The NUmbers Guy: Northwestern versus Ohio State Analysis
WNUR’s Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) gives his “three up” and “three down” from Northwestern’s 40-30 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.
So, this weekend was awesome. First, seeing Mike & Mike in the Morning, a show I have lost countless hours of sleep to listen to over the last nine years, was absurdly awesome. Then, seeing the oodles and oddles of people at College GameDay at 4:00 in the freaking morning made my insides all tingly. Top that all off with one of the largest assemblies of Northwestern students in the history of the university at the game, despite questionable weather, and you get a whole lot to be happy about as a program.
Then comes the game. I know a lot of people are saying that fans can’t count it as a “moral victory” if they want the team to take the next step. That’s fine. You can think that, but, in the end, the players put forth a darn good effort against the No. 4 team in the country on a national stage. No, it wasn’t four perfect quarters of football, but I’m more confident than ever that this team is as good as everyone thought they were before the season. As for the game itself, let’s look at what went well… and what did not.
141: Total yards by Venric Emeka-Wococha Mark Saturday night.
Um. He’s baaaaaaaack. Was it Venric’s best performance ever? Not even close. But, having such a dynamic playmaker on the field makes the Northwestern offense radically different from the one we saw earlier in the season. No other player has the ability to bust free every time he touches the ball.
The ground game never really got going for Venric or anybody else on the team, but Mick McCall was able to get the ball in his playmaker’s hands other ways. Mark set a career high with his 43 receiving yards and had the second most receptions of his career with four.
Being held to 60 yards on 17 carries (3.5 yards per carry) is a bit discouraging, but this is the same defense that held Melvin Gordon to 74 yards on 15 carries. The offense as a whole was held below 100 yards for only the second time in the last two years. Moving forward, I expect Venric to return to 2012 form, in which case getcha popcorn, kiddos. It’s going to be a fun rest of the season.
13.61: Trevor Siemian’s yards per attempt.
Trevor Siemian has put himself in the discussion as the best pure passing quarterback in the Big Ten. After the Week 6 games, Siemian now leads the conference in passing efficiency at 171.3. Dude is dropping dimes and making it rain on the regular.
Against Ohio State, Siemian for the most part continued this spectacular performance. He finished 13-18 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and one incredibly costly interception. Not a lot of these passes went deep down the field, but Siemian was able to set the receivers up in positions to pick up yards after the catch.
The receiver that benefited the most on Saturday was Rashad Lawrence. Lawrence, Siemian’s high school teammate, became the fourth Northwestern player to have 90+ receiving yards in a game this year (Dan Vitale, Christian Jones, Tony Jones). Only two players achieved this feat last year, and one of them was by Kain Colter against Indiana. Lawrence increased his career high in receiving yards by 122.4 percent (to 149 from 67 in his true freshman season). Siemian’s breakout season has resulted in a bunch of different receivers thriving, and Lawrence was just the next in that line.
113.5: Northwestern now ranks fifth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency against at 113.5.
Take yourself back to August. If you had heard that Matt Harris, a true freshman, would be thrust into a starting role during a game against the No. 4 team in the country, what would you have said? The number of profanities may have eclipsed the Gross Domestic Product of a small island nation. However, Harris, to his credit, stepped up in a big way on Saturday, and he deserves the starting role moving forward.
Overall, the pass defense was spectacular in this game. Miller was forced to hang onto the ball for eons and eons looking for an open receiver, and, had Northwestern been able to generate more of a pass rush outside of Tyler Scott, they may have had five sacks from the coverage alone. Miller finished 15-26 for 203 yards and an interception. If you had told me before the game that Miller’s line would be that barren, I would have been fairly confident in a Wildcats victory. Annnnnd that brings us to the reasons I would have been wrong.
248: Ohio State totaled 248 rushing yards against the Wildcats defense.
This was only the second time in the last 20 games that Northwestern had allowed 200-plus rushing yards in a game. The other occurrence was 201 yards against Nebraska last season. The 248 yards were the most Northwestern had allowed since MarQueis Gray and the Minnesota Golden Gophers ran for 269 yards back in 2011.
The most concerning thing here was the performance of Carlos Hyde. Hyde rushed 26 times for 168 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Within the next three weeks, Northwestern will face two more big, physical runners in Donnell Kirkwood of Minnesota and Mark Weisman of Iowa who weigh 459 pounds combined.
Against Wisconsin, the ‘Cats will face two of the best running backs in the nation in Melvin Gordon and James White, but these two aren’t necessarily known for their ability to shove a defender on his tushy. Still, considering the Badgers are averaging more rushing yards per game (300.6) than the average weight of a Northwestern offensive lineman, RED LIGHT RED LIGHT RED LIGHT.
9: Over the span of three consecutive red zone trips in the second and third quarter, Northwestern was only able to come away with nine points.
So, y’all know Northwestern fans love Jeff Budzien more than indoor plumbing and freedom, but that doesn’t mean they want to see him kick three freaking field goals on trips to the red zone. You could make a case that this sequence of drives cost Northwestern the game.
At the start of the back-to-back-to-back field goal string, Northwestern led Ohio State 14-13. Awesome, right??? First field goal, it’s 17-13. Fine, you know, whatever. It’s more than a field goal lead now. Second field goal, it’s 20-13. Gigglefritz, come on, it’s still a one-score game. Third field goal, it’s 23-13. GOSH FREAKING DARN IT HEMORRHOIDS!!!!!!!!!! If only one of those field goals had been a touchdown, the score would have been 27-13. That’s a whole heck of a lot different than 23-13. I say pitch the ball to Budzien and let the man do it all himself (#HEISMAN!).
6.71: Northwestern needed an average of 6.71 yards to convert on their 14 third down attempts.
Compare this number to Ohio State, who averaged third down and 3.69 yards. That’s huge. As a result, Ohio State converted on 53.8 of their third down attempts and held Northwestern to only converting on 35.7 percent of their attempts. That’s not going to cut it against a top-five team.
A big part of this was Ohio State’s first down offense. As my co-host on “Stats are for Losers” Tralon Williams pointed out, Ohio State averaged 6.56 yards per play on first down. A big part of that was Hyde, but Braxton Miller was 9-15 for 113 yards on first down. To get road wins against Wisconsin and Nebraska, Northwestern needs to find a way to limit this so that their defense isn’t constantly in third and short situations. Ohio State only had one third down attempt that was longer than five yards. Northwestern, on the other hand, had eight. No bueno, señorita.
Overall, the ‘Cats are yet to string together four quarters of lights out football. Once they can do that, this team is going to be outstanding. Saturday’s effort against Ohio State was encouraging, but there is still plenty for the team to work on. Heading to Camp Randall will provide Northwestern with another big test, but if they can find ways to convert in the red zone and hold Gordon and White to less than 400 yards, they should be able to improve to 5-1.