Northwestern looks to stay on roll with 2 BCS wins
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)
Already with two wins over BCS teams, No. 17 Northwestern now needs to guard against one big letdown.
The Wildcats host Western Michigan in a game that looks every bit like a mismatch, and it just might turn out that way as long as they don't get caught looking ahead. Northwestern (2-0) is off to a good start after beating California and Syracuse and has a good chance to go into Big Ten play unbeaten, assuming no stumbles during what looks like a light stretch in the schedule.
''We're going to focus on us,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''We're far from a finished product. We have not put together four quarters of clean football yet. We haven't played consistently in all three phases, and there's a lot of work for us to do.''
The Wildcats are facing a Mid-American Conference team that just lost to Football Subdivision member Nicholls State after managing 11 yards rushing in a season-opening loss to Michigan State. After that, Northwestern has a home game against Maine and an off week before Ohio State comes to town for the Big Ten opener.
Given the high expectations, it would be easy to understand if the Wildcats had one eye focused on that game. Coming off a 10-win season, they want to show they can beat the best in the conference. And what better way to do that than knock off a team many have pegged for the national championship game?
Of course, stumbling against Western Michigan (0-2) would be a good way to undermine their credibility. So far, Northwestern appears to be locked in.
The Wildcats are averaging 46 points and 544 1/2 yards, and they are coming off a 48-27 victory in which the offense clicked in a big way and the defense delivered, too.
Here are five things to know about Northwestern and Western Michigan on Saturday:
OPENING IT UP: The Wildcats did just that against the Orange last week while jumping out to a 20-0 lead and piling on 581 yards by the time the beating was over. Quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian came up big, but they certainly weren't alone. Colter passed for a touchdown and ran for one after leaving the season-opener with a concussion. Siemian threw for 259 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, and he and Colter completed a combined 30 of 37 passes. It was the fourth time since 2000 that a Big Ten team connected on at least 80 percent of its passes while completing at least 30.
''They've got I think one of the top offenses in the country in terms of how they're able to move the football,'' Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. ''That Colter kid really changes the game. (Siemian) and Colter, you put those two in the game and you mix-match back and forth and you're able to do the same things with both kids. It just gives you a different type of style.''
COMING OFF CAREER NIGHT: With Colter and Siemian on target like that, it's no surprise a receiver would have a career game. Tony Jones was that man with a personal-best 185 yards. With 255 yards this season, he's closing in on last year's total (335).
TAKING IT AWAY: ''Chicago's Big Ten Team,'' Northwestern is doing a pretty good impersonation of Chicago's NFL team. The Wildcats lead the Big Ten with seven interceptions after picking off four passes last week. Traveon Henry delivered one for the highlight reel when he fell into the Northwestern sideline as he picked off Syracuse's Drew Allen near midfield.
MARK IT DOWN?: It's worth noting that the Wildcats have without one of their top weapons in Venric Mark. After rushing for 1,366 yards and returning two punts for touchdowns as a junior last season, he sat out last week because of a lower-body injury after being limited in the opener. He's questionable for this game.
TRYING TO REGROUP: Tyler Van Tubbergen got intercepted at the goal line in the final minute, and Western Michigan fell to Nicholls State, 27-23, last week. Brian Fields ran for three touchdowns. Dareyon Chance finished with 123 yards rushing, but the Broncos came up short again. Now, they're looking at their second of three games against a Big Ten opponent. They play Iowa next week before hosting Kent State in the conference opener.
''Their guys are playing incredibly hard,'' Fitzgerald said. ''Outside of a couple of mistakes, probably early in the Michigan State game, that game is a totally different outcome. We've got our hands full.''