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.

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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.

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Thanks so much for listening and Go Cats!

Scuzz Model: Badger, Badger, Badger…. Wildcat!

#B1GCats:

Pardon the ancient meme reference to open this post. In fact, I don’t think the word “meme” really existed in the badger-badger-badger-snake era, which is telling because the year 2000 is the last time the road team won in the NU-Wisconsin series. It’s surprising to consider this, mostly because the Ryan Field games have been close affairs while the Camp Randall games have generally been blowouts. Still, the fact remains that NU-Wisconsin is an underrated rivalry and I am thrilled we were able to hold up our end of the bargain this past weekend.

I don’t want to be negative, but it was a bit closer to disaster than I would prefer… the 4th quarter in particular brought back a lot of bad memories from a certain trio of games in 2012. Give credit to the Cats as they did just enough to finish of the Badgers – and benefited from an inexplicable pass-play when Wisconsin was on the NU 3 yard line with 8 minutes to play.

Luckily for NU, we were able to run the ball on Wisconsin, continuing to use the stretch / zone plays to the outside that started to emerge a couple weeks back. The coaches were smart to hit Wisconsin with the outside run over and over after Marcus Trotter went down with injury, leaving the Badgers thin at ILB. For me that is a bit of a concern going against the Gophers… in the past, this staff has been bullheaded about running, and I fear we overreact to the success against Wisconsin, and open against MN by lowering our head and barreling into the line over and over again… part of the key against PSU and UW was using the passing game to open up the run – we must continue to throw to ball!  I also think Minnesota has a better run-D (which is finally healthy albeit losing one key DL for the season) and a worse pass-D (which is missing a starting corner this week) than Wisconsin, so the passing attack will be critical;  A game plan similar to Penn State should be the most effective approach.

I mentioned on this week’s podcast I thought this was Trevor’s least accurate, but perhaps smartest, performance of the season. The receivers helped him out (unlike in the Cal & NIU games), the oline gave him time, and he got rid of the ball or scrambled to minimize lost yardage when the protection broke down. His ankle is a real concern going forward, as it limits the zip he can put on the ball and can result in a high release – you’ll recall last year against Minnesota, a back-breaking interception from their LB on a slower-than-ideal-pass. Still, Trevor was spectacular in several spots (final 3rd down play to Vitale & earlier when he checked off Vitale in the flat to find Prater on a cross – these were two of his best plays all year) and like I said had a very smart game decision-wise.  If he stays quick mentally and gets the protection he needs, I think the offense will be fine.

No pass chart this week, as I left it at work, but let me assure you it wasn’t much to look at. NU did not attack downfield nearly as much as in the three previous games – I suspect in part due to the success of the run game. Sweet spots continue to be short passes to Trevor’s left side, and the seam pass to the TE. I noticed that we had some nice crossing routes to Prater that were thrown in stride (not behind him), and utilized his size when covered by a CB and his speed against the LBs. NU will need to successfully exploit this mis-match when defenses concentrate on taking away Jones & Vitale on the opposite side. Would love to see us figure out how to find Prater in the EZ when the field is compressed, but that is easier said than done, it seems.

NU’s statistical profile rose again, though less dramatically, as the model already gave the Cats a 40%+ chance of beating UW. The simulation now gives NU a 78% chance of getting to 6 or more wins and becoming bowl eligible, and 46% of being above .500 on the season.

Game by Game

Win Proj

This Week’s Picks:
This year’s stats:
Straight up: 203-86 (70.2%)
ATS: 137-151 (47.6%)
Blog Picks: 10-20 (33.3%)

The model did alright last week – usually we struggle in some of the big matchup weekends, especially when there are a ton of upsets. The results were a little better than hoped for given all the drama. Here are this week’s picks:

Washington State (+17) @ Stanford: At this point, you have to expect Connor Holliday & Wazzou to lose every game in offensively-explosive and excruciatingly-painful ways. Stanford’s offense is rough around the edges and I expect this to be close. Model actually likes the Cardinal, but I’m going against it this week.

North Carolina (+17) @ Notre Dame: North Carolina has completely face-planted this season, and at this point this game is one of the few remaining things they have left to play for. The Irish, on the other hand, are coming off an emotional, physically-taxing game against Stanford, plus have to be thinking about next week’s matchup w FSU. Model likes ND by 9.

UCLA (+2.5) vs Oregon: This game pits two terrible offensive lines against one another, and pretty much leaves the winner in great shape to survive this conference. UCLA’s loss last week does not make anyone feel good, but I think Oregon has problems everywhere other than QB. The Bruins have the athletes to keep up (Ishmael Adams, anyone?) and I think were caught looking ahead last week. Model likes UCLA by 6.

Penn State (+1) @ Michigan I legitimately thought that Michigan would get it done last week versus Rutgers (however, I certainly hoped they wouldn’t). This week, I am confident that Penn State puts the final nail in the Hoke-experience in Ann Arbor. The Lions have had a week to prepare & get healthier on the Oline. They still will probably struggle to run the ball, but not as much as their opponent… this Michigan team has no punch left, and having lost their best running back to injury is now just waiting the inevitable. Model favors Michigan by 3, but I am picking PSU.

Auburn (-3) @ Mississippi State: I want nothing more than a Bulldog victory in this game. However, against a proven opponent, who will present a much greater challenge than they have yet faced, on gameday, after a big win…. It’s just hard to stay on the MSU bandwagon this week. Should they pull it out… whoa nelly, but I just don’t think it happens. Model has Tigers by 5.

Other Notables:
Ole Miss (+2) @ Texas A&M
Alabama (-10.5) @ Arkansas
USC (-2.5) @ Arizona
Baylor (-8.5) vs TCU
Cuse (+24.5) vs FSU

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

That’s what I call taking care of all the family business in one day. A massive day of upsets, awesome finishes, and college football drama leaves us with scant few remaining undefeated teams. Many of those remaining are in tough spots this week too… Baylor facing TCU, FSU at Cuse (don’t laugh), Ole Miss and MSU in big spots again as well. You may be thinking that Arizona is conspicuously missing… they are such underdogs in their remaining games (including @ASU, @UCLA) that the model gives them a 0% chance of going undefeated at this stage. Beat USC though and they should show up next week.

Current Playoff Teams:
FSU, Baylor, Auburn & Mississippi

Playoff

Episode 191: Northwestern 20-Wisconsin 14

As the Wildcats open their Big 10 conference home slate with a statement win against Wisconsin, we get excited about the complete 180 this team has taken since the opener. 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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