Episode 194: Bye Week-Basketball Preview

As Northwestern comes off the second bye week of the season, we examine this weekend’s game against Iowa, look at the national landscape and preview the Men’s Basketball team. We are your premier Northwestern Sports Podcast! You can download the episode from iTunes, Stitcher Radio or directly from here.

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Scuzz Model: Coming Apart at the Seams

#B1GCats:

Acknowledging the fact that Saturday’s game was probably less painful for me because I was not there in person… that was one of the least enjoyable 2nd halves in recent memory. For me it felt just like 2011 when Persa and co. jumped out to nice halftime leads on Michigan & Penn State, and then failed to score in the 2nd half of those games. It was, however, a phenomenal 1st half — our offense had it’s best half (by scoring efficiency) since the 2nd half against Cal. Not coincidentally we threw 30% of our passes over the middle. In the 2nd half, only 10% of passes went over the middle and the offense stalled like crazy.

I won’t belabor the point this week and will get right to the visuals – I’ve plotted Nebraska on our efficiency-vs-middle-of-the-field chart, based on the full game. Note if we plotted just the first half, it would be a full bar to the right of Penn State, and of course the 2nd half would be at zero, way off to the left.

Pass vs Eff

I know the entire world is calling for the backup QB, but I find it hard to believe anyone else could succeed given the in-game coaching right now. Some of this certainly falls on Trev, some on the OL, some on the WRs, and some is just the talent of the players we play against. But the OC and WR coaching seems to have gotten progressively worse in the past two seasons, and I believe are at the heart of everything befalling our offense right now.

We’re back to very little margin for error in the quest for bowl eligibility… luckily the opponents standing in the way of that are Iowa, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, all of whom are extremely beatable. Michigan is very much another Penn State, Iowa is a lesser version of MN, Purdue is somewhat of an enigma – their speed has kept them competitive – and Illinois is just fun to watch, unless you are an Illini fan. There is still a lot to play for this season and to watch for as an NU fan – it just will continue to be frustrating & not particularly pretty at times. Let’s enjoy it for the potential bowl and to watch the stunning beast-mode play from guys like Justin Jackson.

Win Proj

Game by Game

This Week’s Picks:

This year’s stats:

Straight up: 278-113 (71.1%)
ATS: 183-203 (47.4%)
Blog Picks: 12-27 (30.8%)

Here are this week’s picks:

Auburn (-17.5) vs South Carolina: USC is 0-6 vs the spread this year. Auburn is a beast at home. This looks like a run-away type game in the 2nd half. Model likes the Tigers by a lot.

Michigan (+17) @ Michigan State: Everything says that the Spartans should beat Michigan by 7 TDs here, but I just feel like coming off a bye, the Wolverines dig deep and find some pride to fight back in this game. They do have a defense (unlike IU) and should be able to keep MSU from running away with it. 2 TDs feels about right to both me and the Scuzz Model (and if we’re wrong, the ensuing #BradyHokeFace will be fun too).

TCU (-21) vs Texas Tech: After last week’s beatdown of OK-State, I am a believer in TCU. 5-0 vs the spread, and facing a very weak Texas Tech team at home this week. Model likes the Frogs by 26.

Mississippi (-3) @ LSU Ole Miss is boasting a defense that is reminiscent of LSU’s 2012 effort… but has to play in Baton Rouge at night this week. This could be exciting, but the fact is LSU’s weak offense is going to get stonewalled by this D. Unless they can outscore Ole Miss on defense and special teams alone, I like the Rebels to stay unbeaten and win by more than 3. Scuzz model has Ole Miss by 9.

Minnesota (-6) @ Illinois: This line is clearly low due to MN’s close call vs Purdue last week, the Illini’s solid play vs Wisconsin two weeks ago and their bye last week. However, I fully believe Jerry Kill was all over his Gophers after they let down on defense last week. Next week is their bye and I think they avoid the look-ahead to Iowa on 11/8 and roll through IL without pausing to take in the Champaign scenery. Model has MN by 11.

Other Notables:

Miss St (-14) @ Kentucky
Maryland (+11.5) @ Wisconsin
KState (-10) vs Texas
Virginia (-6.5) vs UNC
North Texas (+15) @ Rice
PSU (+13.5) vs OSU

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

Now the realities of the playoff are coming home to roost for the general college football fanbase.  Two SEC teams again? Yep, we warned you – it’s not only possible, but probable at this point unless the committee explicitly stops it.  Assuming FSU and the SEC champ get in, I personally think Oregon holds the trump card (a thumping of MSU) to secure the 1st one-loss spot.  After that, who will you pick? The Big 12 champ? (who by the way lost to Auburn at home) The Big 10 champ? (who by the way got destroyed by Oregon) Notre Dame? Very possible, though they need some help… I just don’t see them getting in over a 2nd SEC team, unless that conference completely devours itself, which means they need Oregon and pretty  much everyone else to lose another game. Regardless, the “rematch” potential in the playoff is very high – 2 SEC teams, or FSU + Notre Dame, or even Oregon + MSU should crazy things occur. At this point, can you even rule out 3 SEC teams? I think the playoff has a stipulation for that or at least should… Rule 36.2-B: don’t screw the rest of the county by picking only teams in the Southeast.

Current Playoff Teams:

FSU, Mississippi State, Mississippi, & Oregon

Playoff

Episode 193: Nebraska 38-Northwestern 17

Same song, different verse as Northwestern continues trotting out their inconsistent offense in another defeat. The bye week is coming at a perfect time as the West Lot Pirates look to bounce back into the home stretch of 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.

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Thanks so much for listening and Go Cats!

Scuzz Model: Stuck in the Middle or The Gopher Bites

#B1GCats:

It was ultimately a frustrating three hours at “The Bank” last Saturday, leaving the Cats to ponder ‘what-if’ after another close loss. This was really just par for the course in the NU-MN series, dating back several years now. There is one game in this series during the Fitz era with a margin larger than one score – the Cats’ 28-13 victory in 2011. Consider also, that this 2014 version is easily the best Minnesota Gopher team of the last ten years. For these reasons, I am not very upset about this loss – NU went into this game with a plan: stop their run, don’t turn it over. You can see that plan in the way we aligned personnel with the situation on defense – rarely did we substitute the pass-rush in on 2nd or 3rd and medium type plays. We also didn’t throw a single pass to the middle of the field until after Minnesota’s big kick return. Reading much of the commentary post-game, however, made me feel like losing was some big aberration, as if we went against an inferior opponent and crapped the bed. Overall, this was a well played game – NU had a game plan, stuck to that plan, and almost pulled out a win on the road against a quality opponent. There were gaffes but the most egregious of which never ended any drives.

I wrote last week about our running success vs Wisconsin: “For me that is a concern going against the Gophers… in the past, this staff has been bullheaded about running, and I fear us opening the game against MN lowering our head and barreling into the line over and over again… part of the key against PSU and Wisc was using the passing game to open up the run – we must continue to throw to ball!”

Well, we didn’t go into as much of a shell as I feared from a run-pass perspective, but we re-tooled our passing game to be ultra conservative. Trevor is getting better at the nice back-shoulder throw to the sidelines, but his best work (in my opinion) this year has been down the seam…. And we didn’t throw a single seam-pass this game. Against UW, we used the WR screen to open that seam up, and when the safety shifts to cover it, it opens up the 8-10 yard up-and-in routes that our outside receivers run; instead, we ran a lot of shallow crosses against MN and threw a ton of balls in the flat – these plays can be successful, but they don’t attack the D and force play in the same way. I’ve been saying since last year, this offense is at its best when attacking the middle of the field – it’s what we did against Cal in the 2nd half and it’s what we did against Penn State. Looking at the passing breakdowns from my charting, the Minnesota game represented a big outlier in percentage of passes thrown over the middle – only 12%, when we have been above 30% in our other games. Not coincidentally, it was also our 2nd worst scoring output based on points-per-possession (the worst being NIU, where we all know we left multiple TDs on the field w bad drops… add 10 points to that score and it’s our best offensive performance to date). Bottom line, to be effective this offense has to get back to attacking the middle of the field, be it a coaching / scheme emphasis during the week, or a play-calling / QB focus during the game.

Pass vs Eff

All that being said, Trevor didn’t make any big mistakes (despite being a bit off in his accuracy again – that ankle continues to be a real issue for him), was again good about throwing the ball away, and the Cats almost won this game. I have some other concerns around the red-zone and our scripting coming out of halftime, but I believe the middle of the field is where we can make big inroads.

Win Proj

Game by Game

Not surprisingly, NU’s outlook has dropped a bit, due to the poor offensive showing this week. The model still sees NU in a 50:50 situation vs Nebraska this week. The simulation is honing in on 6-7 wins for the season for the Cats, with this Nebraska game being the real pivot point.

This Week’s Picks:

This year’s stats:

Straight up: 240-99 (70.8%)
ATS: 156-179 (46.6%)
Blog Picks: 11-23 (32.4%)

Here are this week’s picks:

Washington (+21) @ Oregon: The Ducks are at home and have always had Washington’s number, but 21 seems like a lot against a good D and a coach who has taken you down in the past (as opposed to Sark who can’t seem to beat Oregon). Model likes Nike U by 14.

Baylor (-9.5) @ WVU: Everything says that the Mountaineers should cover here and give Baylor a scare… after all, the Bears are coming off a huge comeback win, they haven’t looked great on the road, and WVU is a tough place to play. If this game were a 7pm kickoff, I’d be hesitant to go with the Scuzz Model, but for a ho-hum Noon game? Baylor all the way (model says by 4 TDs.)

Iowa (+3.5) @ Maryland: Will be very interesting to see what happens in this game… Iowa’s rugged grind vs Maryland’s big WRs. The model has been high on Iowa all year – this week will really answer some questions about how good they can be. Model likes Terrapins only by 1.

Kansas State (+10) @ Oklahoma Would feel a lot better about this if it were in Manhattan, but KState absolutely has what it takes to knock off this Oklahoma team, or at least keep it close. The Sooners got beat by TCU, looked marginal against TX, and may be feeling down about their Big 12 and Playoff hopes at this point. Have seen what KState did to Auburn, I really like their chances of keeping OU in check. Model has Sooners by 6.

Tennessee (+17) @ Mississippi: Ole Miss is on top of the world after two huge wins in a row. And now they host the lowly Volunteers. Can you say letdown? Tennessee has played a number of SEC teams tough, and will likely lose, but Ole Miss winning by 17 seems high. Model has Rebs by 15.

Other Notables:
Northwestern (+7) vs Nebraska
Rutgers (+22) vs Ohio State
Stanford (-3.5) @ ASU
Clemson (-7.5) @ BC
Florida State (-12.5) vs Notre Dame

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?
More carnage and we are left with a scant six undefeated teams… shockingly two of which hail from the state of Mississippi. We’re guaranteed to have at least one 1-loss team in the playoff, as ND/FSU and the Egg Bowl will reduce our undefeated pool by two (and let’s face it – Marshall isn’t getting in over a 2-loss team.) I’m very excited for the prospect of two SEC teams and Notre Dame making the cut and upsetting the entire world all over again in the inaugural playoff.

Current Playoff Teams:

FSU, Baylor, Mississippi State & Mississippi

Playoff

Episode 192: Minnesota 24-Northwestern 17

Northwestern took to the road only to find a formidable foe waiting up in the Twin Cities.  We talk about the tough loss against Minnesota as we gear up for this weekend’s homecoming tilt against Nebraska. 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!

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