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B1G 2016 // Northwestern Potluck Part 1: Appetizer

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We kick off our Northwestern potluck with the most exclusive food for the discerning Wildcat

rhubarb goat milk cheesecake with onion, served on a lavender air pillow
John Black aka cypheraudio on Flickr

Appetizer: Rhubarb goat milk cheesecake with onion, served on a lavender air pillow!

It’s from a few years ago at Alinea, a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Lincoln Park for the most discerning molecular gastronomist.

MNW: It’s no secret that Northwestern struggled on the offensive side of the ball in 2015. But looking back at how they stumbled to the 111th-best offense in S&P+, producing only 19.5 offensive ppg (114th) while riding Justin Jackson the BALLCARRIER into the ground (1418 yards on the nation’s 3rd-most carries, 312). Freshman QB Clayton Thorson struggled mightily, ranking 110th out of 114 qualifying QBs in passing efficiency (95.9) and Mick McCall’s playcalling consisted of "run, speed option, incomplete pass, 4th and 13." Oh, and this year’s projected wide receiver starting corps is led by Austin Carr (16 rec, 302 yds, 2 TDs in 2015), Solomon Vault (a converted running back), and Marcus McShepard (a converted defensive back). Shit. A competent offensive line returns, but whether Northwestern has the skill to actually hit paydirt in 2016 remains to be seen.

So we ask you, humble OTE writers: While it’s tough to get much worse, will the Northwestern offense improve in 2016, and if it does, who will be responsible for the improvement? Secondly, who, to you, was historically the most maddening Northwestern player on offense for your team to play against?

Stew: Yeah, they’ll probably be better, but my guess is that it will only be marginally. Nothing has really changed; same RB, QB, OL, worse WRs, TEs (fuck you), same damn OC and HC. Yeah, maybe there’s some improvement, but it’s not likely to be a huge jump.

As to who was the most maddening, name any of the exact same fucking QB jNW had between 2005-2012. Mike Kafka, Brett Basenez, C.J. Bacher, Dan Persa were all the same fucking guy.

Al NamiasIV: The NU offense will be better--not 30 PPG better, but notably better. If you look at past Northwestern offenses that have been successful, you’ll find one key, common component: a quarterback who could get creative when he had to and who could hit at least 60 percent of his passes. Last year, Thorson, a freshman, hit 50.8 percent of his passes. In fact, the problem with the Northwestern offense for the last two years has been a lack of a quarterback who can do what a Northwestern quarterback has to do. Siemian was never that quarterback, but when combined with Kain Colter in 2012-13, he was. Without Colter, the NU offense under Siemian never came together. Time will tell if Thorson can be that quarterback, but he was a freshman. I expect notable improvement that will turn up on the scoresheet.

As Stew said, all of those quarterbacks were awful for Iowa to play against, but I was at the 2010 game when Persa went wild on Iowa in the final quarter. Man, that was awful.

Thumpasaurus: It might not get noticeably better. Jackson returns, but unless McMcMcMcMcCALL has some radical new ideas, there’s now a whole season worth of tape on what they’re going to run. Against teams that can stuff the run, this could be disastrous (see Michigan last year). Inexperience at receiver pmeans that either Thorson needs to make the passing game happen himself or the offense needs to lean even more on Justin Jackson. Is this even possible?

That Mark Venric dude was pretty legit for a hot second.

Andrew Kraszsewski: Probably, if only because QB experience usually helps. But it won't feel any better if Fitz continues to play it so close to the vest. And how none of those theoretically better recruits have turned into impact receivers is beyond me, but a couple of those would be helpful. Oh, Markshausen, where art thou?

LPW: I’ve got hope Thorson gets better with his footwork and his reads/timing, and our new-look wide receiving corps can connect with him. Failing that, feed JUSTIN JACKSON THE BALLCARRIER and bring on the artisanal punting! I’ll elaborate more on this tomorrow, but McMcCall needs to get his head out of his ass and call better plays.

It’s damn weird typing that. I’ve been a season ticket hoder for 15 years, and I’ve seen Northwestern’s offense change from a dink and dunk spread attack with a shaky defense to now three yards and a cloud of dust via Justin Jackson THE BALLCARRIER paired with a lights out defense.

If we have another shitty passing season, it’ll be too damn easy for everyone to key on Jackson and try to shut us down.

WSR: I’d be worried, if I was a Northwestern fan. The best offensive performance in conference in terms of scoring output came chock full of miscues from opponents (YOU’RE WELCOME!). Thorson showed some flashes of competence mixed in with some flashbacks to Northwestern QB play that I knew and loved (looking at you, Purdue game) in the dark distant past. If he can make some strides towards consistency, it could go a long way to making Northwestern’s offense less putrid.

Also, Zak Kustok can just fuck right off.

LPW: Hey WSR, InsertName:

C4B: Just remember, there’s always optimism that IU Football will suddenly find a better defense each year, or at least not get worse. This is the standard you are attempting to beat.

Thomas Speth: I mean you return your starting QB… Oh wait that means basically nothing if he isn’t good. Well you have Justin Jackson back, and honestly Clayton Thorson will probably be better. Well Stave didn’t, but Thorson will. Or he won’t. I don’t know, Peavy caught it.

Aaron Yorke: Yes, the Northwestern offense will improve in 2016. The major factor will be the continued greatness of Jackson, but the biggest difference should be in the play of Thorson, who ought to be better at throwing the ball this year. I mean, he only completed 51 percent of his throws in 2015 with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. If he doesn’t improve on those figures during the first four games of the season, which are all at home against not-so-great defenses, it might be time to find someone else. As for the wide receivers, there were only 174 completions to go around last year, so it’s kind of hard for a star to emerge. Hopefully someone will as Thorson gains more consistency. Also, find someone to spell Jackson once in awhile so that he isn’t washed up by his junior year. That will help.

The most historically maddening Northwestern offensive player for Penn State to play against is backup quarterback Zack Oliver because we knew he was terrible but he nevertheless threw his only touchdown pass against the Lions last year and converted a key third down late in the fourth quarter because Bob Shoop went to the blitz well one too many times. So frustrating!