Evanston, IL (Sports Network) - With their eyes set on moving up in the
national rankings yet again, the 17th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats will play
host to the Western Michigan Broncos in a non-conference bout at Ryan Field.
Western Michigan is 0-2 entering Saturday's contest after taking setbacks
against Michigan State (26-13) and FCS foe Nicholls (27-23). WMU trailed by as
many as 14 points against Nicholls but did manage to take a 23-21 lead in the
third quarter before crumbling in the fourth.
Despite the absence of star running back Venric Mark, the Wildcats once again
looked impressive in their second game. Northwestern took care of Syracuse,
48-27, and have now scored 40 or more points in each of their first two games.
At No. 17 in the Top 25, Northwestern has matched its high-point from a year
ago and is now threatening to attain its highest ranking since 2001.
Though both of these teams hail from the Midwest portion of the country, there
has never been a matchup between them previously.
Getting consistently solid play at quarterback has not been a strength for the
Broncos this season. Starter Tyler Van Tubbergen has completed less than 50
percent of his pass attempts (30-of-63) for just 327 yards and no touchdowns
while being picked off four times. Van Tubbergen's struggles can be partially
blamed on an injury sustained during the loss to Michigan State, after which
he exhibited concussion-like symptoms. However he took every snap for the
Broncos in the loss to Nicholls.
Improved play on the offensive line, which is largely made up of untested
players could really help the Broncos' signal caller.
"Tyler got hit a lot. I thought we did a nice job establishing runs, and they
made some adjustments. Our outside zone play was also really working, but
Tyler is getting hit way too much," Head coach P.J. Fleck said. "We can sit
and talk about how four out of five that have never played a football game but
who cares? You have a job to do and you need to do it."
There has been little balance for the Broncos even with the passing game
struggling. As a team the Broncos have compiled just 121 yards per game on the
ground with Brian Fields (31 carries, 127 yards) and Dareyon Chance (26
carries, 132 yards) splitting carries.
Corey Davis has been the lone bright spot in the passing game and arguably the
offense as a whole. Davis has caught a team-high 16 passes for 212 yards and a
touchdown. Davis has twice as many receptions as any other player on the team.
A week removed from holding Michigan State to under 300 yards of offense, the
Broncos didn't have as much success against Nicholls. WMU let up 447 yards to
the Colonels, while allowing them to score on 5-of-6 chances in the red zone.
Pressuring the quarterback has been a real weakness with Johnnie Simon (15
tackles, sack) the only player with a quarterback takedown. Simon is one of
five players to reach double-digit tackles already this season, with Kyle
Lark's 19 stops leading the unit.
Nothing has seemed to slow down the Northwestern offense this year. Despite
Mark missing the Syracuse game and Kain Colter getting slowed during the trip
to California, the Wildcats have gone right on piling up the points and yards.
Northwestern is posting 46 points and 544.5 yards per game, ranking third in
the Big Ten in total offense.
Colter came back from suffering an injury that gave him concussion-like
symptoms against California and looked just fine against the Orange. Colter
completed 15-of-18 pass attempts for 116 yards and a touchdown in the game and
also rushed for 87 yards and a score. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been using
a quarterback combination though as Trevor Siemian, who threw for 259 yards
and three scores against Syracuse, has seen plenty of time on the field.
"Two weeks in and I'd like to think we're as balanced as anybody, "Fitzgerald
said. :We've got two very dynamic quarterbacks; I've kind of been pounding the
drum for years here talking about 1A and 1B, about two championship-level
quarterbacks. I think they're really playing well in the framework of what
we're doing and are complementing each other well."
Treyvon Green has been the reason that the absence of Mark has not caused the
Wildcats' offense to fall off track. Green has rushed for 195 yards and three
touchdowns while filling in for Mark, while Mike Trumpy (16 carries, 63 yards)
has filled in nicely as a backup. Both will likely still be leaned on against
the Broncos with Mark's status for Saturday's game still up in the air.
As far as pass-catchers go, Tony Jones has been the most dangerous with 14
receptions for 255 yards and two scores for the Wildcats.
"It's back-to-back weeks that Tony has played at an elite level, an All Big
Ten level," Fitzgerald said. "We've got to continue to find creative ways to
move him around and make people account for (him)."
Where there is concern for Northwestern, especially once the Big Ten schedule
begins, is on the defensive side. Thus far Northwestern has been able to out-
gun the competition but giving up 491.5 yards of offense and 28.5 points per
game, as the Wildcats currently are, is not a recipe for continued success.
Though they have not been a stout defensive squad the Wildcats have done a
good job in disrupting opponents in the backfield. Northwestern is currently
tied for fourth in the Big Ten with 13.0 tackles for loss. Tyler Scott has
helped in that regard with a team-high in sacks (2.0) while Ibraheim Campbell
(13 tackles, two INTs) and Collin Ellis (11 tackles, two INTs) have been
dangerous in pass coverage.
The Sports Network