It's time for Game Week Q&A, and we check in on Northwestern. Rodger Sherman of Sippin' on Purple was kind enough to answer some questions about the Wildcats, as well as some not-questions.
1. It's not your fault.
Yes it is.
2. It's not your fault.
YES IT IS
3. It's not your fault.
YES IT IS!!!!!!
4. With Venric Mark out, what is left of this offense? Who else should we keep an eye on?
Sigh. As you may remember, this offense was primarily built around the Kain Colter/Venric Mark option. Colter's actually been alright -- he's been banged up at times, but is completing 77 percent of his passes and moving the way he always has on the ground -- but his running backs have been injured, so the option game has disappeared. Treyvon Green has been great when healthy, as was Stephen Buckley before his season-ending injury, but Mike Trumpy is best used as a third-down back, and has been forced into a really large role. So Colter's effectiveness has been injured.
And the other head of the two-headed QB monster-that-wasn't, Trevor Siemian, has been a huge trainwreck. He's either held onto the ball too long, resulting in dumb sacks behind a line that can't block for significant amounts of time, or he's thrown dumb picks in droves.
NU's problem all year has been red zone efficiency -- the Wildcats get there, but don't end up with points. The numbers show that when Kain Colter's allowed to throw down there, good things happen. Defenses sniff out the option pretty easily and Siemian just shouldn't be allowed near the ball.
5. Northwestern has actually been playing pretty good defense. What have they been doing well and what have they been struggling with?
Color me from September surprised, but Northwestern's strength has been defending the pass. Nick VanHoose is a solid corner, Matthew Harris, a true freshman who began the year as a third-stringer, hasn't been bad, and Ibraheim Campbell has been able to turn up tons of picks from his safety spot. But it's all caused by the pass rush: Tyler Scott has been incredibly effective from one DE spot and a rotating door of three other guys takes the other side -- in passing downs, NU likes to play all four in what they call the "cheetah" package. They've done a great job of batting down passes at the line.
6. What are three keys to victory for Northwestern?
1. Turnovers. Northwestern is kind of like Michigan State last year. All of our games have been alarmingly close -- except for the Wisconsin game (and technically the Ohio State game that featured a Ohio State TD on a failed hook and ladder with the clock at triple zeros) every game has been one score. The difference has been NU has lost every game, while Michigan State switched it up a bit. Unsurprisingly, turnovers -- which were NU's boon last year and earlier this year -- have often provided the difference. Sometimes literally: the Wildcats don't lose to Minnesota or Nebraska without Trevor Siemian pick-sixes. And if any of the many passes Devin Gardner threw that bounced off Wildcats hands were picked, NU probably wins last week, too.
I don't think Northwestern is good, but I don't think they should be 0-6. They've just had some shoddy luck. They should probably be 2-4 or something.
2. Letting Kain do work: I'm very scared about everything about Michigan State's defense. But I think Kain Colter with a little bit of freedom is Northwestern's best chance. I think Trevor Siemian is not Northwestern's best chance.
3. Late game execution. I've always said this isn't a thing, but NU's game management skills go completely out of whack when the ballgame is close. If Northwestern has a lead -- let's say the first two things happen! -- keep playing the way you did before. Also, knock Hail Marys down instead of up and don't allow easy passes downfield to set up last-second field goals.
7. Score prediction and why?
Michigan State 14, Northwestern 10. Because I've been picking Northwestern to win close games every week, and instead we've been losing close games every week.
8. Hey. It's not your fault.
YES. IT. IS!