While Dan Persa Gently Weeps: Northwestern vs. Army recap

We're suckers for optimism. When Northwestern's entire offense - Dan Persa - got hurt last season, I remained confident NU would play well. They didn't. When Kain Colter took control of NU's offense and led three pretty scoring drives against Boston College, I became convinced that NU could continue to operate at a passable level in Persa's absence. This led to overwhelming faith in Colter and nicknames.

Saturday's loss to Army proved that this line of thinking was pretty damn foolish. Kain Colter is a sophomore who threw nine passes as a freshman and completed three and we expected him to be more than that. Trevor Siemian is a freshman who has now thrown ten career passes, and to anoint/decry him based on anything besides the fact that he's a freshman who has thrown ten career passes is absurd. We came into the year knowing that Northwestern needed its hobbled hero, the guy who spent Saturday standing on the sideline, tugging on his jersey collar, listening eagerly to his headset prepared to play in an "emergency" while we all snickered about how losing to Army is an emergency. Our optimism suckered us into incorrectly believing otherwise after the first two weeks, but, well, we were all right.

Bulletpoints after the jump.

 

  • You'll probably notice that although the thing that really defined NU's loss was a crippling ability to get off the field defensively, I didn't mention it up above. I don't see this as a big picture issue for Northwestern. We were playing Army. You know Army is going to do what they're going to do, you know you have to prepare for it, and yet it's still extremely difficult to stop. Am I pretty disappointed NU didn't have a chance in hell of stopping the triple option all game long? Yes. The only time I recall not being nervous about NU's defense was after Army inexplicably threw on both first and second downs en route to going three and out. NU should have been able to play competently despite the weird system and instead got absolutely dominated. The stats are hideous. No push up front defensively, poor tackling with guys getting three or four yards after initial contact, etc.
  • It was actually kind of a perfect storm of things you hate to see Northwestern play against: a team with a ridiculous running game and a bad kicker - I am worried about America's chances in the fight against terror if our soldiers have to accurately kick things at enemies - meant Army was pretty much forced into making smart decisions by going for it on fourth down multiple times. This sucked for NU because Army's average play got around five yards on the ground and if you do that three times, you should be either past or very, very close to a first down marker. Going for it on fourth and three was a simple decision for Army and thus NU had even more trouble getting off the field.
  • Here's a list of "things that we thought were awesome after BC but were really terrible against Army. I am a little bit scared to start writing it because it might end up being so long that I spend the next 30 or 40 years writing it and by then nobody will care anymore and also I'll be in my fifties without a job or family.
  • The offensive line. They racked up penalties like racks on racks on racks and didn't do a great job protecting Kain Colter or opening up the run game, although admittedly this was probably difficult against an Army team that packed the line of scrimmage.
  • The special teams. Brandon Williams has lost that punting feeling and is wobbling between short punts and line drives hoping for a friendly roll, which in his defense, he got. And Jeff Budzien, who missed a 26-yarder that could have changed the complexion of the game. And Steve Flaherty, whose average kickoff landed at the 11 yard line and was returned to the 28. (Not that that's that bad, but my point is all these guys were dominant week one and looked meh today.)
  • The defensive line. Nothing up front.
  • NU's passing game. This has been mentioned up thurr, but, well, Army packed the line of scrimmage and forced Kain Colter to hook up with his receivers, and he just couldn't. Though he's extremely talented in open field situations, he couldn't get enough as there always seemed to be someone killing his scrambling vibe. (I'll watch tape hopefully, but I'll assume this was due to a QB spy or something.)
  • Switching gears, there were good things. Jeremy Ebert looked spectacular with his unbelievable back-of-the-end zone catch giving us shades of Ross Lane and his run after the catch to find the end zone on the pass from Trevor Siemian. This is encouraging.
  • I hate singling out Northwestern players for bad play. They don't deserve it. They're college kids like me and shouldn't have their classmates taking shots at them on the internet for something stupid like football. So I'm not so much mad at Jacob Schmidt for not being a good running back as I am with the Northwestern coaching staff for continuing to give him carries. 
  • One more coaching quibble: fourth-and-one going against a team whose defensive linemen are all smaller than your offensive line and you go with the rollout pass? Huh.
  • I went to the Wildside's watch party event after struggling in vein to find CBS Sports Network on my own teevee. It was pretty dope and had a great turnout. SPOTTED: Bill Carmody wearing a tracksuit and the entire men's basketball team playing cornhole. They gave out free Coke Zero, which was pretty good because I needed something to mix with at halftime.
  • I like meeting readers! It's enjoyable. Pleasant. Nice. Satisfying. Affable. Agreeable. 
  • Demetrius Fields can only make extremely difficult catches.
  • CBS College Sports gave Army the home team treatment, as I'm pretty sure happens to NU every time the BTN has games. The announcer used the phrase "mission accomplished" early on, which really confused me about whether he thought the game would still be going on in six years. He also said the word "void" 400,382 times. Use some synonyms, like "abyss" or "vacuum".
  • Also, his three keys to the game were thus: "Diamond", "Decisions", and "BALL!!!" This was really confusing without audio. BALL!!! is definitely key though - without the ball, they wouldn't be able to play football.  
  • For some reason, the Wildside watch party played exclusively Lil Wayne during commercials. 6'7' wasn't that surprising, but I think I heard  "Fire Flame Spitta" at one point, which kind of is. Didn't matter, because the band - who played some awesome songs - played over this most of the time.
  • This is all I have to say. That and I hope Dan Persa plays against Illinois. And that I need to rewatch this to see what went wrong.
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