The NUmbers Guy: Northwestern Football Season Review

WNUR Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) takes a look back at the numbers behind the first nine games for the Northwestern Wildcats this season on their way to a 7-2 start.

Photo by Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

We are currently nine games into the NCAA season, and Northwestern still has a shot (albeit, slim) to make it into the Big Ten Championship game. That one sentence has been known to eradicate sadness, induce world peace and save marriages. The ‘Cats are 7-2, coming off of a bye, and entering a three-game stretch will decide how this 2012 Northwestern team is viewed in the future. If they are able to win three more games, they will have their third 10-win season in history, and I will buy Coach Fitz a gold-plated statue of himself. Not really, though. I can’t even afford a burrito in gold tin foil. Let’s look at the numbers behind Northwestern’s hot start.


237.6: The ‘Cats are third in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation with 237.6 rushing yards per game this season.

If I could marry a cardboard cutout of Venric Mark, I wouldn’t because cardboard smells funny… but I’d at least consider it. Mark is 11th in the nation in rushing yards with 1,072 (Northwestern’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Tyrell Sutton in 2006), and is fourth in yards per carry at 6.5 among players with at least 140 attempts. Kain Colter has said, “Hold up, son!!!” as he leads the team in rushing touchdowns with 11 (Mark has nine). Colter currently has 622 yards, and is on pace to finish with 898 on the season. Colter said this offense lacked an identity, but it’s obvious this rushing game will have to fill that role if Northwestern hopes to stay near the top of the Big Ten this season.

19/12: The ‘Cats have recorded 19 sacks on defense this year while only having allowed 12 on offense.

Tyler Scott has been a RBDTMMTI (really big dude that makes me tingly inside) as he currently leads the Big Ten in sacks with seven. Northwestern’s defense has gone as the defensive line has gone this season with Scott and the gang securing victories against Minnesota and Iowa with their dominance up front. Quentin Williams has been named Northwestern’s defensive player of the game twice (South Dakota and Minnesota), and tackle Brian Arnfelt has garnered the honor once for his play against Boston College. Offensively, the unit has been led by senior left tackle Patrick Ward. Ward, who plans to pursue a career in freaking aerospace engineering, has been tossing bodies and breaking dreams all season. He has been named Northwestern’s Offensive Player of the Week twice (South Dakota and Nebraska) and the Offensive Big-Playmaker of the Week once (Boston College). Only Michigan has allowed fewer sacks in the Big Ten this season, making this week’s match-up even more intriguing.

+6: The ‘Cats have a +6 turnover margin, having generated 15 turnovers while only committing nine.

Despite having only three interceptions, the ‘Cats have mixed fortune and a propensity for big plays to excel in a category that is so crucial to success. We already praised the defensive line, but the linebacking corps of David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo have been a big part of this stat as well. Proby is fourth in the conference in tackles, Nwabuisis ninth, and Ariguzo has 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, two fumble recoveries, and a return touchdown. It’s not like Coach Fitz knows anything about linebackers, though. Offensively, the ‘Cats have been smart, which is a real shocker considering they go to the fourth smartest school in the country. (EAT OUR SHORTS, YALE). Although the passing game has been subpar, Colter and Siemian have taken care of the football, having thrown only three interceptions between the two of them all season. Turnovers alone gave the ‘Cats a chance to beat Nebraska, and they will continue to play a significant role the rest of the season.


70-48: Northwestern has been outscored 70-48 in the fourth quarter this season.

Hey, it’s cool. The fourth quarter doesn’t matter anyway, right? Part of this blame has to go to the offense, which has the second lowest time of possession in the Big Ten, ahead of only Indiana. Outside of the Vanderbilt and Boston College games where Northwestern averaged 10 minutes of possession in the fourth quarter, their lack of an ability to pick up a first down when they need it most has crippled them and kept other teams in games. The defense, though, should take the brunt of the blame. The defense on the year has allowed 66 total points in the first half this season. In the second half, that number jumps to 135 (65 in the third quarter and 70 in the fourth). Muh head is going to explode riiiiight about now. The motto has gone from “Finish!” to “Finish? Please?”

162.9: Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten with 162.9 passing yards per game.

The former-offensive lineman in me is screaming, “Who wants to pass?? RUN IT EVERY PLAY, BOI!!” But, when you need to make up a large deficit, passing is kind of important, I guess. Considering Dan Persa is the NCAA record holder for career completion percentage (72.7) and completion percentage in a season (73.5 in 2010), Northwestern’s composite completion percentage of 62.8 seems underwhelming. The ‘Cats rank ninth in the conference in passer efficiency at 118.3. The ‘Cats haven’t trailed much this season, but that’s a definite possibility in the near future as they head to Michigan and Michigan State. Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter will have to find their groove with the short passing game moving forward.

272.4: Northwestern has allowed an average of 272.4 passing yards per game, the worst in the Big Ten.

The second highest total in the conference is Ohio State at 259.7 yards per game, so this isn’t even close. While Nick VanHoose and Ibraheim Campbell have both been studs individually, the unit as a whole has struggled. Luckily, the ‘Cats won’t be facing any great passing offense in the near future: Michigan ranks 10th in the conference in passing offense, Michigan State 4th, and Illinois 11th. I swear, if Nate Scheelhaase passes for more than 300 yards, I’m going to lock myself in a closet and listen to Gangnam Style on repeat for 10 hours to make my brain self-destruct. The secondary performed well against Iowa with VanHoose and Quinn Evans on the bench due to injuries, but I wouldn’t expect that to hold true for the rest of the season. Nick… come back home. Daddy misses you. (That was a lot creepier than I intended.)

Yes, there are a lot of things this team can do to improve. Still… they’re 7-2. That’s pretty awesome. In the words of ab enthusiast/philosopher Terrell Owens, “Getcha popcorn ready,” because this stretch run for the Wildcats is going to be fun to watch. Luckily, I’m not on the broadcast this Saturday so I can put on my footie pajamas and quarantine myself from society. If Northwestern loses, it won’t be pretty. If Northwestern wins, though… this will be happening.

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