We already pointed out that we thought it was silly that beating Maine 35-21 was a strange reason for AHHHHHHHH NORTHWESTERN PANIC, but allow us to elaborate.
No, it's not great that NU beat Western Michigan 38-17 a week before WMU lost to Iowa 59-3. No, it's not great that NU beat Maine, an FCS team, 35-21.
This team ain't perfect.. They'll struggle against Ohio State. But thus far, they've done what they needed to do, and with a look around and some perspective, we still think a lot of the goals you could put on a whiteboard at the beginning of the year are still attainable -- as is beating Ohio State.
There are definite chinks in the armor. For starters, Dwight White is going to give up plays all year. When he plays off receivers, teams are going to pick on him for short gains. When he plays tight on receivers, teams are going to pick on him deep. He's Northwestern's biggest defensive weakness, and it doesn't seem like there's relief in sight. Perhaps Matthew Harris can develop quickly and take over that starting spot, but it seems like White will be the guy at second corner all year.
This is not new. Justan Vaughn was a problem opposite Jordan Mabin in 2010. Jeravin Matthews was a problem opposite Mabin in 2011. Demetrius Dugar and Quinn Evans combined to be a problem opposite Nick VanHoose last year. The hope is that White can develop into a starting-caliber player in future, but for now, he's going to get picked on.
Next, there's the problem of stopping runs up the gut. Last year, NU dealt with this effectively, and we pinned it on a stud linebacker corps, but I suppose we didn't give Brian Arnfelt enough credit up front, and the fact that he's hanging on (albeit as a practice squadder) with the Steelers is a testament to this fact.
Not to mention trouble stopping scrambling QB's (always a problem, too) and the fact that Kain Colter seems significantly more turnover-y this season.
You see? I know there are things that aren't good. But there's a difference between that and the weeping and moaning and gnashing of teeth I've seen amongst some people.
If you're a weeper/moaner/teeth-gnasher, you fall into one of two camps, and I can tell you how to find out which one you're in. It's easy: go back on Twitter or this comments section to the stuff you wrote literally two weeks ago.
Are the things you said after wins against Cal and Syracuse negative, calling out the defensive deficiencies NU appeared to exhibit? Congrats! You're a pessimist, and although I probably wouldn't like talking about things with you in person, I respect your consistent sports analysis convictions and acknowledge you might have been on to something.
Were you extremely positive after NU crushed Syracuse, but now you think the sky is falling? Congrats! You're reactionary! You formed an opinion based on two weeks of football and then two weeks later formed a completely different opinion based on two other weeks of football. Unfortunately, neither opinion is right, because actual opinion-making is less about thinking the first thing you can think and more about analyzing subtleties. That's not to say animals without the ability to comprehend object permanence can't make it as sports columnists; a goldfish has been co-hosting "First Take" for years, and he's got over a million twitter followers.
Although there are problems Northwestern should fix, I still think this team has a chance to do everything I thought they could when previewing the season in spite of two sub-par performances against sub-par teams. Here's why.
1. We been milquetoast as hell
Northwestern hasn't thrown the ball much. 55 rushes, 22 passes against Western Michigan, 49 rushes, 17 passes against Maine. That's running the ball 73 percent of the time. They ran the ball 56 percent of the time in games against Cal and Syracuse when nobody had problems with the offense.
Sure, it's a bit misleading, since a) NU runs some run-pass packaged plays and b) the run is Northwestern's most effective weapon. But a) the disparity is still huge and b) the run we're talking about is a Kain Colter-Venric Mark option.
NU hasn't had its most effective scheme in place in any game this season. Instead, they've had oodles and oodles of Treyvon Green -- who has been a revelation -- but even he didn't get the ball much against Maine, with Mike Trumpy leading the way with 17 carries. The run-pass disparity is especially notable since Northwestern's receivers have all seemingly taken steps forward, Trevor Siemian seems even more confident with his throws, and Kain supposedly upped his arm strength (although, like I said, picks have been a thing which is weird.)
Calling out Northwestern's offense for not playing up to par against Western Michigan and Maine is disingenuous for implying they had the capability to play up to par in the first place with the playcalls and personnel in place. They still didn't perform as well as they could have, but the battle stations weren't fully armed and operational.
tl;dr TDozer's comment
2. This. Division.
After three years, we have finally found out why this is the "Legends" Division: because there are no leaders here.
Remember this thing I wrote last week, about how it looked like Northwestern was the best team in the division? Even with another subpar effort, That. That that that.
Sorry for my foray into Xzibit, but I anticipate others calling me critical for calling others critical since I now think Michigan sucks two weeks after I thought they were good. But there's a difference: I thought Michigan was good because they beat Notre Dame comfortably. Then Notre Dame barely beat Purdue (who I still think is the worst team in the conference) and barely beat Michigan State (who I think quite horrendous) and needed some awful pass interference calls to do it. Meanwhile, Michigan has been all of the LOLs. Beating Akron on the strength of fourth-down goal line stop? Beating UConn on the strength of a furious fourth quarter comeback? That team is un problemo.
Michigan State? Still can't score. Nebraska? Still can't stop anybody. Minnesota? 4-0 in less convincing manner than NU. Iowa? Lost to NIU, who just beat EIU 43-39 after a crazy comeback. NU has looked bad at times, but in my eyes, not as bad as any of these five teams.
I don't think that NORTHWESTERN WILL ASSUREDLY WIN THE LEGENDS DIVISION™ AND YOU CAN BET MONEY ON IT HOT SPORTS TAKE. I think that despite some less-than-stellar efforts Northwestern looks like either the best team or at least the least-worst team amongst the six. Despite a tough schedule, they've got a good shot at taking it home, and what more can we ask for?
Four games, four wins by 14 points or more. No matter the ups, the downs, and the opponents, they've done what they needed to do. Style points don't lead to Gamebreakers in real life, and Pat Fitzgerald does not care for them. He does care for wins, and now he has four of them.
More from Sippin' On Purple:
- Northwestern basketball recruiting: Wildcats land 3-star SG Scott Lindsey
- Northwestern, 35, Maine, 21: AHHHH WE SHOULD ALL BE SCARED WE DIDN'T WIN BY ENOUGH
- No. 18 Northwestern vs. Maine football: Game Info, how to watch, TV schedule, preview, and more
- Northwestern vs. Maine football: Predictions/Preview thread!
- College Gameday for Ohio State-Northwestern really seems like it's happening