Dispatches From Blogfrica: Off-Tackle Empire Talks Iowa-Northwestern

By RossWB on October 30, 2020 at 8:18 am
[sad cat noise]
© Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; they provide answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: MNWildcat from Off-Tackle Empire, SBNation's blog for all things Big Ten, stops by to drop some knowledge on Northwestern football in 2020. 

MNW: WHAT UP, CORNLARDS. Been a hot minute since Iowa was last pushing the Wildcats' collective shit in on Homecoming 2019 in Evanston, huh? 

Currently rocking two hours of sleep plus two hours of shitty airplane sleep, and on my drive from Rochester back to the Twin Cities tonight I thrashed out to Mussorgsky and Holst before rediscovering some Copland, then took a shower with some of that fancy shampoo that's got menthol or eucalyptus or straight heroin in it, and now I'm sitting with some scotch, a mustache, and memories of happier times when last my purple and white visited Iowa City. (There's a complete sentence in there somewhere, I swear.) 

Thanks to Ross for being patient enough to wait for my responses and allow me to continue being the Donna Brazile on this panel; maybe someday I'll get the compensation she gets for selling my soul, too.

1) 43 points? In one Big Ten game? Did you double-check to make sure that Northwestern is even allowed to score that many points in a single game? I'm suspicious. So how did that happen? What went so right for Northwestern against the Terps? 

MNW: Maryland being horribawful works well, for one. When BARTABOT somehow managed to pull Rutgers as the Iowa crossover for the next 30 years or whatever (like a buy game without having to drop $3MM, since I hear that needs to be allocated elsewhere in Iowa Athletics), Northwestern fans couldn't complain, because HOOOOOBOY are our new special friends, the Terps, a special kind of awful who got bulldozed by Isaiah Bowser and gashed by Drake Anderson (yes, son of THAT Anderson. yes, you ARE old).

I figure they've got about 70 points left in them for the entirety of the Big Ten season; we'll see how many of those they can muster against Iowa this year, since the last touchdown Northwestern scored against Iowa was this one. (Ed. Note: This is violence. -- RB)

2) QB play was a, uh, challenge for Northwestern last season. It looks like Peyton Ramsey is the guy there now -- is that right? How has he improved the situation behind center for the Wildcats? 

MNW: Indiana grad transfer Ramsey brings a poise and scrambling ability to the pocket that the 'Cats sorely lacked last year, whether the short tenure of injured- and now-sixth-year T.J. Green, disappointing Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, "this is a guy!" Aidan Smith, or "seriously you're just putting white dude names on a Little Rascals-style golem" Andrew Marty. The situation almost insta-improved with Ramsey because the 'Cats could run to set up the pass, with a cast of "Who?" sharing touches from Ramsey--who throws a solid, unspectacular ball.

Most of what's improved, here, appears to be new OC Mike Bajakian. ["Parted ways" OC Mick McCall is now coaching running backs at Iowa State. You're welcome.] The former Boston College play-caller is no stranger to setting up the pass with a strong rusher, having called A.J. Dillon's number for four years on Chestnut Hill, but he brings an odd mix of tempo--snapping the ball early on the clock--and power. Your favorite, Isaiah Bowser, will plow straight ahead behind multi-TE sets, and FAU transfer John Raine made a nice debut at tight end*, too.

*Correct, no longer the superback. Fire Bajakian.

3) Who else on the Northwestern offense should we know about for Saturday? Whose names will Iowa fans be cursing on Saturday evening? Aside from Isaiah Bowser, whose Mario Bros-ass name we're already cursing. 

MNW: In addition to Raine and Drake "yes you are that old" Anderson, WR Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman (RCB) has proven a popular target early.

But it's Iowa against a Northwestern offense. Whichever Wildcat scores on you last is the one you hate the most.

4) Defense is where Northwestern typically butters its bread, so give us the scoop on that side of the ball. How is Paddy Fisher still there? Is there no actual "Paddy Fisher"? Is it just a moniker bestowed upon a scrappy Irish linebacker each season? Who else should we know about on Northwestern's defense?

MNW: I'm not allowed to comment on the Cloning Lab in the basement of Tech Hall, but suffice it to say that when we have to send one Paddy Fisher to the farm upstate the NFL, there's usually another waiting in the wings. We have the technology.

It's even more a cast of solid, anonymous playmakers on defense now than in the future with the departure of Joe Gaziano. Earnest Brown IV is the headliner DE, while counterpart Adetomiwa Adebarwore is a sophomore who could be making waves in the coming years. As this is a Pat Fitzgerald team, the linebacking corps are the big studs here, with Fisher flanked by Blake Gallagher and Chris Bergin, both of whom are prone to lapses in the pass game but can plug a gap and stop the run. In the secondary, CB Greg Newsome II and S J.R. Pace call to mind the capable secondary play of years past.

No one you look at and think "oh damn, there's a shutdown corner", but no one who, as of right now, other teams are outright picking on.

It's a Northwestern defense. Drink every time they say "disciplined" or "high IQ" or "prepared" or whatever, and we'll get through this together.

5) A Big Ten game is nothing without punting. How are Northwestern's specialists this year? It looks like they used two punters on Saturday -- is there a PUNTER CONTROVERSY in Evanston? 

MNW: Kicking--which I wrote about this year as a major problem of Northwestern in the 2010s--has been a real bear for the 'Cats in the past; it looks like K Charlie Kuhbander has turned a corner, hitting two just over 40 yards in a perfect 3/3 FG, 4/4 PAT game that earned him B1G Special Teams Player of the Week. He doesn't have the biggest leg (on kickoffs you can count on the ball landing inside the 10, but don't expect a touchback) but may offset that with some high, angled kicks to the 20 or 25 (Maryland fumbled one of those, but again, Maryland is fucking terrible).

Kent State grad transfer P Derek Adams was relatively disappointing -- he failed to pin Maryland inside the 20 on a punt from the NU 45, then got an (admittedly poorly-gunned) unfortunate bounce into the end-zone for a touchback on another from the NU 49. But I don't have any reason to believe that Cody Gronewold's appearance late was anything more than getting the backups some run in a rout (backup K Trey Finison missed his only PAT attempt on what looked like a tough snap). Gronewold's not even the second punter on the two-deep this week (that'd be Jake Genyk, son of ST coach Jeff). 

You know the old saying: If you have three punters, you're probably Kirk Ferentz.

6) Is there any good reason to expect that this game won't be another 17-14 cro-mag football slog, like seemingly every past Iowa-Northwestern game in Ferentz-Fitzgerald era? 

MNW: Given what little I saw of Iowa at Purdue on Saturday afternoon, I could see this one creeping into the 20s if Spencer Petras finds his touch and Iowa establishes the run on a Northwestern defense that faces a big step up from what they saw against Maryland. But you know Fitz, I know Kirk, and the two fucking love each other. This one's destined for 17-14 if they have their khaki-tented druthers.

7) OK, prediction time -- how's this game going to play out and who wins?

MNW: We'll see a lot of what we have in the past, though Bajakian is a fresh little addition to the Wildcats' arsenal that could lift some of the staid playcalling (the fucking Mike Trumpy speed option happened in Iowa City) that has characterized the Mick McCall matchups with KOK, GDGD, and Qusay Ferentz. A nice, quick ballgame is maddeningly slowed to three and a half hours by ESPN, as both sides seek to establish the run and get their punters' legs a workout.

There's an early concern InsideNU noted with Northwestern finishing drives, and I'll be convinced of Kuhbander when I'm convinced. I think Keith Duncan proves the difference late: Iowa, 16-13.

Thanks for being a good sport, MNW, but I still hope your squad gets mollywhopped on Saturday. You can check out MNW and the rest of the OTE crew at Off-Tackle Empire. You can also follow Off-Tackle Empire on Twitter at @offtackleempire. The Iowa-Northwestern game is in Iowa City, IA on Saturday, October 31, and is scheduled to start at approximately 2:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from ESPN.

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