Northwestern came into this year riding a three season bowl streak but had seen their record decline for the past two seasons. On paper, this looked like a chance for the Wildcats to break through in the Big Ten. In the first year of divisional play, Northwestern got a favorable schedule that did not include traditional Big Ten powers Ohio State or Wisconsin. Northwestern would also get three of their toughest games (Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State) at home. Unfortunately for Northwestern, they lost every one of those home games and also lost to Iowa, Illinois and Army as they dropped five straight games after starting 2-0. Northwestern also lost their bowl game so they finished 6-7 on the year which would mean that Northwestern's record had now declined for three straight seasons. We caught up with the Northwestern blog Lake The Posts to get their take on the 2011 season and get a quick look into 2012.
CFBZ: Without Wisconsin and Ohio State on the schedule it looked favorable going into the season. What were the biggest reasons for the teams five game slide after starting 2-0?
Lake The Posts: The health of Dan Persa and a secondary that was in complete disarray from a communications standpoint. Persa gritted his way back from a devastating 2010 Achilles heel injury, but lost that incredible escapability, quick cutting run option he had a year ago. But really, it came down to our (lack of) defense. We gave up huge explosion plays as time and again we had freshmen secondary members just completely blowing coverages. That and the Army game, which was classic overthink on our part as we played so tight you could see guy's minds thinking first and reacting way too slow against the option attack. Losing at Army and surrendering a 3 TD lead in the second half at Illinois shook our confidence pretty badly.
There is no way to sugarcoat 2011 – it was a major disappointment. Not since 2001, when NU came off a Big Ten Co-Championship and had all its key horses back, have we experienced such a letdown from preseason expectations. With a much tougher schedule in 2012 and beyond and four straight seasons of declining win totals Wildcat fans are getting antsy.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Lake The Posts: Two things - the good - an incredible win at Nebraska WITHOUT Dan Persa for the second half. KainColter became a quasi-legend on that day and the way we won, with a 13-play, 7-minute stuff it down your throat 4th quarter drive in Lincoln was unforgettable. The bad...Army and Illinois.
CFBZ: If you could have a "do over" for any game which would it be?
Lake The Posts: Michigan State. The season finale was ours for the taking. The game meant nothing to Sparty and we were completely blowing them off the line in the first half. We were moving the ball with ease and playing fired up while Sparty seemed to be on the brink on an ugly day in Evanston. Then, Treyvon Green fumbles at the goalline and Sparty promptly put up 14 points in a couple of minutes to completely change the momentum and ultimately the game. It still would've only made us 7-5, but we've been unable to beat MSU since Fitz arrived (1-5).
CFBZ: Is the QB job Kain Colter's next season or is there someone else to keep an eye on?
Lake The Posts: Hardly. Kain will indeed get snaps at QB, but as any NU fan will tell you he's way too good of a WR to not be rotating around on offense. Simply put, great things happen when he is on the field. Many times at QB it's essentially Kain as a RB with a direct snap as there is no intention to pass. Plus, NU got a pretty good glimpse into next year watching 3rd string Trevor Siemian have some impressive possessions and make passing strikes. As evidenced by Kain missing Jacob Schmidt on a wide open TD pass in the MCCOT Bowl, he's got a lot of work to do in the offseason to improve his accuracy. The safe bet is a platoon at QB with Colter and Siemian sharing snaps while Colter will get looks at WR from Trevor. Kain is the most athletic player we've had on offense since possibly D'Wayne Bates or maybe even Richard Buchannan.
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for Northwestern going into the off-season?
Lake The Posts: We've got major issues. Our offensive line needs major work. Our secondary has fans downright gloom and doom and our defense in general - just increasingly worse each year is frustrating beyond description especially with such a defensive legend at the helm. Fans are very loud calling for staff changes, yet word is there will be none. 2012 was looking like a rebuilding year last year with the loss of so many senior leaders like Dan Persa, Jeremy Ebert and Brian Peters. Faith in the past few year's recruiting classes is a tough sell for 'Cats fans right now.
The return of Mike Trumpy, healthy, at RB is a difference maker, but that line is a huge concern. Kain Colter needs to have a Nathan Scheelhaase off-season in terms of passing improvement and he's the kind of guy you simply can't root against as he alone could win you a game or two. We also need to address special teams which have been inconsistent. It's pretty simple. The gameplan against NU in 2012 is going to be to test the corners all day long. Until we can prove we can stop it, it will keep coming. So, if any 4-star+ CBs are reading this and want to play at NU - right away. Call Fitz!
CFBZ: Bonus Question: What do you think of the hires at Illinois and Ohio State?
Lake The Posts: I don't know too much about Tim Beckman other than what I've read. He seems like a do-it-the-right-way kind of guy which is what that program needs. I always had the sense there was NCAA violation smoke around the Zook program, but obviously, nothing has surfaced. The proof will be on the field and I can tell you as a Wildcat fan, we got our rivalry back now that the Illini have beat NU in back-to-back seasons for the first time in eons. The NU-Iowa angst has been shifted back in state.
As for Ohio State, what can you say? Did anyone not see this coming last year? It will be interesting to me to see when and if anyone ever goes in to the less than favorable background of Florida player's pasts (see: Fulmer Cup). Urban is one of those guys that comes across as everything is done the right way, but in the wake of the Ohio State scandal, having any character issues with his guys will be magnified in a big way. There is no doubt he'll win early and often at Ohio State and the typical NU fan is bemoaning the fact that we're getting to miss the Buckeyes in the leanest period in memory and that they'll be back on our schedule (2013) right when Meyer has them fully loaded.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big Ten- Minnesota Golden Gophers
Pac-12- Oregon State Beavers