When Northwestern wins football games they really do seem to win ugly, but I’ll take ugly wins over no wins anytime. Northwestern’s 26 unanswered points to beat Indiana today moved the ‘Cats to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. Most importantly, the 5th win moved the ‘Cats ahead of 4-4 Indiana and Minnesota in the quest for a bowl breath. While I know many fans might not be in love with fighting it out for a bid to the Motor City Bowl, for this NU team any bowl would be great. A postseason game would be just the second time ever NU made back to back postseason appearances. That type of stat makes any bowl worthwhile. I’d also point out that NU actually still has a chance to make any number of bowls depending on how the rest of the year goes.
What I believe made the difference in this game and in past NU wins, was the willingness of NU’s Mike Kafka to use his legs. Kafka showed his ability to scramble and make plays when nobody was open today. This has been missing for a great deal of this season. NU also got some nice running help from Scott Concannon. There are a number of NU fans who say Concannon is too small or too slow to be effective, but the fact is that many times a fresh tailback can rip off yards late in the season when facing defenses which are somewhat banged up. By virtue of the numerous injuries Concannon has suffered, Concannon is relatively fresh having only carried the ball 16 times before today. Considering the limited success NU’s other backs have had, including Arby Fields today, I think Concannon deserves a shot next week as well.
I also have to give credit to Mick McCall for attempting the downfield passing game. Although Kafka’s inconsistency with the deep ball sometimes makes these plays frustrating and dangerous, The ‘Cats MUST attempt the deep pass in order to at least make the defense respect that possibility. If not NU’s receivers will constantly get jammed at the line and knocked by linebackers when running across the middle. Also, when NU does make a big play, such as the 51-yard TD to Andrew Brewer, it is a huge momentum swing.
NU needed several momentum swings after the 28-3 Indiana start (Is NU that limited in the Kickoff and Punt game?). Somehow and someway NU must not get down when they play Penn State and Iowa the next two weeks. Both those teams will make the ‘Cats pay if they aren’t ready for the opening whistle. In some ways, the football ‘Cats remind me of NU’s hoops squad late last year. We all remember how NU failed to finish big comebacks against Ohio State, Minnesota, and Tulsa because they stated too slow. This can’t happen the next couple weeks. Penn State and Iowa have better teams than NU. If the ‘Cats want to pull the upset they have to be ready to play. Maybe Coach Fitz should just till his players the Big Ten has decided to give Penn State a 21-0 lead before they take the field.