Scuzz Model: So You’re Sayin’ There’s a Chance…

#B1GCats:

This week confirmed what we suspected after Week 2: the Big Ten is worse than usual this year. The non-Michigan State Big Ten falls into four categories: Defensive-Disaster (IL, Indiana, Maryland-maybe, OSU-a little,) Offensive-Quagmire (Iowa, NU, Michigan, PSU, Rutgers,) Quarterback-Less (OSU, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska,) and Purdue, which is all three of the other categories. There is no game on Northwestern’s schedule that is out of reach at this point.

A couple of interesting observations from rewatching last week’s game (yes, I’m rewatching these awful games to try to understand our offense outside the emotional tornado that is the live broadcast):

1 – McCall had a pretty decent gameplan. He engineered a lot of favorable 1-on-1 matchups downfield and Trevor executed very well putting the ball into position for the receivers to make a play. When NIU switched to zone, we adapted well and found Prater everywhere. When was the last time we threw 16 balls over 15 yards (in the air – I’m not counting YAC.) Connecting on eight (one which was called back) of these throws and narrowly missing three more is even more impressive – that is an amazing completion percentage for downfield passing. Overall, Trevor was much better this game. If you give him credit for the four completions wiped out by holding (including one defensive holding,) his stats become 31/45 for 302… just shy of 70% comp. Factor in two dropped long balls and we’re talking about a pretty spectacular QB performance. I’m trying something new this year – charting our passing offense… here’s the pass chart for the NIU game… not as many throws to the middle of the field as the Cal game, but a lot of success in that area:

NIU-Pass Chart

*Please forgive any horizontal mistakes… locations are close, but definitely approximated

NIU-Pass LIst

2 – I also think NU had an effective run-scheme using the 3-bunch formation with a Tight End to give our RBs some options to the outside. There were several effective runs by all three RBs – the problem is that as the game went on, we started to telegraph with our personnel (as has been documented by the Daily) and worse, we never really threw out of this set. There were a couple of play-actions early in the first drive, but we never went back to it, even after some modest running success. We rarely passed when shifting out of that set to a 3-wide (no bunch) formation as well. I’ll also note we only ran five plays from the Power I, four of which began the drive from inside our 5 yard line. The fifth, an inexplicable call on 2nd and 5 after a torrid stretch of Trevor passes, was horrific and pretty much killed our first drive of the 2nd half, but that power set wasn’t a major factor otherwise for our offense.

3 – The biggest factor was the O-line, which I realize is stating the obvious. Here’s a stat – in all but two drive-ending series the Cats faced an “and-long” situation behind the chains, due to sacks, TFLs, or holds. That’s catastrophic to an offense. I’ve been asking for three years where the screen plays in this offense have gone – not the bubble screen – I’m thinking the plays Trumpy and Persa used to engineer for 22 yards. That would be a great way to take some pressure off the O-line and QB, but we ran only one screen and one draw last Saturday.

So with all that… why do I think this team can turn it around? The problems we face right now are mental: Defensive and QB miscues in Game 1, OL & WR miscues in Game 2. Minimize the self-inflicted wounds, and this team has the talent to compete in this conference. Continued penalties, wild throws, drops, and blown coverage will doom us to another year of saying “what if”.

Win Proj

Game by Game

This Week’s Picks:

This year’s stats:
Straight up: 97-37 (72.4%)
ATS: 51-81 (38.6%)
Blog Picks: 5-10 (33.3%)

Baby steps back to .500. The Scuzz Model got better last week (though not in the state of Oklahoma) so maybe I haven’t totally lost my marbles this year. Here are this week’s picks:

Auburn (-9) @ Kansas State: The Wildcats are plucky, but this is a different level. They haven’t faced a team this strong offensively in the Big 12 in years, and I think this Auburn is even better than last year’s. The model likes Auburn to pull away by almost 2 TDs.

Iowa (+6) @ Pitt: I’m picking this for two reasons… 1) it just feels like a 13-10 snooze-fest of a game and 2) if Iowa beats the spread, I feel good for being right. But if Iowa gets dusted, I feel even better. Model favors Iowa by 1.

Bowling Green (+27) @ Wisconsin: I have no doubt that Wisconsin will win this game, but to win by 27 I think they would have to lean more heavily on Melvin Gordon than they really want to, given the issues in their passing game. If I’m Gary Anderson I probably sit Gordon the 2nd half and nurse a 20 point lead to the finish. The model likes a closer 10-point finish.

Navy (-4.5) vs Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights put up a good fight last week, but are going to be mentally devastated going into this game… and devastated is a terrible frame of mind to defend the option. Lacking a variable for “mentally devastated,” the model still likes Navy by 8.

Michigan (-6) vs Utah: I would really love to be 7 points wrong on this one, folks. Utah, unfortunately, may not be the team to end Brady Hoke’s career as Michigan’s head coach, but wouldn’t it be great if they were? The model likes Michigan by 8 – I think the Wolverines find a way in this game, but lookout when Big Ten season rolls around.

Bonus Pick: NIU (+14.5) @ Arkansas
Call this wishful thinking, but I was pretty impressed with NIU’s front 7 last week, particularly their D-line. We knew they had a stout Run-D coming to Northwestern, and they proved that on the field both against the run and in creating pressure on Trevor. Arkansas has a good running game, but not much else. I think they probably pull away late, but it’s worth the thought that NIU can keep within two TDs of an SEC school. Model has Hogs by 12.

Other Notables:

Minnesota (-7.5) vs San Jose State
Mississippi State (+10) @ LSU
Central Michigan (+5.5 @ Kansas
Michigan (-6) vs Utah
Indiana (+17) vs Missouri

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?

Add Georgia to the list of vanquished teams… it must hurt them that much more that Florida is still (inexplicably) undefeated. Not much excitement from last week to this… Auburn makes an appearance on the watchlist, as does Duke who won’t meet FSU until the ACC championship. I really love the idea of Mississippi winning the SEC west, getting Bama and Auburn at home… and then losing to Missouri in the SEC championship game to shut that conference out of the Playoff. It won’t happen that way (1-loss Bama would still make it in), but it’s fun to ponder.

Current Playoff Projection:

1-FSU vs. 4-Bama
2-Baylor vs. 3-BYU

Playoff

Episode 188: Bye Week

It was a much needed week off to lick our wounds from the first two weeks.  We preview the Western Illinois game and recap the happenings from Week 3 in College Football. We are your premier Northwestern Sports Podcast! You can download the episode from iTunes, Stitcher Radio or directly from here.

Be sure to check out our Facebook page! Head over to Facebook and “Like” us there for all the latest updates. You can also follow us on Twitter and join the conversation!

We really want to hear from our listeners on what you would like to hear from us. Please email us or comment on the blog or call our voicemail line at 847-231-2287 (CATS) and let us know what you’d like to hear from us.

Check out all our contact info on the sidebar of the blog page. Call us, tweet us, leave a comment on the blog.

Thanks so much for listening and Go Cats!

Episode 187: Northern Illinois 23-Northwestern 15

Frustration abounds as we talk about Northwestern’s second straight loss to start the season.  We are your premier Northwestern Sports Podcast! You can download the episode from iTunes, Stitcher Radio or directly from here.

Be sure to check out our Facebook page! Head over to Facebook and “Like” us there for all the latest updates. You can also follow us on Twitter and join the conversation!

We really want to hear from our listeners on what you would like to hear from us. Please email us or comment on the blog or call our voicemail line at 847-231-2287 (CATS) and let us know what you’d like to hear from us.

Check out all our contact info on the sidebar of the blog page. Call us, tweet us, leave a comment on the blog.

Thanks so much for listening and Go Cats!

Scuzz Model: Is this it? Nope… is this it? Nope….

#B1GCats:

I spent a lot of time watching and analyzing the offense from Week 1 and came away thinking this team could still score and had progressed relative to last year in their scheme, attacking the middle of the field, more variety, etc.  I wrote in this space that the Fitz Formula – strong D, and effective O – has worked as recently as 2012, and this offense was not too far away from putting it all together and getting back to winning close games.

Then Trevor pulled the deep ball out of his pocket this weekend, and threw for 4 sweet TDs that went for more than 20 yards, plus made a number of other great throws in tough spots (3rd and 19, etc) to really bail NU out of trouble.  Wait… one of those TDs was picked off when the CB made an absurd athletic play (and committed pass interference?)  No problem, we still were up 21-10 going into the 4th quarter… wait, the prettiest ball Trevor has thrown in a purple uniform was dropped at the goal line?  Yikes.  And the 3rd TD was lost in the sun by our superfast flex RB/WR after he (for the 2nd week in a row) zipped by his 1-on-1 defender on the outside?  And a bunch of other good plays were called back for holding?

F@&*$#% Hell.

This team seems so damn close, but feels miles away.  You line up all the near misses over the past 6 years (the entirety of the McCall OC era), and it’s long enough to fuel a tragic HBO series.  We fix one problem (Trevor’s accuracy), have the breakout game from Prater we’ve all been waiting for, and six other things go south.

I regret not being able to cite who tweeted this on Saturday, but the comment that NU’s offense “feels like trial and error” was apt.  Trial and error can work when it involves creativity and catching teams off balance.  It does not work when your football philosophy is winning the field position battle.  You have to have an identity and a plan, and ours seems to change with the wind, for instance shifting inexplicably to a power set on 2nd down after carving up a team from the spread.

For whatever reason (probably several including talent, injuries, turnover, coaching development, game day coaching, head coach personality, etc.) NU is stuck at the moment.  It seems everyone knows what they are supposed to do re: execution, game plan, etc.  But when the execution either isn’t there, or is not effective, we dial things back to the base more and more, waiting for something to work instead of shifting to a true plan B or plan C.  As a result, when the receivers can’t hold on to balls and drop 2 TD passes, we lose the game because that was our margin for error (see also:  a FG vs Michigan, a Hail Mary vs Nebraska, a wristband vs Cal, a 4th and 1 vs OSU… etc.)

This is not intended to be an excuse article.  Fitz’s career began with better than realistic results in close games.  Now he is mired in the opposite situation.  It seems very plausible for the coaches to look at these games and say “we are 2 plays away”*, devise a way to drill those plays all week in practice, only to have something else get tripped up on game day.  I stand by my comments last week that our offensive output is not far off from what it’s been in the past (Kafka, Bacher, etc.)  But perhaps the difference in game outcomes is that the world around our offense has changed.  The reality is that College Football as a whole is drastically different from 2006, and has become less risk-adverse and more dynamic.  This coaching staff seems to be moving in the opposite direction, stubbornly emphasizing their approach and how close they are to breaking through (this problem is not ours alone – go watch Stanford’s recent abysmal games vs MSU and USC.)  These are dark days for NU football fans, and there are no easy answers.  I believe that Fitz needs to adapt his approach in some way to re-establish the Cats’ margin for execution error.  Only then can we break out of this funk.

*I’ve said this almost every week for as long as I’ve been a Cats fan.

Win Proj

Game by Game

This Week’s Picks:
This year’s stats:
Straight up: 56-27 (67.5%)
ATS: 27-56 (32.5%)
Blog Picks: 3-7 (30.0%)

Ugh. The crappy trend continues. Not sure why I skipped out on a great pick w Virginia Tech, but so it goes. Apparently college football just wants to punish me in 2014. Here are this week’s picks:

Tennessee (+21) @ Oklahoma: The Volunteers looked like a much improved team in destroying a solid Utah State team in week 1, and now travel to Norman for a massive game. I like the them to barely cover this spread – Oklahoma is really good, but UT is young, fast, and matches up well. Model favors the Sooners by just over 2 TDs.

Toledo (+12) @ Cincinnati: This is absolutely a game Cincinnati should win, but here are the facts: Toledo is good. They return 16 starters. They gave Missouri a game last year and beat Navy. Also, you know how lots of CFB teams looks sloppy week 1? Well the Bearcats are playing their first game of the season this week, while Toledo is on week 3. The model only favors Cinci by 1, and that’s without any adjustment for rust.

UTSA (+16) vs Oklahoma State: The model loved the newly-FBS-minted UTSA Road Runners last year, and they didn’t disappoint, covering against Arizona and Oklahoma State in the early going. They ran out of gas in the 2nd half, but are so senior laden and experienced this year they almost knocked off Arizona, and demolished another experienced team in Houston. Ok State showed they are better than advertised week one, but I still like UTSA to give them a run in the game, especially having played them last year. Model has Pokes by 5.

Nebraska (-10) @ Fresno: Fresno State looks to be in a different universe without Derek Carr this year, getting annihilated two weeks in a row. One of the things they couldn’t do against USC was tackle well in the open field. Well, Ameer Abdullah is coming to town, and I think it’ll be a rout. Everyone is down on Nebraska for almost losing last week, and rightfully so, but I have a feeling McNeese would crush Fresno too. Model favors the Huskers by 19.

Nevada (+14.5) @ Arizona: After a close game against UTSA last week, Arizona surely won’t be overlooking the Wolfpack this week. I think they will ultimately win the game, but Nevada has a really strong, veteran team and I like their defense’s ability to keep it somewhat close after shutting down Connor Halliday last week. Model likes AZ by a TD.

Other Notables:
Duke (-17) vs Kansas
Baylor (-31) @ Buffalo
Bowling Green (+6) vs IU
Kent State (+30) @ OSU
Purdue (+28) @ ND
South Carolina (+6) vs Georgia

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?

The Midwest is reeling as the worst day of Big Ten football since Jan 1, 2012 has essentially eliminated the conference from the playoff chase!  I think there is still some semblance of a chance, but it would require a 13-0 season and probably some luck on the part of PSU, Nebraska, or Iowa.  Here’s why…  Marshall is a fun blip to talk about crashing the first playoff party, but BYU is a legit threat.  Go look at their schedule… it is not difficult to see them 12-0 at the end of the year, and with a 34 point demolition of Texas (in Austin) on their resume already… would they be excluded for a unimpressive 11-1 Badger team?  In addition, Notre Dame looks like they are for real again with Everett Golson, and could conceivably reach 11 wins, which given their schedule would have them in the conversation as well.  Add in your guaranteed SEC champ, Florida State, and an uninjured-as-of-yet Oregon team…. And you have a recipe for major controversy in the first year of the playoff.  Oh joy!!

Playoff

Here is the hope for the Big Ten… The Pac 12, Big 12, and ACC only have one dominant team each, with few legit challengers.  Texas and UCLA which were supposed to be resurgent this year instead play one another this week in the Shredded Wheat Who-Actually-Wants-to-Win-a-Big-Game Bowl.  Oklahoma is still the presumed B12 power, but don’t tell me OSU can’t beat them.  I am also not ready to believe in Baylor.  USC looks interesting, but is too thin to turn what they did to Stanford last Saturday into a championship run.  Speaking of the Cardinal, they are playing more conservative than Northwestern on offense, although they’ll probably still beat Oregon (and injure Mariota) and destroy the the Pac 12’s chances.  Finally, FSU should romp its way through the ACC, but has a (very recent) history of effing up in games they should win easily – plus, repeating is hard (see: Alabama 2013 & 2010).  Could the playoff really boil down to 2 SEC teams, Notre Dame, and BYU?  Crazier things have happened.

Scuzz Model: A series of unfortunate events

#B1GCats:

Well crap. Cat fans across the globe find themselves, once again, asking questions and pulling out hair. That was a very painful game to watch last week. As I mentioned on the podcast though, it was not nearly as painful to re-watch. The things that went bad came in bunches and at the worst possible moments. Two missed blocks on consecutive plays inside the 25; one step in the wrong direction against a go-route; a non-call block in the back on a critical 3rd and 12 completion. But it was the defensive revival in the second half and the offense putting together some drives that made me sleep well after watching a second time. There were many positives in that game, and all we can ask now is that the team build on those positives and get better going into the Northern Illinois game, which should be a more favorable matchup, albeit still a tough one given the way they run and play run-D, and losing yet another of our playmakers.

I just read a great piece on Lake The Posts regarding a reader email pointing out the terrible start of the 2009 season. Many of us (myself included) think about that season as the height of our offensive passing game, probably because of the way it ended (wins vs Iowa, Wisconsin, & then the Outback bowl.) We’ve cited 2009 as evidence when we’ve talked on this podcast about offensive conservatism, and how we need to release the kraken, get back to our passing ways and pile up the points. Well after reviewing the numbers, I may need to step back and give this current coaching staff some more credit…

Eff by year

The most efficient scoring offense NU has fielded in the past six years was 2011, followed by 2012. Last year’s offensive in total was actually right on par with the Kafka and final CJ Bacher seasons of 2009 and 2008. The other interesting observation about those years: NU eclipsed 35 points once in ’08, three times in ’09 in each of the first four games last year before the team went off the rails. Who was calling the offense in those games? Mick McCall. Who was at the helm of the offense in the some of the best games from an output perspective since 2012 (IU ‘12, Cal ‘13, IL ‘13?) Trevor Siemian. Maybe, Fitz and co deserve some recognition, specifically around the retooling of the defense over the past three seasons (downward trajectory in opponent scoring efficiency since mid-way through 2011,) and the fact that NU’s offense has never scored as efficiently as it did in very recent history. Frankly, these data points should give us a lot of hope. Look at 2009 on the week by week chart below – the offensive and defensive efficiency then are basically identical to what they are for NU right now. While we tear our hair out play-by-play because we bleed so much purple, perhaps the current Fitz formula is a little closer to what we long for and recall from recent glories than we realize.

Unfortunately, rancor has developed between the fans, media, and coaches (as can often happen in sports,) and I think that has colored everything in such a negative light for the last twelve months. I believe there is cause for criticism of the staff, particularly in the way they approach some of the key decision points that arise during games – this was articulated perfectly by The Daily this week – and it is clear the preparation and game speed were not where they needed to be in last week’s opener. Stepping back and considering everything that occurred in the last twelve months, perhaps the Cats are much closer to where we think we want them to be, than it feels or appears.

5 year by week

Win Proj

Game by Game

This Week’s Picks:
This year’s stats:
Straight up: 25-13 (65.8%)
ATS: 14-10 (36.8%)
Blog Picks: 1-4 (20%)

What a terrible week for the Scuzz Model. To be fair, most prognosticators got drilled in week one… all the conventional wisdom was out the window. Scuzz Model did have some great calls (Auburn, Temple, UTSA, Wisc), but had many near misses (Tulane, North Texas, Navy, UConn, UCF, Purdue), and a whole lot of big misses (Bama, Bowling Green, Wazzou, NU, Texas A&M, FSU). Here’s hoping we do better in this week’s picks:

Note – this is going up late, and I’m really ticked I can no longer pick UTSA to cover vs Arizona, which they did last night (and almost won).

Michigan State (+12) @ Oregon: This pick terrifies me. It’s based on three things – MSU being similar to Stanford, Oregon’s diminishing presence on defense in the last couple seasons, and most importantly, my belief that until Pat Narduzzi leaves, MSU has a significant coaching advantage over everyone they play. The model sees this as a toss up… I think Oregon still wins, but MSU should be able to keep it reasonable.

Pitt (-4.5) @ BC: The Pitt Panthers, recent victims of poor coaching and fleeting coaches, look like a potential sleeper in the ACC this year (at least until the title game) as Paul Chryst gets more and more comfortable. They have a powerful run game, and I really like their chances to smoother a rebuilding BC. The model favors Pitt by 8.

Michigan (+4.5) vs Notre Dame: I keep going back and forth on this one, as both teams have something going for them (Golson for ND, new Offense for Mich). Ultimately though, this game has been close for years, I expect both teams to score, and for it to come down to a 3 or 4 point deficit in the end (someone kicks a FG to go up 3, the other scores a TD to go up 4, and it comes down to the final drive). The model likes Michigan to win, but really we’re just taking the points here.

Stanford (-3) vs USC: Too early, IMO, to go all in on USC yet… I don’t believe they have rebuilt their depth to go toe-to-toe with a heavy like Stanford. The Cardinal, similar to Oregon, are probably not going to ever be quite the same as they were under the previous coach, but they are still fantastic, deep, and hard to prepare for. Model likes Stanford by a TD.

Auburn (-30) vs San Jose State: If it ain’t broke… Auburn came through for me twice last week – winning big but not by too much. Their offense is maybe even better than it was last year, seeing that they have real QB depth behind Nick Marshall. This week, they get to start with Marshall, and play an even weaker team than Arkansas. I won’t type how much the model favors the Tigers – it’s embarrassing.

Other Notables::
Texas (+2) vs BYU
Middle TN (+17.5) @ MN
Temple (+4) vs Navy
Akron (+15) @ PSU
Va Tech (+11) @ OSU
Ga State (-1.5) vs NM State

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?

We almost had pandemonium last week as Ok State made everyone’s predictions for that marquee game go awry. We also almost had Wisconsin leaping into the upper half of this chart, but alas they can’t throw the ball.

The same 4 teams are still heading the Scuzz Model’s playoff prediction – Bama has dropped off in likelihood of going undefeated, mostly due to the performance of Ole Miss and Auburn, but there is little reason to not favor them at this point. Several teams from last week’s conversation that blew up include Houston, South Carolina, & Wisconsin; UCLA looked pretty far from a team likely to make a run, despite their victory. Next week you will either see MSU or Oregon get a big boost – they are huge obstacles for one another in this chase. BYU, Stanford, and Michigan all might show up next week as well, pending their weekend outcomes.

Playoff

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