The Daily Northwestern

Updated: Football: Despite big win, Northwestern still has room for improvement

Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby takes down wide receiver Terrance Terry of South Dakota during Saturday’s game.

Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby takes down wide receiver Terrance Terry of South Dakota during Saturday’s game.

Meghan White/The Daily Northwestern

Meghan White/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby takes down wide receiver Terrance Terry of South Dakota during Saturday’s game.

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

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Northwestern’s 38-7 win over South Dakota was routine in many ways.

The Wildcats ran the ball effectively, were accurate in the passing game and kept the Coyotes to less than 250 yards of offense. However, the blowout victory also showed just how much work is still left for NU (4-0) as it heads into Big Ten play next week.

“We can get a lot better,” senior defensive end Quentin Williams said. “There’s a lot of areas we can improve in, and we also kind of showed that we’re susceptible to a few things.”

South Dakota exposed some of the weaknesses that the NU defense had in the beginning of the season. Syracuse sliced and diced the NU secondary with quick passes on three-step drops, and the Coyotes had success when they used that tactic. South Dakota deployed quick slant routes to get separation of the Cats’ defensive backs and gain seven to nine yards per catch.

“We watched a lot of tape, especially from the Syracuse game,” quarterback Josh Vander Maten said. “(We) tried to take all we could from that. We did as much as we could.”

However, the Coyotes’ bread and butter is their ability to move the quarterback out of the pocket and into open space. South Dakota rarely kept Vander Maten stationary in the pocket because of the strong pass rush from the NU defensive line. The Cats were constantly chasing Vander Maten, and the sophomore showed poise by rolling out and reading the defense.

By using bootlegs to move the pocket, South Dakota was able to neutralize the pass rush, which coach South Dakota coach Joe Glenn called the strength of the NU defense. The Cats sacked Vander Maten just once and only hit him a couple of times when he threw. By moving the pocket, Glenn hoped to limit the big plays from the NU defense that would have given the Cats more confidence.

“For us to drop back and throw it 60 or 70 times would have been horrible,” Glenn said. “The score could have been even worse if we dropped back and let them sack us and get the (momentum) going for them.”

The lone score for the Coyotes came on a naked bootleg inside the NU five-yard line. Vander Maten rolled out to the left and the only players near him were his receiver Will Powell and an NU defender. Vander Maten said he knew Powell would be able to block the defender, so he decided to run and cruised into the end zone untouched.

The Coyotes’ receivers did little to help Vander Maten in the first half, dropping several passes and costing South Dakota numerous opportunities to move the ball. The second half was much better, and there were no drops from the South Dakota receiving corps. It was the difference between Vander Maten being 9-of-20 in the first half and 8-of-13 in the second half throwing the football.

“We made too many mistakes that just had nothing to do with Northwestern,” Glenn said. “We just didn’t play a clean first half and allowed them to get out 28-0 and we were dead in the water.”

The Cats know Indiana will try to exploit their weaknesses Saturday. Junior linebacker Damien Proby said the team will be ready for whatever the Hoosiers throw at them.

“Coach Fitz, being a former linebacker, he still has the instincts to coach us up on defense and our position specifically,” Proby said. “He knows that the screen is going to come this week. We know that from watching Indiana’s film to knowing where our weaknesses are. The screens, the draws. But that’s something that we’re going to practice with (defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz). We’ll be ready for it by the time the game comes.”

This story has been updated to reflect additional information about Northwestern’s game against Indiana on Saturday.


About the Writer
Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

Josh Walfish was Sports editor of The Daily. His past positions include Gameday editor. He is from Rockville, Md., and has interned for RantSports.