Cats lose the “game of inches”

Jake Simpson

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald brought up a football movie speech in his postgame press conference to explain the Wildcats’ inability to come up with the big play.

“Great speech out there by Al Pacino, game of inches,” he said, referring to the actor’s pregame pep talk in Any Given Sunday. “We throw the ball a little quicker, get rid of the ball a little earlier, maybe it’s a different outcome.”

Pacino talked about being “half a step early or late” in the speech, and it appeared the Cats’ offense was off a step for most of the game. While quarterback C.J. Bachér led the Cats to 459 total yards, he also lined up under center 95 times – an average of just 4.8 yards per play.

Bachér also struggled to connect with his receivers down the field. NU had only two plays for more than 20 yards: a 31-yard reception by wide receiver Ross Lane and tailback Tyrell Sutton’s 66-yard run early in the third quarter.

The senior signal-caller pointed to the Spartans’ numerous blitzes to explain the lack of downfield passing.

“On a lot of plays you saw in the first half we were throwing hot, going five-man pro,” Bachér said, describing the Cats’ empty-backfield sets. “If they bring that sixth guy off the edge, we have to throw short. We had a lot of deep plays called where the ball had to be checked down because there was a free guy coming off the edge.”

SUTTON OUTPLAYS RINGER IN LOSS

Despite the loss, Sutton continued his annual domination of the Spartans’ defense. The senior tailback racked up 186 all-purpose yards, including 142 on the ground, as he kept NU in the game with a series of big runs.

Early in the third quarter, Sutton ripped off his 66-yard run, blazing past the Michigan State secondary for the longest rush of his career. The play set up a Cats touchdown and brought the crowd at Ryan Field to its feet.

“I’m a pretty fast guy,” Sutton quipped after the game. “I almost scored.”

On the other side of the ball, NU’s defense limited Javon Ringer, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, to 127 yards on 35 carries. The Cats frequently won the battle at the line of scrimmage to keep the relentless Ringer from breaking a big run.

“If you were to tell me that we’d hold Javon Ringer to 3.5 yards per carry, I’d be pretty excited about that output by our defense,” Fitzgerald said.

EARLY DEFICIT TOO MUCH TO OVERCOME

After the game, the Cats focused on the early 17-point deficit and the difficulty of coming back from the first-quarter hole.

“In the Big Ten, you can’t spot a team 17 points and expect to win,” Sutton said.

The Spartans credited big plays on special teams for their early 17-0 lead. Michigan State senior quarterback Brian Hoyer praised the kicking game for setting the tone early in the contest.

“Glenn (Winston) started us off with the great kick return, and (we) got a fumble recovery on one of them,” he said. “That’s huge right there because it makes it easier on us.”

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