by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Pat Fitzgerald always says that coaches learn the most about their teams after week one, but there were some new things we learned after week two against Vanderbilt. Check out the three biggest things we learned from the Wildcats' 23-13 win.
1. The defensive front is much improved
Throughout the offseason, Northwestern’s defensive line harped on the fact that it needed to improve its pass rush. Three sacks, two quarterback hurries, and eight tackles-for-loss later, it was mission accomplished for the Wildcats.
The defensive line — and really the whole defensive front — came through with a massive game to help out the inconsistent secondary and stifle the Vanderbilt passing attack in the second half. Tyler Scott led the way with six tackles, two tackles-for-loss, a sack and a forced fumble, but NU also got big contributions from veterans Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams, and young defensive end Dean Lowry.
After struggling at the beginning of the Syracuse game, the linebackers got things together in the second half and continued that momentum into Saturday night. Chi Chi Ariguzo led the team with 10 tackles, and also had three tackles-for-loss, a sack and a pass break-up. The bottom line is, if the front seven can continue to get pressure like it did against the Commodores, the issues in the secondary can be negated.
2. Trevor Siemian really is 1.B.
Pat Fitzgerald always calls Trevor Siemian his “1.B.” quarterback, rather than second-string, and after two games, it appears “1.B.” is the correct title. Kain Colter is still the starter — there is no quarterback controversy, according to Fitzgerald — but Siemian was the QB of choice when NU needed big drives in both games, and he delivered on both of those drives.
People often refer to Colter as the runner and Siemian as the passer, and while that is each of their strengths, both are more “dual-threat” than they get credit for — Colter has improved greatly as a passer, while Siemian has the ability to escape pressure.
NU will have a true two-quarterback system this year, it appears, and who gets the call on big drives going forward is still unknown; it will likely vary. However, Siemian certainly proved he is capable when his number is called.
3. NU has a kicking game
Northwestern may as well not have had a kicking game last year, as the Wildcats attempted just 10 field goals all of last year. Kicker Jeff Budzien was inconsistent, hitting on all of his PATs, but only making six of his 10 field goal attempts.
Fitzgerald didn't seem very confident in Budzien last year, passing up some seemingly obvious kicking situations to go for it. Part of that is because Budzien doesn’t have a particularly strong leg — that’s why Steve Falherty handles kickoff duties — but NU needed to find some consistency in the kicking game. It did on Saturday, as Budzien went three-for-three on field goals, including a 40-yarder and a 37-yarder; this coming a week after Fitzgerald said the kicking game “stunk.”
The game didn’t come down to a field goal, but Budzien helped put the game out of reach, and more importantly, helped him gain confidence and gave his team and coaches confidence in him. If his range has extended from last year, NU will have more scoring options down the field in close games.