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-IOWA.
Another Iowa v NU game that game down to the wire, image that. Let me first apologize for writing this so late, I find it very difficult to be enthused about writing an analysis when all I can do is be repetitively negative for 3-4 straight weeks. That, and Halloween goes on for nearly a week and a half in New Orleans. For this analysis I’m going to try and refrain from being overly pessimistic, it’s simply not fun anymore and causes way too much stress for a 26 year old. I’m going to try and look on the positive light of things.
On the first drive Iowa had, they came out with the power running game. I was concerned that this was going to be the “Mark Weisman Show”. They plowed through gaping holes created by the Iowa OL and Weisman and Bullock were able to get second level and fall forward just about every play. If you don't follow me on Twitter (@bigeasycat44), after/during that 1st drive I noted that:
That proved to be pretty true for the rest of the game. The thinking behind this is that if you can win on any of the 1st down plays during a drive against a power running team, that immediately changes their entire playbook for 2nd down. 2nd and 5 yards usually leads to an even split of run to pass against an Iowa team from my previous experiences. Typically the pass plays are play action pass and more of the same running type plays. With our recent lack of success against play action and the success Iowa has shown running the ball their first drive it was very evident to me that in order to win this game, NU had to win the 1st down battle.
After the first drive, NUs defense loaded the box, and made Iowa pass on them to win the game. It worked, plain and simple. They limited the first down running game by plugging gaps, and getting DL penetration and spilling the power game to OLBs and safeties. The tackling, overall, I thought was very good for the type of running game Iowa has this year. Granted, you would have liked to see the proverbial “Laying of the Wood” on Weisman and Bullock, but they are tough dudes to bring down. All we had to do was make sure to make the first tackle, and for the most part that was accomplished.
I felt like the linebackers have improved the most in the recent weeks. I know I was saying we needed to improve with the LBs that get lost up in the LOS during PAP, and I finally saw exactly what I wanted. Proby got mixed up in the LOS and hesitated slightly but was able to find a quick lane to the QB to affect the pass, a step earlier and he would have knocked the QBs lips off. Chi Chi was all over the field and had one of his best games since the Syracuse game last year. Ellis and Smith both had solid outings. Overall nothing to complain about in this department.
DL didn’t do anything pretty by any means, but its certainly never a bad thing to see some DL with 4 or more tackles. They plugged gaps and let Proby and Chi Chi make the plays they needed to. Seemed a few times the DEs collapsed too hard on the power running game a few times providing an easy edge for the RB which turns an easy play into a hard play for a LB or Safety. Wasn’t their most productive day but Iowa was leaving a lot of guys in to block, makes it tough to get to the QB.
The secondary had a very good day. Longest play of 21 yards and only 170 on the day is quite the outing. They all tackled pretty well I felt, Campbell especially, as usual. Henry was out there making some very solid tackles but got beat in coverage a few times where you wouldn’t want to see him get beat (TE in the Endzone in OT). I felt that the tandem of Campbell and Henry really slowed down the Iowa run game from running straight up and down the field once their RBs got 2nd level. Corners all looked solid, VanHoose had a couple missed tackles that I’m sure he and the rest of the team would love to see him make. Didn’t catch a lot of Dwight White, and seems like the coaches are feeling more and more comfortable with Harris at the other Corner spot, and for good reason because he looked solid out there. Unfortunately we didn’t see any interceptions, but Iowa made all the safe throws and didn’t let us dictate momentum from our defense.
Minus the lack of turnovers, this may be the best you’ll see this unit play all year until we see Michigan State. Solid coaching out of the unit, and solid performance and execution by all the players. Kudos to the defense for improvement every week unlike their counterpart who seem to be taking steps back.
I’ll keep this part short and sweet. Vitale looked good, Kain looked good and Buckley looked good. Aside from that, I’m at a loss for words. Vitale and Kain didn’t have perfect games, but they, along with Buckley, were the only ones on offense that made plays out there.
The OL didn't have their best outing as usual — they let up 6 sacks but some of that falls on Kains shoulders for not tucking it or releasing it quick enough. The only good thing we saw out of this unit is that there finally appears to be some competition back in that room. I’m not sure if some of the guys were dinged up behind them but we saw a few guys rotating in and now its showing up on the depth chart as well. Competition is a good thing.
For the WRs, they did their jobs. Made the catches when targeted, and blocked when asked to. I thought they had some good blocking that really helped spring guys like Buckley when he ripped a few runs. Having RBs in the backfield like that make perimeter blocking all the more important. Vitale had another great performance, if it wasn’t for the illegal block he threw than I think we wouldn’t of had to worry about overtime. Either way the guy was part the reason we were even able to go into overtime.
The RBs as a whole had a fair day. Buckley looked great out there, and really runs similar to Venric but is able to make a cut or two that Venric wasn’t able to in his first year running the ball. If this kid puts some weight on, watch out. Trumpy had a rough end to his day after having a pretty good day fumbles aside. Gotta hold on to the football plain and simple. But yet again, should he be the feature back in an option style offense? Why have him out there with Kain running the option, this is the one question that is continually asked. I feel like we bring Trumpy in every option scenario to “break tendencies” but if we do it every god forsaken time then IT IS the tendency.
Props to Kain for playing his tail off while getting chased all around the field. No huge plays out of him, but the bread and butter spread dive/read option. Nothing fancy. Looked fine throwing the 14 times he was asked to. He did his job.
If I told you we would only let up 10 points on defense throughout 60 minutes of football you would likely think we would win every game. That should still hold true. Something very “off” is going on in the booth and within the offensive staff that has me absolutely baffled. Is Iowa that good of a defense that we should only score 10 points? Is Minnesota that good for 17? Is Wisconsin only good for 6 points? The answer should be a resounding “No." How many more absolute playmakers do you need at your disposal? The tools are there, plain and simple. If the OL is holding back the playcalling, why have we only seen one trick play? These are questions every fan all rightfully deserve to be asking, it went on in my time there, and its continuing to be allowed to happen. All I know is that Gerrick McGee would have a field day with this many offensive playmakers.
Outlook can be either gloomy, or “Ok”. Will we make a bowl game? Maybe. Will we beat Nebraska? Maybe, we match up better against them than anyone else in the past 3 weeks. Either way, I’ve lost interest in watching anything other than my dudes on defense. Hopefully, the offense shows up for once. Could be the win we need, but either way I think we will see some changes in this staff come next year.
All I know is if I’m a recruit or a commit and I got a phone call, a single piece of mail, tweet etc. that said anything about “Longest Tenured Staff” after this year, I’d look the other way, hang up the phone, or throw it in the garbage.
So much for not being pessimistic.