by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Check out how each Northwestern unit faded out in the Wildcats win over Boston College.
"Stats are for losers." That is, they are according to Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is right to an extent, that all that matters is the scoreboard, but he also stopped short of completely disregarding his quarterbacks numbers: "What were they, 30-for-40 combined? That's pretty good." It was pretty good, as Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian both had no problem driving down the field — in fact, Colter's stats were better on Saturday, silencing some of his doubters — but both quarterbacks struggled inside the 20s and both missed open receivers in the endzone. So while the numbers look pretty good, "stats are for losers," and a lack of scoring keeps the quarterbacks from getting an A for Saturday's performance.
Running Backs: A-
Venric Mark went out with an injury in the second half, but even so, he was having the worst game of his season, finishing with 77 yards on 18 carries. However, when he went down, Northwestern turned to Mike Trumpy, who has been very quiet this year while coming back from injury and having his starting job taken away by Mark. Trumpy rediscovered his early 2011 form on Saturday, rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He was essential on the last drive and did what nobody else on the offense could do — find the endzone and put the Eagles away. The starting job is still Mark's but Trumpy's emergence gives the Wildcats a solid power runner and yet another option in their very deep arsenal of offensive weapons.
Wide Receivers: B+
The receivers' stats weren't great, but they took what the quarterbacks gave them. Fitzgerald called out the receivers on Monday for their weak performance against Vanderbilt — "Maybe now they'll stop reading the paper," he said of them listening to the hype — and the unit responded with fewer drops than a week ago. Demetrius Fields quietly had a productive day, with 9 catches for 77 yards and Tony Jones had 2 catches for 55 yards, including a big 41-yarder down the middle. Jones also showed off his speed with a 14-yard sweep. However, a couple flags on Rashad Lawrence late in the game could have been a problem had Boston College taken the ball back and scored. NU's receivers still haven't lived up to their potential, but this Saturday's performance was much better than the previous one.
Offensive Line: A
After the offensive line's performance against Syracuse, it would have been hard to believe the unit would be getting an A just two weeks later. The inexperienced right side of the line is starting to come together and the line in general was much-improved on Saturday in both run-blocking and pass protection. In fact, at halftime, Fitzgerald made the decision to commit to the run, showing tremendous faith in the offensive line — faith that he likely wouldn't have shown in the Syracuse game. The line was a major reason for Trumpy's big day and it gave Colter and Siemian more time to throw than it had in previous weeks. There still needs to be improvement, but things look much better for what was perceived to be NU's weakest offensive unit than they did a few weeks ago.
Defensive Line: B+
After an incredible day against Vanderbilt, Northwestern's defensive line came back down to Earth against Boston College, particularly in the pass rush, as it finished with just one sack and two quarterback hurries. However, it was still a better pass rush than NU has gotten in most games over the past couple years, and the run defense was outstanding, holding the Eagles to just 25 yards on the ground. Fitzgerald said he thought NU controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball — something it has struggled to do over the past few seasons — and that was the difference-maker on defense, as Boston College was too one-dimensional to do much on offense. That starts up front.
Chi Chi Ariguzo has only started three games in his Northwestern career, but the sophomore is lining himself up for a run at an All-Big Ten season. Fresh off winning Big Ten Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors in week two, Ariguzo filled up the stat sheet against against Boston College, leading the team with 10 tackles and finishing with a fumble recovery, 2 pass break-ups and a quarterback hurry — the QB hurry came on a big third down play that got Boston College off the field. Ariguzo also had a diving near-interception, and if he had hauled that in, Fitzgerald said he thinks Ariguzo would have received Big Ten honors again. In addition to Ariguzo, David Nwabuisi had a nice day — minus an unnecessary roughness call that extended a Boston College drive — finishing with 6 tackles and a tackle-for-loss. After some rough patches against Syracuse, NU's linebackers have stepped up in the last two games and wil be a key for the defense to maintain its success the rest of the year.
The secondary didn't have any huge breakdowns in coverage, but they played way too soft and allowed the Boston College receivers to pick up big chunks of yards. Fitzgerald joked earlier this week that the secondary let the Vanderbilt receivers catch the ball to pad their tackle stats, and it looked like that again on Saturday. Northwestern benefited from a number of BC drops, and if the Wildcats were playing against a better quarterback and better receivers, the score could have been much different. However, the Eagles couldn't execute and didn't take advantage of what NU gave them, so the secondary escapes too much criticism.
Special Teams: A-
Northwestern's special teams were a mixed bag on Saturday, but the story of the day was Jeff Budzien, who was 5-for-5 on field goals, including kicks of 41-and-42 yards, and tied the NU single-game record. Budzien is now 8-for-8 on the season after going just 6-for-10 last year. That's a big step up and gives NU another reliable scoring option. In the punting game, Brandon Williams was only called upon twice, but he had an outstanding punt that pinned Boston College at its own one-yard line. NU's usually sound return unit wasn't great, as Mark struggled to field his one returnable punt. Hunter Bates replaced Mark, who went out with injury, and had one decent return, but was otherwise ineffective. However, given Budzien's performance, it's tough to give this unit anything below an A-.