attempted onside kick).  The only bright spot was punting, and Demos kicked 3/5 inside the 20 with an average of 43.8 yds/punt.  After making his first 7 FGs on the year, Villarreal has missed his last 3, which is hopefully something that can be fixed moving forward as those points are definitely needed in close games that NU seems to enjoy getting itself into.

Random Observations:
- Pass-Happy Offense: Northwestern has basically established that its offense will be pass-first, run second, and when CJ is on it is a potent high-octane attack.  When things don't go well, though ( i.e. when CJ is getting sacked/hurried) things can turn south quickly.  Fortunately the OL has shown that it's up to the task over the past 2 games.
- 4th Down Conversions: NU was 3/3 on 4th downs in its 21 point comeback.  Flash back to 2000 when NU had a eerily similar 21 point comeback (down by the same 35-14 margin in the 3rd quarter) when NU converted 5 4th down plays including the game-winning pass - this year NU's game tying pass was also a 4th down pass conversion.
- Penalties: Once again, NU limited the self-inflicted wounds being called for only 2 penalties for a total of 15 yards.  Fitz has his team playing disciplined ball and that gives NU a better chance in such close games.
- Turnovers: NU won the turnover battle 2-1 which gave it the chance to come back and win.  In fact, both interceptions were then converted into TDs (one interception came almost immediately after NU's only turnover of the game, a fumble by Ward in the red zone).
- Red Zone Offense:  NU was 6-9 in the red zone with 2 missed FGs and the fumble.  The red zone success late in the game was what helped propel the 'Cats to the victory, but as we saw against Duke, not converting those chances into points can hurt a lot.
- Adam Kadela: he was all over the field with 15 tackles, including being in on that final play of the game that secured the win for NU.

Final Thought:

Northwestern has shown once again that it can win the close game most of the time and that its offense is a force to be reckoned with.  Hopefully this trend will continue, with almost every game the rest of the way being win-able and a bowl berth still within the realm of possibilities.  Now hopefully the defense will begin to put pressure on the QB and get some more stops.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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