Post-Game Analysis: Southern Illinois
by Jonathan Hodges


On what turned out to be the rainiest day in recorded Chicago history (6.63" of rain at O'Hare), Northwestern (3-0, 0-0) relied upon Tyrell Sutton and Amado Villarreal for all of its scoring as the 'Cats racked up a sloshy victory over I-AA/FCS opponent Southern Illinois (1-1) at Ryan Field.  The Wildcat defense led the way, as they were very busy in the SIU backfield, yielding 6 sacks and 7 more TFLs as they kept the Salukis to 7 points, with those coming on the heels of the longest play NU has allowed from scrimmage this year, a 38 yard pass that was well defended by Smith but caught anyway.  Sutton was the one who punched it in for NU, ending the day with 3 TDs, while Villarreal was perfect on the day, going 4-4 on FGs and 3-3 on XPs to give him 15 total points.  Northwestern continued its perfect streak in the red zone, going 6-6, but 4 of those were field goals, something the 'Cats want to improve upon as Big Ten play approaches.

Continuing on the topic of special teams, NU's unit continued its excellent execution against SIU, which included the aforementioned perfect field goal and extra point kicking (which is even more impressive given the conditions at hand), but also a blocked punt from Jacob Schmidt, and excellent kickoffs and punts from Demos.  NU routinely stuck Southern Illinois deep in their own territory, and SIU just didn't have enough fire power to get out of such a deep hole during the whole game.

After the 'Cats stuck SIU in their own end, the NU defense came out and took care of business.  Between the TD drive and the final drive of the game in garbage time (which saw NU clear its bench with everyone but those injured or being redshirted seeing the field), the NU defense allowed all of 81 total yards.  The DL and blitzing linebackers were particularly impressive, with Davie, Kwateng, Arrington, Gill, Wootton, Browne, Bryant, and Johnson all racking up at least half of a TFL.  The Wildcat D also did an impressive job stopping SIU RB Larry Warner, who racked up a ton of return and rushing yards a week earlier; his short stature and quickness made him difficult to track down and tackle, but NU held him to 115 total yards.

On offense, the Wildcats put points on the board every time they reached the red zone, although more often than not (4 out of 6 times) those points came on field goals.  While it is reassuring to see NU putting points on the board, NU fans undoubtedly want to see 7 points up there instead of 3 after a trip deep inside the opponent's 20.  Bacher had an efficient day, and considering the conditions, it was quite impressive, going 21-29 for 184 yards without a TD or INT.  The 'Cats were undoubtedly playing things conservatively, especially in the red zone, where the running game was favored heavily.  But with rain pouring down in droves, the focus was on protecting the football, and that is what the Wildcats did, helping it slowly pile up a big lead.

At the end of the day, everyone on and off the field were thoroughly drenched, but NU and its fans were encouraged after a solid victory over a successful I-AA/FCS opponent in Southern Illinois.  This gives NU its first 3-0 start since 2001 and puts the 'Cats in a position to start off their season with the best record since 1962 (when they started 6-0).  Next week, Northwestern will face a hungry Ohio team who has lost its first 3 games by a total of 16 points (including a rather close game against Ohio State), and the momentum that is building behind NU's 2008 season is a good thing to have.

Player of the Game: Northwestern DE Corey Wootton (3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 4 tackles)  Wootton set the tone for the NU defense by getting into the backfield and making things happen early and often, as the NU D held down the SIU offense for much of the day.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- RB Tyrell Sutton (17 carries for 101 yards and 3 TDs, 5 receptions for 16 yards)  Probably the most impressive stat on the day for Sutton was zero turnovers; the weather was definitely not favorable and Tyrell hung onto the ball every time.  He also provided all of the non-kicking scoring for NU, punching it into the end zone 3 times.
- P/K Stefan Demos (3 punts, 45.0 yards average, 2 inside 20; 8 kickoffs, 58.8 yards average, 2 touchbacks) Once again, Stefan was stellar, helping to stick the Salukis deep in their own end every time his foot touched the ball.  The rugby-style punt paid off again - not only by keeping the ball away from the return man but getting nice rolls that added to the yards.  His kickoffs were also solid, generally giving SIU's Warner a difficult time (2 times having to leave the ball in the end zone).
- NU Offensive Line (Netter, Belding/Kennedy, Burkett, Taylor, Mattes)  The offensive line continued its success against the pass rush, again allowing no sacks (they have allowed only one sack for -1 yards on the season, against Syracuse), which is quite impressive for such a relatively inexperienced line; after these performances I'm not sure how much longer we can call them inexperienced.
- LB Quentin Davie (6 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks)  Hankwitz has shown that he likes to bring Davie in off the end, and Davie has shown that he can make things happen when his speed is utilized in this manner.  He showed NU fans his closing speed on a couple of occasions and considering that he is only a sophomore, the arrow is definitely pointing up for him.

What to Work On:
- Run Blocking: For the second consecutive game, NU couldn't establish a potent rushing game, especially late when the 'Cats were trying to bleed away the clock.  Even though they were facing a relatively smaller defense with a 3-4 scheme, they could not open many holes for the NU RBs outside of a few fantastic runs from Sutton.  This is something that must improve, especially against stouter defenses that are on the horizon, as the ability to control the offensive tempo with a go-to running game will be key.
- Preventing the big pass play: This is a bit picky, but it's something NU fans will undoubtedly focus upon, and its the longest play of scrimmage the NU D has yeilded this year, a 38 yard pass that was basically a jump ball.  Brendan Smith had a beat on the ball and was obviously going for the INT instead of knocking it down, but the receiver hauled in the reception.  Smith and the D have obviously made up for that by not allowing ANY passing TDs thus far in 2008, and Smith himself ended the day with 7 tackles (to lead the team) and 3 PBUs, which is quite impressive.  That play did lead to SIU's only score of the day, though, and tougher competition will make NU pay for such mistakes.
- Red Zone Touchdowns: The 'Cats kept things conservative in the red zone, undoubtedly due to the weather, and while NU did pull away in the game, they didn't exactly stomp out the competition as they came away with FGs on 4 of 6 tries.  This is where solid run blocking can pay big dividends, allowing NU to punch it in on the ground, which the 'Cats were unable to do Saturday (albeit SIU basically knew what was coming).  Look for a more aggressive offense deep in the opponents' territory in future weeks when NU will need to take more risks.

Random Observations:
- Attendance: Not suprisingly, it was low, with 19,062 at the game; most of them were huddled up under the upper deck overhang in the west stands.  Although NUMB made its 2008 debut, High School Band Day was cancelled due to the torrential rain that was predicted and came all day.  Look for a big boost next week as the NU undergrads come back and (hopefully) improved weather brings more local fans.
- Penalties: NU once again made some mistakes and ended with 6 penalties for 61 yards, but there was quite a big discrepancy between them and SIU, who had 10 penalties for 105 yards on the day - which definitely contributed to NU's success in the game.
- 3rd Down Conversions: NU did what it needed to by improving its own rate (9 of 16, 56%) while holding down the competition (4 of 14, 29%).  NU ranks 20th nationally this season on defense in this category.
- Turnovers (or lack thereof): It was a bit surprising to see neither team yield a turnover on this sloppy day, especially with some other games seeing turnovers all over the place.  Credit both teams for solid execution in tough conditions.
- Sacks: After a poor showing while DC Colby was in town, NU now rankes 3rd nationally in sacks, with 11 on the year.  In terms of sacks allowed, NU ranks 21st in the nation at less than 1 per game.
- Game Time: Once again, NU had a game that lasted just about 3 hours (2:56 in this case), which was a good thing on Saturday given the weather.

Final Thought:

A solid win for Northwestern given the conditions and the competition, with the defense once again coming on strong.  The offense did what it needed to do, being led by Sutton who added to his TD and yardage totals, and didn't turn the ball over.  The third component of the team may be the best for NU, though, with the kicking game perfect so far and Demos routinely keeping opponents deep in their own territory with his kickoffs and punts.  The win gave NU a 3-0 start and some good momentum as the 'Cats are almost to the start of Big Ten play, which is always tough.  Now it's time to dry off and prepare for a hungry Ohio team that has played in three close games and is looking for its first win of the year.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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