The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0) kicked off the 2009 season with a relatively easy win over the Towson Tigers (0-1) of the FCS, 47-14.
Northwestern utilized its backups early and often after building a 21-0 first-quarter lead, thanks to an oft-used running game and an efficient passing game.
Starting QB Mike Kafka led the way through the air, going 15-of-20 for 192 yards (a respectable 75 percent completion rate). Backup QB Dan Persa went 1-of-2 for 72 yards and a TD, although his incompletion was actually a completion to the other team (i.e. an interception), the 'Cats' only turnover of the day.
In the running game, NU got six different backs in on the action, including true freshman Arby Fields, who ran for two TDs, and sophomore Scott Concannon, who also hit paydirt twice.
Sophomore Jacob Schmidt was the one who scored first, though, running in for a two-yard score on the 'Cats' first possession. In fact, the Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the day and didn't punt until the third quarter. T
he offense was rather efficient as a whole, despite spending much of the second half bleeding time from the clock, gaining an average of 6.4 yards per play.
The NU rushing attack yielded 4.1 yards per carry, rather impressive given the fact that Towson knew what was coming for much of the day as NU attempted to milk its lead.
Even senior superback (FB, really) Woodsum got in on the action with six carries for 17 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats converted 12-of-17 third down tries (70.6% conversion rate), with WR Andrew Brewer grabbing a couple of those converting-receptions. Speaking of senior WR Brewer, he had a career day with six catches for 145 yards, including a 72 yard TD grab.
On the other side of the ball, Northwestern did fairly well, holding the Tigers to just 205 total yards of offense, while generating two takeaways (both interceptions).
The NU D allowed just one drive over 50 yards (a 78-yard drive that ended in Towson's first TD of the day in the second quarter), and added two sacks (both on the same drive in the third quarter once the backup defense was in the game).
Although it was a bit disappointing not to keep Towson off of the scoreboard completely, the NU defense did rather well, despite playing second and third stringers for much of the game, and showing very little in the way of blitzing.
In the final phase of the game, the Wildcats special teams did fairly well, with P/K Stefan Demos indeed taking over all kicking duties (although Steve Flaherty did take on extra-point and kickoff duties in the fourth quarter).
The 'Cats went 6-of-6 on extra points and 1-of-1 on field goals (a Demos 26-yarder), and allowed only 16.7 yards per kickoff return (NU's one punt wasn't returned).
Demos scored the first points of his collegiate career as a starting placekicker, which NU fans hope will be successful and consistent.
The one gaffe was Demos' opening kickoff going out of bounds; fortunately the NU defense didn't allow Towson to sniff a first down on that drive.
Overall, it was a great warmup to the rest of the 2009 season for the Wildcats as they scored early and often, allowing the backups a lot of reps on the field.
The 33-point margin of victory was Northwestern's largest since beating MSU 49-14 in 2005.
Now, the 'Cats can prepare for Eastern Michigan, who visits Evanston next week, and watch the replay of Minnesota's overtime win over Syracuse, as the 'Cats face those two teams in consecutive weeks later this month.
Player of the Game:
Northwestern QB Mike Kafka (15-of-20 for 192 yards passing, 6 carries for 6 yards)
It was difficult to pick out one player for this award in a game where so many players got a chance to play and contribute, along with the fact that this game was so run-focused for NU (the 'Cats ran the ball 54 times and only attempted 22 passes).
But, the senior QB took the reins and led the team on scoring drives for his first three drives before yielding to backup QB Dan Persa, then came back in to lead drives later in the game.
Many questioned his passing abilities, but a 75 percent completion rate for a hair under 200 yards isn't a bad start. In the coming weeks he'll have a chance to really come into his own.
Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- WR Andrew Brewer (6 catches for 145 yards and 1 TD)
Brewer held up to his billing as Northwestern's No. 1 receiver in 2009 with a breakout performance against Towson.
The play of the day was his 72-yard TD reception from Dan Persa (Persa's only completion of his collegiate career), showing that he has the speed to break away and take it to the house.
- RB Arby Fields (6 carries for 48 yards and 2 TDs):
Fields did look like the "second coming of Tyrell Sutton" as No. 19 made nice-looking cuts with the ball on his way to one of his two scores on the day.
He left the field with cramps (it was a warm day in Evanston), but based on his performance he'll be expected to contribute to NU's running game the rest of the year.
What to Work on:
- Offensive Line:
The NU OL didn't exactly blast away it's less-talented opponent, even racking up four holding calls.
The plus side is that the coaching staff got the chance to see a lot of them play, including true freshman super-recruit Patrick Ward, so they can insert the best combination in future weeks.
Although NU racked up a lot of rushing yards, most of that can be attributed to Fitz running down the clock as early, and as much as possible; the OL didn't exactly clear gaping holes for the RBs to penetrate. They will surely be tested over the next few weeks, though, as the level of competition increases.
- Defensive Line:
Yes, DC Mike Hankwitz likely kept the schemes basic so as not to reveal anything to future opponents, but the starting DL didn't exactly impress.
The two sacks recorded were by the backups in the second half, and the starters never got a lot of pressure on Towson's freshman QB, despite facing a relatively weaker opposing line.
Hopefully, NU fans will see the Wildcat DL step it up a notch in each of the next couple weeks as they'll be looked upon to lead the D against more formidable offenses.
- Today marked my 54th consecutive Northwestern home game in attendance, although that pales in comparison to the family that was honored after the third quarter who had held NU season tickets for 80 consecutive years.
- Attendance was under 18,000; not surprising given the fact that it was Labor Day weekend and NU was facing a distant FCS opponent. Hopefully continued success on the field along with more promotions will yield improved numbers as time goes on.
- The 'Cats did themselves no favors on penalties, racking up six for 45 yards, and that's not even counting a couple holding calls that were declined by Towson. There were four holding calls on the day against NU (including two that were declined); not a great start for the Wildcat offensive line.
- Two true freshman saw the field before they've even taken their first collegiate class: RB Fields and OG Patrick Ward; both were highly touted recruits. Fields had a solid first appearance, racking up 48 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just six carries; he came out of the game with cramps due to hydration problems in the second half.
- Northwestern experienced one significant injury today, with RB Jeravin Matthews going down with an ankle injury that will be dealt with day-to-day. Matthews had three carries for 11 yards on the day.
A solid start for the Wildcats in the 2009 season with a very comfortable win against a "cupcake" opponent.
NU performed well in all phases of the game and saw a lot of players get valuable playing time (NU played a total of 71 players against Towson, meaning the vast majority of players on the roster saw the field).
The 'Cats established a presence on offense, which needed solid footing after losing all of the skill position players from a year ago, and had a good all-around game that gives Northwestern a great start to the year.