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September 14, 2012Suddenly, there is optimism in Evanston, and all it took was one stout Northwestern defensive performance.
The question is, will last week's effort against Vanderbilt prove to be just a freak occurrence, or is it a hint of things to come?
There's only one group of people that knows the answer to that question, and that's WildcatReport's intrepid staff.
Here is our take of what will happen on Saturday, when the Wildcats welcome Boston College to Ryan Field. (2:30 p.m., BTN, ESPN1000, WNUR).
Northwestern wins if The defense puts together another respectable performance and the offense clicks at a higher rate than it has so far.
Northwestern loses if They allow Chase Rettig time and space to make decisions and find his key receivers.
The bottom line: The defense will take a slight step back as they face another experienced, throw-first quarterback that will not be easily bottled up. BC doesn't expect much from the run game, so they'll throw the ball to test NU as much as possible. I think the offense will find itself a little more in gear than it did last week, though it will still have its sputters.
Prediction: Northwestern 28 Boston College 24
Northwestern wins if They maintain confidence in themselves as a winning team. That may sound like an oversimplification, but last week's game showed us a much different Wildcat team. Over the last season or two the Wildcats could become overly conservative, as if they didn't have confidence against their opponents and felt the need to play possum to hold a lead. Whatever mindset they had going when they fell behind Vandy needs to continue.
Northwestern loses if They wait for opportunities instead of creating them, with players dominating their one-on-one match-ups and strategies that keep BC guessing. This is sort of the mirror image to my "They win if..." answer. Lacking the confidence to impose their will on BC could destroy the Wildcats.
The bottom line: We've figured out what the Cats' general offensive strategy and personnel will be, but BC has probably figured that out too. If a few plays in the Vanderbilt game had gone the other way, it would have been 17-3 Vandy at halftime (or worse) and Rashad Lawrence's big catch could easily have been ruled incomplete. Northwestern can't live so close to the edge and keep winning every week.
Prediction: Boston College 31 Northwestern 24
Northwestern wins if It makes Boston College one-dimensional. The Eagles' offense has flipped their usual script under a new offensive coordinator; quarterback Chase Rettig is the focal point of the offense, instead of a normally balanced attack with a stable of backs. Rettig showed last year against Northwestern that he can sling it. Interestingly enough, in the last two years Boston College is 2-8 in games when Rettig attempts more than 20 passes. It is 3-1 in games when Rettig attempts fewer than 20 passes, while averaging nearly 200 yards on the ground in those games. Without Montel Harris, Boston College's backs have been pedestrian thus far. Get ahead, stay ahead. Pin your ears back and rush the passer.
Northwestern loses if It doesn't manage the game. Simple stuff: Minimize penalties and turnovers. Defensively, get off the field on third down. (Miami went 11-for-21 in BC's opener) Offensively, get into third-and-short situations to keep the chains moving. (BC was 6-for-14 against Miami.)
The bottom line: Throw the Maine game out. Boston College isn't as good or as bad as it looked in the opener against Miami, which turned around and got blitzed by Kansas State. If the 2013 season is headed where many Northwestern faithful hope it could go, this is a game the Wildcats have to take.
Prediction: Northwestern 31 Boston College 24
Northwestern wins if They continue to not turn the ball over on offense. As spotty as Kain Colter's accuracy has been at times but still has not thrown an interception, and neither has Trevor Siemian (although he came close in the second quarter against Vandy). The Wildcats haven't always looked in top form but they will stay undefeated if they keep winning the turnover battle.
Northwestern loses if The defensive line cannot get to Rettig. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Rettig is more reminiscent of Ryan Nassib than Jordan Rodgers -- although Nick VanHoose will play after missing last week's game. Rettig has found a new favorite target in Alex Amidon, who is averaging eight catches per game. The defense improved last week but that was more due to the front seven than anything else. Rettig could still light them up if he has time to throw.
The bottom line: The game will be close the whole way until the fourth quarter when Siemian comes in and opens the game up, leading two scoring drives to give them a 27-14 lead. But Boston College comes back with a field goal drive, then scores a touchdown on their next drive after converting on an onside kick. But a second onside attempt fails and the Wildcats eke out another when behind a pair of patented Evan Watkins kneel downs.
Prediction: Northwestern 27 Boston College 24
Northwestern wins if The defense plays like it did in the second half against Vanderbilt and the receivers consistently hang onto the ball.
Northwestern loses if The Wildcats' running game gets shut down and the secondary/pass rush regress on the defensive side of the ball.
The bottom line: Another nail-biter at Ryan Field with one team (Northwestern) relying on time of possession and another (Boston College) relying on quick strikes.
Prediction: Jeff Budzien kicks four field goals. Northwestern 33 Boston College 31
Northwestern wins if The front four can get pressure on Rettig without blitzing and the offense finds more consistency. The Wildcats have to do a better job of moving the chains and sustaining drives to keep Rettig & Co. off the field.
Northwestern loses if Rettig can sit back in the pocket and find his receivers. This guy can really sling it, and he will find open men if given enough time.
The bottom line: Northwestern's defensive line was stellar against Vandy, and they have the potential to control the line of scrimmage against a shaky BC line and make life difficult for Rettig. If the Wildcats take care of the football and avoid giving up the big play, they should be able to notch their third win in a row.
Prediction: Northwestern 27 Boston College 21