Northwestern Loses Heartbreaker to Michigan, 38-31
WNUR’s Nick Scoliard recaps the Wildcats gut-wrenching loss to Michigan.
That’s all I can say when it comes to this game. It just felt so…..ugh. The problem with doing a postgame so fast after the game is I’m still very emotional about it. Because of that, I need to vent. So if you want a statistical, analytical, non-emotional breakdown skip down a little. I need to go on an emotional rant.
While I was walking back to my dorm after doing highlights, someone said something to me that sums up this experience perfectly: “get used to it.” This game felt like freshman hazing, a tradition of gut-wrenching losses that made all the freshman find out what college is really like . It’d be easier to root for a bad team than root for Northwestern. Northwestern doesn’t just play badly. They play well until at the last second they somehow pull off a defeat.
I was at the Nebraska game with my dad, and when the ‘Cats pulled away 28-16 he said that I should go sit in the student section in case they storm the field. All I could say was “Dad, this is Northwestern”. He took it to mean that we thought too highly of ourselves to storm the field. What I meant was that we were probably going to lose the game. I had the same feeling in the Michigan game. Even when the ‘Cats intercepted the ball on a key Michigan drive, and gave the Wolverines possession on their 38 yard line with 18 seconds (18 SECONDS!!), Michigan got the game tying FG. Throughout the 4th quarter all I could think was “we have a good lead, so how will the ‘Cats blow it?” I think of the 4th quarter as Northwestern playing against their opponent and the Cardiac ‘Cats: they fight and lose to themselves every game.
This game meant so much to the Wildcats: a chance at the Big Ten Championship, a chance to show the college football world that they were ready to contend, to move up in the rankings, and get a good bowl. Instead, Northwestern again becomes the team that can’t put together two good games twice in a row and will probably go to the Gator Bowl. It’s not even that the Wildcats played badly: I thought overall they were the better team, up until 18 seconds to play. But that’s when a team needs to be their best.
In overtime, I don’t think the ‘Cats even showed up, as they let up a touchdown and then couldn’t even get a first down when they got the ball back. I’m just so frustrated that the Wildcats came so close, put in such a great effort, to see it washed away yet again in the fourth quarter. So much promise and surprise in this team this year made all the students hopeful, especially with the problems in the Big Ten this year, it just seemed like Northwestern’s year, but it has yet again turned into a disappointing season. I’ve only been at Northwestern for two months, and yet after this game I felt the same way I had after the Pats lost to the Colts in the ’06 AFC Championship. That’s how much hope I had in this team and this season. Again, the quote of the day: “get used to it.” Maybe the ‘Cats can win their first bowl game since ‘49 when they eventually go to the Gator Bowl. Or maybe they’ll blow a huge lead in the fourth quarter and lose yet again. For anyone else who needs cheering up go this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Comn_-FRY-A) and press 8. It makes me feel only slightly better.
OK now that my emotional rambling is over with, let’s really look into what happened in the game. Like I said earlier, the Wildcats were the better team in this game. The ‘Cats had 431 total yards to Michigan’s 419. While Michigan passed for 286 to the Wildcats’ 183, Northwestern had 248 yards rushing to Michigan’s 133. After going only 1 for 2 in the first half, Colter went 7 for 12 with 77 yards in the second half, and gained 82 yards on the ground. When Colter went cold or when he got injured for a short time, Siemian came in and dominated going 6 for 7 for 87 yards, with his only incompletion coming on a beautifully placed ball that went right through Christian Jones’ hands down the sidelines. Mark had his usual day, going for 104 yards in 23 carries with 1 TD. The defense played well enough; it wasn’t their best performance but they gave the offense a chance. The last play in the fourth quarter (18 SECONDS!!!) was basically all luck, as the defender played the ball well, but it was batted into Roy Roundtree’s hands. The Wildcats even won the time of possession battle 34:28 to 25:32, which is even more amazing considering the Wildcats were losing the battle 13:46 to 16:14 at halftime. Northwestern even had 27 first down compared with Michigan’s 21. However, Northwestern lost because of two key area-penalties and 3rd downs. The Wildcats drew 8 penalties for 75 yards, while Michigan only drew 2 for 26 yards. Mark’s kickoff return touchdown was negated by a holding penalty, and Northwestern would have been looking at 4th and 7 in OT after a false start had Coach Hoke not called a timeout.
The mental errors committed by the team were a big reason that it came down to the wire, something that has been a common trend this season. The Wildcats also only converted 8 of their 16 third downs, and were 1 for 2 on fourth downs, while Michigan was 7 for 10 on third down. The key to every game is controlling the tempo and sustaining long drives, something that won’t happen if the Wildcats can’t convert on third downs. Although third down wasn’t good, I thought the overall play calling was again improved and Siemian only came in when Colter was really faltering. It did take a whole half for Colter to start really throwing the ball, but when he did, he passed well and became much more multi-dimensional. I will say that Siemian, while only throwing 7 passes, looked very impressive, especially on his back shoulder touchdown throw that was perfectly placed. I fear that once again we’ll hear questions like “Should Siemian be starting?” which might lead back to the QB by committee that failed miserably this year. It would be great to switch them up more often, but not in the middle of drives. I wish we could have seen Colter and Siemian in the backfield, something I have been waiting for since the Indiana game, but it will probably never happen.
All in all, while the stats and the overall game were good for the Wildcats, the outcome just spoiled everything, including the surprising season, and sent the entire campus into a slump. In a couple of days when I write Xs and Os, I’ll probably be looking at the game much more positively, but right now, all I could think was how close we came. Ugh.
“Get used to it.”