Last year I asked ESPN's James Quintong about his alma mater Northwestern. Now it is time to take on the Wildcats again, so I asked him back to get us up to speed on NU. Although he's a Cat, James's brother is an Eagle, so he's familiar with BC and our recent struggles. My questions and JQ's answers below.
ATLEagle: Last season BC prepped for Persa. Of course Colter started and killed BC on the ground. Now Colter is less than 100% and NU is playing two QBs. Who plays Saturday and how should BC try to shut the offense down?
James Quintong: I still think Kain Colter will start on Saturday despite a subpar passing game against Vandy. Part of that, though, was due to some uncharacteristic drops from a solid NU receiving corps. Colter did make up for that with a great game-sealing 29-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter. Overall, Colter is the most dangerous player in the offense given the many ways he make plays, running, throwing and even catching the ball. However, Trevor Siemian has shown he can lead the team in late situations (he was under center for the go-ahead field goal against Vandy), and he's probably the better "traditional" quarterback. I think NU can put up points no matter who's at quarterback, although each gives the team a different look.
However, the early star on offense this season is speedy junior Venric Mark, who was already a huge factor in the return game during his career (and returned a punt against Syracuse for a TD) and now has become the 'Cats' go-to running back. He may be a little guy (listed at 5-8, 175 pounds, and teammate Tyris Jones compared him to Gabby Douglas in training camp) but he looks comfortable carrying the load so far. He might be the key to stopping the NU's attack at this point, as he can open things up even more for the quarterbacks, or at the very least bail out the offense if the quarterbacks aren't getting the job done.
ATLEagle: Syracuse put up a ton of yards and points in the opener. Last week, NU contained Vanderbilt. Which unit is the real Northwestern defense?
James Quintong: I was impressed by NU's defense in the second half against Vanderbilt, although I still think the defense is a little bit closer to the one that got lit up by Syracuse. In fact, Vanderbilt was making plays in the first half before the 'Cats turned things around later. The secondary is still somewhat vulnerable, and the pass rush has had its moments, although the run defense has been pretty decent so far. The one thing that has helped NU in both games this season is forcing turnovers at critical times. Both turnovers against Syracuse turned into TDs, while NU stopped a late first-half Vandy drive with a fumble (opening the door for the second-half comeback) and sealed the win with another fumble recovery. Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo has been the big-play guy so far (getting both turnovers against Syracuse), while defensive end Tyler Scott had a sack and a forced fumble against Vandy.
ATLeagle: The Wildcats are 23-16 under Fitzgerald at home. Spaz isn't great on the road. Would you consider Ryan Field a tough place to play in general? Any advice for BC fans making the trip?
James Quintong: The 'Cats have done pretty well with nonconference home games under Pat Fitzgerald, but during Big Ten play, it's not unusual for Northwestern fans to be in the minority at Ryan Field, given the huge alumni contingents from places like Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois making the relatively short trek to Evanston. So I wouldn't necessarily consider Ryan Field to be a huge homefield advantage, generally speaking. I would imagine the atmosphere at Ryan Field for this game could be similar to my experience at last year's game at Alumni Stadium with decent pockets of BC alums within a stadium that won't be anywhere close to a sellout. The area around the stadium is very nice (FYI: it's about a couple of miles from the main Evanston campus, which is worth checking out, especially in the areas overlooking Lake Michigan), and it's also accessible via the El train for those coming in from Chicago or downtown Evanston.
ATLeagle: What is your prediction for the game?
James Quintong: After a while, I think I've just become used to high-scoring shootouts with this Northwestern team, and I can see BC throwing the ball a lot on this defense (I remember Chase Rettig throwing for 375 yards against NU in last year's opener). I still think the 'Cats have more than enough weapons to keep up, and playing at home will help. Since I'm used to close nailbiters against teams of relatively similar stature, I'll go with NU 31, BC 27.