The question that pervaded my postings on NU's offseason was answered swiftly and brutally Saturday morning, as we all found out in various ways that Dan Persa - Chicago's Heisman Candidate! - didn't even dress to play against Boston College and immediately began fearing the worst.
As the afternoon unfurled, we got the answer to the follow-up question - how much does that matter? - and the answer was pleasant and viciously surprising. Kain Colter was all we'd hoped from him and completed 70 percent of his passes en route to an NU victory.
Colter wasn't the deciding factor by any means, as the Cats won the game in the trenches: Northwestern's offensive line opened up massive holes up front for Colter as well as Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith, who put up 227 yards against last year's best run defense in the NCAA. And on the other side of the ball, a reinvigorated defensive line held Andre Williams to 53 yards on 21 carries (not including his 69-yard romp that got stopped short of a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage) and brutalized Chase Rettig, sacking him three times, forcing him to throw the ball away before/while getting popped other times, and of course, Vince Browne blindsiding him for no gain on the final play of the game.
I'm going to have a poopload of posts on this game as the week goes on, this is just my first shot. As for #sippinuptoboston, it was unspeakably awesome, but we all crashed pretty much simultaneously and found ourselves sitting in a Boston Chipotle at 6:30 yesterday, eating burritos in complete silence, before someone eventually said "I don't want to be the guy who says we should go home, but... yeah." I got back here at about 11 last night and slept straight through to noon. I have a pretty decent sunburn and a desire to go directly back to sleep. Forgive me if this post isn't fully-fledged - I plan on rewatching the game later today after aforementioned sleep and will do several meaty posts later in the week. I'll also have a roadtrip recap eventually.
Bulletpoints after the jump.
- #coltersurprisinglygood. As I said, Kain Colter played as well as we could have all hoped. His passes were generally very accurate and he had the arm strength to hit open receivers on the sidelines, which, is, like, all you need to be an NU quarterback. His only truly great throw was the third-down completion to Ebert across the middle in the fourth quarter on NU's final TD drive, but he was capable of making throws to open receivers, which is more than most of us thought. He looked a bit shaky at the beginning, putting passes where nobody could catch them, but gained confidence as the game progressed. His pick was ugly, but just miscommunication.
- And the running is obviously there. I mean, WOAH. He cuts like a running back. When you can take on an all-American linebacker who is the NCAA's leading tackler one-on-one and make him miss on a run for a touchdown, you're good.
- I am not sure what happened to Northwestern's defense, but am intrigued by the people who appear to have replaced them. With the exception of Jeravin Matthews, who was quite simply outmatched by Ifeanyi Momah, who is very tall, NU's defense was superb. The run game was stopped dead in its tracks, as NU overpowered BC's offensive line and kept Andre Williams from getting to the outside, dropping him in the backfield on slow-developing runs over and over again. And although Chase Rettig passed a lot, that's, like, exactly what NU wanted. Rettig definitely had a field day finding Momah open but his tendency to sky passes to open receivers every once in a while made NU's strategy worth it. Mo
- It's nice when your leading tackler isn't your safety. Thanks, David Nwabuisi, Bryce McNaul, and others for not letting people get far enough.
- Tyler Scott looked great opposing Vince Browne. And Browne was Browne - that last play deading is really something else. From my vantage point, the whole thing seemed like it was happening in slow motion, like in a slasher flick when there's clearly somebody behind the guy and they have no clue that they obviously have a little under eight seconds to live.
- Now let's talk about that o-line: only the one false start and two sacks for a combined seven yards. Colter had all day to throw in a legitimate pocket and holes were present for runners. I would have shot somebody in the face for a day like this last season, provided they were somebody I didn't like that much in the first place.
- Frank Spaziani is not a great coach. The gameplan of sit back and force NU to make throws seemed like a good idea when planning for a team with a questionable quarterback and no rushing game, but as the Cats started grinding out first downs on the ground, you'd think he would've stopped dropping five defensive backs and both linebackers into pass coverage. Often facing only four rushers, the Cats' offensive line didn't have any problem opening things up. Northwestern's three touchdown drives seemed effortless.
- While BC was very passive defensively, NU had some nice blitzes. Good stuff by coach Hankwitz. And McCall for building an offense around his backup QB. You know what, cheers all around for the coaching staff.
- That said, I agree with the decision to go for it on fourth down twice, but not necessarily the execution. QB sneak up the middle with a tiny quarterback known for his mobility?
- Rettig is probably the best passer in the world once he crosses the line of scrimmage.
- Mike Trumpy is legit. Carry on.
- Special teams! We have them! Between Jeff Budzien drilling his only FG attempt, Brandon Williams booming the ball, and Steve Flaherty knocking touchbacks off of kickoffs, they look good. Especially after BC's kicker missed a chippie by a foot or two and then knocked a wobbly line drive that looked like what happens when you completely miss the "accuracy" thing when lining up kicks in Madden.
- Redshirts burned: Treyvon Green, Jack Konopka, who did some good blocking up front as a superback, and Christian Jones, who is going to be a spectacular wide receiver. Big, fast, word.
- We can confirm that Luke Kuechly is scary.
- I am a very large fan of a very large man: NU's personal protector on the punt team, Bo Cisek, who has apparently switched his number from 55 to 1, making it look like Stefan Demos ate Stefan Demos.
- I could watch Kain Colter and Adonis Smith run the option out of the pistol all day long. It seemed like Boston College was having fun watching it, too, because they took their time getting around to actually tackling whoever ended up with the ball. My doom and gloom "I'm graduating" post was one thing, but being a Northwestern fan and watching Colter, Smith, and Trumpy wreaking havoc from the backfield as sophomores should make everybody pretty excited for the Persa-less future.
- I hope none of you placed money on those 95-to-1 Persa for Heisman odds, because anybody whose team can replicate his production in a non-conference victory probably ain't gonna be Heisman. Not saying he's not good, but that's pretty true. So, new hashtags: #persanonexistent, #persaout, etc. #Colterfast.
- The world is filled with bad but usable Kain Colter nickname suggestions. From the Hurrikain to House of Kain to the Coltergeist. I approve of all, but will not throw my weight behind any one.
- BC's secondary was as expected, quite poor. Lots of space for NU guys.
That's all I got for now, but more stuff will come. In summary, this is awesome: I had honestly come to expect a loss, especially as news re: Persa hit. But once the anxiety about that was gone and the reality that the team had a game to play, things got good. My 8-4 thoughts are holding strong, but after a quality road win against a talented opponent - and despite the 0-1 start, BC is talented - I'm leaning a lot towards better than worse.