Every week, InsideNU writers Josh Rosenblat and Henry Bushnell will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we'll try to stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with our big takeaways from the rest of the Big Ten. Following Northwestern's 24-17 loss to Wisconsin, here's the 2014 Week 7 edition of the Weekend Rewind:
Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern
Defense takes a small step back
To be clear, Northwestern's defense was not the reason it lost this game - or at least it wasn't the only culprit. Pat Fitzgerald and NU had far greater problems, and to give up 17 points in a game (subtract the kick return touchdown), no matter the opponent, is at least an above average defensive performance.
But this Northwestern team has reached the point where the defense needs to be better than just above average. It needs to be stellar. Against Wisconsin and Penn State, it was. Against Minnesota, it was not.
A week ago, in the upset of Wisconsin, it seemed like the Wildcats were a step ahead all game. Aside from a few Melvin Gordon breakaway runs, they swarmed the ball when Wisconsin ran, and made plays on the ball when Wisconsin passed. They seemingly had a read on when the Badgers were going to take shots through the air.
However, Saturday, the defense lost that mental step. The biggest issue, unexpectedly, was defending the pass. Mitch Leidner only threw for 153 yards, but he did so on just 15 attempts, and time and time again, he had time to pick out open receivers and open receivers to pick out.
Whereas last Saturday, Northwestern loaded the box and then was able to adjust when Wisconsin went to play-action - thanks in part, of course, to the outstanding play of Matt Harris and Nick VanHoose - this Saturday was different. VanHoose and and Harris weren't the lockdown corners they were a week ago, and Minnesota did a great job of keeping the NU defense off balance.
Again, this loss is not on the defense. But it was those chunks of yardage that Northwestern gave up through the air, a number of which were on third down, which really hurt the Wildcats and perhaps kept them from winning this game.
- Henry Bushnell