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Weekend Rewind, Week 1: Final Thoughts on NU's Win, Around the Big Ten and Looking Ahead

Week one of college football is in the books, and every Monday as we transition to the next week, we’ll put out our weekend rewind, reflecting on Northwestern’s game the previous week, giving our thoughts around the Big Ten and previewing the week to come. In our first installment, we give our thoughts on NU’s win over Syracuse and much more.

Venric Mark and Kain Colter represent a new era of players at Northwestern. (Photo courtesy Rich Barnes/US PRESSWIRE)

Final thoughts on Northwestern’s win over Syracuse

Can somebody find Mike Trumpy and Treyvon Green?

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

On fourth-and-short early in the game, Pat Fitzgerald called a run up the middle. That would make sense for most teams, but for a team with as bad of a power running game as NU, it made no sense at all.

Running back Venric Mark said during Kenosha that his favorite play is running between the tackles, and while he was successful when he got a hole, that rarely happened with this offensive line. Mark is simply not big enough to move the pile.

However, Fitzgerald kept going for the power run, even when it wasn’t working, including the mind-boggling call on fourth-and-short.

First of all, Fitzgerald needs to know his team and not try to force a power run when spreading the field is working so well. But, on the other hand, he’s right — NU needs to establish the run, because a power running game will be important when the Wildcats faces a team that can match its speed off the edge.

That means Mike Trumpy and Treyvon Green, the two backs who were expected to lead the way after spring ball, need to step up. Both are talented, but they have fallen off the radar, Trumpy because of an ACL injury last fall and Green because of a concussion in fall camp. Saturday was an indication of that, as Green rushed for just 8 yards, while Trumpy had minus-4.

Mark is the featured back now, but Green and Trumpy must step up and help NU establish the run. If they continue to put up performances like Saturday’s, the Cats will be without the power run on offense once again.

Impressive debut for VanHoose

by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn

NU’s secondary was bashed, beaten and left for dead against Ryan Nassib and the Orange passing attack. The Syracuse quarterback hung 470 passing yards for four touchdowns and no picks against the Wildcats. And those final totals were limited by numerous penalties and mental mistakes. It could have been much worse for NU’s defensive backs. What may have gone unnoticed amid the pass defense calamity was redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose’s impressive debut.

After shining in spring practice, VanHoose took hold of the starting cornerback job in preseason camp. Despite never having played in a college game, coaches were thoroughly impressed by what they saw in practice. On Saturday, VanHoose proved their decision was the right one.

He was perhaps the only bright spot – sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell, who led the team with 13 tackles, deserves a tip of the cap as well – in a dismal showing from the defensive backfield.

What ranked as one of the biggest question marks entering this season seems the least of NU’s defensive qualms in the wake of Saturday’s game. Of the Wildcats’ three best cornerbacks (Quinn Evans, Demetrius Dugar, Quinn Evans), VanHoose was unequivocally the most impressive. There was a reason Nassib didn’t throw his way all that much in the second half.

An impressive debut indeed.

A new era of NU football

by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)

Northwestern's 42-41 victory over Syracuse represented a new era of Wildcats football so far as I am concerned. If Northwestern once won football games on the strength of its strong grasp of fundamentals and its bevy of underrated players, it won Saturday on the strength of its freakish athleticism.

The Wildcats have always had mobile quarterbacks. Yet, the men behind center keep getting quicker in Evanston. C.J. Bacher never ran for greater than 31 yards during his first three years on the field, and then he amazed everyone with 230 rushing yards his senior year. Mike Kafka obviously had some electric moves on the football field, which were on prominent display during his first showing at Minnesota, yet while he ran it into the end zone eight times during his senior campaign, he never surpassed 321 rushing yards in a season. Then there was Dan Persa, whose pocket presence was perhaps greater than that of any quarterback I have ever seen. Persa had the moves and he was awfully quick too. He ran for 519 yards in 2011, and that was in 10 games, mind you, before an awful Achilles injury sidelined him against Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas Tech. And yet, none of these men were as quick as Kain Colter, who dazzled on Saturday with an astounding run out of the shadow of Northwestern's end zone. You see, the Wildcats were in trouble at that point, doomed by their inept special teams play to begin at their own five-yard line. Colter rolled back and set himself to run, only to find a defender in his face, but somehow the lightning-quick dual-threat quarterback eluded his defender and took off down the middle of the field. His blazing speed allowed him to go 19 yards untouched to launch Northwestern's first drive of the game.

Then, there was Venric Mark, who helped the Wildcats build their enormous early lead. While Trevor Siemian might have been the story late, with his fantastic fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Mark was the story early, with two fantastic returns and a touchdown reception. He was also surprisingly solid at running back, where he bounced outside better than Arby Fields ever did and ran between the tackles with Mike Trumpy-like passion. But the story of the afternoon was his return game, the first of which he started on the right sideline, only to cut suddenly toward the left end of the field, leaving a gaggle of defenders in his dust. The second return, while it didn't result in a touchdown, might have been even better, as he stalled for time, stiff-arming several defenders as he worked his way outside. Finally, when an opening developed along the right sideline, he took it, with that speed that precious few bring to the football field.

Mark and Colter are the embodiment of this Northwestern team. Both are far from perfect. Both could use further development. Colter has been pulled out of numerous sticky situations in favor of Trevor Siemian. Mark sometimes has difficulty catching the ball and has played exactly one game at tailback. Neither were particularly noticeable in the second half of Northwestern's win over Syracuse. And yet, much like the Wildcats, they are both tremendously exciting to watch. And with players like Mark and Colter donning the purple stripes, Northwestern will have a shot to win each and every game, no matter how poorly it plays.

Denard Robinson spent a lot of time on the ground in Michigan's loss to Alabama.

Around the Big Ten 

Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin Fall Short of the Hype

by Kevin Trahan

The Big Ten doesn’t have a team as good as Wisconsin last year. Heck, The Big Ten doesn’t have a team as good as the 2011 version of Michigan State, either. That was evident this weekend, as Michigan State went down to the wire with a mediocre Boise State team — this Broncos team won’t sniff the BCS — and Wisconsin held off a late upset attempt from Northern Iowa. And Michigan? Well… you know.

The “top” of this year’s Big Ten was vastly overrated, though we should have seen that coming. Michigan State has a good defense, but Andrew Maxwell is not going to be Kirk Cousins right away and that, coupled with the lack of experience at wide receiver, will cause this team to lose some games this year, especially if the offensive line doesn’t return to form.

Anybody who expected Danny O’Brien to be Russell Wilson got a reality check on Saturday and the new Wisconsin offensive line struggled to open up holes for Montee Ball against an FCS team, albeit a good one. The defense, which got a pass from preseason prognosticators for some reason, is just average.

Michigan has potential, especially when running back Fitzgerald Toussaint comes back, but the Wolverines has yet to reach the elite level of Alabama, LSU or USC. Alabama manhandled the line of scrimmage against Michigan on Saturday, en route to a 41-14 win. That’s what coach Brady Hoke needs to address the most in recruiting to be able to compete with the big boys.

It’s only week one, and a lot will change between now and next Saturday’s games. However, the flaws that people overlooked about the Big Ten’s supposed “powers” were very evident on Saturday. The league’s best team right now? The Ohio State Buckeyes. And although OSU won’t be going to a bowl game, it probably deserves one the most after week one.

Talent gap evident between Michigan and Alabama

by Chris Johnson 

Team affiliation aside, if you’re a Big Ten fan, at least a part of you – yes, even you, Buckeye Nation – was pulling for Michigan Saturday night as they took on preseason No. 2 Alabama at Cowboys Stadium. League pride was on the line as one of the Big Ten’s projected title contenders took on the new-look Crimson Tide in college football’s marquee opening weekend showdown. The moment Alabama drew blood, tight end Michael Williams reeling in a two-yard pass from Tide quarterback AJ McCarron with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter, this one had the feeling of a rout.

With an experienced signal-caller in McCarron, an offensive line flush with future first-round picks and four-deep depth at running back, Alabama not only destroyed Michigan on the scoreboard; they broke the Wolverines’ will and provided a startling reality check for the National championship hopefuls from the Big Ten.

The talent disparity was jarring. More evident was the physical superiority of Nick Saban’s squad, the way they squashed the Wolverines at the line of scrimmage. The suspension of star running back Fitzgerald Toussaint didn’t help, but he wouldn’t have made a difference. This was thorough domination. Michigan didn’t stand a chance.

The Wolverines may have learned quite a bit from the imposing two-day dominance they ran up against, but this is the sort of tramautic experience better left unrevisited, so as to spare the agony of reliving a nationally-televised embarrassment.

Big Ten takes embarrassed on the big stage… again

by Jonah Rosenblum 

Minnesota failed to earn my confidence with its triple-overtime victory over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As good as the Running Rebels may have looked on the hardwood last year against the Tar Heels, they were an anemic 2-10 last season on the gridiron, including a 37-0 loss at the hands of the University of Nevada, Reno, so Minnesota's win doesn't say much about its potential. Michigan State picked up a critical win over Boise State, and both Le'Veon Bell's 210 rushing yards and the Spartans' ability to run out the final 6:32 of game clock ought to frighten future opponents.

I was sorry to see Penn State squander not only a 14-3 lead against Ohio, but more important, an opportunity to recover as a football program from an off-season loaded with turmoil. The Nittany Lions could have put the past behind them, and removed a lot of pressure from their backs, with a victory over the Bobcats, and could have gotten everyone talking about football again with the win, but instead the circus remains in town for at least another week. Robert Marve, who I cannot believe is still hanging around campus at the age of 23, tossed three touchdown passes, as my personal favorite, Purdue coach Danny Hope, earned a dominant win over his alma mater.

And finally, Michigan failed to represent the Big Ten very well in its contest against SEC perennial top dog Alabama. A sports world intent on proving the Big Ten's eternal inferiority at the hands of the SEC will always be able to cite this one in which Michigan's supposedly electric offense was held to just 11 first downs by an Alabama defense that lost half of its roster to the National Football League this off-season. The Big Ten has always taken its share of lumps and come back fighting, but this one hurts quite a bit.

Around the Big Ten: Recapping three key games

(2) Alabama 41, (8) Michigan 14: The headliner of college football’s opening weekend was an unqualified dud. Alabama demolished Michigan in every facet of the game without batting an eye. Quarterback AJ McCarron tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions but was content handing off to the Tide’s four-headed rushing attack, which compiled 232 rushing yards on Michigan’s revamped front four. What stood out was the talent on Alabama’s defense, which, remember, was expected to take a step back after losing four first-round picks and seven starters. No sir; this Tide defense might be just as nasty as the group that preceded it. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was flummoxed by the sheer physicality of the opposition. His Heisman campaign may be damaged beyond repair.

(13) Michigan State 17, (24) Boise State 13: Broncos coach Chris Petersen was 6-0 in season-openers heading into this game, including wins over Georgia, Virginia Tech and Oregon the last three years. His streak ended Thursday night thanks in large part to Michigan State tailback Le’Veon Bell, who churned out 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries. The Broncos, who returned just six starters from last year’s 12-1 team, the least among FBS teams, kept this close well into the final period. The Spartans’ defense may have played up to its preseason hype, but the offense, under new starter Andrew Maxwell, looked shaky against a Boise defense line featuring four new starters. The Spartans committed three costly turnovers, but ultimately avoided a potential dizzying setback in a season teeming with league and national championship aspirations.

Ohio 24, Penn State 14: The mixed emotions resonating throughout Beaver Stadium – on the field, the sidelines, in the stands – made this result somewhat predictable. For Penn State, this was about more than beating a talented MAC team. It was about moving forward from the most horrifying scandal in college sports history, embarking on a new era with a new coach and giving the Nittany Lion faithful something to celebrate to soften the pain of the past 10 months. Penn State played the way most expected: strong on defense, lacking offensive firepower. Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin completed 27 of his 48 passing attempts for two touchdowns, but Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton topped him with 324 yards and three total touchdowns. Not exactly the picturesque start for Bill O’Brien, and Penn State will need an inspired performance to avoid an 0-2 start next week at Virginia. The Bobcats, meanwhile, survived their toughest challenge and will be favored in every game from here on out. BCS Buster? Why not?

Three Games to Watch Next Week

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt — Big Ten vs. SEC at its finest. Well, not exactly, but this should be an exciting game between two schools trying to improve their reputations in their respective leagues. Vanderbilt has a strong defense, making for an interesting matchup with Northwestern’s high-powered offense, but the Commodores are solid on offense, too, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers and wide receiver Jordan Matthews making an impressive duo. Vanderbilt loves the deep pass, so NU’s ability to stop the big play, and its secondary play in general, could decide this one.

Purdue at Notre Dame — Don’t look now, but Notre Dame might actually be for real this season. The Irish pounded Navy 50-10 in Ireland with freshman quarterback Everett Golson throwing for 144 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Notre Dame seems to have also found an impressive duo at running back, as Theo Riddick rushing for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns and George Atkinson III rushing for 99 yards and 2 more scores. This could be a statement game for Purdue, which looks like it may have finally gotten everything together for a run in the Leaders Division. With Wisconsin looking very beatable, a division title is certainly a possibility, and a win at Notre Dame would be a good way to build momentum.

Illinois at Arizona State — Speaking of under-the-radar teams in the Leaders Division, Illinois could be a serious challenger to the Badgers and the Boilermakers. The offense was inconsistent in the Illini’s 24-7 win over Western Michigan, but the defense came up big against a dangerous Western Michigan offense. The next challenge is a high-powered offense from Arizona State, which will test the Illinois defense. The Illini’s showing against the Sun Devils will give us an indication of just how serious of a contender Tim Beckman’s first team in Champaign will be.