Northwestern was laying six points out in Berkley and to make matters worse the Wildcats lost Kain Colter and had a mere shell of All-Big Ten RB Vernic Mark for most of the game. Yet even though the Wildcats managed to fall behind twice on this road trip, they still covered.
This opening game was played in Berkley against a team that tried to confront the Wildcats with an extremely uptempo style, as is customary for most West Coast run-and-gun teams. California came out early and established their gameplan by taking the opening drive 82 yards for a touchdown to put Northwestern in a hole before they could even touch the ball.
This initial defensive failure reminds us all that putting points up on the board doesn’t matter quite so much if our opponent puts up more. Fitzgerald’s offense is one of the most dynamic and feared in the conference and the country, but their inability to stop offenses is of paramount concern. Credit the confidence in these Wildcats that they would come right back and tie the game. They’d then go on and score ten unanswered points before heading to the locker room at halftime leading by three but knowing that Colter and Mark were not going to be available for the second half.
The defense must’ve gotten a stern talking-to by Coach Fitzgerald because after the break the Wildcats – and in particular their linebacker Collin Ellis – would rack up 96 yards of interception returns to go along with two scores that helped keep Northwestern in the top 25. Northwestern fell behind again in the second half by four, but Ellis and Mark’s replacement, Treyvon Green would combine for 28 second-half points to give the Wildcats a comfortable two-touchdown win.
The emergence of Green who rushed for 129 yards on 16 carries now gives Fitzgerald the flexibility to rest his star before the Big Ten opener against Ohio State which is still more than a month away. This weekend the Wildcats face a weak Syracuse team that was pretty inept offensively in last week’s loss, albeit against a strong Penn St. defense.
The Wildcats will host three straight games at Ryan Field before hosting the Buckeyes. Taking care of this formidable road test in Berkley sets them up to possibly be undefeated heading into the primetime matchup, which will grow in hype as both teams continue their winning ways. Since Northwestern faces Syracuse, Maine, and Western Michigan – all at home – expectations are high. For Fitzgerald, if he’s able to win without Mark over the next month then the Big-10 opener will be a very big point of light on the Wildcats’ 2013 chart. It seems like only yesterday that Jordan directed his media sycophants to the Darnell Autry-led Wildcats as “the biggest story right now”.