Northwestern gets 1 more tuneup before Big Ten
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — So far everything is looking good for No. 18 Northwestern.
A team that came in with high expectations is right where it hoped to be heading into Saturday’s game against Maine.
The Wildcats (3-0) are unbeaten with wins over Pac-12 and ACC teams, and they figure to stay that way before the competition gets ramped up a few notches.
They have a week off after hosting the Black Bears (3-0) before Ohio State comes to town in a Big Ten opener that will show just how they stack up against the best in the conference.
For now, Northwestern is off to a strong start.
The Wildcats opened with a 44-30 win at California and pounded Syracuse at home 48-27 before beating Western Michigan 38-17 last week. The last time they scored 30 or more in their first three games? That was in 1962 when Ara Parseghian was the coach and Northwestern rose to a No. 1 national ranking.
Now the Wildcats will try to avoid a letdown against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that has never beaten a Big Ten team.
“Maine knows how to win,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “They’ve won a lot of football games. It doesn’t take long to watch on the tape to see that this team is a very, very good football team. Our guys, it won’t take them long to see that. We respect everybody, but the first way that you can respect your opponent is to prepare the right way and play the way you’re capable of and I believe our guys will do that.”
Here are five things to look for when Northwestern takes on Maine on Saturday:
A POINT-ED ATTACK: Clearly, moving the ball hasn’t been an issue for Northwestern. The Wildcats are averaging 43.3 points and 520 yards, even though top running back Venric Mark (lower body injury) has missed the past two games. He remains questionable. Trayvon Green has picked up the slack with 353 yards and five rushing touchdowns and is coming off a career game against Western Michigan. He ran for a personal-best 158 yards and two TDs last week.
COUNTING ON QBS: The two-quarterback system continues to work for Northwestern, with Trevor Siemian opening up the passing game and Kain Colter delivering with his legs. Colter ran for 106 yards and a score last week while throwing for another touchdown. He now has 199 yards rushing and has completed 22 of 26 passes for 179 yards despite missing most of the opener because of a concussion. Siemian gives them more of a downfield option with 634 yards and four touchdowns.
PICK IT: With eight interceptions, Northwestern leads the nation. And when it comes to picking off passes, safety Ibraheim Campbell is on quite a roll. A junior, he’s tied for first nationally with three and has intercepted one in a school-record five straight games dating to last year’s regular-season finale against Illinois. “It’s nice because a lot of times (defensive backs) and (defensive ends) work together,” defensive lineman Dean Lowry said. “When they’re coveraging guys, it helps the quarterback keep the ball and gives us more time to sack the guy. When we’re getting pressure, it helps (make) the quarterback throw the ball away faster and maybe force a pick. Definitely, having a playmaker back there, it gives us the opportunity to get more sacks and vice versa.”
MAINE VS. FBS: Maine is 2-10 all-time against FBS schools, and that includes a 24-14 win over Massachusetts on Sept. 7. The other win was a 9-7 victory over Mississippi State in 2004, but when it comes to the Big Ten, the Black Bears are winless. They fell 25-7 at Nebraska in 2005 and 46-3 at Iowa in 2008.
SCOUTING BLACK BEARS: Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski has completed 58 of 88 passes for 739 yards for Maine. He also leads the team with 194 yards rushing. Wasilewski threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in a win over Bryant last week. “I’m really impressed. He has a great grasp of the offense,” Fitzgerald said.