Notebook: Field position swings in NU’s favor

Matt Forman

A week made all the difference in the world.

In Northwestern’s 37-20 loss to Michigan State a week ago, the Spartans’ average starting field position was the NU 49-yard line. The Wildcats’ average start was their own 18.

In Saturday’s 48-26 victory over Purdue, the Cats won the field position battle. Aided by five Boilermaker turnovers, NU scored on drives that started at the Purdue 10-, 12-, 1- and 19-yard lines.

“Field position is huge,” senior quarterback C.J. Bachér said. “Being able to start with good field position means everything. You don’t have to get quite as many first downs, and it’s a real momentum boost.”

A week after turning the ball over three times and forcing no turnovers, NU went plus-two in the turnover battle Saturday.

“It’s the number one stat that I think correlates to victory,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Typically, you win the turnover battle, you have a good chance of winning the game.”For the second time in three Big Ten games, NU forced five turnovers. In their last four games, the Cats have forced 14.


In what he called the offense’s best all-around game this season, Bachér played arguably his best game of the season.

A week after setting a career high for pass attempts with 61, Bachér set another career milestone against Purdue – rush attempts. The senior quarterback ran 15 times for 41 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run.

“I don’t like carrying the ball,” Bachér joked. “I knew that I’d have to run the ball a little bit today. The offensive line did a great job opening up some holes.”When he wasn’t running the ball, Bachér completed 20-of-33 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He threw only one interception, making him 11-0 in his career when he tosses less than two.

“He managed the game well, spread the ball out to our play makers,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s our recipe.”Nine different receivers caught at least one pass, highlighted by freshman Jeremy Ebert’s four receptions and 65 yards through the air.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to spread the ball out to all of our weapons,” Fitzgerald said.Both junior superback Brendan Mitchell and sophomore wide receiver Sidney Stewart caught their first career touchdown pass in the win.


Losing any starter due to injury hurts. If it’s a team’s defensive leader, it hurts even more.Senior middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington injured his left knee attempting to tackle running back Kory Sheets, with six minutes remaining in the first quarter.

The Big Ten’s eighth-leading tackler will have an MRI, and the team hopes to have a status update Monday at the weekly media conference.

“Having Malcolm get hurt is tough,” Fitzgerald said. “Anytime you lose your starting middle linebacker, it’s tough. And Malcolm’s been such a force in the middle for us.” Arrington walked off the field with help from trainers and watched the remainder of the first half from the sidelines.With Arrington sidelined, sophomore Nate Williams filled the position, totaling four tackles.

“Nate’s been a play away all year,” Fitzgerald said. “I love the way he plays and his demeanor. If his role changes, he’s prepared for that.”


In the first BCS Standings released Sunday, NU ranked 22nd, ahead of Michigan State and Minnesota. … With their sixth win of the season, the Cats are bowl eligible. Last season it took NU 11 weeks to earn its sixth win, but the team finished 6-6 and did not receive a bowl bid. … Sutton moved to seventh all-time on NU’s career receptions list and first among running backs with 142. He is in the top-3 nationally in both receptions and receiving yards among running backs this season. … The Cats’ 48 points scored was a single-game high against Purdue.

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