The Daily Northwestern

Stat up, Stat down for football 2013

John Paschall, Reporter

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With spring practice coming to a close Saturday, let’s take a look at some statistics from last year and make some (really) early predictions on which direction they will be heading next year.

But first, here’s a number to think about: 60 percent.

The answer to what statistic that represents will be at the end of this post.

STAT UP

Venric Mark with 104 receiving yards

The senior running back enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2012 and seems motivated this spring to show he’s not a one-year-wonder. You will see later in this post what I think about his rushing numbers in 2013, but for now let’s talk receiving. After watching Mark make plays all over the field last year, it’s somewhat surprising to think that he barely eclipsed the century mark in receiving yards. In fact, senior quarterback Kain Colter had more receiving yards in one game (131 vs. Indiana) than Mark did all of last year. I expect Mark’s number to possibly double next year for one main reason: the depth at the running back position. Last year, the backfield lacked a second explosive, speedy ball carrier. Senior Mike Trumpy was very effective when called upon, but, athletically speaking, there’s no comparison between the two players. Redshirt freshmen Stephen Buckley and Malin Jones have shown flashes of speed and quickness this spring and will likely see an increased role in 2013. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mark line up as a receiver this year and catch bubble screens while Buckley and Jones are with Colter in the backfield.

Christian Jones with 412 receiving yards

Jones led the Wildcats in receiving last year with this stat but this isn’t as much about Jones as it is the passing game. It’s the lowest total receiving yards for an NU leading receiver since 1999 when Teddy Johnson had 354 yards. Like the running backs, the receiving group is very deep as well heading into 2013. I’m not going to make any predictions now in terms of who will lead the team in receiving yards (you’ll have to check back in August for that one), but I do believe the Cats will face more defenders in the box this year than last as teams try to limit the run, especially when Colter is in the game.

7 total INT for NU QBs

In my opinion, this was one of the more overlooked stats coming from last year. This is the lowest total of passing interceptions in a season in the Pat Fitzgerald era. What is even more incredible is that 3 of those interceptions came in the Gator Bowl. Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian and Colter were able to do a tremendous job taking care of the ball through the air, and that prevented opponents from gaining any kind of momentum. But as good as last year was, it’s really hard to see those numbers duplicated. I don’t think we will see a dramatic increase in this category but I expect the number to be slightly higher than seven.

NU defense with 28 total sacks

With the loss of senior defensive linemen Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams, the Cats will lose 8.5 sacks from their total last year. But this unit continues to get more and more athletic with each recruiting class. Senior Tyler Scott, who tied for the lead in the Big Ten in sacks last year, will be the leader of this group (and probably the entire defense) and will put up strong numbers again. But throw in guys like redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, sophomore Dean Lowry and sophomore Deonte Gibson (just to name a few), and you have yourself four solid pass rushing options. Add in blitzing linebackers sophomore Drew Smith and junior Collin Ellis and it’s hard to see the defense coming up short of their mark last year.

NU offense with 16 allowed sacks

Even though there are a lot of question marks for the offensive line heading into 2013, I have no doubts that offensive line coach Adam Cushing will have his guys prepared and they will hold their own this year. So why is this number increasing? It has more to do with the competition they will be facing. Gone are the likes of Penn State and Indiana, and in come the “big boys” like Wisconsin and Ohio State. Again, I don’t see a major increase, but I think there will be a very slight uptick.

Let’s take a break for a quick “Did you know?”:

Did you know the Cats outscored their opponents by 153 points in the first three quarters combined yet were outscored in the fourth by 27?

STAT DOWN

Mark with 1,366 rushing yards

This isn’t me predicting an injury for Mark or anything like that. It’s just simply the fact that this is a very deep area for the Cats. Trumpy, Buckley and Malin Jones will get more carriers this year along with junior Treyvon Green. There’s so much talent now in the backfield that NU can afford to give Mark a couple extra breaks to keep him fresh for later in games, and the offense won’t see a dramatic drop off.

Opponents on 3rd down with 41 percent conversion rate

Not a lot of people knew what to expect for the defense heading into last year. But I’ll give you one non-statistical related change you will see coming into this year: team speed. This defense is laced with speed from its lineman to the secondary. Last year’s “weak spot,” the secondary, will be much improved with junior Ibraheim Campbell and sophomore Nick VanHoose returning. The addition of hard-hitting sophomore safety Traveon Henry and junior cornerback Daniel Jones to the lineup (assuming they are both named the starters at their positions) will help solidify the back of the defense.

Mark with 18.7 yards per punt return

This one seems somewhat obvious to me, but anytime you tack on “All-American punt returner” to your name, the chances of the opposing team punting to you go dramatically down. Again, I don’t think Mark will regress this year, it’s just the cat is out of the bag on how special of a player he is.

And now for the number to think about:

60 percent refers to the Cats’ offensive red zone touchdown percentage.

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