Any Northwestern fan knows that no game is a sure win or sure loss, but this week’s contest against the Miami RedHawks seems like a sure win. That said, the Wildcats better not take Miami for granted. Yes, Miami is 0-5, but they are an improving team. Also, although Northwestern played much better against Purdue, they still have work to do in order to be prepared for the rest of the Big Ten season.
First off, I’d like to see Northwestern’s defense continue to play with the same intensity they played with in the second half against Purdue. Miami has a young quarterback who is improving each week and he’ll be a good challenge for NU’s defensive backs. Sherrick McManis made the play of the season against Purdue, but NU still struggled with pass defense at times. In fact, Purdue could have won the game if Joey Elliott had hit a wide open receiver.
The Miami contest also gives NU’s defensive line another chance to show their talent. Most expected NU’s superior talent to win out against Eastern Michigan, but the Eagles O-line won that match up soundly. Syracuse and Minnesota also dominated NU’s d-line, but it was the Wildcats d-line who out muscled Purdue’s large offensive line. If NU plays as well, or better, against Miami then I’ll feel more confident about the rest of the season. I think getting Niko Mafuli into the rotation might be remembered along with the McManis pick as a key moment which changed NU’s fortunes.
Offensively Northwestern needs to find a way to establish its run game. The Wildcats improved somewhat against Purdue, but there is still great room for more improvement. One thing I liked in the Purdue game was how NU used Mike Kafka more in the run offense. One item which seemed missing, though, was Jeravin Matthews. I think the package where NU has the QB alone in the backfield and sends the running back in motion in front of him was something NU picked up when they visited to Florida to talk about how the Gators used Percy Harvin. Considering Matthews is NU’s fastest player, I would guess he’d be the best option to make the defense respect the fact the QB might hand the ball off on that play. I’d also guess he would be the guy most likely to beat the defense to the outside as Harvin did for the Gators.
Finally, I’d also like see NU get into together in short yardage situations. I know NU’s o-line might be built more for being able to move in the spread, but there has to be a way for the Wildcats to consistently pick up short yardage. I think the best way might be like at the end of the game in which NU kept the ball in Kafka’s hands. At 6-4 210 he should be tough to stop with forward momentum. I’d also like to see NU at least consider going under center. They could even go under center and use play action as they did for a TD to Brendan Mitchell in last year’s win over Purdue.