The NUmbers Guy: Boston College Analysis
WNUR Co-Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) breaks down Northwestern’s 22-13 victory over Boston College Saturday by giving the three up/three down for the Wildcats.
So, this football thing… it’s kinda loco. If you picked Northwestern and Minnesota to be the final remaining undefeateds in the Big Ten Legends Division, you just win at life and need to book a one-way flight to Vegas ASAP. Also, if you picked Jeff Budzien to be the ‘Cats’ MVP, I blame you for the travesty that was Northwestern’s red zone offense (more on that later). It was ugly… it was brutal… and it may have set Wildcat fandom back twenty years… but the ‘Cats are 3-0. Not too shabby.
293: Rushing yards gained by Northwestern.
If you haven’t noticed, my man crush on a good running game is rivaled only by my love for bad movies (I will be at the midnight premier of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II, if anyone is interested). Mike Trumpy went off the heezy with 106 yards on 16 carries (6.6 yards per carry). In two games against Boston College, Trumpy has combined for 191 yards, two touchdowns, and 6.2 yards per carry. It filled my little heart with joy to see Trumpy come back from last year’s ACL injury and show he’s still a force in the Northwestern backfield. Trumpy, Venric Mark and Kain Colter all had at least 15 carries and 66 yards against an admittedly porous Boston College defense, but the solid contributions across the board are certainly encouraging. I also should add that my “Player to Watch” for the game, Brandon Vitabile, had zero carries for five yards (a fumble return after the ball popped out of Mark’s hands). This puts Vitabile’s yard-per-carry average at “undefined,” which is far better than anyone else on the team. Take that, everyone else.
1.2: Yards per carry by Boston College.
The ‘Cats front seven went all Gandalf on the Boston College offense, shouting, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!” The Eagles were able to amass only two first downs on the ground in the entire game as they rushed for 25 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line got penetration, the linebackers filled gaps, and the defensive backs cleaned up any mess. It made the Eagles one dimensional, which isn’t necessarily a good thing against Northwestern’s secondary, but it allowed the ‘Cats to play more conservatively on defense. In a conference that features Lay’Veon Bell, Rex Burkhead, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Donnell Kirkwood, a good run defense is a must.
10:41: Time of possession by Northwestern in the fourth quarter.
Boston College had three possessions that started in the fourth quarter, lasting 2:05, 0:27, and 1:37 respectively. Northwestern’s three drives lasted 4:19, 5:24, and 0:58, the last of which ending with the Trumpy 27-yard touchdown run that sealed the victory. If only Trumpy were a little slower, this stat would be even more impressive. How selfish. The running game allowed the ‘Cats to control the clock, something they could not do against Syracuse, allowing the Orange back in the game. If the combo of Trumpy, Mark and Colter can replicate this performance moving forward, my heart may last past the age of 25 as it would allow Northwestern to limit the ability of other teams to make ridiculous comebacks. My cardiologist approves.
0: Touchdowns Northwestern scored in the red zone in five chances.
JEFF BUDZIEN, YOU WERE GREAT AND ALL, AND IMA LET YOU FINISH, BUT THIS WAS ONE OF THE WORST RED ZONE PERFORMANCES OF ALL TIME!! Okay, so that might be a bit of an overreaction, but I really don’t understand what happened to the offense inside the 20. The ‘Cats moved the ball so efficiently between the 20’s, but then they would stall again and again and again. I don’t know if the ‘Cats are trying to replace Persa by marketing Budzien as “Chicago’s Heisman Candidate,” but whatever it was, they should stop. Now, please. I realize Kyle Prater is still learning the offense and all, but dude is 6’5”… HOW DOES HE NOT GET THE BALL NEAR THE END ZONE??? Hopefully playing South Dakota will allow Prater to get some reps so his role can increase when Big Ten play begins, or I will punish the earth by speaking in my Elmo voice for a week.
12.1: Yards per completion by Boston College.
Okay, so let me preface this by saying that I am ecstatic and delighted that the defense has allowed only 13 points each of the last two weeks. It’s awesome. HOWEVAAA, that does not mean the problem with the pass defense has been solved. Chase Rettig did not play well at all on Saturday as he missed half a dozen open receivers downfield for what would have been game-changing plays. Eventually, the ‘Cats will need to stop relying upon the incompetency of their opponents to win games defensively. This could improve once Standford-transfer Quinn Evans has more time to learn the defense, but it’s a problem that could cripple the ‘Cats in a year that has a lot of their fans dreaming of nine or more wins.
28: Number of touches (rushing, receiving, returning) for Mark.
This was brought to my attention by former WNUR Assistant Sports Director Matt Keith (@mattlkeith) during the game on Saturday. While it’s Kool and the Gang that Mark is ridiculously electric and you want the ball in his hands, it’s hard to ask one guy to take this many hits. This number would have been far over 30 had Mark not left the game with a lower-body injury after his fumble in the third quarter. Just forget for a moment Mark’s small stature, it seems logical to try to keep a player as elusive as Mark as fresh as possible to use him up later in the game. I realize Venric has put in the work during the off-season to make himself durable enough to last the entire season, but I just worry that he will be worn down by November. Then again, this could just be the Momma Sannes in me, but it’s something to keep in mind as the year progresses.
The good thing about all of this is that the South Dakota game can help the ‘Cats in a lot of ways. It can rest the legs of the starters, iron out some kinks (SOME REALLY BIG KINKS LIKE THE FREAKING RED ZONE OFFENSE AHHHHHH – sorry, I’m done now), and maybe give the ‘Cats some confidence. Or it could be a trap game, and I could end up crying on the shoulder of some poor, tortured freshman. If it happens, don’t blame me… I’m sensitive and have run out of episodes of Gossip Girl to watch while shamelessly shoveling ice cream into my grill. Thank you for the consideration.