Football: Northwestern beats Boston College 22-13


Northwestern running back Mike Trumpy runs for a touchdown while wide receiver Tony Jones celebrates. Trumpy’s 27-yard run came on the Wildcats’ 100th and final play. (Rafi Letzter/The Daily Northwestern)

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

With Saturday’s 22-13 victory over Boston College, Northwestern has won all three of its games this season — each in a different way, and all in close calls.

The Wildcats needed a fourth-quarter comeback against Syracuse and a couple of key turnovers against Vanderbilt to win their first two games. But on Saturday, the Cats used their up-tempo offense to run the ball down Boston College’s throats and control the clock.

NU’s offense had its way with the Eagles’ defense, racking up 560 yards on 100 plays. The Cats’ five trips to the red zone, however, only resulted in four field goals and a fumble. Still, the defense made crucial stops to preserve the win over the Eagles.

“This is why I (say) stats are for losers,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Unbelievable ball movement, keeping possession of the ball, putting together great drives, picking up third downs, time of possession, but at the end of the day, we need to turn those three into seven and finish drives. We’re still a work in progress on both sides of the ball.”

The NU offense was a well-oiled machine for most of the game: there was only one drive gaining less than 40 yards and seven drives with ten or more plays. However, four of those long drives resulted in field goals and two of them ended with punts.

The most frustrating drive may have been the 19-play, 94-yard mission, which lasted nearly six and a half minutes in the third quarter. A 15-yard personal foul penalty and a missed connection between junior quarterback Kain Colter and sophomore receiver Christian Jones forced the field goal team out for its fifth try of the game.

“At the end of the day we need to get six points instead of three,” Colter said. “It’s always frustrating when you go from Syracuse, where we were 100 percent in the red zone, to now, where we end up with five field goals. It just comes down to practice and preparing a little bit better. We had a great game plan down there. We just didn’t execute it the best that we could.”

Jeff Budzien made all five of his field goals Saturday to tie the NU record for most field goals in a single game. The junior is now a perfect 8-for-8 on the year, eclipsing his total makes from last season by two kicks. He said he enjoys having the opportunity to get a lot of repetitions during games, but would be happier if the offense didn’t have to rely on him.

Budzien made three field goals from within 25 yards, meaning NU had the ball inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. Fitzgerald said those missed opportunities give the offense tremendous room for improvement.

“It was a little bit like trying to put your finger in the dam,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got a lot of things we need to clean up.”

While the offense stuttered, the NU defense took another step forward against Boston College. The unit held the Eagles to just 25 yards rushing and forced three 3-and-outs from the potent Boston College offense. There were only five drives longer than 40 yards: three ended in scores, a fourth ended with a fumble and the final drive ended the game.

The biggest step forward for the defense was the ability to get off the field after third down. The Eagles only converted on two of 11 third downs and possessed the ball for a mere 24 minutes. Boston College had success throwing the ball for most of the day, but the talented NU defensive line was able to put enough pressure on quarterback Chase Rettig to force 20 incompletions, including several in the red zone.

The offense found ways to stay on the field on third downs. The Cats converted on 12 of 19 third-down opportunities, mostly by being able to keep the distance reasonable with a strong running game. NU ran 60 running plays, allowing the team to amass nearly 36 minutes of possession as well as 293 yards on the ground.

The coaching staff committed to the running game in the second half, with 34 of 46 second-half plays going to the ground. This commitment to being physical got the offensive line going and allowed the running backs to have holes to run through.

“It means they have enough confidence in you to put the game on your back,” sophomore center Brandon Vitabile said. “They wanted us to take over and execute our blocks and use our fundamentals and what we’ve been taught. To get the coach’s confidence like that is pretty awesome in a game that is as close as it was.”

With the win over Boston College, NU completes a grueling three-game opening stretch all against teams from BCS conferences. Fitzgerald said he has learned a lot about his team from these games, mostly about how deep of a team he really has.

Budzien said he has learned more about the Cats’ resolve.

“This team has a different attitude from last year,” Budzien said. “This team is never say die. It’s exciting we’re not playing well for our standards, and it’s scary to think where we could go when we can put three phases together for four quarters.”