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Williams: CATastrophic Failure?

Former Northwestern linebacker Nate Williams will be providing X's and O's commentary about NU's games each week. Here's his breakdown of NU-WISC.

Initial Reaction:

No matter what way you cut it, this was an ugly, ugly loss. You know its bad when you still have that “gut wrenching” feeling a few days after the game. I had predicted a win by at least 11 points, instead NU couldn’t even muster up the ability to score more than 6. The term “hangover” couldn’t fit any better, because thats exactly what it looked like. There were mental errors, looked lethargic, little focus on offense, no hands out of the WRs, lack of accuracy out of the QB, and the OL missed on picking up blitzes while Trevor held onto the ball way too long. It literally looked like the game from the movie “Varsity Blues” when all the guys went to the strip club the night prior. It seemed that nearly everything aside from the defensive side went about as bad as it possibly can.

Defense:

The only bright side of things is that the Defense looked pretty good in the 1st quarter. They certainly provided the offense an opportunity to win the game and thats all that I expected them to come in a do. They provided 3 early turnovers as well forced a few punts but this only led to two FGs - unacceptable out of the Offense. This game should have been over after Ibraheims phenomenal int.

The biggest issue with the defense in the 1st quarter was how terrible the NU offense was. You can’t expect a defense to hold up when an offense puts together a performance like it had this saturday. Once Wisconsin scored in second half rolled around I think this team and defense admitted defeat. Their play after that was very sloppy, unemotional and probably have a lot of people worried about the future of this team.

I think the game plan Coach Hank put together was exactly what I was expecting. If you take away the 2 or 3 explosion plays its likely a pretty solid outing as well. They did a good job of taking away the inside run game and didn't really provide Gordon or White a lot of easy running lanes.

I was rather impressed with the way the DL responded after a very poor outing against Ohio State. While they didnt make any huge plays they did their job and thats really what you want/need in a matchup against a team like Wisconsin. Even though they didn’t get to Stave I think they also looked a lot better when they were in pass rush mode.

The Linebackers had a good solid first quarter had firm tackles a couple big plays on some blitzes and looked pretty good in coverage. After Wisconsin started rolling, their play deteriorated very quickly. A lot of sloppy tackling and poor angles out of the group. No ones play really stood out to me either though Proby and Chi Chi showed up in the stats but thats not always a great way to determine good/poor play.

The secondary I felt played rather well. If you take away the one botched coverage it was easily one of Campbells better outings to date. There were a lot of great coverage considering how short our safeties were playing. We almost had a 3rd int if VanHoose could have came up with the one late in the 1st quarter. The deep ball to Abbrederis that happened looked to be “sky” coverage which is a cover 3 zone concept. In which case, Ibraheim would have been responsible for that deep third, Henry also can’t get sucked in like he did either. It appeared he jumped on the play action and allowed Abbrederis to get behind the defense.

At the end of the day the NU Defense allowed only 13 yards rushing about mid way through the 2nd quarter, one int, a fumble and forced two punts while they were given a short field and stayed on the field for what seemed like forever. They did their job(with only one exception) plus create opportunities for the 1st 20-25 minutes. Poor Offense and Punting killed this defense, not the Wisconsin Offense.

Offense:

If I was asked to sum up our offensive performance in one word, it would be “anomaly”. What happened out there is something that we haven't seen since Army 2011. We were also poorly matched up against that Army team. They couldn’t defend the pass and we couldn't pass the football, felt all too familiar. I can’t say I ever thought we would see an offensive performance this poor. I don't think a single player or offensive unit can say they played well enough to put us in a position to win.

It may be a little unfair for me to call out the offensive line because I honestly didn’t rewatch the game (couldn’t stand watching it again).However, they rarely if at all looked good from my first and only viewing. It goes without saying that Vitable had easily his worst game in his career here, got spun around a few times that put a lot of pressure on Trevor. He wasn’t the only one, but I think we have come to expect solid play out of him and rightfully so. The O-line all together allowed way too much pressure and gave up too many sacks (Trevor holding onto the ball a few times certainly didnt help but 7 sacks is terrible).

The RBs of course saw little action, and that was expected even before Kain went down. Nothing really to talk about here, I suppose they did okay in pass protection.

I think its safe to say saturday was likely the worst performance in the passing game since we we started the running the spread offense. Trevor was completely off his game. Held onto the football too much, took too many sacks, and missed on at least half of his throws. Unfortunately everything was compounded by the throws he did make were blatantly dropped. The receivers failed to get separation at times and dropped plenty of catchable balls. Hopefully this is just that one anomaly of a game we seem to have one of every year.

This is one of the more perplexing offensive performances I’ve ever seen. Not converting on manageable 3rd downs, players dropping balls, and QBs overthrowing receivers makes it very very difficult to put any blame on the coaches. There was some questionable play calling in the redzone but the overall ineptitude of the offense takes the responsibility of this game. I also was rather surprised we didn't try to really stretch the defense with downfield throws. Most throws were short or swing passes, but that was likely just an effort to build up some confidence in Trevor.

Conclusion/Moving Forward

You can not win football games when you are forced to punt 11 times, give up field position and cannot establish any kind of offensive production. The biggest thing we learned about this team is that we now know our recipe for disaster. The only good thing to take away from this is that we know the defense is capable of showing up to play. For as long as the defense was on the field out there against a team that is used to rolling up on teams we were lucky to come out of there in only a somewhat embarrassing 29 point loss.

Is this a catastrophic failure? It’s too early to tell. We’ll know more about that next week. All we can hope for is that the water balloon fight worked, and woke up these guys. It is certainly not a time to lose hope, all we need is for the offense to get back on their horse and ride. The Big Ten Championship is not even remotely out of the question with the parody that seems to be shaping up within the Legends Division. I highly doubt there will be anyone with just one conf. loss when its all said and done. So now is not the time to give up hope, so keep your heads up for the time being and look forward to the rebound come Saturday against Minnesota.

Go Cats!