Miami (O) at NU
Saturday, Oct. 10. 11:00 am CDT
radio internet coverage.
Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Miami
by Jonathan Hodges
Northwestern (3-2, 1-1) concludes its regular season nonconference slate with a
bout against Miami (Ohio) (0-5) at Ryan Field, which also marks the end of the
first half of the 2009 season. NU is looking to gain momentum after an exciting
win at Purdue, while Miami is seeking its first win of the 2009 season. This
also marks the fifth (and final) time that NU has met a team with a first year
head coach this season.
After struggling over a period of just about
three games (from the second half of the Eastern Michigan game through the first
half of the Purdue game), the defense came alive by holding the Boilermakers
scoreless over the final 40 minutes of last week's game and forcing a half-dozen
turnovers. S Brad Phillips led the way with two forced fumbles and a fumble
recovery, CB Sherrick McManis chipped in with his second interception in as many
days, and LB David Arnold added a sack and a forced fumble which earned him a
spot in this week's starting lineup.
The offense did its part as well,
with QB Mike Kafka protecting the ball well (no turnovers) and leading the
Wildcats on a game winning drive late in the fourth quarter, which is something
NU was unable to do in each of the previous two games. Kafka added to his 200+
yard passing day with 59 rushing yards and a touchdown (the go-ahead score),
showing off his dual-threat skills.
And special teams were indeed special
for NU, with P/K Stefan Demos going 4-of-4 for field goals and landing Big Ten
special teams player of the week honors (which he shared with Penn State's
punter). Also, NU coverage teams forced and recovered two of the five fumbles
Purdue had on the day (and almost had another that was overturned on
Miami, meanwhile, has faced a rather tough schedule, including
two teams currently ranked in the top 10 nationally (Boise State and
Cincinnati). Throw in a neutral site game against SEC member Kentucky and two
road MAC games, and that's why the RedHawks currently have the nation's 15th
toughest schedule according to the Sagarin Ratings.
That difficult slate
is a big reason why Miami is dead last nationally in scoring offense, scoring
just 11.6 points per game, and next to last nationally in scoring defense,
allowing 40.8 points per game. In fact, Miami didn't score until the third
quarter of their third game of the year, at which point they had been outscored
But, they have improved, on a relative basis, racking up 58 points
since then (averaging out to a respectable 23.2 points per game), thanks to the
emergence of redshirt freshman QB Zac Dysert, who took over full time QB duty
just two games ago. So far, he has racked up 833 yards of total offense and has
thrown three touchdown passes. He leads the team in both passing and rushing
and is a legitimate dual threat from the quarterback position that has been a
spark to Miami's sagging offense.
Unfortunately, the defense just hasn't
kept up for the RedHawks, allowing the aforementioned 40.8 points per contest.
Yet another factor in their poor start has been a turnover margin ranked next to
last nationally, -2.8 per game. They're tied for 115th with just 4 takeaways on
the year while they're dead last (120th) with 18 given up, which was a major
reason behind the switch to the freshman quarterback (although he has six
interceptions of his own).
Although the Wildcats will be heavily favored
in this matchup, Northwestern fans know all to well that Miami is not a team to
be overlooked as the 'Cats sport a 2-6 all-time record against them, including
the 1995 loss that prevented a perfect regular season (that team was, of course,
coached by Randy Walker). And this year's squad has shown improvement every
week and were in the game (down by 10) as late as the fourth quarter last week
against 10th ranked Cincinnati.
As long as Northwestern plays like it did
to close out the game against Purdue, the Wildcats should be able to take care
of business and build momentum heading into a tough second half of the 2009
season. They'll need every win they can get to reach bowl eligibility with six
Big Ten foes left on the calendar.
Opening Line: Northwestern
Who Should Win:
listed in the stats above, Miami hasn't done much right this year and are at or
near the very bottom of FBS/I-A stats on both sides of the ball, and on top of
that haven't taken care of the football at all while being virtually unable to
force any turnovers of their own. If NU can muster up any sort of effort on
defense similar to the final 40 minutes of last week's game, the offense could
stick to its run early and often game plan that the Wildcats used through the
first two weeks of the season and earn a home victory.
If the Miami offense continues its ascent at the hands of
Dysert, the NU defense reverts to what NU fans saw from the second half of the
EMU game through the first half of the Purdue game, and Miami finds a way to
finally win the turnover battle, things could get interesting. Remember that
the RedHawks kept last week's game against top 10 Cincinnati close through three
quarters, too. The Wildcats must avoid complacency against a team starved for
its first win under a new head coach (as NU learned against Syracuse earlier in
the year and almost found out against Eastern Michigan).
Northwestern Offense / Miami OH
Realistically, NU shouldn't need to do too much against a
team that is 95th nationally in rushing defense and is allowing a healthy 4.7
yards per carry. The 'Cats showed that they can keep things relatively simple
and stick to the running game during the first two weeks of the year, where over
two thirds of plays were runs.
True freshman Arby Fields is listed as the
starting running back and is averaging 3.9 yards per carry and leads NU with
four touchdowns and will look for a breakout game. Meanwhile, Stephen Simmons
is on the road to recovery and could be used as well. Look for NU to spread the
ball around to multiple backs as they try to churn out a win on the
If absolutely necessary, the 'Cats can always go to the air
behind the quarterback with the nation's third best completion percentage
(70.1%), Mike Kafka. Miami's pass efficiency defense is ranked 104th
nationally, as they have given up 13 touchdown passes this season (and have just
Sophomore linebacker Jerrell Wedge leads the
RedHawks in tackles with 48 and TFLs with 5.5, and also has two pass break-ups
and a forced fumble. There is talent on the linebacking corps with a unit that
faced injuries and unmet expectations last season, but not much else on a unit
that is trying to find its groove.
The Wildcat OL has had trouble both
opening holes for the running game (3.75 yards per carry, even with sacks
removed) and protecting Kafka (12 sacks yielded). This will be a good
opportunity to gel as a unit and prove themselves against an opponent who hasn't
been able to get to the opposing QB (just four sacks in five games this year),
and hasn't been able to stop the run, either.
/ Miami OH Offense:
The NU defense finally found a groove last week,
forcing a slew of turnovers against Purdue, and will be looking to continue that
trend against a squad that is averaging 3.6 giveaways a game. Dysert has looked
promising, but is still a freshman who has already thrown six interceptions in
just over two games of play.
The Miami offensive line is quite possibly
the worst unit NU has faced all season, as they've given up 21 sacks in just
five games this year. The 'Cats must watch out for the running game, though, as
the RedHawks are averaging a decent 4.2 yards per carry with sacks removed from
the numbers. Senior RB Andre Bratton is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and
junior Thomas Merriweather has two of Miami's three rushing TDs on the
Thankfully, the Wildcats finally found a way to stop the run
against Purdue, holding the previously potent Boilermaker running game to well
under 100 yards, something that the D hopes to continue on Saturday. The
defensive line stepped up for NU last week, accounting for 12 total tackles, and
will have to continue clogging the middle to continue its success against the
This may very well be the week that Corey Wootton gets his first
sack as I would expect the defensive line will gather multiple sacks against a
porous offensive line. This is NU's best chance to keep the RedHawks' offense
at bay, by getting into the face of a redshirt freshman QB and taking him
The 'Cats also need to watch out for the Miami receiving corps, as
they have talent and have looked pretty solid even while gelling with a new QB
who has just a couple of games under his belt. Armand Robinson leads the team
with 33 receptions, while Eugene Harris leads the team with two TD grabs. The
RedHawks have six guys with double digit catches and five guys with over 10
yards per reception.
NU P/K Stefan Demos
earned co-Big Ten special teams player of the week for his performance against
Purdue and is now 8-of-8 on field goals this year and 16-of-17 on extra points.
He's hit 7-of-18 punts inside the opponents' 20 yard lines, and is averaging
61.1 yards per kickoff (inside the opponents' 10 yard line). He'll need to
continue this effort to help put Miami deep in their own territory to start
The NU coverage teams did a great job against a Purdue team with
dangerous returners. Purdue averaged just 16.4 yards per kickoff return and 1.0
yards per punt return, with one fumble on each type of return that NU
recovered. This was great to see after NU had trouble on kick return coverage
over the last few weeks.
Miami's kicker, Trevor Cook, has proven to be
less than reliable as he's 2-of-3 on FGs and just 4-of-6 on XPs. The kicker
handling kickoffs, Seth Philip, has done a bit better, averaging 63.2 yards per
kickoff with four touchbacks, but Miami is dead last nationally in kickoff
return defense, allowing 32.3 yards per kickoff return and one touchdown on the
And on punt returns, Miami is 99th allowing 13.6 yards per return.
If NU wants to get its return game going, this looks like the perfect
Adding to all of that, the RedHawks are also dead last
nationally in kickoff returns, averaging a measly 14.2 yards per kickoff
return. Although, their punt returning is in the middle of the pack nationally
at 10.3 yards per return, which makes NU's 4.1 yards per punt return look very
The Wildcats' special teams shined last week, and against a squad
that's sitting near the bottom of the rankings for most special teams
statistical categories, NU has a chance to continue that
Changes: After an underwhelming performance, LB Ben Johnson has been
replaced as the starter with David Arnold (both are sophomores). Arnold was
injured to start the year but impressed against Purdue with four tackles, one
sack, and a forced fumble. He was originally a defensive back (safety) but has
been transitioned to the weak side linebacker position this year in order to get
more speed at that position (Johnson was also a relatively smaller and quicker
Third Down Conversions: Yes, I love to break down
this statistic. NU is now eighth nationally, converting over 54% of their third
downs, while allowing opponents to convert 39% of theirs (a less impressive 69th
nationally). Miami, meanwhile, is converting just 41% of their third downs
while allowing opponents to convert 48% of theirs (112th nationally). The 'Cats
are, therefore, looking forward to some long sustained drives.
Fumbles: NU safety Brad Phillips is tied at the top nationally having
forced three fumbles on the season.
True Freshmen: The 'Cats have
now played three true freshmen on the year, with LB Roderick Goodlow seeing the
field on special teams (he's also listed as the backup strong side linebacker).
RB Arby Fields and OL Patrick Ward have appeared in all of NU's games so far
Scoring by Quarters: In quarters one, three, and four,
NU has been outscored 100-88 so far this year. But in the second quarter, the
'Cats are outscoring opponents by a 40 point collective margin,
Northwestern: RB Alex
Daniel (ankle, out for season), OT Mike Boyle (back, questionable), RB Stephen
Simmons (ankle, questionable), RB Scott Concannon (head, questionable), LB Bryce
McNaul (leg, questionable), DT Jack DiNardo (shoulder, questionable).
'Cats look to get Simmons back (although he's not listed on the depth chart)
along with backup Concannon to bolster the RB corps, which looks to be used
quite frequently this coming game. McNaul's injury gave true freshman Goodlow a
chance to get playing time, but he will potentially be available as well.
Thankfully, NU's overall health has vastly improved since the Syracuse
Miami OH: DL DJ Svabik (ribs, questionable), WR Chris
Givens (shoulder, out for season).
Miami is relatively healthy even after
being beaten up on the scoreboard over the first five weeks of the
Prediction: Northwestern 31 - Miami OH 14
the Wildcats to run early and often since Miami really hasn't stopped anyone on
the ground, while the defense will use up-front pressure to harass a freshman
quarterback and force turnovers. The RedHawks will be able to score, but the
'Cats will likely have built up a comfortable margin so as not to
Against a team that is near or at the bottom nationally in so many
statistical categories, NU will have a chance to blow this game open, but expect
Fitz to play this one close to the chest, much like NU did in the first two
games of this season.
This will be a great chance for Northwestern to
build momentum heading into a vital stretch of the season as they seek bowl
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