by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Snippet of the Day: Freshman of the Week, Surprising to None
Ladies and gentlemen, your new leader in the secondary is redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose — well, statistically anyway. With his three pass breakups in Minneapolis, VanHoose now leads the Wildcats in pass breakups. He also leads Northwestern in passes defensed.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald might be right in suggesting that statistics are for losers, but it was hard not to notice one of VanHoose's pass breakups, as he adeptly waved his arm in front of a pass intended for Minnesota wide receiver A.J. Barker as Barker streaked into the end zone. After initially falling behind Barker on the slant route, VanHoose did a nice job of maintaining calm and sticking his hands right in front of Barker's bread basket to prevent the touchdown.
One of several relative newcomers comprising Northwestern's secondary, VanHoose has been a much-needed source of stability at cornerback for the Wildcats. As sophomore Daniel Jones, who was one of the young secondary members who had his baptism by fire last season after Jordan Mabin got hurt, replaces fifth-year senior Quinn Evans at one corner position, VanHoose prepares to start his eighth game of the season. Evans didn't help his cause on Saturday when he drew a costly pass-interference penalty on third down. Jones now marks the Wildcats' third starter of the season at the other cornerback position.
All in all, VanHoose is part of a secondary that continues to look far better than last year's unit. Northwestern's secondary certainly bent plenty against Minnesota, surrendering passes of 23, 18, 17, 16 and 14 yards to the Golden Gophers, but it never broke. It never allowed a receiver to break free and escape into the end zone. And this secondary no longer has that deer in the headlights look that it had against A.J. Jenkins last season or Ryan Nassib this season.
"I wouldn't say I was really worried after the Syracuse game," sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell said. "Guys were in position, just not looking at the ball."
VanHoose also flashed some impressive speed on special teams Saturday, when he raced downfield following a booming Brandon Williams punt and managed to trip up the Golden Gophers' returner right as he caught the ball. The man returning the punt for Minnesota? Once again, it was A.J. Barker, who ended up losing a yard on the return.
His efforts earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, but they hardly surprised Campbell.
"He's played well," Campbell said. "It doesn't surprise me. We all knew he was capable of it."
Stat of the Day: Winning Without the Ball
For all those who harp over time of possession and worry because Northwestern lost the time of possession battle two weeks in a row, their worries are in vain. The fact is that when Minnesota dominated time of possession in the first half, Northwestern stood to benefit. Even after the Golden Gophers held the ball for 20:06 in the first half, compared to 9:54 for the Wildcats, Northwestern led 21-10, as a result of one-play and two-play touchdown drives. As coach Pat Fitzgerald said, he'll take those one-play and two-play touchdown drives any day, even if that means his offense is only on the field for seven seconds. Meanwhile in the second half, Northwestern actually won the time-of-possession battle, holding the ball for 16:09, yet that was clearly the Wildcats' worst half as they punted five times.