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Northwestern's Offense vs. Ohio State: A Metrics Breakdown

Calculating the 'Cats offense against Ohio State

Jonathan Daniel

This week on ‘Cat Calculations, I’m going to take a look at the NU passing attack against Ohio State and why not much could have been done better. I couldn’t get anything up last week because I just couldn’t find a recording of the Maine game, so any season-long numbers will only reflect FBS competition. It’s a bit difficult to go over the game so soon, but I believe there are far more positive takeaways in the passing game than there are negative. Let’s get to it.

Where Did They Throw the Ball?

This is solely against Ohio State. While the completion percentages are particularly helpful on such a small sample size, the throw location tells us a lot about the game plan versus OSU.

  • Oh God, all the attempt percentages look so similar. Once we get past the 22/27% distinction in the chart, we can see that there was a wide variety of passing among the various zones. Siemian notably threw to each zone approx. 25% of the time, only eschewing the deep ball against OSU.
  • Good to see Kain getting the ball into the intermediate zone of 11-20 yards 27% of the time and completing every pass.
  • Throughout the entire season Siemian has averaged 9.8 yards/ pass (before yards after the catch while Colter averaged 4.3 yards. During the Ohio State game Siemian averaged 6.1 yards while Kain averaged 5 yards. With that, it’s pretty clear the NU game plan was to attack OSU’s defense underneath with both QBs.
  • Trevor’s 4 screen attempts represent 36% of his 11 total this year. The return of Venric and quality of OSU’s defense clearly lent itself to Siemian throwing the screen as a tendency breaker.

Misc Stats

  • You weren’t imagining all the pressure on Trevor to get the ball out quick. Out of his 23 pass attempts (18 attempts, 5 sacks), he was pressured or sacked on 39% of them. While I initially attributed the short passing game from Siemian as a way to attack OSU’s linebackers and soft coverage scheme, I’m wondering now if it was mostly due to the pressure on nearly every other play.
  • Despite that pressure, Ohio State only blitzed both QBs 21% of the time and two of Trevor’s five sacks came on blitzes. It’s pretty clear that OSU was simply beating NU’s offensive line.
  • In the past I’ve complained quite a bit about Siemian’s tendency to throw into coverage, even predicting better teams would take advantage of this trait. Outside of his one ill-advised interception, he didn’t throw poorly into tight coverage on any other passes. Of course he was throwing far more short passes, but we should take any victory we can get.
  • Rashad Lawrence was NU’s WR star on Saturday night, catching 8 passes for 149 yards. Through the season, he’s averaging 7.15 yards after the catch, leading NU’s WRs. However, when we take away his 58 yard run, he’s averaging a meager 2.9 yards after the catch.
  • Dan Vitale is quietly becoming a stud for NU. While many of the wildcat fans know that, his 6.9 yards after the catch would put him in national discussions as a top H-back style payer.


Throughout 37 passes against FBS competition (not counting Maine), Colter still hasn’t thrown a 20+ yard pass. While I don’t think he should be bombing it down the field on every play, a well-timed deep pass from Kain would likely result in a positive outcome. He can throw it down the field, it was on display last year so I’m not sure why the coaching staff hasn’t dialed up a deep ball to throw the defenses off.

Neither QB had major faults in this game. Kain completed every pass (albeit on short completions) and Siemian hit a wide variety of targets (outside of his interception), and you can’t ask for much more. Some analysis could probably be done on how long Trevor held the ball on his 5 sacks before getting hit, but I’ll leave that open-ended. A performance like Saturday's from NU's QBs with perhaps a few more deep-balls and less sacks should be good enough to beat any team.

I’ve chopped up the passes into a video and added below the video time-stamped links to some of the more interesting passing attempts from the OSU game. If you click on the link, it’ll take you right to the play on Youtube.


3rd and 6 at OSU 9 – 2nd Quarter

3rd and Goal at OSU 7 – 3rd Quarter

2nd and 10 at OSU 31 – 3rd Quarter

2nd and Goal at OSU 11 – 4th Quarter

1st and10 at NU 16 – 4th Quarter


1st and 20 at NU 19 – 4th Quarter

Colter 11-20 Yard Passes:

2nd and 5 at NU 25 – 14 Yard Pass

2nd and 7 at NU 28 – 14 Yard Pass

1st and 10 at OSU 32 – 13 Yard Pass

Siemian 11+ Yard Passes:

2nd and 11 at NU 45 – 11 Yard Pass (Inc)

2nd and 8 at OSU 41 – 23 Yard Pass

1st and 10 at OSU 49 – 12 Yard Pass (Inc)

1st and 10 at OSU 31 – 14 Yard Pass

3rd and Goal at OSU 12 – 12 Yard Pass (TD)

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