First in Legends not a lark for a Northwestern team firing on all cylinders
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org September 26, 2012 8:40PM
South Dakota running back Jasper Sanders (5) is tackled by Northwestern linebacker David Nwabuisi (33), linebacker Damien Proby (46) and defensive line Quentin Williams during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. Northwestern won 38-7. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: October 29, 2012 6:39AM
The first goal on the wall in Northwestern’s team meeting room is “consistently prepare for victory,” which the Wildcats have accomplished during their 4-0 start. The second goal is more specific and was uncovered recently: “Win the Legends Division.”
Every team in the Big Ten wants to win its division but that goal seems more obtainable for the Wildcats for reasons within and outside of their control. To their credit, the Wildcats have displayed many of the traits of contender during their nonconference schedule. There’s the undeniable fact that the Big Ten appears to be sinking to a new low. All of a sudden, upcoming games against Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan appear less daunting with those teams losing a combined four games.
“We still have a big thing to prove to other Big Ten members as to who we actually are and what we can do,” linebacker Damien Proby said.
The Wildcats have controlled the line of scrimmage in their first four wins. That’s the biggest reason for optimism as they prepare for Sunday’s Big Ten opener against Indiana at Ryan Field.
With left guard Brian Mulroe, left tackle Patrick Ward and center Brandon Vitabile leading the way, NU has not only had a superior offensive line than their opponents but the unit has worn opposing defenses down as the game progresses, helping the ’Cats average 221 rushing yards.
The backfield duo of Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy gives them a combination big-play ability and short-yardage toughness that teams covet.
The defensive line’s success has been the bigger surprise. This will never be a unit that piles up sacks but they have gotten pressure when they have needed it and have been suffocating against the run, holding opponents to 73 yards per game, which is 11th best in the country.
Fitzgerald will need more from his passing game as the Big Ten season unfolds. There is reason to believe he’ll get it because he might have the best receiving corps in the conference and backup quarterback Trevor Siemian, who is a better pure passer than Kain Colter, is likely to get more snaps when more passing is needed during conference play.
Neither Colter nor Siemian has thrown an interception. Only nine teams in the country can make that claim.
“They’ve handled the expectations we have for that position well,” Fitzgerald said. “They haven’t forced things or tried to do too much.”
A reliable kicker is essential when a team plays as many close games as the Wildcats do. Jeff Budzien has been that so far. Budzien attempted only 10 field goals last season, making six. Not only is the junior 8-for-8 this season but kickoff specialist Steve Flaherty contributed a 39-yarder against South Dakota.
Add it all up, combine it with how more traditional Big Ten powers have looked thus far, and Northwestern’s goal appears within reach.
“You get to find out what’s in your belly when you start playing Big Ten football,” Fitzgerald said.