Kain Colter did just about everything for Northwestern last year. What is his role in the offense this time around? Does the two quarterback system seem to be working, and why do you think the coaches went this route with the offense?
Colter is even more of our offense this year. Last year he was Dan Persa's back-up, this year, he is one of the focal points of our offense. The two QB system worked brilliantly against Indiana as Colter had a sick day revolving between QB/WR/QB on consecutive plays. However, fans have been downright pissed at the predictability of using Colter for all runs and Siemian for only passing. The 2-QB system worked until we hit October. Colter dominated Nebraska in our upset win their last year, but we failed to use him as we got outcoached when Pelini went man forcing us to bring in Siemian and try to beat them deep (we didn't). Colter is unreal, though. He'd get Denard-type hype if he was at a place like Michigan. He has made so many individual big plays all on his own, reversing field, it's been nuts. He was brilliant against Iowa and it was the first game where we went with the 1 QB system. The game was a much bigger domination than the score indicated. I expect him to be less WR and almost all QB tomorrow. The sad part is simple play actions would provide huge plays, but we seem adverse to try it. We did it once last week and it resulted in a 47-yard TD strike. He completes nearly 70% of his throws, yet we never let him throw. Puzzling.
Venric Mark has been the dangerman for Northwestern this year. Tell us a little bit about his running style and how the offense uses him.
He's a fan favorite. He plays angry. His speed is downright silly and he seems to bust an 80+ yarder once a week, especially since our OL has played very well this year. He's 5-7, 180 pounds so people think of him as a scatback, but he loves banging between the tackles. I can't remember a player like him in my 20+ years of following the ‘Cats. He gets in opponents faces and has that winner attitude. If he gets through the line, forget about it, he'll turn ankles.
The defense has been very solid against the run thus far this season. Who are the important names for Michigan fans to know in the front seven? Do you think this unit can stop Michigan's offense if Denard Robinson is good to go?
No doubt this unit can stop Michigan. We held Taylor Martinez in check and we've stopped quite a few good RBs so far this season. The good news is we're so darn young on this team and the young guys have stepped up. Our DEs are solid, but our pass rush relies on one of the 4-lineman beating their man as we rarely blitz. Our LBs have a ton of speed and flow to the ball well and have been a big reason for the improved run defense. Tyler Scott leads the B!G in sacks on one end while LBs David Nwabuisi and Chi Chi Ariguzo are having standout seasons. DT Brian Arnfelt has been solid as well. We've got a lot of depth in the front 7 and sub judiciously, which I think helps with the fresh legs.
Conversely, Northwestern has been one of the worst teams in the conference when it comes to defending the pass. Is this more a function of the schedule, or is the pass defense just that bad?
It's funny. I was petrified entering the season b/c of the question marks in our secondary, but they've improved a ton. Part of it is we've been up on every opponent and forced them to throw to comeback. Part of it is Ryan Nassib torched us in the second half to bring that average way up and part of it is the fact we've got two really good players back there and two works in progress, but this unit has been plagued with injuries. Keep an eye on Nick VanHoose, our freshman CB (#23) who was having an All Big Ten season at corner before he got hurt late in the 3rd vs Nebraska (they promptly threw for 140 yards in the air after he left the game). He along with safety Ibraheim Campbell are fantastic. We've been down to our 3rd string at the other CB due to injuries and are rotating the other safety spot among three guys. We've been surprised by some teams with good QBs and why they have tried to run so much on us.
What do you think the keys are to a Northwestern upset?
Call me crazy, but I wouldn't think of this as an upset. I'm shocked by the spread in this one. The key is for our offense - hopefully Colter/Mark - to move the chains early. In our 2 losses (Penn State, Nebraska), we racked up a lot of 3 and outs early and put too much on our "D". Obviously, containing the big play with Denard is key, but I also believe letting Kain throw to our potent receivers in 6-12 yard range early will be key. Teams are overplaying the run and we are going to the air too infrequently to keep them honest. We're an excellent rushing team and almost always win under Fitz when we outrush our opponents. We also need to protect the rock. We've failed to put a few games away when we could've b/c of turnovers. If it comes down to the kicking game, I love our chances.
Any last minute predictions for the game? Who wins and what does the final score look like?
I've got Northwestern in another nailbiter - 26-23.