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Halfway Home: The Bad

Well-timed bye week, partie deux: the stuff that hasn't been good. (There's more of this stuff, even though NU is 5-1. It's more fun to criticize than it is to compliment, yo.)

The running game: NU doesn't have one. Arby Fields, Jacob Schmidt, Mike Trumpy, Stephen Simmons and Adonis Smith and Scott Concannon have tried and failed to establish a ground game. Too many cooks spoil a broth, but too many running backs who don't appear to be helpful in any way shape or form have been given 40-plus carries per game to do next to nothing. They've averaged 3.05 yards per carry. Even with Dan Persa, NU only averages 3.2 yards per carry - last in the Big Ten - but without him, that's 3.05, which is horrifically bad. Against Purdue, NU averaged 2.0 yards per carry on 42 tries. The worst part about it is that every Jacob Schmidt dive up the gut for two yards takes the ball out of Dan Persa's hands, even though he's been averaging nearly ten yards per pass attempt through the air. There's something to be said for making your opponent expect the run or pass. But when only your passing game works, the other team doesn't even need to go too far out of their way to stop you on the ground - you're just shooting yourself in the foot. (Now that I think of it, some feet holes could improve our speed at running back. Makes them lighter.) Fields liked to run backwards. Schmidt is slow. Trumpy and Simmons have fallen out of favor for indeterminate reasons. Adonis Smith probably shouldn't have had his shirt burned to start with. This unit hasn't done anything beneficial, but NU keeps going back to it with decreasing marginal returns.

The run defense: Purdue and Minnesota really didn't even try to throw against NU. DeLeon Eskridge had 119 yards on 5.4 yards a carry for the Gophers, Rob Henry and the Boilermakers ran about 45 zone reads and gained 232 yards on the ground. The team is getting pushed back on the line, and while Quentin Davie and crew are quick at linebacker, they're more built for pass coverage than meeting guys at the line of scrimmage and stops them. Be mad at whatever aspects of NU's offense you feel like, but if holes big enough for Gheorghe Muresan keep opening up front and let the opposing running back or QB get five yards on first-and-ten before they even get touched, it won't matter.

Stefan Demos: Not much to say here. For some reason, one of the conference's better field goal kickers can't hit anything.He's only 2-6 from over 40 yards, and he's missed three extra points in six weeks, more than he missed all last season. Like I said, not much to say. I'm sure some of the blame for his woes rests on the long snapper, John Henry Pace, or the new holder, Brandon Williams, but, Demos needs to step his game up.

FRESHMANNNNNNNN: NU has randomly burned the first-year eligibility of five true freshmen: Venric Mark, Will Hampton, Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones, and Adonis Smith. Mark hasn't made his mark presence felt on punt returns, and had a pretty silly fumble. Hampton played against Illinois State because we were short on players due to injury but hasn't been a factor in the rotation - he hasn't played in every game since and only has one assisted tackle. Lawrence has been fine, to be honest. Jones had two costly penalties (in addition to his one awesome touchdown) and Smith has barely played at running back. Here I'm not saying that the freshmen have played badly - they're two years younger than me, I'm not going to criticize them on their play like six weeks after they got on campus - just that I have no idea why any of them are playing. They're not fully ready and they're not contributing to the team much - although they might have been able to somewhere down the line.

Conservative playcalling: I said this in the first part, but, man, NU needs to stop running the ball. The option has looked alright, but only has a change of pace. First-and-ten is not time for a halfback dive with a player better suited to being a fullback.

Punt returns: It was only a real problem last week, but its still unacceptable: I'd rather have somebody fair catch the ball every time - which is pretty much what we do anyway - than somebody who could return the ball 50 yards or could fumble for a touchdown.

Wide receivers 2-infinity: They don't seem to be there. The Cats are playing three true freshmen at wide receiver, and it hasn't made much of a difference anyway. Luckily, Dan Persa has shown he can scramble when other quarterbacks would be getting coverage sacked.