It's Time for Northwestern to Turn Mike Kafka's Legs Loose

Ryan LindleyContributor ISeptember 13, 2009

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 08:  Quarterback Mike Kafka #13 of the Northwestern Wildcats runs against of the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ryan Stadium on November 8, 2008 in Evanston, Illinois  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

I have to admit that after last week’s win over Towson I found myself pleased that Northwestern was able to move the ball without a great deal of running from QB Mike Kafka.

Now, however, I’m starting to see that Mike Kafka standing in the pocket as if his legs are cemented to the ground is not good for the future of NU football. With an inexperienced and inconsistent running game, NU needs Kafka’s wheels if they want to win at Syracuse and in the Big Ten.


If you look at the current state of college football, you’ll notice a lot of teams running the spread offense. If you look closer, you’ll notice that many of those times are effective offensively. If you look even closer, you’ll notice most of those effective teams aren’t afraid to let their QBs run the ball.

In many ways I think defenses are beginning to catch up to the spread, however, they still haven’t caught up to the 12-on-11 advantage a spread with a running QB gives the offense. A great example is Michigan who struggled through a season with Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan, but who now looks awesome with Tate Forcier running the show.


Northwestern has a guy in Mike Kafka who set a Big Ten QB record with 217 rushing yards against Minnesota and who ran over Ohio State until the Buckeyes realized that NU wasn’t going to throw the ball down field that day and made adjustments. Despite this fact, NU ran Kafka only five times against Eastern Michigan and never seemed to run the classic zone read spread play.

Against Towson NU ran Kafka on a zone read to open the game and seemed to put that play in its pocket from then on. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Running Kafka would take the pressure off both NU’s inexperienced running backs and Kafka himself in the passing game.

Teams would have to respect the threat of the QB draw and react slower on drop backs. They also would be forced to add an extra guy to the box and therefore create one-on-one matches with defensive backs which NU could exploit with big targets like Dunsmore, Fields, and Brewer.


If NU offensive coordinator Mick McCall doesn’t get Kafka more involved in the running game soon, many of NU’s future games will look like the second half of the Eastern Michigan game in which a very predictable offense struggles to move the ball.

Every opponent left on NU’s schedule (with the possible exception of Miami Ohio) is good enough to stop the very predictable (run first and second, throw third down) offense that was shown against EMU.

Therefore, NU needs to get back to the roots of the spread offense and use Kafka’s feet like they used Zak Kustok’s wheels to keep defenses off balance, open holes for a junior running back, and create mismatches with a versatile receiving corps.