Don’t Hate the Player: Week 3 vs. Western Michigan
WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) uses NCAA Football 14 to predict a winner in this weekend’s Northwestern-Western Michigan football game.
After splitting their first two games of the season, the virtual ‘Cats kick off the easiest part of their schedule with games against the Western Michigan Broncos and placeholder FCS East next week. The Wildcats have every reason to expect a win in those games, but strange things are known to happen on the virtual gridiron.
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 Western Michigan:
FS Johnnie Simon (SR): 84 Overall, 85 tackling
CB Donald Celiscar (JR): 80 Overall, 87 speed
WR Jaime Wilson (Soph): 80 Overall, 87 agility
Northwestern: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B
Western Michigan: Overall: C-, Offense: C, Defense: C-
Northwestern Game Recap
On each team’s first possession, it was clear that this was going to be a matchup of very different styles. Northwestern’s offensive strength is the running game, while Western Michigan uses more passes than runs. It took the visiting Broncos a little while to stop the run, but they ultimately forced a long field goal (and a miss) by Jeff Budzien. Their offense ran into no problem once they crossed midfield, scoring on a short pass play on a 2nd-and-goal. On their second possession, the Wildcats opened up their offense a bit more, mixing in a few passes to Christian Jones and scoring on a short Venric Mark run. Tied at 7-7, Western Michigan got the ball to start the second half.
Western Michigan advanced the ball again with ease, this time not calling a single running play. Northwestern’s pass defense got stronger in the red zone, forcing Western Michigan to kick a field goal to make it 10-7. Northwestern’s ensuing drive stalled at the Bronco 43, outside of field goal range, but with a tough 4th-and-7. The fake punt play was called and Northwestern came up just short, giving Western Michigan good field position and a ton of momentum. The Broncos were unable to capitalize on that momentum swing, ultimately punting. Northwestern went 52 yards in just 7 plays and was starting to look like the clearly dominant team, but Venric Mark took a big hit and coughed up the ball at the WMU 33 yard line with a minute left in the first half. Even after the Broncos went three-and-out, the Wildcats appeared to be headed to the locker room behind in the game. A holding penalty pushed Northwestern back to their own 16 with about 20 seconds to play. Many coaches would simply run the ball and go to halftime. Instead, Kain Colter delivered a beautiful deep ball to Christian Jones, who made the highlight of the season so far with an 84-yard touchdown. Northwestern led 14-10 at halftime.
Even though the Wildcats were losing the turnover battle, they had more than twice as many total yards and better balance (20 rushes, 10 passes) than Western Michigan (5 rushes, 20 passes).
After exchanging punts, Western Michigan orchestrated an impressive 11-play, 72-yard drive to re-take the lead, 17-14. When Northwestern’s offense took the field again, Trevor Siemian was on the field, as Kain Colter had injured his back on the previous series. This was Siemian’s first appearance of the season, since EA Sports treats the second guy on the depth chart as a backup, regardless of the two-quarterback reality. Siemian’s passing chops must have surprised Western Michigan. Siemian went two for three in his first action, hitting Christian Jones for the junior wide receiver’s second TD of the game. That put Northwestern ahead 21-17 late in the third quarter.
The Wildcat defense got a huge stop near midfield to force a WMU punt, and Northwestern’s offense was driving to start the fourth quarter. With the dual mandates of chewing the clock and extending the lead, the Siemian-led offense delivered. The Wildcats stayed with the read-option, and Siemian had a couple of short runs when the defense focused on Mark too much. Northwestern held the ball for nearly half of the fourth quarter, scoring on a 10 yard pass from Siemian to Mark. 28-17, Northwestern. Playing with an obvious sense of desperation, Western Michigan converted twice on fourth down in their own territory, then scored with 1:30 left in the game. Down by 5, they went for two but threw an incomplete pass. Northwestern recovered the ensuing onside kick, but still needed a first down to force Western Michigan to burn all three of their timeouts. It came down to a third-and-three, a distance that, even with Venric Mark, is not guaranteed. The Wildcats went to the air and got 20 yards, thanks to Rashad Lawrence. Gambreaker. Northwestern ran out the clock from there, escaping with a 28-23 win.
A win is a win, even if it doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. On paper, Northwestern should have no problem handling a MAC also-ran like Western Michigan. As the simulation showed, any team that has a strong style (run or pass) can cause problems. the Wildcats actually finished with more passing yards than the Broncos, despite attempting 11 fewer passes. A lot of that had to do with the 84-yard play to Christian Jones at the end of the first half. Speaking of Jones, he absolutely destroyed the Western Michigan secondary, which is one of their strong points. Jones had 5 catches for 166 yards and 2 TDs and 1 dropped pass.
Big Games This Week
#6 Notre Dame at Purdue: Notre Dame wins, 38-7
Air Force at #14 Boise State: Air Force wins, 20-17
#16 UCLA at #21 Nebraska: Nebraska wins, 52-28
#1 Alabama at #5 Texas A&M: Alabama wins, 41-31
Ole Miss at #11 Texas: Ole Miss wins, 14-13
Around the Big Ten
Week 3 was an all-around good week for the conference. #2 Ohio State remained undefeated with a win against Cal. Nebraska and Wisconsin provided resounding wins over other Pac-12 teams, while Penn State knocked off UCF. Michigan and Minnesota finally notched their first wins of the season, so no Big Ten team is winless anymore. Indiana defeated Bowling Green, Iowa beat rival Iowa State, and Michigan State handled their FCS opponent. The only Big Ten teams to lose were Purdue (to Notre Dame) and Illinois (to Washington).
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