Post-Game Analysis: Towson
by Jonathan Hodges
The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0) kicked off the 2009
season with a relatively easy win over the Towson Tigers (0-1) of the FCS, 47-14. Northwestern utilized its backups early and often
after building a 21-0 first-quarter lead thanks to an oft-used running game and
an efficient passing game. Starting QB Mike Kafka led the way through the air,
going 15-of-20 passing for 192 yards (a respectable 75% completion rate).
Backup QB Dan Persa went 1-of-2 for 72 yards and a TD, although his incompletion
was actually a completion to the other team (i.e. an interception), the 'Cats'
only turnover of the day.
In the running game, NU got six different backs
in on the action, including true freshman Arby Fields, who ran for two TDs, and
sophomore Scott Concannon, who also hit paydirt twice. Sophomore Jacob Schmidt
was the one who scored first, though, running in for a two-yard score on the
'Cats' first possession. In fact, the Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first
four possessions on the day and didn't punt until the third quarter. The
offense was rather efficient as a whole, despite spending much of the second
half bleeding time from the clock, gaining an average of 6.4 yards per
The NU rushing attack yielded 4.1 yards per carry, rather
impressive given the fact that Towson knew what was coming for much of the day
as NU attempted to milk its lead. Even senior superback (FB, really) Woodsum
got in on the action with six carries for 17 yards in the fourth quarter. The
Wildcats converted 12-of-17 third down tries (70.6% conversion rate), with WR
Andrew Brewer grabbing a couple of those converting-receptions. Speaking of
senior WR Brewer, he had a career day with six catches for 145 yards, including
a 72 yard TD grab.
On the other side of the ball, Northwestern did fairly
well, holding the Tigers to just 205 total yards of offense, while generating
two takeaways (both interceptions). The NU D allowed just one drive over 50
yards (a 78-yard drive that ended in Towson's first TD of the day in the second
quarter), and added two sacks (both on the same drive in the third quarter once
the backup defense was in the game). Although it was a bit disappointing not to
keep Towson off of the scoreboard completely, the NU defense did rather well
despite playing second and third stringers for much of the game and showing very
little in the way of blitzing.
In the final phase of the game, the
Wildcats special teams did fairly well, with P/K Stefan Demos indeed taking over
all kicking duties (although Steve Flaherty did take on extra-point and kickoff
duties in the fourth quarter). The 'Cats went 6-of-6 on extra points and 1-of-1
on field goals (a Demos 26-yarder), and allowed only 16.7 yards per kickoff
return (NU's one punt wasn't returned). Demos scored the first points of his
collegiate career as a starting placekicker, which NU fans hope will be
successful and consistent. The one gaffe was Demos' opening kickoff going out
of bounds; fortunately the NU defense didn't allow Towson to sniff a first down
on that drive.
Overall, it was a great warmup to the rest of the 2009
season for the Wildcats, scoring early and often and allowing the backups a lot
of reps on the field, which can do nothing but help as the season progresses.
The 33-point margin of victory was Northwestern's largest since beating MSU
49-14 in 2005. Now the 'Cats can prepare for Eastern Michigan, who visits
Evanston next week, and watch the replay of Minnesota's overtime win over
Syracuse as the 'Cats face those two teams in consecutive weeks later this
Player of the Game:
Northwestern QB Mike
Kafka (15-of-20 for 192 yards passing, 6 carries for 6 yards) It was
difficult to pick out one player for this award in a game where so many players
got a chance to play and contribute, along with the fact that this game was so
run-focused for NU (the 'Cats ran the ball 54 times and only attempted 22
passes). But, the senior QB took the reins and led the team on scoring drives
for his first three drives before yielding to backup QB Dan Persa, then came
back in to lead drives later in the game. Many questioned his passing
abilities, but a 75% completion rate for a hair under 200 yards isn't a bad
start. In the coming weeks he'll have a chance to really come into his
Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- WR Andrew
Brewer (6 catches for 145 yards and 1 TD): Brewer held up to his billing as
Northwestern's No. 1 receiver in 2009 with a breakout performance against
Towson. The play of the day was his 72-yard TD reception from Dan Persa
(Persa's only completion of his collegiate career), showing that he has the
speed to break away and take it to the house.
- RB Arby Fields (6
carries for 48 yards and 2 TDs): Fields did look like the "second coming of
Tyrell Sutton" as No. 19 made nice-looking cuts with the ball on his way to one
of his two scores on the day. He left the field with cramps (it was a warm day
in Evanston), but based on his performance he'll be expected to contribute to
NU's running game the rest of the year.
What to Work
- Offensive Line: The NU OL didn't exactly blast away it's
less-talented opponent, even racking up four holding calls. The plus side is
that the coaching staff got the chance to see a lot of them play, including true
freshman super-recruit Patrick Ward, so they can insert the best combination in
future weeks. Although NU racked up a lot of rushing yards, most of that can
be attributed to Fitz running down the clock as early and as much as possible;
the OL didn't exactly clear gaping holes for the RBs to penetrate. They will
surely be tested over the next few weeks, though, as the level of competition
- Defensive Line: Yes, DC Mike Hankwitz likely kept the
schemes basic so as not to reveal anything to future opponents, but the starting
DL didn't exactly impress. The two sacks recorded were by the backups in the
second half, and the starters never got a lot of pressure on Towson's freshman
QB, despite facing a relatively weaker opposing line. Hopefully NU fans will
see the Wildcat DL step it up a notch in each of the next couple weeks as
they'll be looked upon to lead the D against more formidable
- Today marked my 54th
consecutive Northwestern home game in attendance, although that pales in
comparison to the family that was honored after the third quarter who had held
NU season tickets for 80 consecutive years.
- Attendance was under
18,000; not surprising given the fact that it was Labor Day weekend and NU was
facing a distant FCS opponent. Hopefully continued success on the field along
with more promotions will yield improved numbers as time goes on.
'Cats did themselves no favors on penalties, racking up six for 45 yards, and
that's not even counting a couple holding calls that were declined by Towson.
There were four holding calls on the day against NU (including two that were
declined); not a great start for the Wildcat offensive line.
- Two true
freshman saw the field before they've even taken their first collegiate class:
RB Fields and OG Patrick Ward; both were highly touted recruits. Fields had a
solid first appearance, racking up 48 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just
six carries; he came out of the game with cramps due to hydration problems in
the second half.
- Northwestern experienced one significant injury today,
with RB Jeravin Matthews going down with an ankle injury that will be dealt with
day-to-day. Matthews had three carries for 11 yards on the
A solid start for the Wildcats in
the 2009 season with a very comfortable win against a "cupcake" opponent. NU
performed well in all phases of the game and saw a lot of players get valuable
playing time (NU played a total of 71 players against Towson, meaning the vast
majority of players on the roster saw the field). The 'Cats established a
presence on offense, which needed solid footing after losing all of the skill
position players from a year ago, and had a good all-around game that gives
Northwestern a great start to the year.
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