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Halfway Home: The Good


I'ma tell you what's good. Later I'ma tell you what's bad. Could I have done this last week? Yes. Did I? No, because my official excuse is that I needed the time to reflect and my unofficial excuse is that I was lazy. We'll get into Michigan State stuff tomorrow.

Dan Persa: It's week seven, and it's already a given that every game, Dan Persa will have a great game. Last year, at this point, we were figuring out Mike Kafka. Two years ago at this time, we were still trying to figure out C.J. Bachér, and he was our starter for two years before that. Now, we have Dan Persa. He's essentially the perfect quarterback for our offense: hits guys accurately and quickly between 4-12 yards downfield, has the arm for an occasional bomb, rarely throws picks, and speedy as can be. Halfway through the season, he's thrown for 1663 yards, had three 300-yard outings, thrown ten touchdowns and only two picks, leads the team by a lot in rushing with 295 yards including a 99-yard outing, is fourth in the nation in QB rating and first in completion percentage (78 percent, WELL below my slightly-above-3.0 career GPA). We expected him to have a shaky arm - he's thrown several bombs for touchdowns. We expected him to toss a lot of picks based on his play last year, when he had two picks in only 34 passes. This year he's thrown two in 177 attempts. He can do no wrong.

Vince Browne: Corey Wootton wasn't himself last year, but he still drew a lot of defensive attention, and made life easy for Vince Browne, so it wasn't crazy to expect Browne to struggle up front. Turns out he's turned into the beast anybody who has ever seen him play football thought he could become. He's got five sacks in six games, and has turned making the opposing offensive line's day a living hell into a hobby of his, and one he's quite good at. He lives in the backfield.

Winning: NU hasn't played good opponents, and they haven't played well against them. Vanderbilt sucks - they just lost to a crappy Georgia team 43-0 - NU beat them by two. Central Michigan is 1-5 against FBS competition, including losses to Miami (Ohio) and Ball State - NU nearly blew their lead against them and only won by five. Minnesota is FAIL and that took a heart-stopping one-point victory. But NU has five wins, and are one away from bowl eligibility and the almost assured spot in a bowl game that will come with it. It's tough to argue NU has played well over the first half of the season - trust me, the "The Bad" post is significantly longer than this one - so the fact that a Big Ten title run, though improbable, is hypothetically still possible is impressive. NU has gotten ugly wins, but win = win.

Jeremy Ebert: For people who aren't D'Wayne Bates, thousand-yard receiving seasons are kinda rare at NU, and it's easy to see why: the Cats run a spread, and as that name implies, the ball is spread around quite a bit. In 2008, NU had three star receivers getting nearly equal amounts of the ball, last year, Andrew Brewer was a deep threat and Zeke Markshausen caught anything under 15 yards. This year, it's pretty much a one-man show: Ebert has 560 yards through six games - more than the next two guys, Drake Dunsmore and Sidney Stewart, combined. His SportsCenter Top Ten catch against Minnesota saved a game/season and basically cost Tim Brewster his job. And all this primarily out of the slot without a true deep ball threat on the squad. Really impressive.

Turnovers: Save the Minnesota game, NU has out ball-securitied its opponent in every game. A lot of this is due to our secondary, which although it has seemed porous, is averaging a bit under two picks a game, as opposed to the two Dan Persa has thrown all year.

Brandon Williams: From complete obscurity, NU found this guy, and our punting game has jumped from the worst in the Big Ten to not that bad. He's averaging 40.3 yards per punt and opponents are averaging only 3.6 yards per return, which means he's getting good hangtime. Really out of nowhere, we're getting a huge boost in the field position battle.

Quentin Davie: No, he hasn't had picks every game like he did against Rice and Illinois State, but, damn, this guy has been everywhere. Davie is the heart of a really speedy linebacker corps, and along with Nate Williams (who has also played  well so far this year) has been a pretty big factor for the Cats.

The secondary: Tough to call a unit that gave up 347 yards to Central Michigan good, but when they've been healthy, they've been alright. Ten picks as opposed to six touchdowns through the air for opponents, the secondary has forced Big Ten opponents to try and beat us on the ground. They've been more than willing to do that, but, never mind. It didn't look particularly great for NU's pass attack at first - Jordan Mabin wasn't playing well, Justan Vaughn was (and still is) somewhat out of sorts - but they've improved over recent weeks quite a bit. Brian Peters always has been one of the better defensive players on the field thus far this year - and we haven't really even had a consistent starter at the other safety spot.