Don’t Hate the Player: Week 4 vs. Maine

WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) tries to “predict” the outcome of Northwestern football games using EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14.

In real life, Northwestern’s opponent this week is the Maine Black Bears. However, since Maine competes at the FCS level, their team is not present in NCAA Football 14. Instead, the game uses placeholder schools to represent the myriad of FCS opponents that play the 126 FBS schools over the course of the season. For example, every FCS school in Florida and Georgia is represented by the FCS Southeast Pirates. Northwestern’s opponent in this week’s simulation is the FCS East Howlers. The Howlers are a generic team composed of terrible players in an attempt to simulate what usually happens when FCS schools face FBS opponents (like Northwestern). Long story short, this is supposed to be a cupcake game.

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

Northwestern: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B
FCS East: Overall: D, Offense: D, Defense: D

Northwestern Game Recap
FCS East scored first, drilling a 31-yard field goal to end a frustrating drive for Northwestern fans. The Howlers converted a third-and-long situation twice, but settled for a field goal. Northwestern responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Venric Mark run up the middle. The first quarter ended with Northwestern intercepting a pass near midfield, giving the ‘Cats good field position and a chance to add to their 7-3 lead.

The Wildcats did just that, giving the ball to Venric Mark early and often, and he earned his second rushing TD of the game. FCS East mustered just one first down before punting, but the ensuing Northwestern drive ended when Kain Colter’s deep pass to Christian Jones was intercepted. 12 plays later, the visitors were celebrating their first touchdown of the game. With 1:19 left in the first half, Northwestern led 14-10. Northwestern’s passing attack was on full display on their last drive of the first half. Kyle Prater reeled in his first touchdown catch of the season with 26 seconds left to give NU a 21-10 advantage at halftime.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter rolled out of the pocket to throw this pass, hitting Kyle Prater for a touchdown.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter rolled out of the pocket to throw this pass, hitting Kyle Prater for a touchdown.

The first half went pretty much according to plan for Northwestern, save for one Kain Colter interception. One other gripe would be that the defense allowed the visitors to convert four of six third down attempts. As a result, FCS East actually held the ball longer than Northwestern, so fatigue was a concern for Northwestern’s defense in the second half.

The Wildcats took care of that concern in the early third quarter, breaking up three straight passes, then using the read-option attack to keep their FCS opponent on their heels. Northwestern needed 13 plays, but Mike Trumpy bullied his way into the end zone to make it 28-10 halfway through the third quarter. An interception by Northwestern’s defense led to a quick touchdown by Northwestern’s offense, which appeared to be firing on all cylinders at this point. Kain Colter scored the Wildcats’ fourth rushing touchdown of the game, and Northwestern’s lead ballooned to 25 by the end of the third quarter.

As the fourth quarter got started, the biggest concerns for the Wildcats would be avoiding injuries and letting the second string get some reps. An 8-yard pass from Colter to Christian Jones early in the fourth quarter made the score 42-10 and would be the last snap either of them would play in the game. Northwestern’s second-string defense held up just as well as the starters, allowing the offense to turn to Mike Trumpy and Treyvon Green to run out the clock. FCS East ultimately got the ball back in the last minute, after Northwestern was forced to punt, and scored a meaningless touchdown on a deep pass with two seconds left, but most fans had already left. Northwestern won, 42-17.

Final Thoughts
No individual player on Northwestern put up dominant numbers in this game, but a lot of that had to do with the “don’t let anybody get injured” approach to player substitutions. This final tune-up revealed what Northwestern’s weaknesses are before they start conference play. The defense only forced three negative plays, which is far too few when facing an inferior, imaginary team like the FCS East Howlers. In addition, if the computer refuses to sub in Trevor Siemian in clear passing situations (like the ‘Cats do in real life), then Kain Colter needs to be more accurate with his passes. A 55 percent completion rate and one interception against an FCS defense is not going to cut it when that defense is Ohio State’s. On the plus side, no Wildcats have been seriously injured all season (knocking on wood).

Big Games This Week
Michigan State @ #5 Notre Dame: Michigan State wins, 31-24 in overtime
FCS Southeast @ #8 Florida State: FCS Southeast wins, 31-24
#17 Kansas State @ #18 Texas: Kansas State wins, 42-21
Auburn @ #19 LSU: LSU wins, 42-14
Michigan @ UConn: UConn wins, 35-24

Around the Big Ten
Week 4 was a fantastic week for the Big Ten, with only one team losing a non-conference tilt. That team was Michigan, which fell to 1-3 after a tough loss at Connecticut. Iowa and Penn State defeated MAC teams, while Ohio State and Nebraska beat up on FCS opponents. Michigan State conquered Notre Dame, Indiana held off a late rally by Missouri, and Minnesota survived an overtime affair with San Jose State. Conference play began on an unappealing note, with Wisconsin shutting out Purdue, 42-0.

Heisman Top 5:
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Daniel Sims, QB, Kansas State

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