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Weekend Rewind, Week 3: Northwestern vs. Western Michigan

Every week, InsideNU writers Chris Johnson and Kevin Trahan will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we’ll try and stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with one big takeaway from the Big Ten. Following Northwestern’s 38-17 win over Western Michigan, here’s the third edition of the Weekend Rewind:

Final thoughts on NU

Kain Colter’s running style

It’s too late to ask Kain Colter to adjust. Running with a receiver’s mentality is what he does, and no measure of stern counsel, no amount of conflicting medical evidence, is likely to precipitate effective change. Colter has long eschewed sliding, the traditional method quarterbacks use to avoid taking hits on the end of scrambles, in favor of a tough guy’s bruising style, which includes everything from shoulder barges near the sidelines to attempted head-first plow moves to reaching over the goal line while contorting his body over a tackler.

Fearless is the best way to describe Colter’s running style. Oblivious may be another.

Following Saturday’s 38-17 win over Western Michigan, Colter was asked the following question at the post-game press conference. “Kain, does it cross your mind that you should play a little safer later in games?”

His response: “Umm… No.”

“Oblivious” is harsh, I admit. Colter no doubt understands the risks of subjecting himself to so many hits, so frequently. The proliferation of discussion about concussions, and the NFL lawsuits therein, has made ignoring the subject of head trauma in football impossible. Colter understands the perils of his actions, the cost-benefit analysis every time he streaks into the open field looking to tack on an extra eight yards to the end of his runs, rather than giving himself up and eluding contact.

That is Colter’s modus operandi; I’m just not sure it’s the right way forward. It didn’t take longer than two offensive plays into the season-opener for Colter to sustain his first concussion of 2013. After getting pummeled on a dropback on Northwestern’s first offensive snap against the Golden Bears, Colter lined up on the next play and scrambled around the right side of the line, where two defenders were waiting to deliver a punishing blow. Colter, concussed, hit the ground on impact, and walked wearily to the locker room. His night was over.

A week later against Syracuse, Colter was back, charging headlong into traffic and absorbing big hits from different angles. He survived that game without injury, and made it out of Saturday’s win (in which he carried 15 times for 106 yards and a score) unscathed.

But if he continues to run this way – and based on his comments, there’s no reason to believe he won’t – is it only a matter of time before Colter suffers another injury? A second concussion in a compacted period (the medical repercussions of which could force a prolonged absence, or worse)?

These are very real concerns Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald (and quite possibly Northwestern’s medical staff) has likely discussed with Colter. Short of a miraculous midweek brainwashing, a psychic warping of Colter’s running mentality, there is no obvious remedy in sight.

- Chris Johnson

Treyvon Green’s journey

I touched on this in my postgame article, but I wanted to take a look at Treyvon Green’s story again, because his journey the last couple years has been pretty remarkable, to say the least.

Green burned his redshirt right away at NU, hoping to team up with Mike Trumpy to lift what was, at the time, a dismal rushing game. He was a pleasant surprise at the beginning of the season, but even after Trumpy got hurt, Green was passed up as the lead running back by Jacob Schmidt. Still, all in all, it wasn’t a terrible freshman season.

That spring, Green was perhaps NU’s most impressive player and he looked to be on the verge of a breakout year. Going into the fall, he looked like NU’s No. 1 running back — at the very least, a co-starter with Trumpy — but then NU found Venric Mark. NU decided to shift to a style that favored Mark’s skill set — a quick, agile runner — and on top of all that, Green had to deal with family issues and was sent to the hospital after sustaining a big hit in training camp. He subsequently moved down the depth chart to third string.

After a disappointing season, it looked like Green may never take another meaningful snap at NU. He was behind Mark and Trumpy on the depth chart, and redshirt freshmen Stephen Buckley and Malin Jones looked like they were pressuring him for the third string spot in the spring. But instead of fading into irrelevancy, Green changed his body to become quicker and to better fit into NU’s offense. That hard work has paid off — Green is now the team’s leading rusher and figures to still play a role in the offense when Mark returns.

It’s one helluva story — one that didn’t seem possible just two months ago.

- Kevin Trahan

Around the Big Ten

A Wacky Finish in Tempe 

Everyone who decided to stick around for the end of the Northwestern game, congratulations. Your enduring support through long stretches of boring football is commendable. Those tuning in at home, resisting the impulse to watch other more enticing college football fixtures or Saturday night television selections, you are likewise owed a round of applause.

Many of you probably switched over to the Wisconsin-Arizona State game at some point, which would have been the smart (err, preferable) decision for anyone not committed to reporting and writing about Northwestern football. If you stayed up for the whole thing, a 10:30 ET kick that spilled into Sunday morning, you saw one of the more bizarre and hectic endings that can possibly befall a college football game (it was easily the most bizarre of this season).

As Wisconsin drove into Sun Devils territory late in the fourth quarter, down 32-30, Badgers quarterback Joel Stave huddled to the line of scrimmage. He planned to execute a quick snap before positioning the ball in the middle of the field for what would have been a winning 15-yard winning field goal attempt. But instead of taking a knee (or at least convincing referees he had taken a knee; Stave may have actually put his knee on the ground), Stave trotted to his left and simply placed the ball between the hashmarks. Interpreting Stave’s action as a fumble, ASU linebacker Anthony Jones dove on the ball. ASU defenders and a referee stood over the spot as Stave gestured to a different referee: he wanted a dead ball and stopped clock. There was mass confusion near the line of scrimmage as ASU defenders cleared the area and the clock ticked to zero. Wisconsin had lost a golden opportunity to leave Sun Devils Stadium with a big non-conference win. Stave stormed about, he and his teammates shocked, with millions of spectators left trying to comprehend what just happened.

It was the weirdest of final sequences, and the referees are, with little doubt, at least partially at fault. Wisconsin will forever feel that it was jobbed, a potential victory ripped from its hands thanks to a fuzzy mixture of shoddy clock management and a glaring officiating blunder. The loss also added to the Big Ten’s dismaying day against the Pac-12, the final tally coming in at 3-1, West Coast dudes – with UCLA drilling Nebraska (41-21), Illinois falling to Washington (34-24) and ASU edging Wisconsin.

College football is a lot of things. There’s a sizable dose of weirdness in there, and nights like Saturday in Tempe are terrific distillations. That is a horrible, yet altogether thrilling, way to lose a football game.

- Chris Johnson

Nebraska's defensive woes

Since Northwestern played later than any other Big Ten team this week, I was able to catch all of the Nebraska-UCLA game on TV. In fact — other than NU — I’ve watched more of Nebraska than any other Big Ten team this year. I’m not sure why it’s worked out that way, and I’m certainly not a Huskers expert, but I’ve noticed a few things watching those games.

First, the offense has produced a lot of “wow” moments. Kenny Bell is a legit NFL receiver, and in my mind, he’s the best receiver in the Big Ten. Add in receivers Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner, quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah — Abdullah is also very underrated — and that offense could be the best in the Big Ten.

But the defense…

It’s easy to pick on the Nebraska defense this year, because everyone seems to be doing it. However, the criticism is fair. The Cornhuskers’ secondary isn’t that bad. It may blow coverage every once in awhile, but it’s not awful. The real issue seems to be the defensive line. UCLA is a good team, but it’s mind-blowing how little pressure Nebraska’s defensive line got the entire game. There were a couple sacks, but those were coverage sacks. There’s absolutely no way Nebraska can win the Legends Division with that defense. That isn’t to say they can’t improve — it’s week three — but and perceived improvements from the game against lowly Southern Miss have gone out the window.

It’s pretty crazy how far the Blackshirts have fallen, and while the offense is legit, this seems like another 8-4 year for Bo Pelini and his Huskers. Can Pelini keep his job after another year like that? Frankly, Nebraska fans expect way more than they should. This isn’t the 90s anymore and there are inherent recruiting challenges at the school. Still, Nebraska should always be a good program, and right now, it doesn’t look like it can hang with the Big Ten’s elite. Unless that changes, and unless the defense gets things together, Pelini’s seat could be a lot hotter than most — including myself — anticipated this winter.

- Kevin Trahan

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State — How many teams could backup Kenny Guiton start on? Probably most of them. He shined in his start against Cal.

2. Northwestern — As Pat Fitzgerald noted, NU won 38-17 and everyone was talking like it was a massive disappointment. That’s the mark of a pretty good team.

3. Michigan — The Devin Gardner Heisman campaign had a rough day on Saturday. He’s a good player, but he has a long ways to go. Also, Akron!?

4. Wisconsin — Wisconsin maybe/definitely/probably should have won against Arizona State. Take your pick. The officials messed up, but so did quarterback Joel Stave.

6. Nebraska — Neither Nebraska nor Michigan State deserves to be fifth, so we’re going to have them tied at sixth. It’ll be a long season for Nebraska unless the defense shores up.

6. Michigan State — A nice offensive showing for the first time this season. Now do it against someone not named Youngstown State.

7. Minnesota — You’ve got to feel for Jerry Kill. His health issues are once again the focal point, rather than a solid start.

8. Penn State — Christian Hackenberg might be the real deal, but the Nittany Lions are going to have some growing pains with this young team. That was evident in Saturday’s home loss to Central Florida.

9. Illinois — The Fighting Illini were no match for Washington, but the offense is still impressive. Credit new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and a revitalized Nathan Scheelhaase.

10. Mark Weisman has rushed for 141 yards per game so far this year, and he’s had over 30 carries in each of the past few games. This is a former walk-on, transfer fullback. Unreal.

11. Indiana — The Hoosiers bounced back to beat Bowling Green. And more impressive: the defense showed real improvement.

12. Purdue — The Boilermakers almost had the upset of the weekend against Notre Dame, but came up just short. Still, a nice effort.