The State of the Northwestern Wildcats



Coach Fitz and Mark Dantonio share mutual respect and a friendship that has made this game good for both schools.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.
Coach Fitz and Mark Dantonio share mutual respect and a friendship that has made this game good for both schools. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

The Nothwestern Wildcats come into the upcoming game with Michigan State with a 5-1 record, fresh off of a bye week. The last contest the Wildcats played in was against the Purdue Boilermakers, whom they lost to 20-17. Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald leads a team with a dynamite quarterback in Dan Persa and a lackluster running game and defense. Northwestern has struggled in both of its games against Big Ten opponents, and the team has yet to face a ranked team. As long as the Spartans don’t look ahead to next week’s showdown versus Iowa, Michigan State will prevail easily.


  • Northwestern’s offensive game plan is based solely on the passing attack. Said quarterback Dan Persa: “This is what we do here. We throw it around. We’re perfectly comfortable throwing it every down if we have to.”
  • Persa, a junior quarterback out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is the heart and soul of the Wildcat defense. He averages 326 yards per game through the air and on the ground, which is in the top ten in the nation. In addition to being the team’s leading rusher (295 yards, three touchdowns), the quarterback has 1,663 passing yards and 10 TD on the season.
  • The statistic that sets Dan Persa apart is his completion percentage. He completes 78 percent of his passes, which is tops in the nation. He does this despite being sacked an average of about three times per game (93rd in the FBS).
  • The reason that Northwestern has struggled in Big Ten play is this: the team has no legitimate running back. Its top rusher is Persa, and the team’s next highest runner is junior Jacob Schmidt, who has 158 yards on the year. Shmidt and redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy share carries for a ground attack that averages a mere 143 yards per game, which is eighth in the Big Ten.
  • Slot receiver Jeremy Ebert is one of Persa’s favorite targets, as the two have teamed up for five TDs on the year. Wide receiver Tony Jones and tight end Drake Dunsmore also see some passes thrown their way.
  • In terms of defense, the Wildcats are average. The unit allows 356 yards (8th in the Big Ten) and 18 points (5th in the Big Ten) per game. Northwestern’s defense did a great job of making things happen in their non-conference games. Its play in the Big Ten has been a different story. The Wildcats forced three turnovers and one sack against Minnesota and Purdue. For the team to have any chance whatsoever against the Spartans, the Wildcats have to create turnovers.

Northwestern has yet to face a team as fast or as talented as the Spartans. In most statistical categories, the Wildcats sit in the middle to bottom of the Big Ten. Although the team has the awesome weapon of Dan Persa, the team lacks playmakers besides him. This team simply doesn’t have what it takes to beat Michigan State. Still, expect Pat Fitzgerald’s team to give the Spartans all they’ve got.