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Grading Northwestern’s 38-31 loss to Michigan

By Steven Goldstein

Second-string quarterback Devin Gardner tallied four touchdowns, wideout Roy Roundtree came down with a 53-yard Hail Mary in the game’s final 18 seconds, and the Michigan Wolverines knocked off No. 24 Northwestern in overtime Saturday by a 38-31 final.

The Wildcats appeared to have the game secured after a fourth-quarter interception from corner Demetrius Dugar and a subsequent fourth-down conversion squeaked out by a chain link by quarterback Kain Colter. The ‘Cats failed to kill the clock, however, and were forced into overtime by Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons’s 34-yard field goal. Northwestern failed to reciprocate Gardner’s overtime touchdown scamper, and fell to 3-3 in Big Ten play.

Such a wrenching loss is often accompanied by a scapegoat, but just where did NU fall short Saturday? Check out unit-by-unit game grades and see who’s at the top of the class and who’s failing out.

Quarterbacks: A-

Northwestern’s inconsistent passing offense looked sharp Saturday, notching a combined three touchdowns and 183 yards on 21 attempts. Junior Kain Colter gashed Michigan for an 18-yard run in the first quarter, and added a 23-yard touchdown strike to superback Dan Vitale in the third. Sophomore Trevor Siemian, meanwhile, averaged over 12 yards a pass Saturday, going 6-for-7 with two touchdowns.

Siemian’s back-shoulder throw to receiver Tony Jones gave the ‘Cats a 31-28 lead with 3:59 to play in the fourth quarter. The ‘Cats’ dual-QB system thrived despite an ankle injury sustained by Colter, and churned out an efficient, interception-free game. The big play element wasn’t completely there, but both QBs worked with rushed pockets all afternoon.

Running Backs: A

Junior Venric Mark continues to pace this offense, finishing with 104 rushing yards and a first-quarter touchdown dive. Senior Mike Trumpy averaged 10.5 yards a touch, and the Wildcats found a steady ground game Saturday.

Mark continues to boast some seriously impressive cuts and is finding the edge quickly. While senior ‘back Tyris Jones was stuffed at the line on the game’s final play, the running backs pass with flying colors here.

Wide Receivers: B-

Northwestern’s receivers continue to struggle to get open at the second level, and aside from sophomore Christian Jones, no Wildcat wideout had more than two catches Saturday.

Freshman Cameron Dickerson came down with a 19-yard touchdown, while senior receiver and No. 1 read Demetrius Fields finished with just one reception. Northwestern’s receivers aren’t fooling anybody, and this team continues to be plagued by a lack of a true go-to possession option. Three total receiving touchdowns salvage this unit’s grade for now.

Offensive Line: B-

NU lost the battle up front Saturday, although the O-line did stand out in run blocking. Northwestern quarterbacks were sacked twice for 21 yards and were hurried a handful of other times, while the interior ground game was stuffed all afternoon.

The Wildcats made holes on the outside, but struggled when picking up the blitz.

Defensive Line: C-

Aside from a clutch third-down sack from end Deonte Gibson, the Wildcats struggled to exert pressure and contain Devin Gardner. Michigan maintained a cleaner pocket and found room to run up front.

Northwestern picked up just two total sack yards Saturday, and standout linemen Tyler Scott and Brian Arnfelt combined for just one tackle.

Linebackers: D+

It was a rough Saturday for NU’s linebackers, who were caught over-pursuing time after time. Northwestern failed to contain the run, evidenced by Michigan junior tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint averaging 5.1 yards a carry.

Missed tackles and blown assignments can sum up a down game for Northwestern’s front seven. Outside ‘backer Damien Proby lead the team with nine tackles, but starting LBs Chi Chi Ariguzo and David Nwabuisi combined for just seven stops.

Secondary: D-

What more can be said here?

The Wildcats were gassed by Roy Roundtree all afternoon. The senior finished with a ridiculous 27.8 yards per catch, while junior Jeremy Gallon added 94 yards on seven grabs. Senior corner Demetrius Dugar was flagged for two pass interference penalties and struggled against the long ball Saturday, while sophomore Daniel Jones was charged with Roundtree’s late-game Hail Mary.

This team won’t be able to finish games without an improved pass defense, plain and simple. While no defensive unit really shined Saturday, the secondary was the unquestionable problem.

Special Teams: A

Junior punter Brandon Williams pinned Michigan inside its own 20-yard line twice and averaged a respectable 41 yards a kick, while senior Jeff Budzien connected on his only field goal attempt of the game. Had a holding call not negated Venric Mark’s second-half touchdown kick return, the special teams would be deserving of a perfect A+.

Coaching: D-

The Wildcats failed to make defensive adjustments and dialed up frighteningly unimaginative play-calling Saturday.

Fans have to wonder where center fielders and over-the-top safeties were on Roundtree’s Hail Mary, and conservative gut handoffs were almost too predictable on the offensive end.

On the game’s final play, an overtime fourth-and-two, Pat Fitzgerald and Co. called for an inside run despite a looming Michigan run blitz. Why the Wildcats didn’t spread the field with the speedy Kain Colter is tough to understand.