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