From the same guy that brought you #perspective, here's why you shouldn't be anointing Northwestern anything other than a middle-of-the-pack team in the B1G West.
- Kevin Hogan is Christian Hackenberg on a three-hour delay.
- David Shaw displayed some of the most conservative, abysmally-sad play-calling I've witnessed. Kirk Ferentz could take lessons from this guy.
- Stanford receivers dropped the ball so many times it'd make Troy Williamson blush (that's a Vikings reference, kids).
- An inexperienced DL was Stanford's undoing on defense. Too many times Northwestern got adequate push against a Stanford 3-4 front that started a new three linemen.
- Clayton Thorson can run the ball (as evidenced by his 43-yard sprint to the end zone) and is a hell of an athlete. His passing, though, is a work in progress. He showed off his big brass balls, hitting Miles Shuler on a fade on 3rd-and-8 for 25 yards to set up Jack Mitchell's third field goal of the day, but he didn't look comfortable throwing the ball over the middle yet. If that improves, watch out, Duke.
- Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall finally--FINALLY--joined to call plays in a way that didn't have me punching babies. Besides watching Justin Jackson (more on him in a sec) get stuffed twice on first-and-goal from the Stanford 5, then dialing up an ugly rollout to the near-side on 3rd-and-2, it finally felt like the 'Cats coaching staff got out of its own way. No clue if that'll stick, though, so enjoy it while you can.
- Justin Jackson is a workhorse and fights for the extra yard better than any Northwestern running back since Tyrell Sutton. He's a threat to go for 100 yards in every game this season.
- Northwestern didn't show its whole playbook today. There'll be more Solomon Vault action on the option and Austen Anderson out of the backfield: this 'Cats team goes four-deep at running threats (ignore Warren Long--he's just a big body who can avoid fumbling) and showed more willingness to spread the field and create lanes.
- We had offensive line questions: despite losing C Brad North, the Northwestern OL allowed 0 sacks and helped the running game average 4.2 YPC. That's an outstanding start.
- Defensively, Northwestern shut down Hogan, who never looked comfortable in the pocket, but still needed several Stanford drops. That's not to say that the secondary looked bad, but a higher-tempo team will still expose the 'Cats this year.
- You're gonna hear a lot more about Anthony Walker this year. Despite dropping a pick-six, dude had 10 tackles (5 solo), 3 TFL, and half a sack. The sophomore was all over the place on defense.
- Jack Mitchell was and will continue to be exactly what he is: a serviceable college kicker with a below average leg (thank goodness a little wind was behind him on his 49-yd FG) who can still make big kicks. Northwestern can't keep relying on him from 40+, though.
So what does this all mean?
King of the Nerds
Northwestern gets up to play its rival non-conference "academically-minded" schools. Since Fitzgerald took over the team in 2006, against those "academically-minded" foes, the 'Cats are 12-4. Losses came to Duke in '07 (welp), @Syracuse in '09 (fine), @Army in '11 (triple welp), and Cal in '14 (ugh). Wins are @Duke in '08, @Vanderbilt and @Rice in '10, @Boston College and vs. Rice in '11, @Syracuse and vs. Vandy and BC in '12, @Cal and vs. 'Cuse in '13, @Notre Dame in '14, and now Stanford in '15.
While that's a great stat for Northwestern recruiting, it may say more to Northwestern's ability to gameplan for known quantities and less of their vast superiority (except academically--that's a given). The 'Cats have a chance to keep the momentum rolling against smart schools, though, as they head to Durham for a September 19 showdown with Duke.
Trouble in Palo Alto?
Stanford might still contend for the PAC-12 title, but only if they figure out the mess that is their offense. Pat Fitzgerald admitted in his postgame presser that he expected Stanford to try more play-action. I was surprised as well, as Hogan kept handing off to running backs who were stuffed by a surprisingly stout 'Cats D.
About that defense...
Northwestern's defense will keep them in the hunt for a 5-3/6-2 record in the Big Ten this year, but their still one-dimensional offense could hold them back.