clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

B1G 2015 // The Northwestern Potluck

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Welcome to this week's installment of the OTE Potluck. We're cruising right along through Northwestern week and what do you know, we've got a veritable buffet of purple foods. From caviar to plums, Justin Jackson to whoever it is will be handing the ball off to Justin Jackson, and some talk about insane finishes, we have a packed week. Grab a plate, don't be too shy, and indulge in this week's offerings. As always, there are links to the recipes for most of the dishes so if you want to replicate this purple feast, go right ahead.

image via myrecipes

Appetizer - Sour Cream and Caviar Topped Purple Potatoes

Putting it mildly, Northwestern was an inconsistent team last year. On one hand, they beat Penn State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. On the other hand they lost to Illinois. It was just one of those seasons. With inconsistent offensive play, sketchy defense - especially in the middle of the season, and a lack of identity for great stretches of the year, it seemed like maybe the team hadn’t bought into what Pat Fitzgerald was putting together. While the big wins felt good, this team missed a bowl and come into 2015 with a lot of question marks along both sides of the ball. Knowing both how good - Notre Dame - and how bad - Illinois - this team was last year, which identity seems more in line with what we should expect this year? Can Fitz do his best coaching job yet and move Northwestern back up the ranks or will we be leading of B1G 2016 with the Wildcats next summer?

Candystripes for Breakfast - I don't think we'll be leading with the Cats next year, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be that much better. Of course, I'd be perfectly happy passing over the Crown of Thorns (TM) to LPW if they do lead us off in 2016, so either way, I win.

MNWildcat: The same identity. It will be the same identity, where Pat Fitzgerald and Co. will refuse to decide whether they are a 4-8 team who tries to run the ball down Stanford's throat and fails (just book it--it'll happen) or the 8-4 team that walks into Durham and routs Duke with a high-octane spread attack (just book it--I've been drinking). They will waffle between both, one bounce or slip on wet grass will go better than last year, and I will spend the day after Christmas in Detroit.

LincolnParkWildcat: Hopefully MNW and I will be writing these articles in July or August next year. I think we’ll improve and make a bowl. We don’t have the union distraction clouding up the offseason like last year. I don’t think Fitz will pull off his best coaching job yet, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

WhiteSpeedReceiver: First of all, there's no shame in losing to Illinois.  Everybody should do it every once in a while to make Illinois feel better about itself.   But what if Fitz doing the best job possible leads to nothing better than a trip to the Glen Mason Whogivesashit Bowl?  What if Northwestern's just been passed by a few teams that they have to play every year?  That's starting to look like the case.  Sorry, Cats, but at least you still get to have a pillow fight with Iowa every year and try to beat Illinois.

Thomas Speth: Here's the thing about Northerstern's schedule. There's 2 games that are probable non-conference losses. That means to go bowling they're going to have to win 4 conference games. In my uneducated opinion, Duke and Stanford will tell us how good this team is. The B1G West has the quadrangle of hate, it also has the Crooked Line of Crippling Mediocrity with Iowa, Illinois, NW, and Purdue. Northwestern could very well go 0-3 or 3-0 against those 3. It'll be far easier to tell after they play Duke and Stanford. I could see this team winning anywhere from 3-8 games.

Aaron Yorke: Well the defense was pretty good last year (except when it gave up nearly 300 rushing yards to Illinois with a bowl bid on the line), so Northwestern's fate will depend a lot on the new quarterback and Justin Jackson this season. If those two perform well enough to steal a non-conference game against Stanford or Duke and take down the East Division opponents (Michigan and Penn State again), you could see Northwestern return to a bowl game. On the other hand, there are very few sure wins on the slate, so a couple of bad bounces could spoil the Wildcats' campaign.

Andrew Kraszewski: Ah, but you've already answered your own question, Jesse. That off-the-wall inconsistency is PRECISELY what we should expect from Fitzgerald's Northwestern at this point. I don't see Northwestern falling into the abyss that is an early May B1G 2016 preview. But looking at last year, those two banner wins were over a QB with something that media outlets straight-facedly referred to as "The Yips" and a historically injured Notre Dame team in the middle of a classic Brian Kelly QB Disintegration. Kudos for taking what was offered you. My point is, great as they were for Northwestern, those wins look less genuine when stacked next to getting blown out by Iowa and convincingly beaten by Tim Beckman at home. Trying to reconcile those results is even tougher when you consider that it's not clear exactly what Northwestern even wants to be, let alone what it actually is.

Mike Jones: I expect Northwestern to be about in the same position as they were last season. Either 5-7 or 6-6 with an inexplicable win or loss to make them bowl eligible (or ineligible). I’m sure most people look at a team losing their starting QB as a bad thing but when it comes to Northwestern I’m not so sure that Trevor Siemian was a BAD thing. I think whoever they settle on at QB will be aided immensely by Justin Jackson and whatever plug and play WRs they start. The problem is the schedule. Stanford, @ Duke, @ Michigan, @ Nebraska and @ Wisconsin look like losses. The only sure wins look like EIU and Ball State. Everything else looks like it could go either way.

GoForThree: Pat Fitzgerald is the weird plastic cup from a Yahtzee a game the Wildcats are his dice. Who the hell knows what they'll be from week to week. This is what happens when a position coach for guys in neck rolls gets a head coaching gig based on alumni heartstrings.

image via My New Roots

Salad - Purple Power Salad

I’ve made it known that I think that Justin Jackson is a legitimate threat to make first team All-B1G next season considering his abilities. While his YPA wasn’t extremely high, he kept his legs moving, and as a Freshman, he did the little things to kind of make the Northwestern offense work. Unfortunately, this year means he’ll be beside a new QB and a bunch of question marks at WR. With questions at the skills positions, what is a reasonable outlook for Northwestern’s offense? Can they get back to their spread-it-out ways and actually force defenses to react or have B1G defenses caught up?

C4B: Best case scenario: he takes a page out of Tevin Coleman's 2014. Worst case scenario: He takes a page out of Trent Richardson's pro career. For his sake, I'm hoping he's somewhere in between, but closer to the high end.

MNW: Same shit, different season. If Northwestern spreads it out and gives Thorson some lanes to scramble through, the field will open nicely for Jackson. If the Wildcats re-learn how to use superback-extraordinaire Dan Vitale, Jackson could find lanes on the outside to work with. I expect Jackson to put up 1000 yards (barring no injury) irregardless, but whether or not the 'Cats unproven WR corps can spread the field enough will determine if Jackson's success matters.

LPW: Best case scenario, everyone’s healthy and defenses have to respect Clayton Thorson passing to our WR’s and Justin Jackson getting a lot of yards behind a healthier and stronger offensive line.  Reality might be a little behind that. We need to get back to spreading it out instead of stubbornly trying to run a power offense when we don’t have players recruited for that. Our offensive line returns 3 starters, but as I said on Monday, they weren’t that good last year and we’re also breaking in a new center. The entire offense needs to gel this summer for everything to work.

TS: I know nothing about Northwestern's personnel offense other than Justin Jackson is pretty good. They also need to find a QB. Northwestern's going to need to outscheme people this year, something Fitz is more than capable of.

AY: Any sort of offense that Northwestern deploys ought to focus on getting Jackson the ball as much as possible. Not only did he gain 4.8 yards per carry last year (not bad at all when you check out the fierce rush defenses that NU faced in 2014), but he also picked up 9.1 yards per catch through the air. Whoever the new quarterback is shouldn't be shy about checking down and helping Jackson at least double his 22 receptions from last year. With wide receivers Tony Jones and Kyle Prater moving on, Jackson should be featured heavily in the passing game

AK: Despite better recruiting on paper, Northwestern doesn't have the hogs to run the power sets Fitz became mysteriously enamored with last year. Your best strategy is still what got you out of the cellar in the first place: set up lots of quick, relatively easy timing-based throws for the noodle-armed QB of your choice. With Vault and Long joining the receiving corps alongside Christian Jones, Shuler, and Dickerson, there ought to be enough bodies to make it happen. Maybe said noodle-armed QB has the wheels to scoot for 3rd-and-mediums once in a while, that's a frustrating wrinkle to deal with. I get that Jackson is a nice talent, though I think Zeke Elliott and Corey Clement are mortal locks for 1st Team All-B1G barring injury, arrest, etc. But if you think Jackson's good enough to power-O, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-Astroturf the team to glory behind that line, against that schedule, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

MJ: I probably didn’t expand on it enough last question but Trevor Siemian was awful and him leaving is probably good for Northwestern. I think they’ll actually get back to their spread-it-out ways.

GF3: I'd say B1G defenses have caught up, but they play in the West. So they stand as much of a chance of scoring points as anyone.

image via Brooklyn Supper

Side Dish - Purple Cauliflower with Garlic and Saffron

Northwestern was strangely effective at times - m00n comes to mind - on defense, but I wouldn’t exactly call this a star-studded defense. Arguably the strongest players - safety Ibrahim Campbell and linebacker ChiChi Ariguzo - are gone, and the Wildcats have a few offenses that will be lining up to tee off. The secondary seemed to personify bend don’t break last year allowing a low amount of yards and only 8 TDs in conference play, but will that be enough? Can they generate more than a league worst 17 sacks and second-worst 64 TFL? Do they need to do something schematically different?

C4B: I think "bend don't break" might be good enough this year if they can get stops at key moments. They aren't exactly facing the toughest schedule in conference.

MNW: They'll keep bending but not breaking. The biggest breakdowns last season, in my opinion, came when the 'Cats were either caught off-guard (Cal) or failed to make in-game adjustments (Nebraska, Illinois). The running QB (whatever Cal's was called, Golson, and O'Toole, oddly) gave the 'Cats a lot of trouble, forcing the defense to play on the edges. From my (admittedly hazy) memory, the 'Cats DL wasn't great at actually finishing the play in the backfield, but if the QB didn't leave the pocket or have the time to run, the 'Cats could (by and large--Iowa and Nebraska notwithstanding) do well enough to keep themselves in the game. There will likely be more of that. Hooray.

LPW: The star of the defense will be middle linebacker Anthony Walker. We’ll have plenty of bend but not break defense this year. I hope everyone’s healthy and stronger, especially in the trenches to improve our showing from last year, but it’s hard to tell based on a crazy season like last year.  I don’t think DC Mike Hankwitz will alter the scheme that much, but I could be proven wrong again.

TS: Same as before, they're going to need to outscheme people because I don't see any stars on defense. Fitz has made that work in the past, so we'll see what happens this year.

AY: The good news for the Wildcats is that a lot of their non-stars-but-still-good players are back. If players like Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson can develop into consistent pass rushers, then this unit will be fine. It was certainly good enough to take down Penn State's offense last year, but then again, so was Indiana. I still think the defense is good enough to carry Northwestern to a bowl game.

AK: If that pass rush is going to get better, my money would be on Ifeadi Odenigbo being the guy responsible. Between Fitz's own stubbornness and the unchanged coaching staff, I wouldn't expect any schematic changes. The secondary should be pretty good given the experience returning, and the one thing that can be said about the schedule is it's not exactly chock full of devastating passing attacks, so maybe the lack of a pass rush won't be too damaging, as it generally wasn't last year.

MJ: ChiChi Ariguzo finally graduated? Didn’t he start playing in 2005? Jesus. Has Northwestern ever been a "pressure" team? They remind me a lot of Iowa in the bend don’t break philosophy with a severe lacking of getting any pressure on the QB. I think it’s a scheme thing. If there’s any pressure it’s going to need to come from guys like Greg Kuhar.

GF3: Unless they're hiding some players under that tarp, then no. Rebuilding year...again.

img via

Main Dish - Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish

As we have discussed in the early part of B1G 2015, coaching seems to generally be under a little heat after not making a bowl. The Wildcats under Coach Fitzgerald seemingly have stagnated with two years of missing bowls. That said, the general feel I get from Northwesternland is that things are fine and Fitz and Co. just need to adjust. I realize he’s not going to get fired outside of a major cratering, but how much heat is turned up if he fails to make a bowl? How about if he fails to beat Illinois again? That said, what should be the pressure on his job?

C4B: I think you said it best: nothing short of a massive crater is gonna get Fitz out of Evanston in 2015. That said, if he misses a bowl and loses to the Illini again, 2016 might be his last shot.

MNW: You are correct in getting that general feel. The heat will be turned up, insofar as certain alumni will complain more and fewer fan will turn out. Fitz had sure as shit, though, better beat Illinois. And he better make it to a bowl. He's created his own expectation since the Gator Bowl, and now he needs to live up to delivering bowl games in Evanston.

LPW: The fanbase will definitely be crankier if Fitzy doesn’t make a bowl this season. He’s raised expectations as the winningest coach in Northwestern history, and he needs to live up to them. He knows everyone isn’t happy with the past two years and the pressure he’s putting on himself is probably greater than any pressure he’s getting from AD Jim Phillips. I think the only way he gets canned is if he turns in two 3-8 seasons the next two years. He’s doing everything else right, i.e. academics, recruiting, and representing the school well.

WSR: Fitz is Willy the Wildcat's favorite son.  They can't fire family, can they?

TS: In 2 years he's going to be the longest tenured coach in the conference. They're going to build a statue of him at some point outside Ryan House of Voodoo even if he only wins 4-5 games this year and next. As long as he doesn't crater he's there as long as he wants.

AY: The bloom is off the Fitzgerald Rose, or at least it is from this non-Northwestern point of view. Once considered to have the job locked in for life, the former NU linebacker has turned in two disappointing seasons in a row. Turns out that turning the Wildcats into a consistent winner isn't as easy as Fitzgerald has made it look in the past, but he should be fine with a return to a bowl game this season (and it that scenario I'm thinking they defeat Illinois as well). If not, we could be having serious discussions about the future of the NU program next year.

AK: There should probably be at least a minor adjustment on the thermostat if this team doesn't make a bowl. What, exactly, would the excuse be if they don't? The schedule's pretty tough, yes, but if your staff is in place for going on a decade and you get passed by programs like Minnesota who are basically molding NFL players out of actual, literal clay, what's your excuse for that at this point?  New QB? Two of the options are the most talented signal-callers the school's ever had, ever.

A separate concern is whether Fitz should realistically feel insecure about his job. A few years ago it was gospel that Northwestern couldn't do any better, and that they were lucky to have a capable native son in charge who wouldn't desert them when better programs came a-callin'. I think that belief has changed somewhat, thanks primarily to the first opponent on the schedule. Stanford has proven that even with academic stringency, it's possible to achieve much higher than the mediocre, late-December bowl level of success Northwestern has reached. Moreover, Duke has replicated the results. That's not to say it's easy, but this belief that only Fitzgerald can elevate Northwestern above the muck is starting to feel like unfounded superstition. I'll be clear, though: if you fire him I do think you'll screw up the coaching search and end up right back down there with Purdue.

MJ: Fitzgerald is in Ferentz territory. He’s got a deal through 2020 and makes what, two million dollars a year? He’s also a "folk hero" and has taken Northwestern to places they haven’t been in years (around 63ish to be exact). They won’t fire him because even if they’ve got the money they don’t want to pay for it. If they go 5-7 or 6-6 I think he’ll be fine. If they tank I think there will at least be a little bit of pressure on him in 2016.

GF3: See my comment number one. The alumni love for their homegrown boy seems too strong. And let's face it, Northwestern as a school is generally sort of ok with sucking at major sports. It doesn't bring out the pitchfork-toting mobs like it does elsewhere. They're a private school with Ivy delusions and they seem plenty happy to have a dilapidated stadium, a feel-good coach without much more upside, and a big stupid tarp (hey MNWildcat I made a tarp joke again, because you deserve it). If he misses a bowl, he might be shown the door. But I think that would have a lot to do with other schools searching, too. NU likely doesn't want to be in the hunt if it's a big year for new coach hires.

img via

Dessert - Summer Plum Crostata

Seriously, Northwestern has been part of some of the more insane B1G games of the past few years. It’s like they just manage to win/lose under absurd conditions. Sometimes it’s fun - Nebraska fat guy Hail Mary - and other times you want to claw your eyeballs out - m00n. Regardless, it’s a lot of fun. So, that said, give me your favorite insane finish as a sports fan. Could be your school, your rival’s, something you randomly watched. Just make it exciting.

C4B: I've got to give you two insane finishes, one because it's obvious, the other because 8 year old me wouldn't forgive me if I didn't. Obviously, IU 73 - UK 72 was a bit of a big deal (#WatShot). The other insane finish I remember is Reggie Miller nailing a three late over the Bulls in the playoffs on a bad leg, basically right in the face of Michael Jordan. Sure, the series didn't end how we wanted, but for one game, Reggie > Jordan.

insertname: 0.6 seconds was insanity...

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> were 17 seconds...

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

...and Patrick Kane's did-he-or-didn't-he Cup clincher - which was insane because it was all kinds of weird.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

And one last insane finish has to be that Texas HS football game with all of the onside kicks.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

MNW: Notre Dame. So much Notre Dame. Failing that, the Brendan Smith interception of Minnesota in 2008 or even the Outback Bowl finish against Auburn. That was just such a good game it's hard not to include it. But yeah. Notre Dame. Suck it, Irish.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

LPW: Insane sports finishes? Let’s see: ND last year, NU defeating OSU in 2004, Auburn’s Kick Six against ‘Bama and NU vs Michigan in 2000.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

WSR: I think it goes without saying that 0.6 is right at the top (Enjoy your new coach, Flyers fans. He's shit.), but since this is probably supposed to be about football, I'm going to have to go with Duane Bennett's deflection catch against Sparty on Halloween 2009.  The stadium was loud, alcohol-fueled, and not yet convinced that Tim Brewster was a used car salesman.  Sparty and the refs tried their best, but good overcame evil and the TD that sealed it caused one of the loudest eruptions I've ever heard at a Gopher football game to date.

TS: 2011 B1G Championship Game. DUCKWORTH! WHAT A CATCH AHHHHHHHHH. Gus Johnson is awesome. Also Ben Brust's half court buzzer beater to force OT against Michigan in 2013 was just insane.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

AY: Cal's "band on the field" play against Stanford should be number one on any fan's list. Unfortunately, I wasn't alive to see that one. Some of the best at Penn State would be Tamba Hail's crushing sack on Troy Smith to help the Lions defeat Ohio State in 2005, Kevin Kelly's winning FG in triple overtime of the Orange Bowl that same year, and the Illinois last-second missed FG off the upright to give JoePa his 409th win in 2011. For pro football, the DeSean Jackson punt return TD against the Giants in 2010 still makes me mad. Finally, there was a CFL game where the two teams punted the ball back and forth at the end because the one-point rouge would have made the difference. That was the craziest football play I've ever seen.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

AK: Heh. Well, since it's Northwestern week, I present basically the only high point of the entire season when I was a freshman at MSU: [text to link]

But for a higher-stakes finish involving my own team, you need look no further than the Cotton Bowl. 20-point 4th quarter deficit, blocked field goal, yada yada yada. Wouldn't want to be accused of dominating the discussion with my own positive stories.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

MJ: 7 got 6. That is all.

<iframe width="300" height="225" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

GF3: Best insane B1G finish for me came in the miserable 2011 season. Braxton Miller heaved a TD pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left to down the accursed 15th-ranked Badgers. It was a rare bright spot.

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Jesse: [trollface.gif]

<iframe width="300" height="169" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>