Second viewing thoughts and grade report: Northwestern
This was a terrible game to watch back. There were dozens of plays that could have turned the game in another direction. Wasted opportunity after wasted opportunity. If we are at home during bowl season, this will be a game that everyone looks back on as one of the reasons. Hopefully the coaches and players will use the bye week to regroup.
I thought Rettig played better than he did against Maine. He made tight throws and did a good job looking beyond his first read. By my count he had nine throws that were either dropped or missed by his teammates. If just two of those are pulled in, Rettig is over 300 yards and we probably win the game. But it is not just throwing, he's also getting much better about buying time in the pocket. The one nitpick might be some of his deep balls. A few were overthrown or thrown out of bounds. But he was the reason this game was even close.
The running backs are getting much of the blame, but the problems weren't really on them (other than Finch). In general this week, the holes weren't there. Kimble looked good and I think we need to use him more. If only as a outlet for Rettig on passing plays. Williams didn't do much but this week it wasn't about missing holes or waiting for blocks to develop. Finch couldn't get much going. The fumble was bad. At this point he needs to know to use two hands in traffic. I don't know why this is still an issue.
For me the most confusing part of this team is the offensive line. They've done a great job as a unit pass blocking. Running blocking is a different issue. Most of our runs were zones and the guys failed to get much of a push or to the second level. On a few occasions they did trap and pull and it wasn't successful. Individually Cleary was good, but needs to get better push running. White played well. He and Wetzel had great blocks on our fourth down play (it was our best run design of the day). Vardaro struggled. He was beat on pass plays a few times and struggled on some run plays too. Gallik was okay but had a terrible drive-killing snap and a bad penalty late.
Coleman is really coming along. His hands are improving as are his route. We need to get him the ball more. Elliot looked good. Evans was fine. Amidon made some nice plays and is cleary Rettig's primary target, but he's got to improve on the drops. The first drive should have ended in a TD and there were a few other plays that could have been made. He's clearly playing hard and carrying the offense nearly as much as Chase, but we have very little room for error and the drops are terrible.
We ran the ball 21 times and that felt like ten times too many. It wasn't anything complex. Just normal inside zone runs, but the holes weren't there and we killed drives. What I would like to see is Kimble and Williams in the backfield together. Whenever we do use that formation, it causes great play action opportunities. I wish Martin would just throw, throw and throw some more and then go to the run when we are up or the other team is not waiting for it.
The defensive line remains a disappointment. We can't close on a QB, we can't collapse a pocket and we missed tons of tackles. Plus it seemed like they were constantly a step slow. Appiah played better and seemed to get more active as the game went on, but he's still not playing as well as he did at the conclusion of last year. He needs to disrupt the line more. I don't know what's going on with Mihalik. He never seems to be near the action and hasn't built on last year's promise. Ricci and Quinn were non-factors. Rudolph was okay but didn't do much. Edebali has his usual hustling self but didn't get on the field much after getting knocked for a loop. Wujciak got extended time but didn't get to do much. All of the Ends struggled with contain. We got burned by cutbacks repeatedly. Abdesmad played but did make big plays. These guys have to do more. There were plenty of problems on D, but these guys were No. 1. If they weren't missing tackles they were getting pushed around. That's got to stop.
Clancy played his heart out. He's not covering mistakes like Kuechly but he is still covering a lot of ground and very productive. KPL got called for a killer penalty early but made up for it with some great plays late in the fourth. Steele Divitto is struggling. He missed more tackles than any other linebacker. And teams keep throwing at him in coverage. I think we need to play more nickle and give him a break. He's still talented and still made plays but he is the weak link among the LBs. Duggan played a bit and was fine.
It was a weird day for the DBs. I thought they struggled early but played better as the game progressed. Sylvia is trying to make big plays and might be the only guy who didn't miss a tackle on Saturday. Rositano missed some tackles and didn't play much later in the game. Noel missed some early tackles but made a huge hit that forced a NU fumble (of course we didn't get it). One things that I don't know for sure -- but I believe based on watching the game back, is that the safeties got beat as much as the corners on the deep balls. There was no safety help on NU's biggest pass play. Jones is a good tackler but still struggles in coverage. Asprilla was okay. Richardson played a bit and was fine.
Kain Colter is an average college quarterback. He was their backup last year and was in the middle of a QB controversy prior to this game. Yet for the second year in a row, he looked like an All-America candidate against us. How did we not adjust? Why didn't we spy him more. Why weren't we ready for his cutbacks? Why did we wait so long to bring linebacker blitzes? Where were the corner blitzes? It was a terrible game plan. Sure we kept them out of the endzone most of the day, but they picked us apart and we couldn't get them off the field. Also, why aren't we using the second team LBs more? Our guys were out there for 100 plays! Mix it up. See if someone can make a play.
Special Teams: B-
The kick returns were solid. I like how Evans runs with confidence.
Freese made all his kicks.
The punt coverage was fine.
We didn't return a punt.
Two things killed us against Northwestern last year. We scored before the half and then allowed the Cats to march right down the field to answer. We also did a poor job containing Colter. That is why so much of Saturday seemed like deja vu. Spaz is a defensive guy. Could he not add or do anything that would have helped us? Why didn't we blitz more early? Spaz laid the foundation for our bend but don't break philosophy and it killed us Saturday.
His clock management wasn't as bad, but Matty416 made great point about Spaz needing to kick a field goal late. When completed a pass to Amidon to NU's 19 yardline, we should have kicked the field goal. There were 23 seconds left and we needed two scores. If we were going to win, that was the only way to pull it off. But I don't think Spaz was thinking like that. He never does.