by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Jonah Rosenblum gives eight observations from Northwestern's win over Boston College in his weekly "touching down" column.
1. One of the things I had my eye on entering Saturday’s game was how Boston College’s ball security would hold up against Northwestern’s hard-hitting defense. The Eagles struggled to hold onto the ball in each of their first two games this season, fumbling twice against both Miami and Maine. Meanwhile, Northwestern rode a key fumble to a 23-13 victory over Vanderbilt. Junior defensive end Tyler Scott essentially sealed the deal for the Wildcats when he stripped Jordan Rodgers deep in Commodores’ territory. Northwestern forced two fumbles apiece against both Syracuse and Vanderbilt. Sure enough, with Boston College rumbling toward Northwestern’s end zone early in the second half, Rolandan Finch fumbled the ball away, despite seemingly little pressure, allowing the Wildcats to maintain their slim halftime lead.
2. In three consecutive plays on its second drive of the game, the Wildcats established why they could be a very frightening team to play in 2012. First, Kain Colter went with his gut and darted through the middle for a first down. Then, Colter surprised Boston College with a pass downfield. For the most part, Northwestern utilizes short passes, frequently screens to its running backs and wide receivers, so the Eagles were understandably unprepared for Colter’s deep pass to Tony Jones. And then finally, Colter handed the ball off to Venric Mark, who quickly made his way to the sideline for a strong gain. Northwestern is likely not good enough in any singular aspect to rely on it every time, but so long as the Wildcats can balance their three elements (their earth, wind and fire, if you will), they should be a threat in the Big Ten. The quarterback scramble is a deadly third option for Northwestern.
3. Jeff Budzien continues to demonstrate his reliability as Northwestern’s placekicker. The junior hasn’t just made every single one of his field-goal attempts this season, he has made them easily. His successes include three field goals from 40-plus yards out. He put the Wildcats on the scoreboard Saturday with a 40-yard field goal that easily made it through the uprights. For a while, he was the only player putting up the points for Northwestern, as he accounted for the Wildcats’ first 15 points on Saturday. He also had a 37-yarder and a 40-yarder against Vanderbilt. He undoubtedly has the power to be pushed farther back.
4. Other aspects of Northwestern’s special teams could stand to improve, particularly the kickoff coverage unit. On the Wildcats’ first kickoff of the game, their leading speedsters were a little too quick and they darted toward the ballcarrier only to leave the outside wide open for a strong return. On the second kickoff, Steve Flaherty got well under the ball and lofted a high kick that barely cleared the 20-yard line. On high kicks, a kickoff coverage unit should at least be able to converge on the ball a little quicker, and yet somehow the Eagles’ returner was able to get a good burst upfield, to give Boston College better-than-average field position once again. Finally, with the wind in Flaherty’s favor this time, Flaherty launched his third kick deep into the Eagles’ end zone, and this time, Northwestern’s kickoff coverage unit obliged with a quick wrapup behind the 20-yard line.
5. Last week’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Chi Chi Ariguzo was back at it with a solid stick on Boston College’s Johnathan Coleman. Coleman was apparently wide open in the middle of the field, and Rettig’s pass hit him right in the hands, but a few milliseconds later, Ariguzo arrived with a thunderous hit to dislodge the ball from Coleman’s hands. Why Coleman was so open in the first place is a harder question to answer, but Northwestern’s defenders were generally quick to arrive on the scene Saturday, limiting the number of yards Boston College could accrue after the catch. Ariguzo was back at it the fourth quarter with the Eagles facing a critical third-and-two in the near vicinity of midfield. With the Wildcats having already committed an infraction on one third-down play, Ariguzo took the pressure off of the secondary, nearly bringing Rettig down. While he was unable to sack Rettig, his pressure was enough to force Boston College’s junior quarterback to misfire on his short pass to Alex Amidon.
6. Wheaton Warenville South had itself a fine day on Saturday. Most notably, Riley O’Toole has fared well as Illinois’ quarterback, but also not to be forgotten, Dan Vitale has seen immediate action for Northwestern. The true freshman running back was used in a pivotal place, as the Wildcats sought to escape the shadow of their own end zone. On second down, Kain Colter looked Vitale’s way on a screen pass, and Vitale obliged by rumbling nine yards for a first down.
Going For Two
1. Boston College simply could not, would not establish a rushing attack against Northwestern. Aside from a fourth-down burst through the middle, the Eaglers were unable to get anything going on the ground. Indeed, the Wildcats’ front four did nearly everything right, forcing Rettig to roll out on several occasions, while essentially shutting down Boston College’s ground game. Trailing 15-10 with a couple of minutes remaining in the third quarter, a simple run up the middle lasted about a second before three Northwestern defenders converged on the ballcarrier. Tajh Kimble, this time starting five yards behind the line of scrimmage, got a good burst going in Northwestern territory, but he was brought down for a loss of a yard. Boston College had just 25 rushing yards to start the fourth quarter. Overall, Northwestern’s rushing defense has been much improved to start out the 2012 campaign. After the Wildcats finished 10th in the Big Ten last year with 177.3 rushing yards surrendered per game, and surrendered a league-worst 27 touchdowns in 2011, they surrendered just 114 rushing yards to the Orange and 101 to the Commodores.
2. Still not particularly precise, Kain Colter managed to earn his spot behind center with his rushing prowess. After Trevor Siemian replaced him in each of Northwestern’s first two games, Siemian once again came in for the second quarter of this one, but Colter received the bulk of the snaps in the second half. Leading 15-13, Colter pulled off several dazzling runs, including a near-sack that he instead turned into a slippery seven-yard run along the left sideline. Still, the Wildcats could have led by a lot more than two points at halftime if Colter had just been able to find a wide-open Christian Jones in the end zone toward the end of the first half. Instead, perhaps overly excited, Colter zipped his pass well high, too high even for the 6-foor-3 Christian Jones. That marked the Cats' second overthrown pass into the end zone. Trevor Siemian threw one far too high for Kyle Prater earlier in the first half. If the Cats' quarterbacks are struggling that much to keep the ball down for 6-foot-5 Kyle Prater and 6-foot-3 Christian Jones, 5-foot-8 Venric Mark better bring a stepladder if he ever plans on catching one in the end zone. But that being said, Colter made his mark in the fourth quarter, with a beautiful 15-yard pass to Demetrius Fields, located precisely so Fields could get both feet inbounds before dipping out. Colter followed with a twisting 12-yard run up the middle, and while he might not have looked pretty, and while the bulk of his passes were extremely short, it is worth noting that Colter completed 16-of-20, almost Persa-like numbers.