Yesterday, the Northwestern Wildcats began the 2012 season on a positive note. But, it almost didn't happen that way.
The Cardiac Cats had a 35-13 lead midway through the third quarter, then Northwestern's defense started to slow down and the Syracuse Orange took advantage.
Northwestern had trouble defending Syracuse's passing game in the second half, in which the majority of Syracuse's 470 passing yards came.
The Orange also outscored Northwestern in the second half 28-21. Northwestern was down 41-35 with 2:40 left.
Kain Kolter was pulled from the game late in the fourth quarter due to an injury he sustained in the third quarter.
Backup Trevor Siemian came in and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields. Northwestern managed to walk out of New York State with a 42-41 victory.
But this pattern is all to familiar with the Wildcats. Last year, Northwestern played numerous games in which they blew second half leads and they either wound up losing, or they needed a last second miracle score to win.
Being a former linebacker, you would think that Cats' head coach Pat Fitzgerald would put a better defensive team on the field.
The Cats always seem to be able to slow down opposing rushing attacks. Yesterday Syracuse only managed to gain 124 total rushing yards.
But in all seven of the Wildcats losses last year, they gave up an average of 300 passing yards. They were also outscored in the second half of those games by an average of 18 points.
And in three of their six victories in 2011, the Cats gave up well over 200 passing yards and only won by a touchdown or less.
It seems to be a recurring theme with Pat Fitzgerald's crew. They perform well in the first half, take a lead at halftime and then collapse in the second half.
The defense starts to give up points and the offense fails to catch up. Yesterday the Cats offense managed to catch up and take the victory.
But they can't continue to play like this all season, especially once the Big Ten portion of the schedule begins.
And this year will not be easy as Northwestern will play conference games against No. 8 Michigan, No. 13 Michigan State and No. 17 Nebraska.
Iowa and Illinois will be tough opponents as well. If the Wildcats are to be successful this year, they will really need to step it up on defense.
Northwestern will go up against some of the best offenses in college football this year. If yesterday's game is any indication of the competition that Northwestern will face, it could be a long season if the Wildcats don't get their defense together.
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