This postseason edition of Crossfire allows us the chance to welcome our new friends from Lake the Posts, a veritable one-stop shop for all things Northwestern athletics.
RMN: First of all, what's the reaction been like to Northwestern's 9-win regular season? Did Northwestern fans expect this kind of output this year?
LTP: Extremely positive as you can imagine. I was banging the 8-4 drum all summer long and fellow Big Ten bloggers thought I was delusional. When you consider the injuries we suffered - star RB Tyrell Sutton out, his back-up Omar Conteh out, CJ Bacher out for 2 games - it truly is a remarkable season. The amazing part is most felt we would do it Mizzou style by simply outscoring opponents. We have a new OC with Mick McCall (Bowling Green) and a new DC/Savior with Mike Hankwitz. The offense underdelivered and the "D" overdelivered and essentially made the season. We're just getting used to this whole pass rush concept which was a joke in previous years.
RMN: How have fans reacted to the pairing with Missouri? What's the public perception of Missouri's program right now among Northwestern circles?
LTP: A collective gulp. I'm not going to lie to you, we'd much rather be playing South Carolina in the Outback or even Florida State in the Champs than a pissed off Big 12 team that won it's division in arguably the most dominating year a conference has had in memory. Missouri is very well respected and the speed of Jeremy Maclin combined with the experience of Chase Daniel presents a major challenge. Cats fans are on a mission to erase the "1st time since..." syndrome and the last of those (aside from winning at the Shoe) is winning a bowl game. This is our 6th bowl since 1995, but our last bowl win was in 1949.
Remaining questions after the jump...
RMN: It seems like most Missouri fans know the names Bacher, Kafka, and Sutton and not much else. Who in particular do Missouri fans need to become familiar with before Dec. 29?
LTP: The headliner is DE Corey Wootton. He is a sack machine and menace to all QBs. John Gill at DT is also a stalwart while S Brad Phillips is a ferocious hitter (he's knocked two players, including Big Ten MVP Shonn Greene out of games already this year). CB Sherrick McManis gets all the hype in the secondary, while freshman CB Jordan Mabin is underrated. The LB corps is a little thin thanks to injuries and our offensive line, the big question mark of the year has been a pleasant surprise in the pass rush protection department, but below average in run blocking.
RMN: How exactly is the Bacher-Kafka used? Is it a platoon system, or is Kafka's playing time a result of injuries? How much faith do you have in both guys?
LTP: It has been 100% injury related. Bacher went down with a hammy in the final drive against Indiana. Kafka started and played the next two games, and CJ returned for the final two against Michigan and Illinois. Bacher has been plagued with inconsistency as he is prone to throw picks, but has a new attitude of "I'm putting the team on my back." You can plan on seeing a healthy mix of both - a true platoon in the Alamo - as they are such different looks it will make you prepare essentially for two separate teams. The coaches completely wrap Kafka's throwing, but he showed great promise in the Minnesota game (sans one very bad pick 6). Faith in CJ was at new lows earlier this year, but his recent moxie has lifted many to believe again. Kafka is very well liked, but the lack of passing has caused fans to become irritable on 3rd and long situations.
RMN: What are the strengths of the Northwestern defense? How do you expect them to matchup with the Missouri offense?
LTP: The strength is chemistry. We may not have the most explosive athletes, but they are playing together in a way that we haven't seen since 95 & 96. We are weak against the deep ball to the non McManis side, but are very good at coming up with the big sack and pass rush. All you need to do is watch the game tape against our one common opponent, Illinois, to see what we've become. We do give up the big play a couple of times a game, but our "D" somehow manages to always stiffen and keep teams out of the end zone.
RMN: The blueprint for beating Missouri begins by manhandling Mizzou in the trenches. What kind of success do you expect out of Northwestern's offensive and defensive lines?
LTP: I like our D-line matchup against you, but our O-line, as mentioned is not so good with the run. Perhaps it is wishful Big Ten thinking but I believe the Illini are similar in the challenges you present. A dangerous deep ball threat (from a MUCH better QB than Juice) to stellar, speedy WRs and good hands, good sized TEs. I expect us to really be aggressive and create havoc for Chase, but I'm fearful of the deep ball to Jeremy Maclin. You know it's coming, but can we stop it. Yikes.
Thanks to LTP for the info. Our response to LTP's line of questioning can be found here. Make sure to head over to LTP to interact if you have any questions about NU football, and welcome those NU fans who find their way here to Rock M Nation.