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.
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.
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