South Side Tough: Mike Kafka Brings It for Northwestern

Ryan DietzContributor INovember 4, 2009

EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 31: Mike Kafka #13 of the Northwestern Wildcats is pulled down by Ollie Ogbu #85 of the Penn State Nittany Lions as teammate Josh Hull #43 collides with a referee at Ryan Field on October 31, 2009 in Evanston, Illinois. Penn State defeated Northwestern 34-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Never in my years of being a Northwestern fan did I think I'd be begging and praying for quarterback Mike Kafka to be under center Saturday against Iowa.

Dare I say he is the best quarterback in the Big Ten?

Pat Fitzgerald once proclaimed him "South Side tough," and the fifth-year senior from St. Rita in Chicago is making a name for himself.

He leads the league in pass yards per game with 243.9 yards per game, which was brought down from not playing the second half last week. He's first in total offense as well, with 271.4 yards per game.

Oh, did I mention he has a 66 percent completion percentage?

Kafka might be a product of the system, yes, but what is wrong with running an offense and putting your team in a position to win? He has turned some heads when many had doubts about his ability to lead the team with only a few returning receivers.

Also, he has only thrown nine touchdowns with seven interceptions to go with it. The red zone offense hasn't been great for Northwestern.

In 2006, Kafka was the man as a redshirt freshman. He led the team to a victory in the opener over Miami (OH) only months after the passing of Randy Walker. He then saw his season slip away after a hamstring injury while mounting a comeback at Nevada.

After years of waiting and backing up C.J. Bacher, Kafka is getting his shot and is making the most of it this year, really keeping the 'Cats in games many times, with a mediocre offensive line and a sputtering ground game. He worked with former Wildcat and current Chicago Bears practice squad player Brett Basanez on his footwork and release to combat his habit of throwing like a center fielder.

So I come back to my point: Did you ever expect this from Kafka? You probably did not, but you sure did expect some great running from him after last year's Minnesota game, where he rumbled for more than 200 yards.

Kafka is playing at an All-Big Ten level and should be in the discussion for first team. Think of who has helped his team more. No. 13 in purple is that guy.

Back to that "South Side tough" line that Fitzgerald uses about him. You bet he's playing Saturday in a game that Northwestern would love to win; at No. 4 Iowa, a team they have virtually owned the last five years.

"My mindset going in is that I'm going in and playing," said Kafka.

You bet he's playing, and the only way he knows how: South Side tough.