Post-Game Analysis: Eastern Michigan
by Jonathan Hodges
Well, for those of you who just love the excitement of NU football (e.g. nail biting and heart attacks), you got a little more of it on Friday night as Northwestern (5-3, 2-2) edged Eastern Michigan (2-6, 1-2) by a final score of 26-14 in a game that was a little too close for comfort.  In fact, it seemed much like last year's matchup in Evanston where Northwestern clinged onto a one-score lead all the way until the end.  This time around, though, EMU moved the ball very well in the second half led by true freshman QB Kyle McMahon as he ran for 44 yards and 2 TDs while passing 28-48 for 282 yards (this was also his first start), and NU couldn't put it away until Kim Thompson's fantastic 71 yard catch and run for a TD to essentially seal the NU win.

Eastern Michigan was in NU's red zone 5 times, was averaging 32.5 yds/kickoff return, and picked up an NU fumble at its own 5 yard line plus had an interception and 2 sacks on CJ Bacher.  So, how the heck did they win?  Northwestern got lucky and actually created some chances: the 'Cats had 4 takeaways on the day (3 INT, 1 fumble recovery) with 3 of those coming in the red zone (in fact NU ended up with the ball inside the 10 on all 3 occasions) - and NU took advantage scoring 10 points off of those turnovers.  Also, at the end of the day, it was the defense once again that held up by stopping EMU on downs inside the 5 yard line on their last comeback attempt with about 1:00 left in the game.

The game also saw the unheralded return of Sutton, who was thrown to once on a screen pass and was also in as a decoy on an end-around Peterman run that went for 21 yards.  He was not used much, but he didn't really need to be as Conteh held his own gaining 122 yards on 19 carries with a TD (although he did have a red zone fumble).  Once again we saw NU put up a slew of yards (516 yards to be exact) but not yielding many points as NU had the aforementioned fumble along with 2 other FGs inside the red zone.  Credit Amado Villarreal, though, who broke his field goal miss streak of 3 with 2/2 made on the night.

At the end of the day, though, Northwestern picked up the win - it may have been ugly at times and there were definitely mistakes made, but NU is one win away from bowl eligibility going into the home stretch of the schedule with 4 "win-able" but tough Big Ten games remaining, starting next week at Purdue.  If there was one game to have an "off day" the rest of the way, this was it.

Player of the Game: WR Kim Thompson: 5 catches for 133 yards, 1 TD (71 yard long).  He made multiple key catches on the day, including that 71 yard TD catch and run where he bounced out of a tackle and bolted down the field for the TD that gave NU a cushion when the 'Cats needed it near the end of the game.  He definitely deserves the credit after being sidelined with injuries the past couple of years and having to watch from the sideline despite having game-changing abilities.

Honorable Mentions:
RB Omar Conteh: 19 carries for 122 yds, 1 TD, 1 catch for 2 yds.  He would have taken player of the game if not for his fumble at the EMU 5 yard line, but still a very solid performance.  With over 6 yds/carry one has to wonder why he was not called upon more often, but that is a consequence of the McGee pass-happy NU offense.  Hopefully Sutton will be able to grab a few carries in the near future ( e.g. this coming Saturday), but no doubt Omar will be called upon quite often as the season continues as he has proven himself to be an effective runner during Tyrell's absence.
LB Adam Kadela: 12 tackles, 1 TFL (sack) for -3 yds, and 1 INT.  Once again, he's the tackling machine, but is also getting it done with a takeaway and a sack (both rather uncommon things for the NU defense this year).  Definitely a senior leader who is making it happen for the 'Cats and steps it up when necessary.

What to Work On:
Defense: Once again NU wasn't able to perform at their abilities - sure they grabbed 4 takeaways and kept EMU out of the end zone at the end of the game when it really mattered, but in between those times they allowed the Eagles to go wild with a TRUE FRESHMAN first-time starter throwing for 282 yards and rushing for another 44 plus 2 TDs.  Just imagine what will happen when NU faces the likes of Curtis Painter, Kellen Lewis, and Juice Williams over the next 4 games.  They key is, again, the PASS RUSH - NU finally got a sack, 2 hurries, and 2 PBUs (both at the line of scrimmage on consecutive plays by Wootton), but it wasn't nearly enough as on virtually every other play the QB had all day to find the open receiver or wait for a clearing and take off with the ball.  The guys down the field did an admirable job by creating turnovers (Phillips with an INT and forced fumble, Battle with an INT, and Kadela with an INT), but the line needs to do more.
Kickoff Coverage: Almost every time EMU got the kickoff they were starting in NU territory.  32.5 yds/kick return.  In fact, net yards per kickoff was only 34.0.  Not very good, especially when your offense scores quite often (hopefully) and you will be kicking off just as often.
Red Zone Offense: Obviously, protect the football - one chance was lost with a Conteh fumble at the 5 (the first fumble by an NU RB this season).  But, what is more worrisome is seeing NU rack up a ton of yards make it down the field and end up with a FG (happened on 2 occasions this game) or less.  NU can't score 40+ every game, but it is frustrating to see the offense fall apart once it gets within sight of the end zone.  With the defense as shaky as it is, NU needs points whenever it can get them.

Random Observations:
- Penalties: Hurt both teams - once again NU saw itself make a big stop on 4th down but then commit a personal foul on the play (facemask) extending the drive for the opponent (in both cases - Michigan and EMU - the opponent went on to score a TD).  On the day NU had 5 penalties for 50 yds, EMU had 9 for 53, and they came at pretty bad times for both teams.
- Stefan Demos Punting: Once again probably going unnoticed, Stefan hit 2/3 punts inside the 20 with an average of 40 yds/punt.  Seeing his directional rugby-style punts in person may not seem impressive, but they are generally effective at pinning opponents inside the 20.
- Amado Villarreal: Went 2/2 on FGs and 2/2 on XPs, getting back on track after a shaky past 2 weeks.
- CJ Bacher: Was actually not mentioned above, even though he had very solid stats: 25-42 for 361 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 TD rushing.  He has obviously set expectations high after the past 2 weeks and this time seemed like a down week in comparison.  Plus, he did make some poor throws to receivers that were open for catches.
- NU Receivers: 10 different Wildcats caught a pass in the game, with Peterman and Thompson leading the way with 5 catches each.  Unfortunately, some of the receivers did have drops (the usually sure-handed Lane had at least one).
- NU Offensive Line: After dominating the past 2 weeks they had a mixed performance: while doing some solid run blocking and generally giving CJ enough time to throw, they did allow 2 sacks and 3 hurries (and had a couple of holding calls).
- EMU Drives: The Eagles' longest drive of the day, 69 yards, ended with no points scored (missed FG).  They started their first 3 drives in NU territory and were within 10 yards of midfield on 4 other starts of drives.

Final Thought:
The 'Cats have some work ahead as they go into the 4 game Big Ten home stretch with win-able yet tough games.  No doubt that the defense will be tested against each team and the offense will face some tougher defenses than its seen since OSU and Michigan, but bowl eligibility is within grasp (one win for eligibility, two or more needed to guarantee a berth).  Sitting at 5-3 right now NU is just about where most 'Cats fans saw them before the season, and now it's time to prove to the rest of the conference that the record isn't a fluke.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges' commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of HailToPurple.com.