Post-Game Analysis: Ohio
by Jonathan Hodges


Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) got an excellent game from its defense that propelled the 'Cats to a 16-8 victory over visiting Ohio (0-4) who is definitely the best winless team in the nation.  The win gives NU a 4-0 record heading into Big Ten play and marks the first undefeated nonconference slate for Northwestern since 1963, the first 4 game winning streak since 1996, and the best start to the season since 1962.  This marks the official end to the "Curse of Ara," which was the inability for NU to win all of its nonconference games no matter the quality of opponent.  Credit the Bobcats for putting in a valiant effort, staring down a 16 point defecit at halftime and hanging tough by forcing turnovers and generally quashing NU's offensive effots.  In the end, though, the Wildcat defense came on strong as they only allowed one Ohio score and racked up a number of impressive statistics.

First off, credit the defense and special teams for the victory on Saturday.  The defense had 5 sacks, held Ohio to an NU record FOUR rushing yards, forced 4 turnovers (2 fumbles, 2 interceptions), and had an astounding 14 TFLs on the day, 6 PBUs, and 3 QB hurries to boot.  Oh, and don't forget the TWO blocked field goals (one each credited to defensive linemen Gill and Browne) which kept Ohio just out of reach for most of the game (although they were definitely helped by the suspension of Ohio's long snapper).  Villarreal remains perfect on the year for kicking, hitting 3/3 FGs and 1/1 XPs, with a long of 46 yards.  And the kick and punt coverage teams generally did a good job of keeping Ohio deep in their own territory.  Unfortunately, though, nobody on offense really helped the Wildcat cause.

The offense moved the ball reasonably well in the first half, as they racked up 3 FGs and a touchdown to give NU a 16-0 halfitme lead.  Unfortunately, a bad omen was delivered just before the half as Tyrell Sutton came of favoring his leg after ripping off a 31 yard run (he finished the day with 76 yards on only 9 carries).  Conteh punched it in for NU's only TD of the day, but the offense would prove to be ineffective for virtually the entire second half.  CJ Bacher had a career worst 4 interceptions on the day, and connected on just over 50% of his passes for only 133 yards.  NU's best series of the second half came late in the fourth quarter as the 'Cats were attempting to bleed as much of the clock as possible, and featured QB runs and option plays to keep the ball moving.  Although CJ generally had enough time in the pocket, he made multiple ill-advised throws and Ohio made him pay.  And seeing that CJ was out of sync, the Ohio defense proceeded to eat up NU's running game by shadowing Conteh and tackling him at or behind the line of scrimmage on many occasions.

While it may have been ugly and a little tense at times, the 'Cats beat out the historic odds and pulled out the win.  There is a saying that "defense wins championships" and NU has shown off quite a solid defense so far, giving up only 11.25 points/game, and directly propelling NU to 2 of its wins so far.  The stats are also rather impressive; NU is 4th nationally in sacks (3.75/game), 4th nationally in TFLs (9/game), 13th in the aforementioned and all-important scoring defense, and better than 30th nationally in both pass efficiency defense and rushing defense.  It appears as though the defensive transformation under Hankwitz is real and will now be tested against Big Ten competition.  The offense, meanwhile, will have to get itself in sync going against competition where they may need to propel NU to wins.

Player of the Game: Northwestern DE Vince Browne (4 TFLs, 3 sacks, 7 tackles, 1 blocked FG, 1 forced fumble, 1 QB hurry)  Browne led the way of a standout defensive performance by Northwestern as they kept shifty Ohio QB Jackson contained for most of the day as he contributed 3 sacks.  He also had one of two blocked FGs by NU to help seal the win for NU.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- RB Tyrell Sutton (9 carries for 76 yards, 3 receptions for 27 yards)  Sutton accounted for over a third of NU's total offense, despite leaving the game with an injury just before halftime.  His 31 yard run helped set up NU's lone TD on the day (and was also the play where he sustained the injury), and, fortunately, it appears as though he was held out of the second half as a precaution only and should return shortly.
- LB Malcom Arrington (11 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 forced fumble, 1 PBU, 1 sack)  Arrington also had a great day for the defense as he helped NU stone Ohio for 4 total yards on the ground and also contributed a sack and a pass break up that was almost an interception.
- LB Prince Kwateng (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack)  Prince had quite a nice day which included helping NU contain the running game, and he may very well have had the takedown of the day as he dragged Ohio's QB Jackson down from behind by his hair - which is perfectly legal if the player chooses to have hair outside of his helmet.
- CBs Sherrick McManis & Jordan Mabin (combined for 11 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT)  Sherrick and Jordan had an excellent day as they basically shut down the outside passing game and made some nice tackles in the flat to contain screens.  Mabin had the first INT of his collegiate career as he's stepping up nicely in his new role as starting CB.
- K Amado Villarreal (3/3 FGs, 1/1 XPs)  Amado is living up to the name "Amadomatic" as he's hit his first 8 FG attempts of the year, including all 3 against Ohio, with a long of 46 yards that easily went through.  Credit him for helping to keep NU perfect on scoring chances in the red zone.
- DE Corey Wootton (4 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 fumble recovery, 1 QB hurry)  Corey added to the success of NU's DL against Ohio as he contributed to their efforts in the backfield with his 2 TFLs and QB hurry as he continues to rack up impressive stats for the year.

What to Work On:
- QB CJ Bacher:  FOUR interceptions on the day - and a 51% completion rate - didn't help NU's chances to get the offense moving down the field.  Now, Ohio's secondary is solid, but CJ will have to improve going into Big Ten play as he and the 'Cats will face even more potent defenses.
- Offensive Play Calling:  NU needs to keep mixing up the play calling to keep defenses honest - which ended up working pretty well when NU tried some different things on their last significant possession of the game.  The CJ runs and option plays really helped keep the LBs off of the RB (in that case, Conteh).  Unfortunately, most of the game saw a relatively inept offense - NU failed to get a first down in the 3rd quarter despite getting 6 possessions.
- Staying with Coverage:  Ohio's one scoring drive was set up by a long catch and run which occurred after the play was blown up and the RB came out of the backfield uncovered.  Their TD that followed shortly was then set up when Ohio's TE came off the line uncovered.  Although the defense played well these couple big plays allowed the Bob

Random Observations:
- Attendance: 22.069 was solid for a nonconference game, but the NU undergrads contributed a majority of that as the rest of the stands were relatively empty.  Credit the students for pretty well filling the student section, which is not typically seen for 11AM starts.
- Penalties:  Once again, NU benefited from an advantage in penalties, with 4 for 31 yards compared to Ohio's 5 for 50 yards.  Also, there were a couple occasions of offsetting personal fouls that don't show up on the stats.  Playing disciplined football helped NU in the long run by generally avoiding getting behind the chains and allowing the opponent's mistakes to stand out even more.
- Offensive Line: Yes, the offensive line has done admirably so far this year, allowing only 2 sacks (the most recent one by Ohio was more of a technicality as it appeared to be a designed QB run play) - for an average of 0.5 sacks/game.  Their run blocking can still use work, but Ohio was obviously focused on hunting down the RB and only so much can be done if the opponent's defense knows what is coming.  What is interesting is how many guys have had playing time so far.  Mattes was held out against Ohio with a leg injury (that has bothered him all season, although he has started and played a significant amount of time), but fortunately Taylor has come on very strong and has covered well at the tackle position and the guard position when Mattes gets in the game.  Belding was apparently rotated out later in the game against the Bobcats in favor of Bartels - and he played for a good portion of the game.  It's nice to see the younger guys getting more experience, but the results on the field, especially on some running plays, still leaves some questions.
- Injuries: This is the time of year where injuries begin to make a difference.  Obviously, Sutton went out against Ohio just before halftime - which seemed to make a difference in the offensive production - but injuries to other guys are forcing Fitz to shift around some of his players.  Vaughn is out for the season; fortunately, NU has Mabin to play CB, but that means that Matthews and Ebert (both very young players) are fielding kickoffs.  Mattes went down on the OL which means we'll see more of Bartels and Boyle on the line despite having no experience coming into the year.  Simmons sustained an ankle injury against SIU which also contributed to the kick return depth issue and left NU without a tested backup to Conteh once Sutton went down.  It's probably not enough to make a huge difference (assuming Sutton is back in the fold soon), but those injuries here and there begin to pile up quickly.  Hopefully all of the injured 'Cats can get back to full health and get on the playing field soon.

Final Thought:

It was truly a win for the ages as NU now sits at 4-0, one of only four undefeated Big Ten teams at this point.  Now the 'Cats have to put the nonconference games behind them and look ahead at the Big Ten slate - where they start off at 0-0 for a whole new ballgame.  Although the offense has sputtered along so far, the defense has shown that they can be counted upon to win games - and the special teams just keeps going out there and executing pefectly to put the 'Cats in a great position to start.  Next up is a visit to the always-tough Kinnick Stadium and Iowa, and it looks to be a tough, physical battle that may very well be a low-scoring, defense-intensive affair.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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