Northwestern is an unknown commodity. When I was younger–and before Penn State joined the Big Ten–Northwestern was the doormat of the league. Perhaps of the nation. They were smart, but they couldn’t play football worth a damn.
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Ara Parseghian once coached at Northwestern. That was BEFORE my time. And even with a notable coach like Ara (of Notre Dame fame for the youngsters) the Wildcats only went 36-35-1.
But after Penn State joined the Big Ten, Northwestern underwent a metamorphosis that Indiana can only dream of. Gary Barnett took over in 1995 and promptly beat Penn State 21-10 en route to their first Big Ten championship since 1936. Their defense was led by a young man named Pat Fitzgerald.
And while Northwestern today is not what you would call a powerhouse by any stroke of the imagination, they are playing decent football (is 2-4 really decent?) behind a QB named Persa. But Fitzgerald is now on the sideline coaching, and they really need someone like him on the field playing defense, as this Northwestern team seems prone to late game collapses. Iowa scored 24 points in the fourth quarter last week to win by 10.
One way to get a feel for another team is to see what their fans are saying. That is not to say that we fans are experts but you must admit the scuttlebutt in Nittany Nation would have one thinking we were 1-6 instead of 6-1. If nothing else, it has its entertainment value.
There is actually a Northwestern Blog–Lake The Posts, “serving a daily dose of Wildcataganda since 2007.” That’s four years of Wildcataganda! And that’s way better than Wild Scat!
Here are some tidbits from the past weekend:
If you think it is tough as a fan to let go of the extreme disappointment of this season, put yourself in my shoes. A week’s worth of posts lay in front of us and our match-up with Top 25 Penn State. You want to see a real defense, well you’ll get to see it up close and personal next Saturday.
It truly is freaky. If you look at the box score you’d have to guess NU would win this by at least 14 points. 29 first downs, 495 yards of offense, Army-like domination of TOP. However, the one “how can you possibly lose with THIS stat?” stat is NU’s ridiculous third down conversions against Iowa. NU went 16-22 on the night which was one week after our “D” got torched to the almost exact same percentage by Michigan and we all held it up as THE stat of the game.
Iowa’s Defensive Gameplan
Give credit where credit is due. Norm Parker chose to force NU to dink and dunk and let us have whatever we wanted in short yardage situation. He banked on his defense being able to do what so many “D’s” do against us and capitalize on keeping us out of the end zone in red zone situations. Iowa had great deep ball coverage forcing Persa to tuck and run on several occasions and in several instances hold on the ball too long.
The Penn State defense is the paradigm for the bend but don’t break defense, which allows teams to dink and dunk their way down the field. Look for the same this weekend.
QB Shuffle – I loathe rotating QBs. I really do. I’ve just never been a fan as I’m hard-pressed to find successful teams that have done this. If you say “Penn State” I’m going to say “hah!” as they prove my point. They are winning DESPITE the QB rotation and winning based on their stellar defensive play and the re-emergence of Silas Redd at RB.
What is football’s fascination with shuffling quarterbacks? Temple did it. Iowa did it. Purdue did it last weekend. Now Northwestern. Is it possible that Jay Paterno is mainstream after all? Say it ain’t so, Joe!
Secondary – James Vandenberg’s stat line looks rather pedestrian – 14/22, 224 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT. Yet, 92 of those yards came on absolutely ridiculously blown coverages by Northwestern. Keenan Davis torched Demetrius Dugar for a 47 yard TD and Marvin McNutt embarrassed the NU defense on a 35-yard TD that once again exploited a miscommunication of our secondary. Offensive coordinators are feasting on the deep ball as the worst kept secret – NU gets confused on the deep patterns – is out. Illinois, Michigan and Iowa have all exploited it and “we made a couple of bad plays” is no longer acceptable. The damning part of this was the inexcusable postgame revelation by Pat Fitzgerald that our secondary is coming off the field confused about which coverage we were supposed to be in. What?!!! We’re midway through the season and compound the very same mistakes that have cost us the previous week and haven’t corrected a COMMUNICATION issue? It’s one thing to get beat on an athletic play. It’s another to simply not be even in the same area code of receivers based on confusion of what coverage we are supposed to be in.
You know, if you change some names, and talk about offense instead of defense, this rant could very well be found on any Penn State message board bitching about our offense and its coaches. He further writes:
I think I speak for most of us when the tide has turned from faith in the coaches actually making these changes happen has worn thin. When you can recite the postgame press conference and it is the same broken record of the coaches accepting responsibility, at some point you need to look within and really perhaps change the ones responsible.
At least Fitzgerald has admitted that things are unacceptable. Some coaches still insist that everything is just Peachy Paterno.
It appears the big difference between NW and PSU is our defense. We don’t expect a fourth quarter collapse. But Northwestern was 3-5 in the red zone against Iowa and Persa threw a pick six that really swung momentum away from the Cats early in the game and put them in a hole they were never able to claw back out of.
So do we hope McGloin does a good impersonation of Persa or not? Which team will switch quarterbacks more?