The NUmbers Guy – Northwestern Offensive Line
The NUmbers Guy, Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) takes a look at the Wildcat offensive line before the spring football game on Saturday and explains the winning formula for the ‘Cats in 2012.
The 2011 season for the Northwestern offensive line was just straight up confusing. If the first two games were Kate Upton, the last four were Danny DeVito. With the loss of seniors Ben Burkett and Al Netter, there will be plenty of changeover heading into 2012. However, after allowing 42 sacks last season, maybe change is exactly what this team needs. Let’s take a look at the numbers of the Northwestern line and see if we can figure out how this team can be less of a short, balding, hairy male and more of a “dime,” as the crazy kids these days would call it.
Photo Credit: Scout.com
42: The number of sacks Northwestern allowed last season.
This was the fifth highest total in the nation last year. Somehow Pittsburgh managed to allow 64 sacks, 17 more than Miami (Ohio), the second highest total, which is about as mind-blowing as the fact that Chicago Cubs fans still think their team has a chance every year. Silly Cubs fans. Wins are for Twins. Of these 42 sacks, half of them came in three games: seven against Penn State, six against Michigan State, and eight against Texas A&M. Shockingly, Northwestern lost all three games. In their six wins, Northwestern allowed an average of 1.17 sacks per game. In their seven losses, they allowed an average of five sacks per game. The ‘Cats were 6-0 in games in which they allowed two or less sacks and 0-7 when they allowed three or more. I know; I’m just as shocked as you that there is real information in one of my columns. It’s Friday the 13th, though, so I figured I’d change things up to keep you on your toes.
3.75: Yards per carry of Northwestern running backs last season.
Yes, a lot of this is due to the Mike Trumpy injury. However, the offensive line was wildly inconsistent, especially near the end of the year, at opening up holes for the running game. After the first two games in which the ‘Cats rushed for 227 and 320 yards respectively, I thought Northwestern had changed its philosophy to be a power running team. This success was largely due to the interior offensive line of Burkett, center Brandon Vitabile and guard Brian Mulroe. With the combo of Vitabile and Mulroe returning, I’m holding out hope that the ‘Cats will return to their run-happy offense of the beginning of last year. Former tackle-turned-superback-turned-guard Jack Konopka has impressed in spring practices, and the ‘Cats will certainly need whoever wins that other guard spot to be a huge contributor to make the running game a threat again. Again, the running game was dominant when the ‘Cats won. In their six wins, Northwestern averaged 226.5 rushing yards per game. In their seven losses, they only averaged 115.3 rushing yards per game. So, class, the basic summary is run the ball and don’t get sacked, and you will win. FOOTBALL IS SO SIMPLE, YOU GUYS!!1111!!!!!
3: Number of returning starters on the offensive line.
We have basically covered this already, but let me recap: the ‘Cats will have Patrick Ward returning, but moving from right tackle to left to replace Netter. Then, to his right will be the returners Mulroe and Vitabile. From then on, though, is a mystery. In his first year as a starter, Vitabile was outstanding, especially considering the difficulty of playing center at a high level of competition. If he can progress again this off-season, consider him man-crush material. (For those of you scoring at home, I have more man-crushes than Bobby Petrino has lady friends. It’s a problem.)
1: Number of offensive linemen that can field a punt for the Wildcats.
Unless you have seen the YouTube Video of the ‘Cats linemen trying to field punts after practice one day, you’re going to think I’m an idiot for including this. If you’ve seen the video, you’ll probably still think I’m an idiot, but you’re right, so it’s cool, dawg. Mulroe lost to defensive end Tyler Scott in the final round of this competition. However, the athleticism displayed in said video is beyond amazing. This was equivalent to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, in that it was so bad that it made you swoon for more. It also showed that the phrase “lineman hands” is still as real as my love for My Little Pony. I will admit that I, too, have fallen victim to lineman hands, as I used to be a member of the Obes’ty Boyz, a band comprised of my fellow offensive linemen from high school. Once “Let’s Start a Diet,” “Where Da Food At?” and “Drop the Burger” become hits, the world will see our genius. Obes’ty Boyz for life.
Now that you’ve become dumber by reading this article, I feel like it’s time to wrap things up. In summation, when the offensive line was on for the ‘Cats last year, the team thrived. If Coach Fitz wants Kain Colter to bud into a star on the level of Dan Persa and Mike Kafka, he will need significant contributions from the big uglies in the trenches.