Quick thoughts about the game after the jump:
QB Dan Persa: 23/30 passing, 280 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Another day, another solid performance by everyone's favorite quarterback. Mick McCall has been working on keeping Persa safe during his rushing attempts, and it showed. He got the ground yardage when it was necessary, except perhaps for a scramble late in the 3rd where he slid down just short of the 1st-down marker, forcing NU to punt away. Right after a turnover and an opportunity to step on CMU's neck early, Persa threw an unfortunate interception in the red zone. To his credit, he turned around on the next drive and gave Stefan Demos a chance to kick a tie-breaking field goal at the end of the half. He was finding receivers on the move and made several big touchdown plays, the most important one the option pitch to Jacob Schmidt for the TD to start the 4th quarter. You can't ask for much more from this guy.
WR Jeremy Ebert: 5 catches, 83 yards, 2 TDs
He made some of the best drive-saving catches of the day and is showing why he's our team's number-one receiver. His play of the game was in the 3rd-quarter as he snatched a high pass from Persa down into the endzone on the first play of the short drive. That touchdown capped off an interception return that turned the game in NU's favor until midway through the 4th.
RB Mike Trumpy: 12 carries, 53 yards
Just when we thought the running game was dead, our 4th-string running back comes and temporarily saves it. The stats don't really show glamorous numbers, but he had two big plays for the running game when we needed them: A 12-yard scamper followed by a 9-yard run suddenly ignited the offensive line late and got them playing cohesively for a few minutes. He's far from being the solution to our running game, but you have to admire what he brought to the table today.
This made the first half look like a dogfight. On two consecutive snaps in the opening drive, NU committed an illegal substitution penalty followed by a false start, which effectively disrupted the offense and eventually led to a punt. I counted at least two dropped passes that would have led to first downs, something we're not used to seeing from this squad. The icing on the cake was a sack on NU's final drive in the half. The offensive line fell apart and Persa was sacked -- on a three-man rush. A THREE-MAN RUSH! That's inexcusable, especially on a two-minute drill where the sack cost us 25 seconds of clock and an opportunity to get a closer kick for Demos.
RB Arby Fields: 7 carries, 16 yards, lost fumble
Ugh. After a day like today, I hope this guy is off the two-deep. Fields went nowhere all day with his runs. On an early 1st-down run play, he managed a 2-yard gain up the middle. The problem? There was a gaping hole the size of Texas to his immediate left that he didn't run through. If he cleared the hole, he had daylight all the way to the first-down marker. He also committed the worst play of the day: just when the 'Cats start to establish the running game and milk the clock, he's inserted back into the lineup. Persa hands off, Arby runs to the right sideline... Arby fumbles the ball. At a time when the running game actually meant something, Arby turns it over and CMU gets control and momentum back with 10 minutes to play.
LB Quentin Davie:
This guy's looking more and more like a first team, all-Big Ten team defender with each game. Adding to his numbers are a crucial early sack and a forced fumble, never mind the fact that he was one of the few Wildcat defenders getting pressure on QB Ryan Radcliff throughout game. That is, of course, when we wasn't trying to bail out the secondary.
This is what almost made the game a runaway. As mentioned above, Davie forced a fumble in the second quarter that was recovered by Corbin Bryant. This play was sandwiched by an interception that killed the first CMU drive of the game and allowed NU to get on the board, and an interception by DE Quentin Williams which eventually got the 'Cats up by 10 midway through the third. The 'Cats forced three turnovers on a day where we went +1 on turnover margin. That definitely made the difference for this game.
There were times in this game that I thought CMU would have just completely ditched the run and taken to the air. The secondary gave up big play after big play, including major completions for CMU's two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. If it weren't for the fact that Radcliff has a tendency to overthrow his receivers on the long ball, we might be talking about a completely different outcome. This is a glaring issue that, if left unchecked, will be exploited by the better Big Ten/12 teams later in the season. Suddenly, the Indiana game looks a lot scarier.
This first quarter looked just absolutely AWFUL. We were hit with consecutive face-mask penalties that made it very easy for CMU to get down the field on the opening drive. Linemen were overpursuing the ball. Thankfully the line looked very different as the game went on. Unfortunately, Radcliff was generally not under duress for most of the game.
In closing, this definitely felt like our most difficult opponent of the season. I'll be interested in seeing if Mike Trumpy can make a dent in the ground game that we sorely need at this point. We have a lot of issues in the secondary that need to be addressed soon, but luckily we have two easier Big Ten teams up next -- hopefully that will give us time to iron out those issues. I won't say anything about special teams, except that ours were better than theirs. Most importantly, we are 4-0. Perfect for the non-conference season. Two games away from bowl eligibility. Fitz has us going in the right direction, and I hope it stays that way through October.