Personally, I don’t actually believe Northwestern stinks, but if you look at the message board chatter or listened to the fans in the parking lot after today’s victory you’d conclude that most Wildcat fans think Northwestern is a bad football team. The reason, obviously, is the fact the Wildcats struggled to beat a very mediocre Eastern Michigan team 27-24 today at Ryan Field. Amazingly, this win has NU fans in a total panic. What I want to do is go through some of the reasons fans have hit the panic button and see if they’re legitimate.
#1 Mike Kafka didn’t look sharp throwing the ball: I really am not worried about this at all. Due to one of the strangest play calling exhibitions I’ve ever seen, Mick McCall basically only let Kafka throw the ball in obvious passing situations. As a result, Kafka rarely got to throw when the defense wasn’t ready for him to do so. Also, Kafka really hasn’t been allowed to run the ball yet. This puts more pressure on NU’s running backs and makes it harder to pass as teams don’t have to worry about Kafka getting outside of them on a scramble. While on the topic of QB runs, NU didn’t run the zone read at all today and ran it something like two times against Towson. For Kafka and the NU spread to be effective they need to be balanced and show they can use all their weapons at one time. If NU does this in the future no reason exits to worry about Kafka. If McCall insists on not running Kafka and only passing in long yardage situations Kafka will look lousy. Any QB would.
#2 The defense line only has 3 sacks this year: The first reaction of many people to this news is to say Corey Wotton must still be hurt. I heard a lot of that after the game. This is not something I want to speculate on. I’m not an NU coach, a doctor, or Corey’s family. If I was, though, considering Corey’s potential NFL future I wouldn’t let him play hurt against Towson or EMU. Therefore, I think Corey’s probably fine. The problem is one of two things. First, he did put on 20 pounds of muscle. Great as muscle is, remember Corey dropping weight was part of what made him good last year. Also, John Gill is gone and now Corey gets the double teams. That means that the DTs Marshall Thomas and Corbin Bryant need to setup. Right now, I’m very disappointed in their play.
#3 Special Teams: Other than Demos hitting the game winning field goal NU’s special teams were terrible. Demos himself should NOT be kicking off. If you can’t kick the ball past the ten yard line you shouldn’t kick off. It’s as simple as that. NU has other kickers who can kick the ball deep and let Demons concentrate on field goals and punts. Brendan Smith and Andrew Brewer ran into each other on a punt return which cost NU 7 points. That’s bad and I put that on the coaching staff who for the first time I can remember put them both back to return a punt at the same time.
#4 NU has about 17 running backs and can’t choose one: NU doesn’t actually have 17 running backs, they have five, but I agree that’s about three or four too many. Simmons and Schmidt had nice days today and Arby Fields looked like a freshman. I’d like to see NU use these three with one getting the majority of the carries and probably Schmidt getting the ball on short yardage and the third guy backing up both. Scott Concannon, unfortunately, should be the odd man out. If Matthews comes back I like him in the hybrid role we saw in week one.
#5 NU ran the Greg Colby Swiss Cheese 10 yard cushion pass defense: NU was down to their third or fourth corner at times, but I must say I thought some sort of invasion of the body snatchers event must have happened to Mike Hankwitz with the way NU’s defense was called.
Those are the major issues I see. Some are more serious than others, but changes need to be made before next week. It’ll be a hard week of work for both players and coaches if NU wants to beat Syracuse.