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The Surprising Success of Northwestern’s Offense (or, the Deviled Eggs of the B1G West) // B1G 2019, Potluck #2

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How does Northwestern’s offense keep ticking despite a million statistical suggestions to the contrary? Our writers look at unexpected successes in food and football.

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Today, for Northwestern Week, we’re talking about surprising successes.

We notoriously wrote about one last month, where we pronounced our unanimous opinion that Naturdays are “better than they should be.”

Food: Something good, for a change.

But what other culinary creation has surprised you with how good it turned out to be? Maybe it was something foo-foo and fancy that immediately made its mark in your memory. Or, maybe it was something sneaky good in your college cafeteria. What’s your “surprisingly good” food take?

Stew: I’ve heard more than a few people say they don’t like pork chops because they’re tough, or flavorless, etc. Like most things, I blame baby boomers. For a long time unfounded fears of trichinosis from undercooked pork caused people to massively overcook pork, and since pork chops are a fairly lean cut, they became incredibly dried out and virtually inedible. Listen folks, there are a total of about 15 cases of trichinosis per year, now. And even the USDA has lowered the recommended temp to serve pork to 143 F. Personally, I prefer pork chops at around 135-140. Salt the pork a couple hours before cooks (dry brining), and cook it to a proper temp, and pork chops are about as good a cut of meat as you can get.

LPW: I recently had a pimiento cheese sandwich for the first time. Damn, that was surprisingly good.

Dead Read: I come from a long line of hillbillies and crackers, and that led me to one weird realization: A fried bologna sandwich isn’t all that bad. Vienna Sausages and Pork N Beans, however, are horrid.

Creighton: Since I love you guys I’m going to give you the recipe for an open-faced Creightonwich. Take a slice of bread of your choosing (I like to use rye, but your standard white/wheat sandwich bread will do) and lightly toast it. Smoosh up some avocado and spread it over the toast. Next, take some jam (strawberry preserves probably work best) and scoop some over the top of the avocado. It’s way better than your standard avocado toast, and more refined than your standard PBJ. Try it and then send me your thank you emails with a check made out for 100 OTE bucks.

MC ClapYoHandz: Well, while we’re on the topic, standard avocado toast. We all remember the old argument against millenials going viral a few years ago, and I distinctly recall my first impression being, “Avocado toast? That doesn’t even sound that interesting.” Then I went somewhere that served it and it exceeded expectations. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the lazy slice of avocado resting on top of a slice of Brownberry wheat like I envisioned. There’s like cilantro and lime and egg and shit going on there. I don’t know, I’d order it again, if for no other reason than contributing to the collapse of our society.

Beez: MC is right that avocado toast was surprisingly good. The #1, no doubting it, irrefutable answer though is deviled eggs. They smell horrific, they generally include mayo and mustard and pickle, which is an odd combo on a not-hamburger, and also they smell like straight garbage. They smell so bad I went like 28 years without eating them. Turns out they’re really, really good though.

Also, I missed yesterday, and a hotdog is absolutely a sandwich. You either (a) include most things as a sandwich, (b) include almost nothing as a sandwich, or (c) pretend like you’re all about inclusion but really your definition is “uh….whatever I feel like it is”

MNW: Lutefisk is excellent. Beez is an idiot.

Football: How does this offense work?

We’re talking about surprisingly good things, because by the numbers, Northwestern shouldn’t have had anywhere near the success they had last season. Just to get this out of the way, yes, the West is Trash yada yada. But it’s still remarkable they won the number of games that they did, on, get this, 4.74 yards per play. That’s good for 107th out of 129 teams. Uff da. (If you were curious, yes, Rutgers and MSU were both worse. But not by much, they had 4.1 and 4.6, respectively.)

So, what’s Northwestern looking at this year? Will they be able to raise this number to respectable levels? Will it matter if they do or don’t? And what player or aspect on your team has been surprisingly successful, even though it really doesn’t make sense that they are?

Stew: They’ve struggled on offense for quite a while, now.

So, yeah, I think it’s likely they’ll still be pretty bad. New QB, still not good OL, no real threats at TE or WR. And last I checked, Mick McCall was still the OC.

LPW: I think we’ll be able to be better on offense. Remember, Clayton Thorson was still recovering from his injury and our starting running back went down. I think Hunter Johnson’s passing game will be better than Thorson’s, and a better coached line will make life easier for Isaiah Bowser.

All of this should be done in spite of Mick McCall’s crappy playcalling. Why oh why did former OL coach Adam Cushing forget to take him with to Eastern Illinois!!!?! If I see one more fucking speed option blown up behind the line of scrimmage I hope Air Willie destroys his house. GAH! Yes, a lot of things went right last year for us, but hey, when you’re team’s on a hot streak, enjoy the ride!

Dead Read: When I looked at the line stats for the league earlier this year, I saw that Northwestern won the West and went to Indianapolis with some poor line numbers, including the worst stuff rate, iirc. Fitz did a nice job of robbing Peter to pay Paul last year, but I am not sure that mediocre (or worse) line play is a way to sustain success in this league - actually, I am sure it is not.

Nebraska’s line play was surprisingly better last year, but much of that can be ascribed to a different scheme. I think Nebby will see more improvement this year. The Big Redaissance is upon us.

MNW: As LPW mentioned both this morning and above before he became a screaming Reddit meme, whether the ‘Cats can raise those numbers to something that’s not “Alright, offense has the ball, I’m gonna go piss” territory depends in large part on how well new OL coach Kurt Anderson can translate his Rowdy Roddy Piper schtick into real improvement in the trenches.

As the ‘Cats have fully embraced Pat Fitzgerald’s wet dream of dialing the offense back to 1995 (complete with Isaiah Bowser as Tall Darnell Autry), we’ve moved away from the late-aughts, early-teens Wildcat offense of “let the QB run for his life and do Kain Colter/Dan Persa things” and into offensive sets where having an athletic superback isn’t enough to make up for a shit offensive line. And it’ll matter if they do this year, because as we’ll talk about tomorrow, the defensive secondary is a cause for concern this year. Scoring more than 2018 is a must.

So keep an eye, as Dead Read notes, on stuff rate and other offensive line metrics. Even a slight improvement (we’re talking YPP in the mid-5s, stuff rate second-quartile stuff) could give Hunter Johnson time that Clayton Thorson didn’t enjoy on a bad knee. And with a wide receiving corps that loses Flynn Nagel and security blanket/superback Cam Green but retains Bennett Skowronek (you know what this is), look for Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Riley Lees to become those new, maddening Northwestern wide receivers who get inexplicably open on 3rd-and-9 on a 15-yard out.

But to answer the last question, perhaps with the exception of the wide receivers, I don’t know that Northwestern has a position group that has been wildly and surprisingly good, perhaps save defensive ends of the last few years. And I think that’s a feature, rather than a bug, of Pat Fitzgerald’s teams. Solid, positional football, maybe with a neck-roll type linebacker to draw those comparisons, but a team that’s going to bore the shit out of you and just be there at the end.

Creighton: I’m not sure a new positional coach and some different schemes are enough to turn Northwestern into a top-50 offense, but if they put a solid enough offensive line on the field my guess is they’ll still be good enough for Fitzgerald’s system of drawing random plays out of a hat to occasionally score touchdowns. If the offense is below average but not bad Northwestern will be good enough to make a bowl game, but I don’t think it will matter nearly as much as how well their defense plays.

I’ll flip part 2 of your question upside down and say that Iowa’s punting has been surprisingly awful for the last several years despite it unironically being a huge part of our strategy, having consistency at the position, and good punters probably not being that difficult to recruit.

Beez: Northwestern’s offense will remain in the bottom ⅓ of CFB and the B1G. But it’ll be better than last season simply because Bowser will develop and the O Line will be better. Competition will be FIERCE with MSU to climb out of the bottom 4 teams in the B1G on offense though.

Poll

How will Northwestern do on offense in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Elite. Top tier. Some other fancy Northwestern words.
    (9 votes)
  • 14%
    Third-quartile.
    (20 votes)
  • 44%
    Cromulent.
    (61 votes)
  • 27%
    Mediocre.
    (38 votes)
  • 7%
    Abysmal.
    (10 votes)
138 votes total Vote Now