Former NU linebacker Nate Williams will be providing commentary on the games each week, with a mixture of his reactions and an X's and O's breakdown.
Quick Notes: Collin Ellis is doing what Chi Chi did last year but better and he is getting luckier. NU is deeper than it ever has been, I guarantee you the term “Next Man Up” will be used more than ever during Mondays team meeting. I was somewhat correct on most of my predictions. And finally…. No Venric No Kain No Problems.
I initially had Collin Ellis in my notes just to praise his speed on the edge and how it put the NU defense in a better position to defend Cal on the perimeter. However I was not expecting him to put on this huge of a performance. Getting those kind of interceptions epitomizes being in the “right place at the right time” which is why my musical selection this time around is some Dr. John. Right Place Wrong time… Not 100% relevant but Dr. John and Collin Ellis are both from Louisiana, so at least we have that. Plus Dr, John is a Rock N Roll HOFer and Ellis put on a HOF worthy performance.
My initial thoughts on this game are tough, and I must say, watching a game and having to be analytical is tough when I'm trying to properly enjoy my beverages. Also, anyone who does this with this kind of offense, either has too much time on their hands or gets paid a lot of money to do this — neither of which I have. Cal's offense is just flat out too fast. They almost ran 100 plays, 99 to be exact. That is crazy. Overall, despite our rather opportunistic defensive play, I think our defense looked pretty abysmal. They came through when the ‘Cats needed big plays, but that was about it. A freshman threw for nearly 500 yards in his first collegiate start, thats unacceptable. Thankfully they forced three interceptions, and had a handful of sacks (which I was right on target with my prediction of 3 INTS and 4 sacks).
There were some bright spots. The defensive line is still capable of producing pressure and being disruptive in the run game despite no longer having Arnfelt and my brother, which was a concern to some. We have playmakers everywhere, and depth. Even though Dwight White looked like a young guy and got beat a couple times, he looks like he has the tools to be a great player. So there will be some concern about the secondary but just give it some time. From a fundamental football view, this defense has a lot of room for improvement. There were far too many arm tackles going on. By allowing Goff to make the easy throws NU forced Cal to operate at a high efficiency and high speed, which was great until we tried to sub defensive linemen. The coaches can not allow that to happen — too many times there was a DL or DE getting subbed in and not being set when the ball was snapped. I know they want fresh bodies in there, but fresh bodies mean nothing when they cant get lined up in time.
Defensively, we looked gassed. 100 plays is a lot, but I didnt think I would ever have to question the conditioning of our team. Dykes was wrong to question the legitimacy of our injuries but it was a little too frequent for my taste. I knew big plays would happen when facing an offense like this, but there were a few too many and thankfully we were able to hold Bigelow to under 100 yds (dude is fast). Im still upset with the officials and them not calling the safety off of what should have been intentional grounding in the endzone, that could have really changed things
Thankfully there are a plethora of things to look forward to on offense. Despite not having Kain or Venric, Northwestern can still run the football and win football games. Though Trevor had a pair of interceptions, I was still very very impressed with his day. He looked like Dan Marino out there, studly performance. Siemian showed great poise in the pocket, delivered on smooth throws and used his feet admirably when needed. Speaking of studs, we have too many. NU could be the Studliest team since the 85 Bears, our new motto should be “Chicagos Studliest Team”. The receiving corps came through with a huge day. I saw some killer blocking out there on the perimeter and made huge catches all day. Vitale is a stud, the Jones’ were studs. It is crazy to think how great this offense will be when Kain and Venric get back in the lineup. Also, the offensive line looked very good. They provided a lot of running room for Green, only allowed one sack and there seemed to be little pressure on Siemian. The only troubling thought, is the ineffectiveness of our offense in the redzone without the zone read option. McCall needs to find an answer for that if Colter and Venric aren't available. Overall very pleased with the offense, great balance, productivity and efficiency.
We have a lot to look forward to. Leaving the Bay Area with a W is enormous and proves that this team has the moxie to be a great team. Our offense is going to continue to improve and defensively, if we get more consistent and continue to make big plays they will be a top 25 defense. There are playmakers everywhere on this team and it couldnt be more exciting. What impressed me the most is the “Next Man Up” mentality. A lot of guys went down with minor injuries, which was concerning, so kudos to the guys who stepped in and stepped up. I know from personal experience how important it is to be able to have guys that can step in when needed. When Malcom Arrington went down with a knee injury halfway through the season, I had to fill in at MLB. Coming off the bench and knowing what to do and where to be is tough for a lot of players. I got my chance and didn't let go. I saw a lot of guys get their chance and they weren’t letting go either.
Overall this is going to be an exciting season and look forward to us getting a change of pace with Syracuse at home. I hope you all enjoy my column and I promise it will be more analytical when we see an offense that doesnt run nearly 100 plays. Until then Go ‘Cats.