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Northwestern Overcomes RedZone Struggles, Downs Boston College, 22-13, to move to 3-0.

by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)

The Wildcats finally managed to let their fans breathe a little bit, as Northwestern led for nearly the entire game Saturday en route to a 22-13 win over Boston College.

The Cats (3-0), who were already receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll following their win over Vanderbilt, surely boosted their stock with their third straight victory over a BCS foe.

That’s not to say that NU made it look easy. The Cats had to settle for five field goals in the first three quarters of Saturday’s game, not reaching the end zone until Mike Trumpy finally burst through the middle for a 27-yard touchdown run with 1:37 remaining.

“We did some good things: season-highs in rushing, passing, we moved the ball extremely well, I don’t think we punted very much,” Northwestern junior quarterback Kain Colter said. “Those are all positives, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to get six points instead of three.”

For the Eagles (1-2), their play in the red zone gave them something to smile about.

“We always do well with our backs against the wall,” Boston College linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “We know that we can stop teams in the red zone. The next step for our defense is getting them out of the red zone – not letting them get there in the first place.”

Trumpy’s touchdown run capped off an impressive game, in which the junior running back finished with 106 rushing yards on just 16 carries, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Trumpy was pushed into extended duty after superstar running back Venric Mark suffered a lower back injury.

“He is a tough runner and he proved that,” Pierre-Louis said. “He is a downhill runner that pretty much isn’t going to shake you. He is just going to run downhill and get as many yards as he possibly can.”

While Mike Trumpy scored the Cats’ sole touchdown, Jeff Budzien was NU’s leading scorer on Saturday, tying a school record with five field goals. Following the game, coach Pat Fitzgerald hailed Budzien’s consistency. After making just six field goals last season, Budzien has nailed all eight of his attempts this season, including a 42-yarder and a 41-yarder against the Eagles.

Meanwhile, it was Colter who stood behind center for nearly the entire second half on Saturday, as opposed to sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has spelled him in previous games. Colter had his best performance of the season against Boston College, completing 16-of-20 for 144 yards. Fitzgerald said that his decision to leave Colter in reflected his commitment to the running game against Boston College.

“We made a decision that we felt like — especially the way the flow of the game was going — that we could control the line of scrimmage,” Fitzgerald said. “We made a full commitment to run the football.”

Colter was one of three Cats’ rushers to finish with 66-plus rushing yards on Saturday.

After the game, Colter was hardly celebrating, however. His mind was still racked by memories of his overthrown pass to Christian Jones. The sophomore wide receiver was open in the back of the end zone, but Colter’s pass was well out of the 6-foot-3 wideout’s reach.

“The one to Christian is kind of eating me up,” Colter said. “Basically, I’m not the tallest guy. I couldn’t really see over the line and I just threw the ball like a little girl.”

NU was nearly made to pay for its red zone failures, when Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig found Johnathan Coleman for a 31-yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles up 10-9. After a first half in which NU dominated both time of possession and the line of scrimmage, it appeared Boston College would enter the locker room with a lead. That’s when Siemian completed three straight passes to set up a 41-yard field goal from Budzien to give the Cats a 12-10 lead heading into halftime. NU would never trail again.

While the Cats continually knocked on the door of the end zone, with the Eagles unwilling to let them in, NU’s defense managed to maintain the team’s lead for the majority of the afternoon. The Cats were able to exert heavy pressure on Rettig. Although they only brought Boston College’s junior quarterback down once, Rettig was frequently forced to roll out of the pocket, completing just 24-of-44 for 291 yards. On one instance, reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chi Chi Ariguzo flew at Rettig, missing the sack, but forcing Rettig into a hasty wobbling throw intended for Alex Amidon.

NU’s defense was even better on the ground, holding Boston College to just 25 rushing yards on 21 carries. Continual Eagles’ efforts to pave their way up the middle were met with sharp resistance from the Wildcats, who frequently had two or three defenders laying heavy hits on the ballcarrier as soon as he crossed the line of scrimmage. NU’s rush defense, which surrendered a conference-worst 27 rushing touchdowns last season, has held its opponents to just 240 rushing yards this season, an average of 80 rushing yards per game.

“We take a lot of pride in it,” Ariguzo said. “We just take a lot of pride in shutting down the other offense, just keeping our team in the game, doing what we can to keep our team in the game and just keep building momentum to help the offense out. We take a lot of pride in that.”

On the other hand, NU’s offensive line seemed to pave holes for whoever was running the ball. The Cats finished with 293 rushing yards on Saturday, with Trumpy leading the pack with 106 rushing yards, and Mark and Colter not far behind with 77 and 66, respectively.

The Cats’ hurry-up offense was particularly effective Saturday in that it tired out the Eagles’ defense. Pierre-Louis admitted afterwards that “we’re tired, some of us.” For NU’s offensive line, its ability to keep up with its skill players was both impressive and necessary.

“The line just battled their butts off,” Colter said. “Those guys are, in my opinion, the best-conditioned line in college football.”