The NUmbers Guy: Penn State Analysis

WNUR Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) takes a look at Northwestern’s 39-28 loss to Penn State Saturday and explains why Wildcat should still be optimistic about the rest of the season.

Photo Source: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America

If you’re anything like me (and I pray to all of the possible higher powers that you aren’t), Saturday was probably a pretty rough day for you. How do you recover from that? You could take the route I did and weep quietly next to the rabid raccoon that has pooped on my stairwell three times in the last two weeks. Or you could clip your nails while sipping Diet Dr. Pepper wearing only your underwear, which is far more therapeutic than it sounds.  Your third (and, yes, these are your only three options) coping mechanism is to watch re-runs of Storage Wars to make you realize how great your life actually is. In reality, life goes on, and there have been far worse losses in the history of Northwestern Wildcat football. Let’s take a look at the numbers so we can see why ‘Cats fans shouldn’t jump off the bandwagon just yet.


9-3: Northwestern’s overall record in their last twelve games.

Let’s think about this for a second. The ‘Cats started the season 2-5 last year. They finished with a 6-7 record, and they have now started this year 5-1. That’s pretty darn good for a program that holds the record for the longest losing streak in the history of college football (34 games). While the fashion in which the ‘Cats lost wasn’t encouraging, this was not a bad loss overall. It was a loss on the road to an in-conference opponent they hadn’t beaten since 2004. I read a tweet of someone who said it was “the worst day in their life as a Wildcat fan.” No. You are wrong. Calm down and look at the big picture. This season is still going to be far better than expected, so cut the over-reactions and cheer on a team that has the potential to do something special within the next two years.

1: Number of sacks allowed by Northwestern in the last two games combined.

Now that I have stepped off of my mighty horse of “SHUT THE HECK UP, NEGATIVE NANCY’S!!!”, let’s look at some real stats. This one is a combination of two things. 1) The offensive line is blocking extremely well. 2) Trevor Siemian is getting the ball out of his hand more quickly. Siemian got walloped twice against South Dakota, and he seems to have learned that it is in his best interest to not let Big Ten defensive ends have their way with him. My man-crush on Brandon Vitabile is well-documented, but Patrick Ward, Brian Mulroe and Jack Konopka have helped Vitabile make this offensive line one of the strengths of this team. I’d sure hope y’all care about the offensive line, or my columns would be as boring as the love-child of the states of Nebraska and Iowa.

189: All-purpose yards by Venric Mark.

This just in: Venric Mark is the freaking man, man. I am ashamed that I ever doubted Pat Fitzgerald for naming Mark the starting running back for the start of the season because Mark just does work, son. His 75-yard punt return was the perfect combination of eye candy and scintillating talent that just made me pee my pants a little. Mark is now fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 610 and second in all-purpose yards with 1,073. With 77 all-purpose yards against Minnesota on Saturday, Mark would surpass his all-purpose yardage from last year, and he has a good chance of doubling his all-purpose yardage for his first two seasons before the end of the season (1,922 yards). His propensity for the big play will keep Northwestern in every contest it plays this year, as evidenced by his punt return Saturday.


20:41: Amount of game time that passed before Northwestern picked up its first first down.

While the defense has certainly had its struggles at times this year, it was Northwestern’s offense that disappointed the most on Saturday, and it wasn’t even close. The fact that Northwestern even had a 28-17 lead to begin with is a testament to how the defense and special teams played up to that point because the offense had not played a game worthy of victory. In the game, the ‘Cats had a total of eight possessions in which they did not gain a first down (seven three-and-outs and one turnover on downs after four plays). The offense picked up a grand total of 14 first downs, their first time converting fewer than 21 in a game this season. Their total of 247 offensive yards was 65.6 percent lower than their output last week. The team that played better won this football game, so the ‘Cats will have to just flush this one, plunge it, light a match and close the door so the stink doesn’t follow them (believe me – I’m an expert at this stuff).

8:0: The touchdown-to-interception ratio of Matt McGloin in his career against Northwestern.

It’s safe to say I will not shed a tear when McGloin graduates. I may even send him a lovely fruit basket to express my gratitude that he will no longer be able to tear the ‘Cats to shreds year after year. In three career games against Northwestern, McGloin completed 70 of 106 passes (66 percent) for 699 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. While Geno Smith may be able to do that in just a single game, this is dominance against one in-conference opponent by McGloin. Until the fourth quarter when the Nittany Lions had drives of 15 and 18 plays, the ‘Cats’ defense held up pretty well. McGloin and running back Zach Zwinak (28 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown) wore down the defense that couldn’t get off the field as Penn State held the ball for 39 minutes and 17 seconds in the game, including over 11 minutes in both the first and fourth quarters. While the loss should be on the shoulders of the offense, the defense didn’t do itself any favors in the fourth quarter.

0: Passing attempts by Kain Colter.

Mondays suck… unless they involve role-playing!!! Get your minds out of the gutter. Pretend for a second that you are the Penn State defensive coordinator. You see that Player X is in the game, and he hasn’t thrown a pass the entire game. Would you assume that he’s going to pass? Can I get a heck no?? Would you run blitz the crap out of him? CAN I GET AN AMEN??? Even if the ‘Cats plan on going with Siemian as the full-time quarterback, they need to have Colter throw the ball five to ten times per game so that their dangerous read-option can be effective. I firmly believe that Mick McCall is ten bajillion times smarter than I am when it comes to football/could probably kick my butt, but this just seems like something lacking in the Northwestern offense that could be holding them back.

As Coach Fitz always says, “Stats are for losers.” What does that make me? An uber-loser of Jay Cutler proportions. What does that make all of you? Awesome. You support a radio station and a website that loves its listeners and readers more than humanly possible. We couldn’t do any of this without you, and we sincerely mean that. For this reason, I would like to invite all of you to unlock your memory banks and store October 26th through 27th in there! Note: don’t literally put a key in your brain. You will die. This is a metaphorical or hypothetical situation or one of those other –ical words that I don’t understand because I’m a journalism major. Words are hard. Starting October 26th at 7:00 PM, we will be having our second annual Sportsathon to raise money for this station so that we can continue to bring you the best Northwestern Wildcat coverage in all the land! It’s 26 straight hours of sports… like a roided-out version of the SportsVoice minus the acne and impotency. It’s going to be awesome… there will be streamers, confetti, and maybe some burnt cake as I try to figure this baking thing out, so check out our Sportsathon web page here, and thank you again for your continued support of WNUR!

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