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Conversations with the Enemy: Talking Northwestern with Lake The Posts

I traded a few questions about Saturday's game with Lake The Posts, the original (but no longer only!) Northwestern football blog.  My answers to his questions will be posted on his site shortly.

Below, I'm in bold:

Despite its 4-2 record, Northwestern hasn't been receiving a whole lot of accolades for its performance in the first half of the season.  The Wildcats lost to Syracuse, barely scraped by against Eastern Michigan, and didn't get the blowout most expected against Miami last week, but the win at Purdue clearly was huge for the team's bowl hopes.  Generally speaking, how satisfied are you with the first half of the NU's season?

I'm not. Most of Wildcat Nation is not. We were missing four defensive starters in the Syracuse team and our lack of depth showed immensely.  This has been the most bizarro season since 2001 at Northwestern.  On the heels of our 9-3 2008 season buoyed by a stellar D, all signs pointed to the best D since 1995 and it has been an adventure to say the least.  Our O-line was expected to be the strength of the offense with question marks at the skill positions. Mike Kafka has been a pleasant surprise with his passing and our WR corps is stellar, yet we lack a true Dell or Cunningham-like gamebreaker.  Our line play has been weak and our rushing game non-existent. Essentially everything we thought would be great is not and almost vice versa. 5-1 was what we expected as a realistic worst case scenario as fans through those soft 6 games.  It has been disappointing to say the least.

More, after the jump.

Corey Wootton was expected to be one of the best defensive performers in the conference, but many have said that it looks like he's still being hampered by his ACL problems.  How has he looked this season, and how important is his play to your defense?

He hasn't been much of a factor. We all feel for the kid as he was a terrorizing gamechanger last season, and he played one series last week due to an ankle injury. When he was "healthy" he simply has seemed tentative. He's clearly not "back".  He did draw some early season double-teams, but he's not the All-American he was expected to be.  Not even close.

When most non-Northwestern fans last noticed Mike Kafka, he was busy rushing for about 874 yards in your wild win at the Metrodome last year.  Is he still a major running threat?  More generally, what can we expect to see from Kafka?  ( . . .resisting the urge to make obvious literary jokes . . . )

Great question. Fans have been squawking about our lack of using Kafka as the RB. He's the best short yardage "back" we have, yet we're rotating a slew of RBs who haven't made much of a difference.  We're at a loss as NU ALWAYS has a stellar RB.  Mike has a great arm, yet we never stretch the field and really go deep which I believe hampers our rushing attack.  You can expect to see 40+ passes from him and when he's on - watch-out. He makes much better decisions than CJ [Bacher --ed.] did, but he does tend to hold on to the ball a tad too long. He's slowly been running more each week. Most of us would be happy to have him throw 50+ this week and rush 10-12 times.

Northwestern, like MSU, has had to rework its running game this season after graduating a multi-year starter at tailback.  It seems like NU has taken the running-back-by-committee approach, and statistics indicate that
the results have been fairly meh.  Is that the case?

You're being generous. We've stunk.  The original starter Stephen Simmons has been out most of the season with an injury and true frosh Arby Fields early-on appeared to be the guy who would get the ball and become our next 4-year RB. However, our line has been horrid and our RBs have yet to show they can elude defenders. Jacob Schmidt, a short yardage back and walk-on turned schollie this year is a feisty guy, but good for 3rd and 2 and not much more. He's got great hands and turned heads with an amazing catch last week though.  I can't remember our run game being so much of a detriment.

Unlike in previous years, the current MSU offense is built around the passing game, and we've been fairly successful at it this season.  How has the Northwestern secondary looked so far?

Our secondary was banged up and still is. It is our strongest unit though. Sherrick McManis has made some incredible picks and is finally at the lockdown mode we expected him to be after missing a couple of games due to injury.  Safety Brendan Smith left last week's game, but his replacement, Brian Peters played extremely well. Jordan Mabin at the other corner is the real deal and can hit hard and Brad Phillips has been up and down, but seemst to have regained his '08 form.  It is a solid unit when healthy.   We've had a slew of INTs and fumble-inducing hits in the past two weeks and the 'Cats will need to win the TO margin game to beat Sparty in my mind.

Is there anyone on either side of the ball for Northwestern who MSU fans probably aren't aware of, but should keep an eye on?

Zeke Markshausen - a walk-on WR turned scholarship guy has become our clutch receiver. He's been fantastic. As mentioned, we've got 6-7 WRs that are solid.  I think Sidney Stewart might be our biggest threat (had 7 rec last year vs Sparty mostly when game was out of hand).  However, I'm a big fan of Jeravin Matthews a tweener WR/RB who
seemingly makes big things happen on every touch ,yet we don't use him NEARLY enough.

Finally, your score prediction please:

Michigan State 30 NU 24 - As usual, this one comes down to who has the ball last...

Thanks, LTP, and for the next three days, I hate you!