NU's Siemian struggles through the air continue

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NU's Siemian struggles through the air continue

Both Northwestern's and Nebraska's offense expected to see stout run defense against their highly-successful ground games. Bo Pelini's group entered Saturday's affair as the top rushing team in the Big Ten, running for 292.0 yards per game. The Wildcats also had attacked via the ground game through seven weeks, rushing for 229.9 yards per game, fourth best in the Big Ten.
And, for the most part, both offenses were limited on the ground.
Led by Damien Proby's 12 tackles, Northwestern held Nebraska to 44 rushes for 201 yards, its lowest rushing total this season. The Wildcats rushed 38 times for 180 yards, their third lowest total of the year and second lowest total in Big Ten play.
But the difference Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field was that one team, Northwestern, couldn't make up for the low run totals through the air in the Cornhuskers' 29-28 win at Ryan Field.
Nebraska was the 15th best pass defense in the country when they entered Evanston on Saturday, and ranked behind only Michigan and Minnesota in the Big Ten. Pelini's group used that to their advantage, constantly stacking the box against Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter.
The response was simple: attack the box against eight- or nine-man fronts, or try and attack the Nebraska cornerbacks one-on-one with little safety help over the top.
"Schematically you knew they were really going to load the box and we were going to have to take some shots down the field," Fitzgerald said.
The Widcats did a little bit of both, but couldn't rely on the latter to balance out the attack.
Northwestern's Trevor Siemian finished 15-of-35 for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Toby Jones, who beat single coverage down the right sideline to give the Wildcats a late second quarter lead.
Siemian's other touchdown pass, a 10-yard strike to Dan Vitale, came on the heels of a muffed punt return by Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. The Wildcats recovered on the Huskers' 14, giving Siemian a short field to work with.
But the second half was a nightmare for Siemian. Though he was never sacked and had relatively good protection, the junior signal caller finished was 6-of-18 for 57 yards after halftime. At one point he threw incomplete on six straight passes in the third quarter.
The plan, coach Pat Fitzgerald said, was to take chances on the outside and see if the Wildcat wide receivers could win those one-on-one battles. It happened once with Jones, but they needed one more play from the skill players they never received.
"If we make one of those catches and throws it's a different game. We ended up making one for the touchdown pass, but there were about four or five other ones that, if they're gonna go out and play one-on-one, we've got to take advantage of it," Fitzgerald said, "and we just couldn't make those plays."
Credit must be given to the Cornhuskers' secondary, which played aggressive and confident throughout the game. On his own, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste broke up five passes, more than half of the nine Nebraska compiled as a team.
The heavy run support was also meant to shut down Kain Colter, who finished with just 57 all-purpose yards, easily his lowest output of the season. He was a non-factor much of the afternoon, especially compared to his performance last season against the Cornhuskers, when he had 229 all-purpose yards in the Wildcats' 28-25 win.
But even without the luxury of Colter and Venric Mark, who left with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter, Siemian almost made up for his sluggish second half. On Northwestern's final drive, completing three straight passes for 32 yards to get inside the Nebraska 40 yard-line trailing by one.
That range was close enough for kicker Jeff Budzien, but Siemian threw an incomplete pass, tucked and ran for three yards on second down, and threw incomplete again on 3rd and 7 in an attempt to get closer. Budzein missed the 53-yard attempt wide right.
"We were in position to make a few plays there down the stretch and we didn't make them," Fitzgerald said.
On the other end, Taylor Martinez made up Northwestern's tough run defense with his arm, throwing for 342 yards and three touchdowns. The Big Ten's most efficient passer got better as the afternoon went on, scoring three second half touchdowns, including two passes in the final seven minutes.
In the end there was more than one reason Northwestern failed to take down the Huskers in a crucial Legends Divison game. But if teams continue to key in on the run, knowing Siemian will struggle throwing the ball, Saturday afternoon could be a trend for the Wildcats.
"We gave ourselves every opportunity to do it, but we didn't make plays down the stretch," Fitzgerald said, "and we give credit to Nebraska for doing that. We ended up on the short end."

Brian Kelly aims to be more fiery, get players to play with more fun and passion

Brian Kelly aims to be more fiery, get players to play with more fun and passion

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Reeling with a 1-3 record and uncertain prospects of reaching a bowl game, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wants his team to have more fun and play with more passion, and he sees being more fiery on the sidelines during games as part of the solution. 

When asked if he needed to be looser on the sidelines to help inject some “fun” into his team on gamedays, Kelly said said that's not the case. 

“I actually think I should probably — I think I've been a little too, what's the word I'm looking for, maybe not as demonstrative,” Kelly said. “I think I've got to be more fiery on the sidelines, quite frankly. So I'm going to try to turn it up a little bit on the sidelines, because that's who I am, you know? And I've been hands off a little bit. I just need to be who I am, and not be, you know, as hands off and I've got to be more involved. So if I was too fiery, you guys will have even better stories over the next couple of weeks.”

Kelly’s first couple years on campus were marked by easily-sharable purple-faced rants, and last year he got into a physical sideline confrontation with assistant strength coach David Grimes (Kelly later said he regretted the incident happened). Following a blown coverage against Michigan State that effectively ended Sept. 17’s 36-28 loss, Kelly was seen on TV directing an expletive at a defensive coach (both ex-defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght were in the vicinity). 

“I can still be demonstrative, but I just feel like they still have to see that passion from me as well and that's all I was saying,” Kelly said. “I don't have to be a loon particularly on the sideline and throw chairs and do that kinda stuff. But they have to feel that from me as well. I think that's very important in this game of football.”

Kelly sharply criticized his team’s passion — and lack thereof, as he saw it — after Notre Dame’ 38-35 loss to Duke last weekend. When asked Tuesday if he thought the best way to get his players to play with passion was by pointing out their lack of passion, Kelly said it wasn’t, but he and his coaches are working on finding that solution. 

“I have to be able to find out what are the reasons that we're not playing with passion,” Kelly said. “I’ve made some changes, obviously, some significant changes, within my staff, that goes to maybe some of the reasons why we weren't. And there are other things that have to continue to evolve for us to continue to move in the direction that I want.”

Everything is on the table as Notre Dame looks to dig itself out of its brutal September. Plenty more players will get on the field, Kelly promised, in a sort of quality-over-quantity approach to gameday snaps (Kelly pointed to safety Drue Tranquill playing his best game of the season on only 39 snaps, for instance). The seventh-year Irish coach will be more involved in the defense after firing VanGorder and replacing him with Greg Hudson. 

While he’s criticized both groups, Kelly said he’s confident in his players and his coaching staff’s ability to turn around the 2016 season and avoid being ineligible for a bowl game for the first time since 2007. 

“We're 1-3, our players aren't that bad, our coaches are pretty good coaches,” Kelly said. “I’ve been doing it for 27 years. Obviously, we're working through some things. We're working through some things and our guys are working through them. We're working through them, and we think we're going back in the right direction.”

Adam Eaton returns to White Sox lineup vs. Rays

Adam Eaton returns to White Sox lineup vs. Rays

Adam Eaton is back in the White Sox lineup in their contest against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night on CSN+.

Eaton will bat in the leadoff spot and play right field.

"It’s nice to be back in there and I’m excited," Eaton said prior to Tuesday night's game. "They played really well yesterday, so hopefully we can keep up that same intensity. As I’ve said, I’m excited to get back out there."

Manager Robin Ventura held Eaton out of the game on Monday night, saying that he still needed time to recuperate. But the White Sox outfielder is ready to go.

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get an Adam Eaton jersey right here]

Eaton left last week’s game against the Cleveland Indians after crashing into the wall while making a catch. He missed the next three games.

Eaton, who got the wind knocked out of him during the catch, took and passed concussion tests.