Don’t Hate the Player: Week 2 vs. Syracuse

WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) uses NCAA Football 14 to predict a winner in Northwestern’s home opener.

This is week two of a season-long series in which I try to “predict” the outcome of Northwestern football games using EA Sports’ NCAA Football. The simulated season will have different injuries and results than real life as the season goes on. As a result, the rankings you see here are what the game shows, not AP or BCS polls in real life.

Northwestern suffered a heartbreaking, three point loss to Cal in week one of the simulated season. Their home opener pits them against a Syracuse team that won its season opener against Penn State in convincing fashion. So yeah, the simulation is already kind of backwards.

Key Players on Northwestern
SS Ibraheim Campbell (JR): 91 Overall, 88 speed
QB Kain Colter (SR): 90 Overall, 86 agility
HB Venric Mark (SR): 89 Overall, 92 speed

Key players on Syracuse
HB Marquis Spruill (SR): 88 Overall, 90 awareness
OLB Dyshawn Davis (JR): 86 Overall, 88 tackling
HB Jerome Smith (JR): 85 Overall, 91 speed

Northwestern: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B
Syracuse: Overall: B-, Offense: B-, Defense: B-

Northwestern Game Recap
Northwestern’s offense got right to business with their first possession, establishing a run-first toughness that paid off with a 15-play drive that featured just three pass attempts. All of them were completions, ending with a 15-yard strike to Dan Vitale to open the scoring halfway through the first quarter. Syracuse went three-and-out, and a Venric Mark return gave the ‘Cats the ball in Syracuse territory. Using the same strategy (don’t pass unless it’s third and long!), Northwestern scored on a Mark run to make it 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Syracuse got moving on their next possession, spreading the field and attacking weak spots in the Northwestern secondary for a touchdown through the air. Unfazed, Northwestern basically alternated between Mark and Kain Colter runs to get into the endzone for the third time, throwing in one pass for good measure. The touchdown came from a Colter option run to give the ‘Cats a 14-point lead with two minutes left in the half. Neither team was able to score again in the half, and Northwestern took a 21-7 lead to halftime.

In the simulated season, Kain Colter was never injured against Cal, so he was at 100% against Syracuse.

In the simulated season, Kain Colter was never injured against Cal, so he was at 100% against Syracuse.

The first half proved that Northwestern was physically dominant in the trenches: the Wildcats had 150 yards rushing and nearly twice the time of possession of Syracuse. On the other side of the ball, Northwestern sacked Orange quarterback Drew Allen twice in the first half.

It wouldn’t take long for that total to double, as the Wildcats’ defense sacked Allen on two of the first three plays of the second half, forcing a punt. After both teams exchanged short drives, a promising Northwestern drive was derailed by an interception at midfield. The potential spark didn’t catch, and Syracuse was held scoreless for the rest of the quarter. For their part, Northwestern stayed conservative, electing to chew the clock and protect their lead.

The fourth quarter started with a Northwestern punt that was muffed by Syracuse, giving the Wildcats the ball back inside the Orange 20 yard line. Syracuse’s defense sensed what a touchdown would do to their chances to win and stood their ground, forcing Jeff Budzien to trot out and drill a short field goal. With just over 4 minutes remaining, Northwestern led, 24-7. Syracuse was finally able to string together a second decent drive, but their comeback window appeared closed. A 27-yard touchdown pass with 90 seconds left cut the Northwestern lead to 10. The ensuing onside kick landed harmlessly in the hands of Kyle Prater, and Northwestern used the good field position to score again, rather than simply run out the clock. (Not even virtual Venric Mark can’t stop virtual Venric Mark, I guess.) Down by 17, the Orange offense couldn’t muster another first down, and Northwestern sent Syracuse home after a decisive 31-14.

Final Thoughts
Is it cheesy if I say that Venric Mark put up video game numbers in this game? In a world where it’s totally possible for a running back to have 40 carries with no negative repercussions (seriously, EA?), Mark had 35 carries for 186 yards and 2 TDs. Even if Mark doesn’t get that number of touches in real life, his five yards per carry were instrumental in the win. I have no complaints about the performance of the Wildcats’ defense, who allowed just a hair over 200 yards one week after getting torched by Cal’s aerial attack. My only complaint is Northwestern’s passing game, where the CPU refuses to sub in Trevor Siemian on passing downs, leaving Kain Colter to go 11 of 19 with 1 TD and 1 interception. His performance in the passing game needs to be a bit better against great teams like Ohio State, when the run game won’t go for 260 yards and 3 TDs.

Big Games This Week
#8 Florida At Miami: Florida wins, 24-14
West Virginia at #10 Oklahoma: WVU wins, 51-48 in OT
#18 South Carolina at #3 Georgia: Georgia wins, 24-14
#7 Notre Dame at Michigan: Notre Dame wins, 27-24
#6 Oregon at Virginia: Virginia wins, 44-20

Around the Big Ten
This week did a fair job of establishing a pecking order in the Big Ten and how some of its teams compare nationally. Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State scored major wins. Penn State and Indiana also defeated FBS opponents, while Wisconsin and Iowa beat lower-division FCS squads. Illinois lost a close game to a tough Cincinnati team, while Minnesota dropped to 0-2 after a bad loss to the uninspiring New Mexico State Aggies. Michigan is also 0-2, though a three-point loss to Notre Dame is more excusable than their week 1 loss to Central Michigan.
With Northwestern’s win, only three Big Ten teams lost nonconference games this week.

Heisman Top 5
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Amir Carlisle, HB, Notre Dame

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