It has been a long, long time since we have had a good chat with Lake the Posts, but they are back to discuss this weekend's game in West Lafayette:
T-Mill: You guys looked the best you have offensively against Notre Dame. What happened? Was it an anomaly or did things finally work?
LTP: Technically it is an anomaly. It felt as if our offensive coordinator, Mick McCall, listened to ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham during the Michigan game. Cunningham begged our staff to ditch the deep drops by Trevor Siemian from the playbook and go with quick releases b/c our offensive line hasn't been able to hold pass protection. Throw in the fact our receivers have struggled mightily this year both to create separation from defenders AND to consistently catch passes along with Trevor's injured ankles and you had a recipe for disaster.
Trevor was in quick release, old school NU spread attack mode. Our receivers not named Kyle Prater were brutal for the first half, but Trevor never lost his focus and had his best game of the year and our WRs finally made plays. With the spread attack going full throttle and Notre Dame's interior line being rather decimated, our fantastic freshman RB Justin Jackson had huge holes to rack up a 149-yard day and create balance for our offense. It was a painful reminder of how good this offense can be when it's clicking.
T-Mill: On the other hand, the normally stout defense gave up 40 points. What were the breakdowns?
LTP: Let's start with turnovers. Northwestern had four turnovers on the day including a fumble that was returned for the equivalent of a pick six. Everett Golson was the first real dual threat QB we faced and our DC Mike Hankwitz was pretty conservative in his approach opting for schemes that relied on contain versus attack. Give credit to ND WR Will Fuller who simply went out and made great plays to put up silly receiving yardage on us. Golson also got an early 61-yard TD scamper that had us on our heels, but half of the points were on the offense coughing up the rock.
I expect our "D" to be back to a 20-point level this week against Purdue. Don't kid yourself though - we are banged up bigtime. We are particularly vulnerable up the gut as several members of the DT two-deep are done for the season. We have three starters on "D" that are out for the year and a ton of back-ups that are questionable. The defense has become a youth movement out of necessity with several freshmen and redshirt freshmen getting big time minutes.
T-Mill: Is there a more up and down team in America than Northwestern?
LTP: I'm sure if we put our minds to it we can think of a few. The ‘Cats, despite the upsets over Wisconsin and Notre Dame, have been a major disappointment. There is a ton of offensive talent on this squad and yet we've been unable to put up points. Fitz has been pretty vocal about the immaturity of this team which is unlike him to go public with that kind of criticism, but it seems to be aging him.
When you beat two top 20 teams and then lose to several un-ranked teams it is a major cause for concern. Wildcat fans are puzzled and left to wonder what could've been this season which was a prime one to make a move in the B1G West.
T-Mill: How much does the possibility of a bowl game help the Cats this weekend?
LTP: It's huge. The seniors are using it as a rallying cry to extend the "NU football family". Fitz has invoked a win-or-go-home playoff mentality on this team that started immediately following the 1-point Michigan loss. If Purdue fans are hoping for a letdown, I'd think again since the ‘Cats know the simple math - beat Purdue and Illinois - salvage a bowl game. Players and fans are all too familiar with the stakes relating to not making it to a bowl for a second straight year - that's not an option
T-Mill: Purdue has played some great running games all in a row here. What edge does Northwestern's spread give?
LTP: If you haven't seen RB Justin Jackson, get ready. Sure, he's no Melvin Gordon quite yet, but he can dodge defenders, pound them and keep those legs motoring like few freshmen in the country. To your point, the contrast between Michigan and Notre Dame was stark. The Wolverines were the only team to stifle Justin all year and they did it by stuffing the box and challenging Trevor to beat them through the air (the receivers couldn't). Against Notre Dame, once the passing got going, Justin had huge holes to work with and he capitalized on it. The passing attack clearly opened up things and Justin took advantage of the opportunity.
Northwestern, like Purdue, has faced plenty of top level rush defenses and with the exception of Michigan, it has been almost a given that Justin will get at least 100 yards on the ground.
T-Mill: Finally, a prediction?
LTP: Boy, this scares me. Whatever I pick, the opposite seems to happen. I have to believe the ‘Cats build upon the Notre Dame win and keep in mind how huge this game is., I expect significant focus and little letdown factor. I'll go with NU 23 Purdue 17