Sure, Big Ten Championship hopes might be looking slim for the Wildcats following the 35-6 blowout against the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend. But before we turn our attention to Minnesota and the rest of the Wildcats’ Big Ten opponents, it’s time to look back one final time at four numbers, which show that fans might be exaggerating Northwestern’s pitfalls.
1.1 – The number of times Northwestern punted for every first down gained last Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s not a good figure. For each offensive set of downs, NU got rid of the football less than 10 yards later. But, while QB 1a Kain Colter threw an ugly pick to start the game and QB 1b Trevor Siemian simply looked ugly, it’s important to remember that this was only game six. When you look at the punt-to-first down ratio for the season, it looks much more pleasing: .22. In the coming weeks, the offense will simply need to do a better job moving the football and keeping punter Brandon Williams off the field. Indeed, the defense probably won’t average over two interceptions per game the rest of the way, but the defense isn’t the main issue. Even if it means turning over the ball more often, Colter and Siemian — particularly Siemian — need to take chances downfield.
7 – The number of years it’s been since Northwestern last failed to score a touchdown in a football game. Yes, this number should look familiar—seven years takes us back to coach Pat Fitzgerald’s first season at the helm in 2006. But again, seven years is a long time. Some of the games haven’t looked pretty this season, but it’s impressive to see that Fitz and co. have averaged 33.5 points per game on the year, good for third in the Big 10. The schedule’s certainly not going to get easier, but if NU can play the way it did against the Buckeyes, the Wildcats have the capability of scoring offensive touchdowns and hanging with any conference opponent going forward.
11.8 – Third down conversion percentage for the ‘Cats last weekend. Again, this stat rightfully deserves some criticism. Quarterback Trevor Siemian looked absolutely lost in the sea of red, unable to move the ball downfield whatsoever. Season figure, however: 42 percent. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen wide receiver Rashad Lawrence become more of a threat on third down, especially with his 67-yard reception against Ohio State on Oct. 5. Venric Mark surely figures to become a bigger part of the offense once he’s healthy, and down the stretch, the offense — if healthy — should be better than the defense.
51 – Current FEI rank across Div. I, according to Football Outsiders. You may not be so familiar with FO and its ranking system, so here goes: FEI considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football, filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis then combines offense, defense and special teams to determine the appropriate efficiency ranking based on performance and quality of opponent—sort like the BCS system. Given Northwestern was ranked in the top 25 in both the AP and USA Today polls a mere five days ago, 51 seems a little out of touch. What does this stat imply, essentially? It says that, though hard for fans to admit, Northwestern might have gotten a bit lucky with their pick-sixes, Braxton Miller fumble recoveries, and other lucky plays early in the season. But if anyone knows how to be efficient, it’s Fitz: NU finished 21st in the FEI rankings at the end of last season prior to the Gator Bowl victory.