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Weekend Rewind, Week 6: Siemian, aggressiveness, and the Big Ten West

The Week 6 edition of the Weekend Rewind looks back on Northwestern's upset of Wisconsin, Trevor Siemian's play, kicking game struggles as a blessing in disguise, and a wide open Big Ten West.

David Banks

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 20-14 win over Wisconsin, here's the 2014 Week 6 edition of the Weekend Rewind:

Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern

No kicking, no problem

One of the more interesting developments this season, especially the last couple of weeks, for Northwestern has been the lack of a kicking game and what that does to the offense and coaching staff.

Last season, many were clamoring for Pat Fitzgerald to become more aggressive with his offense by taking more chances on fourth-down plays. Jack Mitchell's struggles have forced Fitz to become more creative with how he chooses to attack fourth downs inside opponents' territory.

Saturday, for example, Fitz decided to go for it on fourth down even after a Wisconsin timeout foiled plans for a fake field goal and an unsuccessful attempt to draw the Badgers offside forced Northwestern to take one as well. This could be, in a few ways, a blessing in disguise for Northwestern, forcing the coaching staff to get more aggressive and creative as the offense gets closer to the red zone.

- Josh Rosenblat

Trevor Siemian

It's rare to go through postgame coverage of any football game, especially an upset of a conference opponent, and not hear much analysis of quarterback play. But Trevor Siemian's performance Saturday has been somewhat swept aside.

Perhaps that's with good reason though. Siemian wasn't particularly good against Wisconsin, nor was he particularly bad, and it might be time to accept that that's exactly what Siemian is. He's an average quarterback capable of leading an offense to moderate success, but incapable of igniting a high-powered air attack.

But is that good enough for this Northwestern team? In an abominably weak Big Ten, it might just be. The most important thing will be staying mistake-free. Siemian made a few poor decisions today, but when it mattered, he took care of the ball.

The play that stands out was the 3rd-down conversion late in the fourth quarter. Off of a play-action fake, Siemian had a window to Dan Vitale in the flat. Cognizant of the situation, Siemian realized that the one thing he absolutely couldn't afford to do was underthrow Vitale, which could've led to the linebacker undercutting the route, and thus a pick-six and disaster. So although it looked like Siemian put too much on the ball, it was all calculated, and in Siemian's mind, his ball placement was perfect. These are the kind of little things he must do.

He won't put up gaudy numbers - today's line was subpar although, realistically, he played a decent game -- but Siemian is still the most important player on this team by a wide margin - any quarterback is. But just because he's important, doesn't mean he needs to be great. He just needs to be good enough to let the talent around him win football games against mediocre teams.

- Henry Bushnell

Around the Big Ten

Big Ten Championship preview

Last night's Nebraska-Michigan State contest seemed to me like a preview of the Big Ten Championship in December. But it didn't feel that way the entire game. Before Nebraska's comeback, the Spartans were absolutely out-classing the Huskers. It made me really think that, especially with the way Nebraska's schedule sets up, another team could end up sneaking out of the West. But by the end of the game, following an impressive comeback attempt, it was clear to me that these two teams were the best in their respective divisions and it might not be close.

Although Nebraska plays on the road at its three biggest competitors for the division title (Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin), Big Red should be favored in all of those games. It looks like we may see this matchup again down the road, but the next time at Lucas Oil Stadium.

- Josh Rosenblat

Northwestern in great position in the West

All of a sudden, Northwestern finds itself in unfathomably good position in the Big Ten West. Not only did the Wildcats take down the division's preseason favorite, Wisconsin, the whole of the West seems to be in a state of uncertainty.

This isn't to say Northwestern is the best team of the seven, nor is it even to say that the Wildcats are the favorites. But they have distinct advantages over every other team.

Nebraska is still the class of the West, but the other NU is already playing from behind after losing to Michigan State on Saturday. That means if - and yes, it remains a big ‘if' - Northwestern could take down the Huskers on October 18th at Ryan Field (homecoming weekend), the Wildcats could probably afford to lose two of their other five Big Ten games and still head to Indianapolis in December. And it's not outlandish to believe that NU will be favored in all five of those games - at Minnesota, at Iowa, Michigan, at Purdue, and Illinois.

Elsewhere, NU now effectively holds a two game lead over Wisconsin, and neither Iowa nor Minnesota, despite the Gophers' moderate success so far this year, look to be serious contenders. And even if Minnesota stays hot, its final four games are against Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Our Kevin Trahan discussed this in more depth, but the point is, while we're not ready to call NU the favorite for a trip to Indy, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. Of course, two weeks ago, nobody could've uttered the words Northwestern and Big Ten Championship in the same sentence with a straight face or without a negative modifier; but now, dismissing the thought of it is simply irrational. The Wildcats are firmly in the conversation.

- Henry Bushnell

False Start of the Week

No matter the form of a false start, offensive lineman routinely look foolish. But perhaps none more so than Nebraska guard Jake Cotton on Saturday:

Big Ten Power Rankings

Henry's Rank Josh's Rank Average Last Week
1 Michigan State 1 1 1 1
2 Ohio State 2 2 2 2
3 Nebraska 3 3 3 4
T-4 Wisconsin 5 5 5 3
T-4 Northwestern 4 6 5 9
T-4 Iowa 6 4 5 8
T-7 Maryland 9 7 8 5
T-7 Minnesota 8 8 8 6
9 Penn State 7 10 8.5 10
10 Rutgers 10 9 9.5 7
T-11 Michigan 11 12 11.5 11
T-11 Indiana 12 11 11.5 12
13 Purdue 13 13 13 14
14 Illinois 14 14 14