The NUmbers Guy: Northwestern versus Cal analysis

WNUR Sports’s Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) takes a look at Saturday’s victory for the Northwestern Wildcats over the California Golden Bears, including some stats about Northwestern’s receivers, Dan Vitale’s performance, and the impact of losing Daniel Jones for the season.

Photo via Chicago Tribune

Photo via Chicago Tribune

If I lost a dollar for every time Collin Ellis made me shout, “Ohhhh muh jeeebus!” during Saturday’s game, I’d be broke faster than juiced-up lemur swings trees. Sure, there were the classic, “PLEASE, MOMMA, MAKE IT STOP!” moments, but, all-in-all, a 14-point, season-opening win on the road is never a bad thing. When you add in the limited action for Kain Colter and Venric Mark, you get a pretty impressive start to the 2013 season. Let’s look at the three up and three down for Northwestern’s 44-30 victory over Cal.


35: Combined rushing yards by Colter and Mark.

Obviously, this isn’t an “up” in and of itself, but it really shows how much the other pieces stepped up. The duo averaged 173.9 rushing yards per game last year. The only game in which Colter and Mark were held to less than 40 yards last year was their 35 yards in the 23-20 victory over Michigan State. The offense stalled regularly last year when Colter and Mark weren’t at the top of their game, and, for the most part, that didn’t happen Saturday. Granted, Cal’s defense looked like a drunk puppy at times, but the offensive output was impressive none-the-less.

658: It had been 658 days since the last time a Northwestern wide receiver recorded 90 or more receiving yards prior to Christian Jones’s 94 yards.

The last time this had happened was November 12, 2011, when Jeremy Ebert dumped some silly sauce on the Rice defense to the tune of 208 yards. Since then, the highest output had been Demetrius Fields’s 83 yards against Syracuse in the opener last year. Both Christian and Tony Jones set career highs in receiving yards as Tony recorded 70 yards on five catches; each previously had a single-game high of 68 yards.

Oh, yeah, and the ‘Cats have this other dude that is pretty good at snagging footballs, too. Dan Vitale had the only 100-yard receiving game last year with his 110 yards against Michigan State, and he did it again with 101 against the Golden Bears. As WNUR’s Christian Flores noted last week, Vitale could be due for a serious breakout this year. Christian also pegged Vitale as a potential star before Vitale graduated from high school, so I’m beginning to think he’s a genius/fortune-teller/dude with serious mob connections.

A lot of these gorgeous receiving totals are due to an overall very good game from Trevor Siemian. The ‘Cats recorded 299 yards through the air, a total they only eclipsed once last year (310 against Indiana). Siemian may have made a few mistakes leading to two picks, but, the dude made plays. Siemian’s 276 yards were the second most of his career, trailing just his 308 yards in that Indiana game. His third highest total is 165 against Michigan State, so this was a great game for the redshirt junior who averaged 9.52 yards per attempt. Of course, a lot of this was dictated by the Colter concussion, but Siemian showed he can lead this team to victory when called upon.

4: The ‘Cats had multiple interceptions in a game for the fourth consecutive contest dating back to last year.

In the first ten games last year, Northwestern had four interceptions. In the final three, they recorded two, three and four respectively, followed up by three against Cal Saturday. The three picks showed three different skills the ‘Cats will need to use to shut down future pass-heavy teams. Ellis’s first pick came off of a tipped ball by Dean Lowry. Last year, Northwestern defensive linemen tipped 14 balls at the line of scrimmage, led by Tyler Scott with five. Lowry and Scott each had one Saturday. Ellis’s second pick came off of a classic tip drill situation. The ball went right through the hands of a Cal receiver, and Ellis kept his head on a swivel to snatch it out of the air. The final was just Ibraheim Campbell doing Ibraheim Campbell things. Campbell read a route perfectly and broke in front of the receiver, who was closely covered by Nick VanHoose as well. A defense with big-play abilities can often give a team extra slack, and Northwestern needed that Saturday.


445: Passing yards by Cal’s Jared Goff.

Shades of Ryan Nassib, nightmares of nail-biting season-openers past. The bad: that’s a poop-ton of yards… and Goff is an 18-year-old true freshman. The good: Goff attempted 63 passes, giving him 7.06 yards per attempt, a total nearly two-and-a-half yards less than Siemian. Numbers can be deceiving, and this certainly qualifies. The biggest reason for concern is the injury to Daniel Jones. The ‘Cats are already thin at corner, and with Jones out for the season according to Coach Fitz’s presser earlier today, redshirt freshman Dwight White more-than-likely will be thrust into a starting role in only his second collegiate game. White is a very physical corner who can chug the living heck out of a receiver at the line – he almost shoved a receiver into an apartment complex during practice last week. Goff picked on White early after the Jones injury, but White settled in later and finished strong.

29: Cal ran 29 more offensive plays than Northwestern.

In case you were curious why the defense was so gassed… here ya go. Ellis totally should have just stopped at the one to give the defense at least a few seconds to catch their breath. How selfish. If Sonny Dykes wanted fewer injuries to Northwestern players, the solution was easy: STOP GOING SO FREAKING FAST, BRUH. Asking a defense to be on the field for 99 plays of high-tempo football is just begging for somebody to get beat deep. A lot of this came from Cal converting seven of 11 third-down attempts in the second half including the first five after halftime.

2-7: The ‘Cats converted two of their final seven third down attempts.

Overall, the Northwestern was 8-16 on third down, which is excellent. They converted five of 11 times when attempting to convert through the air and three of five on the ground. However, when it counted, the ‘Cats struggled. This was an issue in the all three of the losses last year, when the offense couldn’t pick up a first down to milk more clock and keep the defense off the field. This is the part of the game that losing Colter hurts the most. He was by far the most effective third down weapon last year, especially on third and short, and the ‘Cats will need his skills to ice games moving forward.

With the injuries to Colter, Mark and Daniel Jones, the ‘Cats will get to flash some of their new-found depth, a luxury the team never had in the past. Our own Tralon Williams did predict that White would be a freshman All-American this year (as VanHoose was last year). When Tray speaks… the people listen. Here’s to hoping that this week’s ‘Cuse game does not mirror last year’s, or I will most likely end up violently sobbing while listening to The Fray due to the stress. Please… don’t make it come to that.


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