Scuzz Model: Stuck in the Middle or The Gopher Bites
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.
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.
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.
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
Posted on October 17, 2014, in Saturday Morning Stats and tagged College Football Analytics, Northwestern Football, Northwestern Sports Podcast, Saturday Morning Stats. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.