I've decided to continue what will certainly be an only two-week long tradition of making the titles to my game preview posts Biggie lyrics. Of course, the problem is, Biggie's original lyric was about I.C.U., aka the intensive care unit, whereas this one... is... I really should give up, huh?
But my point is, we will kill Illinois State with guns in the same manner Mr. Wallace threatened to kill Tupac Shakur with guns. What's beef? Beef is when Northwestern sports bloggers write about you. (Note: do not kill any Illinois State fans with guns. Although, I am the least liked person in Redbird Nation as of a few posts ago.)
When We Got the Ball: Obviously, everybody's inflamed about our running game/lack thereof, and thinks, "hey, we're playing an FCS school - let's hammer the run in there to get it working!" It's a good idea, but, that's not the way it works. Last year against Towson was NU's most successful running game of the year, because we just ran it up the middle the entire game. Stephen Simmons posted would would be an NU-running back season high 77 yards. Arby Fields added 48 and two touchdowns. That wasn't a harbinger for further success in NU's running game. The downside of that run-heavy attack was that Mike Kafka only threw the ball 20 times, going 15-20, and Dan Persa threw a touchdown as well. But because Pat Fitzgerald is a gentleman, he put away the pass after halftime. Meanwhile, it didn't prevent NU from running up the score - we won by 33.
Whatever you do against an offense that gave up 54 points to a Division-II school, you will likely put up points. So don't sugar coat it. Run your offense. If the running backs are having issues, they'll have to sort them out themselves. But the last thing you want to do is get your passing attack out of rhythm. I know Dan Persa looked like a man amongst boys last week, but I'd still like to see him get his reps in - last year, we didn't do that against an FCS team, and it took an extra few weeks before Mike Kafka looked comfortable against real competition. Let's not make that mistake again. I'm not saying they should throw a hail mary on first down in the fourth quarter because they can, but, this is a real game, so play it like one.
When I play pickup ball against somebody I'm clearly better against - rarely, but it has happened - I don't shoot threes because I know I'll win, even though three-point shooting isn't the best part of my game. I can get that practice whenever I want in an open gym. I try to play the same way I do against tougher opponents because it helps me work on the things I'm not good at. In the same way, NU could run the ball every down tomorrow - it's not the best facet of our game, but we know we'll win, most likely - but that won't help our game get better.
Semi-under the radar player to watch: Evan Watkins. He hasn't played yet, and the Watkinsurgency is restless. Get the 6-6 guy some snaps.
When they got the ball: Illinois State has two FBS running backs, so this won't be tackling practice. However, the run-stoppers did well up front last week, what really worries me is our secondary. Handling an FCS team won't be the ultimate test for them, but it would be comforting.
Semi-under the radar player to watch: Jordan Mabin. Not a great performance against Vandy, he's supposedly our "shutdown corner" this year. This won't be his toughest test, so, he shouldn't have trouble. Pick one off.
Transitive property faulty math that tells me we'll win by a lot: Somewhere along the line, I accidentally discontinnued this feature last year.
September 3, 2009: Eastern Illinois, 31, Illinois State, 6
September 4, 2010: Iowa, 37, Eastern Illinois, 7
November 7, 2009: Northwestern, 17, Iowa, 10
Faulty math game estimate margin: 65 points
Actual spread: Northwestern -28.5
My pick v. the spread: Illinois State. Never give NU 28 points.
Pick in a mascot fight to the death: Cats love eating tiny songbirds. Even pathetic little tabby cats will eat the most ferocious of songbirds, which I believe is a robin. This is reason no. 1 why not to name your university's mascot - or your sports team in general - after something adorable. Game, NU. (Mascot death fight standings: 1-1)
My pick in April and my five-word-or-less jokey game summary: Northwestern. "Still I-AA To me"
And my pick:
Northwestern, 40, Illinois State, 14
I expect this game to be a near-exact duplicate of the Southern Illinois-NU game from a few years ago: ugly, no student attendance, rainy, and Jacob Schmidt will block a punt even though he no longer plays special teams. So I'm sticking with the same 26 point spread, but NU has a worse defense than they had then and Illinois State has a worse defense than just about anybody, so, that's my pick and I'm stickin to it.
Peace! I'll be in an airport tomorrow, but I'll comment and put up a post-game thread.