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Northwestern football’s play-calling overly cautious

James Ross III Trevor Siemian

James Ross III, Trevor Siemian

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Luck has played a role in Northwestern’s gut-punching, six-game losing streak, which has left the Wildcats winless in conference play and needing to win their final two games to become bowl-eligible.

But they’re not unlucky. They haven’t made plays. They consistently have forced themselves into game-defining situations in the fourth quarter that have blown up in their face.

It was never more apparent than in the triple-overtime loss to Michigan on Saturday. Increasingly conservative play-calling has allowed opponents to stay in games.

Trapped in a fire, the Wildcats have waited for it to burn out. But it only has gotten worse.

“Every offense needs a couple big plays,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said after the game Saturday. “Again, the weather probably didn’t help that out. It was kind of tough to get the ball in the air and keep it downfield. But credit to Michigan’s defense. They played well.”

Northwestern completed just one pass of more than 20 yards. That’s the same Wildcats team that championed a renewed commitment to the deep ball this offseason. Weather hasn’t always hindered that.

At the beginning of the third quarter, the Wildcats faced third-and-four in Michigan territory. They called a read-option.

Ordinarily, it would be a good call if the slow-moving Siemian wasn’t under center. But it seemed suspiciously cautious. As if Northwestern was so afraid to make a mistake in Michigan territory that it wouldn’t take a risk.

Northwestern hosts conference-unbeaten Michigan State this Saturday. The Spartans would clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game with a victory.

The Wildcats have nothing to lose. If they hope to win their final two games, they’ll have to recognize that.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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