On the day that Northwestern started the season 3-0 for the third time in five seasons, the offense reached 100 plays in regulation for the first time in school history. The win was highlighted with stellar offensive possession and yardage, but it is hard to ignore the Wildcats’ blown opportunities in the red zone as well as their penalties in crucial moments during the game. On a brighter note, the secondary had its most consistent game of the year, and the front seven continued its domination, holding Boston College to 25 yards rushing.
On the Northwestern’s opening drive, a pair of BC penalties helped the offense down the field, and Northwestern came away with a 42-yard Jeff Budzien field goal.
BC came right back with a 12-play, 61-yard drive that also resulted in a field goal. The Eagles could not take advantage of a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line (a dropped TD pass from Alex Amidon on 2nd and goal didn’t help).
Northwestern came back with another field goal from 21 yards out, but only because Colter failed to see a wide-open Dan Vitale sitting in the back of the end zone on a crucial third and goal.
BC’s second possession ended with a botched third down snap that lead to a punt and the end of the first quarter. Next, Trevor “The Closer” Siemian came in earlier than expected to lead the Northwestern offense downfield for another field goal, giving the Wildcats a 9-3 lead.
After a third down sack from defensive stud Tyler Scott, Siemian lead Northwestern down to BC’s 5 yard line only to fumble the snap on a failed 4th down conversion. The turnover provided a spark for a 95-yard drive for the Eagles, capped off by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Chase Rettig to Jonathan Coleman.
With only about a minute and a half remaining, Siemian drove down the field to help the star of the first half, Budzien, knock in a 41-yard field goal.
After forcing an Eagle three-and-out to start the second half, Kain Colter turned the ball over on a fumble around midfield during Northwestern’s first offensive play.
Boston College played copycat with a Rolandan Finch fumble-turnover on Northwestern’s 5-yard line. Colter stayed on the field and proceeded to take the Wildcats 90 yards downfield. Surprise, surprise, Northwestern could not punch the ball in for a score. Again, reliable No. 37 knocked in a 19-yard chip shot to put the Wildcats up 15-10.
After a huge 34-yard pass to Alex Amidon, BC seemed to be rolling on their next drive, but they could not capitalize either as they were held to a 34-yard Nate Freese field goal at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Colter had the Wildcat offense moving with an injured Venric Mark on the sideline, but two holding calls on wide receiver Rashad Lawrence forced the Wildcats to punt the ball away. Both teams exchanged punts on the next two series, and BC had the ball on their own 2-yard line. A nice stand from the secondary forced the Eagles to punt.
On the shoulders of backup running back Mike Trumpy - not Siemian, who did not play in the second half — Northwestern ate some clock and scored its first touchdown on their 100th offensive play with a 27-yard Trumpy run right through the middle of the Eagle defense. With 1:37 left on the clock, the Wildcats sealed their 22-13 win at Ryan Field.
Three things we learned
1. The running backs corps is deeper than we thought.
The injury to Mark in the second half did not seem like a good sign for the Northwestern offense, considering how important he had been to the running game this season.
In the first two games of the season, Northwestern running backs not named Mark (the former wide receiver who switched positions in the offseason) had only totaled 13 yards rushing on 19 attempts. Today, the other running backs gained 138 yards on 21 carries.
At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Trumpy is a whole lot to handle between the tackles, but he also showed he has speed enough to break it to the outside and to be an effective receiver out of the backfield. The junior running back provides a second dynamic to Northwestern’s run game — a power back that can run downhill.
However, it remains to be seen if Trumpy can stay healthy for a full season. The past two years, the junior has suffered season-ending injuries: a broken wrist and a torn ACL. With that being said, he can help provide some relief to the workhorse Mark who showed signs of wear and tear at the end of today’s game with his lower body injury.
The good news for Northwestern is that Mark was walking around the sideline at the end of the game. They will hope to have him ready to go against South Dakota next Saturday afternoon.
2. QB situation: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Most two-quarterback systems receive a lot of criticism, but it is hard to argue the effectiveness of a 3-0 team. Today, both quarterbacks had nearly identical passing numbers, and the two led the team in similar ways down the field.
Kain Colter led the Wildcats on seven drives with 200 all-purpose yards (144 passing yards and 66 rushing). Siemian threw for 123 yards on three drives behind the wheel. Both quarterbacks lost a fumble. Siemian lost his on a vital 4th and 1 play, and Colter fumbled in the second half when the Wildcats were only up two points. Neither threw an interception, but both quarterbacks missed sure opportunities to get touchdowns with inaccurate passing in the red zone.
What’s harder than preparing for one dynamic quarterback if you are the opposing team? Preparing for two. Pat Fitzgerald has done a wonderful job of creating a two-quarterback system that is actually operational. The dual threat system that Colter and Siemian present is a nightmare for opposing defense coordinators everywhere.
Both quarterbacks even proved effective in opposite roles. Colter had some excellent sideline throws in the second half and Siemian turned heads with one or two good-looking option runs.
After playing the entire second half, it seems like Kain Colter has his starting job secured. But don’t be surprised to see more of Trevor Siemian during the end of halves and games when the Northwestern needs a quick score from the gunslinger’s arm.
3. Red zone inefficiency against more potent offenses is not gonna cut it.
While the first half of Northwestern’s schedule might seem soft, the second half is far from it. The Wildcats put up 22 points Saturday but they should have scored at least 35.
The 560 yards of total offense was 200 more yards than either previous game this season but the point total was the lowest yet. The offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall had a perfect mix of runs, screens, play action, and more that kept the Wildcat offense moving along. Until, that is, the offense reached the 20-yard line.
In the last two games, the Wildcats have made an impressive 10 trips inside the red zone. However, they have come out with an abysmal two touchdowns. Against the tough Big Ten schools Northwestern still has to face, the defense cannot be expected to hold teams to 25 yards rushing and 13 points; the offense needs to help them out.
Right now, Northwestern is a good team but it has the potential to be a great team. If they can keep up consistent defensive play along with improvement in the red zone offensively, the Wildcats could break into the AP Top 25.