ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The first half of play for Northwestern on Saturday mirrored the weather conditions: ugly.
C.J. Bachér made sure the second half was a different story.
The senior quarterback led the Wildcats on two scoring drives on NU’s first two possessions of the second half, turning a 14-7 halftime deficit into a 21-14 lead, which held up.
Bachér had a rough first half, completing 6-of-11 passes for 40 yards and an interception. He responded with a strong second half, going 11-of-18 for 158 yards and two touchdowns. After sitting out the last two games with a hamstring injury, Bachér returned to form and played arguably his best half of football this season.
“It’s been a little frustrating,” Bachér said of the injury. “It took me long enough to get going, but in the second half… it was just pitching and catching, throwing darts.”
On third-and-goal from the Michigan 17-yard line, Bachér stood in the pocket as the Wolverines brought pressure. The gunslinger stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and threaded the needle in between two defenders to senior wide receiver Ross Lane, tying the score at 14.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Bachér went 3-of-3 on the Wildcats’ next drive. His third pass of the drive was a 53-yard strike to senior wide receiver Eric Peterman. Bachér made a read at the line, noticed a mismatch, and capitalized by hitting Peterman on a skinny post behind safety Charles Brown.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he was proud of the way Bachér responded in the second half because of the way he stayed within himself.
“When he does that he’s as good a quarterback as there is in the Big Ten,” Fitzgerald said. “He wants to win. And when you have that attitude as a senior captain, I couldn’t ask for more.”
GETTING OFF THE FIELDIf one thing hampered NU’s defense against Ohio State last Saturday, it was its inability to get off the field.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor shredded the unit, especially on third downs, converting 7-of-9 when needing eight or more yards.
On Saturday, the Cats allowed Michigan to convert just 5-of-20 third down opportunities.Fitzgerald said the improvement came in several defensive areas.
“I thought it was real important,” he said. “I thought we had pretty good rush all day. I thought we had good underneath coverage and I thought we tackled really well on the perimeter.”
Of Michigan’s five drives in the third quarter, four were three-and-outs. That helped NU maintain the momentum from its 14-point scoring outburst.
“We just stayed the course, didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and did what we do,” Fitzgerald said.
STRONG SECOND HALFFor the fourth time this season, NU shut out its opponent in the second half.
Despite being on the field for 18 minutes, the Cats’ defense allowed just 102 yards of total offense in the third and fourth quarters combined.
“I don’t know why, but we just bring something extra in the second half,” senior defensive tackle John Gill said.
Gill said defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and his staff make halftime adjustments that allow the defense to lock down in the final 30 minutes.
The defense allowed just 27 passing yards in the second half. More importantly, when Michigan held the ball inside NU territory on its last two posessions, the defense forced quarterback Nick Sheridan to complete just 1-of-9 passes.
QUICK HITSWith 183 yards of total offense in the game, Bachér surpassed 7,000 career yards to move into fourth place all-time in school history… NU has won eight games 10 times in school history, five of which have come in the last 103 years… The win was NU’s sixth all-time at the Big House… For the first time since 2003, the
Cats have won four games on the road, compiling a 4-1 record away from Ryan Field.