After a wild 44-30 victory over California on the road in the season opener, Northwestern will host Syracuse in the home opener. The Wildcats have not lost a home opener since a shocking 34-17 loss to New Hampshire in 2006.
They had to survive a late Syracuse rally to hold on in the Carrier Dome last season. After blowing a 35-13 second half lead, Trevor Simien hit Demetrius Williams with a nine yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left to cap a dramatic 42-41 season opening victory on the road.
Syracuse lost Head Coach Doug Marrone and Quarterback Ryan Nassib to the NFL. Taking over are Scott Shafer and Drew Allen. Allen struggled in the opener. He went 16-37 for 189 yards with two interceptions in the opener.
Nassib scorched NU for 482 yards, four touchdowns and an interception last season.
Can Northwestern's Pass Defense Improve?
Northwestern finished last season ranked 84th in the nation in pass defense. Syracuse didn't put up the same numbers last week that they did in 2012, but starting cornerback Daniel Jones was lost for the season late in the Cal game last week. True freshman Jared Goff lit up Northwestern for 450 yards last week.
The Wildcats ability to make the big play on defense proved to be the difference. They sacked Goff four times and picked him off three. Collin Ellis returned two of those for touchdowns in the second half and Ibraheim Campbell had a key Int late in the fourth quarter.
How Healthy are Colter and Mark?
Kain Colter and Venric Mark, the two biggest stars on Northwestern's offense were sidelined for most of the game with injuries last week. They are listed as questionable according to NFL.Com.
Trevor Simien is expected to start in place of Colter.Colter suffered a concussion against Cal on the second play last week. Simien is not the traditional backup. He shares playing time with Colter and is the better passer. He threw for 276 yards against California last week.
Mark's injury is only listed as a lower body injury. Treyvon Green rushed for 129 yards on 15 carries and scored twice last week.
Can the Defense Continue to Play Well in the Fourth Quarter
In all three loses last season, Northwestern blew second half leads. They stepped up big last week. In addition to Ellis' Two pick sixes, the Wildcats outscored Cal 17-6 in the fourth to extend the lead from three to 14. Campbell's late INT also proved important. If they can continue to play clutch defense late throughout the season, NU should be a contender for the Big Ten title game.
Can NU Continue its dominance of Non-Conference team at Ryan Field
Northwestern has won 13 games in a row at home against non-conference teams. Their success stretches back to the 2008 season. The streak ironically began against Syracuse.
Can Syracuse's Offense Roll?
Syracuse ranked 17th in the nation in total offense in 2012. They faltered at Penn State without Marrone and Nassib last week. After one week of play this season they have slipped to 100th. After last week, Northwestern ranks 107th in pass defense. After last week something has to give. Northwestern was crushed last week by Goff and Nassib lit them up last year at the Carrier Dome.
Until they prove otherwise, Northwestern struggles against the pass. The Wildcats rush defense was much more impressive last week. They held Cal to just 93 yards rushing, good for 29th overall nationally.
Syracuse's Jerome Smith was the biggest positive in the 23-17 loss at Penn State. He rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns.
In front of the home crowd and at night, NU should roll. Syracuse doesn't seem to have the offensive firepower Northwestern does.
Simien should get going early and then Green should put the game away late.