Questions and Answers from SBNation United's "Sippin on Purple", the Northwestern SBNation community.
After a bye week haitus, your favorite weekly question and answer post is back today. We're prepping for the trip to Chicago to see YOUR Nebraska Cornhuskers take on the Northwestern Wildcats in a 2:30 central tussle that some people at ABC/ESPN wanna bring to you over the television waves or such.
In this, I asked about the identity of the NW offense, the Wildcats fast start, and how NW's D has been stout against the run but a touch less when other teams throw the ball.
1. As being the first bowl-eligible team in the B1G, Northwestern has had a great season so far. Some say that it’s been against subpar teams, but it’s better than anyone in the conference can claim. What’s been the catalyst for this start?
Indeed, a good percentage of it has to do with the teams Northwestern has beaten so far sucking, and Northwestern not sucking, or at least sucking less. I'd love to pin my finger on one thing that's helped NU get to last season's win total in only seven games, but I can't: some weeks we have a strong defense that bashes the run while the offense does just enough to win. Other times we win 42-41. This team is stronger on both sides of the ball than it was last year on both sides of the ball - and DEFINITELY special teams - and it's showing in the win column.
2. To the outsider, it seems like the offense is having a identity issue. Granted, Kain Colter has been injured lately, but how do you explain to a outsider what’s going on between him and Trevor Siemian?
Colter had a slight shoulder issue Week 1, but since then he's been healthy. You definitely nailed it with the identity issue: in the non-conference schedule: Northwestern seamlessly integrated both Colter and Siemian into a multi-faceted offense. Colter, as you guys learned last year, is a relatively accurate, low-risk, low-reward quarterback with amazing speed and athleticism to bust out runs and even play wide receiver. Siemian's got a better arm. It should be a combination for success.
But NU has opted to make each QB one-dimensional since the start of Big Ten play. Colter's in, it's likely a run play, or last week, when he went 10-for-10 throwing after combining to throw only three balls in the previous two weeks, a short pass. When Siemian's in, he's not running, but it might be a play for the RB or a pass. Opposing defenses don't exactly need to call up Miss Cleo to figure out what's happening. A more diverse gameplan for each QB could be a dynamite offense, but NU hasn't put that out yet.
3. Venric Mark has been beyond a great addition to this offense. Explain the dynamic that he’s given to this offense and what he brings to the table.
He's really tiny and really fast. People thought he wouldn't be big enough to take hits from Big Ten linebackers or gut out yards in the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, 1935-football-was-fantastic Big Ten, but you don't really need to be big if nobody can get a hand on you. Against Minnesota, he got most of his 182 yards on four carries that one of my cowriters detailed frame-by-frame here.
Basically, if the offensive line does his job up front, he's got the speed to make defenses pay.
He's also a beastly punt returner in the same way. Give him space, he can shift directions and murder you - two punt return TD's on the year.
4. The defense is no joke, especially against the rush. However, it does seem you can throw to beat them. What’s the worry about Taylor reciprocating last year’s game against this D?
NU looked horrendous against the pass Week 1, when the team gave up 470 yards passing - not including four pass interference penalties, so let's call it 530 - yards passing to Syracuse. About 100 of those were the direct result of one-on-one lobs to Demetrius Dugar's side of the field. (He's since been benched.) Now, lobbing the ball up doesn't seem as effective a strategy. However, Matt McGloin and Penn State did have a strategy that worked great against NU: run for four-ish yards, then spread the field and complete some short passes. I don't think McGloin threw the ball more than 15 yards in the air all game, but he had a high completion percentage and made NU pay a bit. Taylor Martinez did that last year - without the result of a win - and can do it again.
5. We know about Colter, Siemian and Venric Mark, what other players on both sides of the ball should we be watching for on Saturday?
On offense, I'm still telling people to look out for Kyle Prater. He was the No. 1 WR in the country - every service had him as a top-five overall recruit - in his class, chose USC, but transferred to be closer to home after just a year. However, he's effectively done nothing in his first seven games at NU: he's NU's ninth-leading receiver with only six catches for 37 yards. NU finally got him isolated on a deep ball last week, and he clearly had separation, but the pass was underthrown, he had to come back to the ball and break up a should've been interception. One big play against Nebraska would validate the rough start to his NU career.
On defense, Nick VanHoose has really earned his keep as a freshman at cornerback. Three PBU's in the end zone last week, although he only has one interception on the year. The vast majority of every completions this year have been to the other side or short gains down the middle.
6. Packed Ryan Field, national broadcast, the black uniforms... seems like this is the big game for the Wildcat faithful. What would a win on Saturday mean long term for this program?
I think it would depend on the rest of the year. Northwestern's beaten ranked teams, at home and away, won in front of sold-out stadiums, and done all that. What we haven't done in 11 years is win a conference championship. That would be special, and this game would help towards that while losing would probably eliminate both squads. For now, we'd settle for disappointing the crap out of 20,000 Nebraska fans who bought tickets and letting everybody know we're the real NU on TV.
7. Time for your prediction about how the game will go, and your final score for the NU vs NU game.
It's tempting to go with Northwestern: we're better at what we do than we were last year, you're worse at what you do than you were last year, and this game is at home and not in front of Nebraska, so only about 2/5ths of the crowd will be wearing red. But for the sake of the anti-jinx, I'll pick the team with the marginally resume thus far: UNL, 42, NU 38.