by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
There’s still a lot to play for in Evanston.
There’s certainly a lot to be frustrated about. There’s a lot to be worried about too.
A lot of concern this season has been generated over the state of Northwestern’s secondary. There’s certainly good reason for that, particularly when the corners keep running right past the ball, allowing receivers to pick up an additional 10 to 15 yards each and every time. The worst, of course, came on a huge third down, a third-and-17, as a matter of fact, when Devin Gardner threw it deep down the right hash, and Demetrius Dugar, running blindly after his receiver, failed to note the track of the ball, and ran right into the wide receiver for a pass interference penalty. Northwestern’s cornerbacks are frequently in the right place. As the Wildcats have been saying all season long, they’re right where they need to be. They just need to do a better job of playing the ball up in the air, as evidenced by Daniel Jones’ excellent attempt at a knockdown that wasn’t quite good enough.
The good news for Northwestern is this is a young team, as Pat Fitzgerald keeps pointing out, and in particular, this is a young secondary. Nick VanHoose is a redshirt freshman. Ibraheim Campbell is a sophomore. Daniel Jones is a sophomore. There are a lot of guys that are going to be here for a long time. And there’s no doubt that this unit is better than last year’s – already. Syracuse aside, this backfield isn’t nearly as vulnerable to the deep ball as it was in past games, particularly last year. They’ve successfully molded into a bend-don’t-break defense. And for this unit, one would think the best is yet to come.
Don’t forget that this is a unit that lost two All-Big Ten performers in Brian Peters and Jordan Mabin. To some extent, they’re still struggling to say goodbye to Brad Phillips and Sherrick McManis as well. Unless you’re Alabama, building a secondary takes time. Fans will have to be patient. If you look carefully enough, the improvement is already evident, even with Roy Roundtree’s miracle catch factored in. The difference is where there were once two or three easy touchdowns per game, there’s now just the occasional jump ball failure.
The Wildcats are there. They just need to challenge a little bit better. But progress has been made. Just look at the below chart:
Northwestern Success In Containing Michigan’s Offense
|Passing Yards||Yards Per Attempt||Yards Per Completion||Passing Touchdowns|
|October 8, 2011||362||12.92||19.05||2|
|November 10, 2012||286||9.5||17.9||2|