Post-Game Analysis: Eastern Michigan
by Jonathan Hodges
Northwestern (2-0, 0-0) got all it could handle from the
Eastern Michigan Eagles (0-2, 0-0), but placekicker Stefan Demos nailed a 49
yard field goal with just six seconds left in the game to secure a 27-24 win for the Wildcats. Although NU started off strong,
building a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, they let off the gas a bit as
EMU moved the ball effectively in the second half with a strong running game.
Eastern Michigan eventually tied the game at 24 with 2:40 left in the fourth
quarter, but Stephen Simmons returned the ensuing kickoff 25 yards and QB Mike
Kafka led a drive that set up the game-winning field goal.
To say that
this game was a disappointment for Northwestern is an understatement: NU came in
as 20-point favorites after purely out-manning FCS opponent Towson in week one,
while EMU lost to a one-dimensional Army team at home. In this game, though,
the Eagles made the necessary adjustments in the second half and worked their
way back thanks to a couple of big plays that went in their favor.
third quarter with a 21-3 lead, NU looked as though it held EMU on third down
and three, dropping feisty RB Dwayne Priest for a one yard loss (along with an
offensive holding call). Instead, NU's Brian Peters was called for
unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Eastern Michigan a new set of downs. That
turned out to be the spark that the Eagles needed; they would then drive for
their first offensive TD of the game to cut it into Northwestern's
After NU went on a time-consuming drive that ended with a very
short field goal (Northwestern had the ball at the two yard line), EMU once
again appeared to fizzle: NU forced them to punt from their own 30 after a
three-and-out. Instead, the short punt ended up hitting a Northwestern player
running down the field (which was confirmed on replay), and an EMU player jumped
on the ball to recover at NU's 35 yard line. The Eagles promptly punched the
ball in to cut the Northwestern lead to a touchdown.
Then, on the next
drive, the 'Cats were once again driving when Kafka was hit while throwing,
forcing a bad throw that was intercepted. Eastern Michigan then ran for 68
yards on 7 carries to drive and tie the game with under three minutes left in
regulation. At this point, three major errors by NU directly led to EMU tying
the game and even though the Wildcats would get a chance to win, things were
Thankfully, Simmons came through with a great return and NU
drove the ball enough to score, getting a first-and-ten on the EMU 25 yard
line. Then came two consecutive NU penalties that pushed the 'Cats back to the
50 yard line (holding and pass interference), but Kafka looked to his go-to guy,
WR Andrew Brewer, who caught his only two passes on the day for 18 yards to move
NU back to striking distance.
Player of the
P/PK Stefan Demos (3-for-3 XPs, 2-for-2 FGs, including
game-winner, 57.3 yards per kickoff, 35.3 yards per punt, 2-of-3 punts inside
20) Demos came up with the first clutch kick of his placekicking career,
easily nailing a 49-yard FG with six seconds left in regulation; he is now
3-of-3 on field goals for his career. He also handled all other kicking duties
in game two of NU's 2009 season, including all kickoffs and punting. He
continued to do a solid job on punts, placing two of his three attempts inside
the opponent's 20 yard line. The last game-winning Northwestern field goal came
in 2001 against Michigan State (although there have been some game-tying FGs
since then), so Demos deserves kudos for succeeding in a high-pressure
Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
Stephen Simmons (13 carries for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns, 1 reception for 15
yards, 5 kickoff returns for 108 yards) Simmons found paydirt twice for the
'Cats and also had the great return that set up NU's go-ahead drive in the
fourth quarter. He had a few nice runs and showed why he is the starting
running back in Fitz's RB-by-committee ground game.
LB Ben Johnson (4
tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception return for touchdown) One can't leave
Johnson off of this list as he had a 70 yard interception that he returned for a
TD in the second quarter to give NU a 21-0 lead.
What to Work
Run Defense: Northwestern gave up an average of 5.4 yards
per rush to EMU, and the Eagles' primary running back Priest had 127 yards and a
TD on just 17 carries. The EMU offensive front routinely opened up large holes
for their runners as NU failed to put together an effective defense against the
Eagles' pro set offense. Although QB Andy Schmitt went 20-for-28 passing, EMU
averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt passing as they stuck with mostly short and
high-percentage passes. The real damage was done by the running game, most of
which came in the second half after the Eagles made their offensive
Penalties: Although NU only had 5 penalties, one of
those sparked Eastern Michigan's comeback, and two of them almost cost NU the
chance to hit the game winning FG by pushing them back to the 50 yard line.
Expect Coach Fitzgerald to harp on disciplined play this week, especially with
NU hitting the road for the first time in 2009 next Saturday.
Half Play: Last week, Fitz chided his team for letting off the gas a bit in
the second half, although it didn't affect the final outcome. This week,
though, Fitz has a lot of work ahead to improve NU's second half performance
after they blew a three-score lead against a bad opponent. There were no second
half adjustments as the 'Cats regressed on both sides of the ball. There were
errors by NU players that directly led to EMU's three TDs. Thankfully, there
was enough left in the tank to pull off the win, but it didn't provide much
reassurance for NU fans.
Attendance: Once again, NU failed to reach
20,000 on the turnstiles (19,239) even with the return of NUMB and no holiday
weekend to lower the turnout.
Passing: Despite completing 6 fewer
passes than his opponent's QB, Mike Kafka threw for 10 more yards (158 for
Kafka, 148 for Schmitt). Kafka still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in 2009.
Also, his one interception versus EMU came on a play when he was hit while
delivering the football.
Freshman Regression: Just one week after
a stellar true freshman debut, RB Arby Fields had 7 carries for just 5 yards and
a lost fumble. He has shown the talent to be successful, but needs to improve
Andrew Brewer: The senior captain didn't have a
reception until two consecutive catches that came right before NU's game-winning
FG, proving that he's Kafka's go-to-guy in 2009.
Northwestern faced a scare but persevered, pulling out a win
thanks to a respectable final drive and long field goal, even after blowing an
18-point halftime lead. Although fans expected and would like to have seen a
huge Wildcat victory, like in week one, the fact is that Northwestern will face
trying situations and it's comforting to see NU's ability to pull out a close
EMU's head coach Ron English definitely has things moving in the
right direction and made a lot of good adjustments in the second half that NU
failed to match. Thankfully, in just his second game handling placekicking
duties, Stefan Demos nailed the long go-ahead field goal and the 'Cats have
established an important special teams weapon. Next up is a dangerous trip to
up-and-coming Syracuse, where the 'Cats must improve on a few things to improve
to 3-0 prior to Big Ten play.
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