Wildcats’ offense goes flat late in loss (Football)

Matt Baker

As the offense goes, so go the Wildcats.

In Northwestern’s five wins, the offense has averaged 513 total yards. In its five losses, NU has averaged just 347, including 393 in Saturday’s 28-17 loss to Iowa.

The offense combined for 1,200 yards in wins against Michigan State and Minnesota. But that same unit totaled only 211 first-half yards against lowly Eastern Michigan and four fourth-quarter yards against Purdue.

“It’s always a concern when you don’t have consistency on your team,” said junior wide receiver Eric Peterman, who had six catches for 52 yards Saturday. “That’s something we tried to focus on this week, being consistent with our play and trying to flush out those times when we look really good then look really bad.”

But that inconsistency continued to plague the Cats on Saturday. The offense dominated early, holding the ball for more than 11 minutes in the first quarter and ending the period with two touchdown drives.

But after racking up 196 yards in the first quarter, NU stumbled, totaling just 197 yards the rest of the game.

“It’s really strange when you feel like you’re executing very well, you’re moving the ball and putting points up on the board and all of a sudden it stops,” said junior quarterback C.J. Bacher, who finished 27 of 54 for 264 yards, with three interceptions and one touchdown.

“You’re doing the same thing, running the same plays, but it’s just not working out,” he said. “One guy maybe making a mental error or something, that can screw up a whole play. We’ve just got to have better focus and execution.”

Senior center Trevor Rees said some of the offense’s lack of execution came from an offensive line that gave up six sacks – five in the fourth quarter.

NU had chances to get the momentum back but missed two key field goals, including a 34-yarder that was blocked at the end of the first half. After defensive end David Ngene sacked Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen and forced a fumble at the Iowa 32 in the fourth quarter, NU went three-and-out.

“When we look back on this one (Sunday), we’re going to see opportunities we left out there on the field,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “At the end of the day, we needed to do a much better job of making our guys be consistent and more disciplined to give us an opportunity to win, and I take that squarely on my shoulders.”

MASTERING SACKS

For most of the season, Fitzgerald said he knew his defense was capable of sacking opposing quarterbacks, despite its nine sacks going into Saturday’s game.

Finally, the Cats delivered against the Hawkeyes, totaling six sacks – two each by defensive linemen John Gill and Ngene, and one each by defensive back Sherrick McManis and linebacker Rejaie Johnson.

“You guys didn’t believe me when I told you they come in bunches, did you?” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve been saying that all year, and we got a bunch today. We’ve got talented men out there, and they work diligently. It’s just we’ve been about a step away most of the year, and today I felt we had our best rush of the year.”

BOWL HOPES DWINDLE

NU’s hopes for a fourth bowl bid since 2000 took a hard hit Saturday with three bowl representatives watching the Cats’ home loss from the press box.

Although NU needs only one win to become bowl eligible, 10 of the conference’s 11 teams are still alive for one of the Big Ten’s seven automatic bowl berths. Because of the Cats’ weak non-conference schedule and the school’s size, NU would likely need to win its final two games to secure postseason play.

“Your backs are against the wall,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to take seven wins in this league to get to a bowl game, I would assume. If that’s what we aspire to be, to put this team’s name up on this stadium for eternity, you need to send your seniors out the right way, and you need to go out and have a great week of practice, get your attitude in the right spot and after 24 hours let this loss go.

“We got what we deserved.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]