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Team Report - NORTHWESTERN

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INSIDE SLANT

If Northwestern's struggles were an investment in character this season, then last Saturday's 37-34 victory over Illinois was its final reward.

The Wildcats went from a 4-0 start and No. 16 national ranking followed by a seven-game Big Ten swoon before beating their in-state rival Illini at Memorial Stadium.

"This squad really developed a lot of character," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said after his team closed at 5-7. "We went through a lot of things -- a lot of obstacles -- and I thought they were able to continue to stay focused and continue to fight on as the season went along."

The Wildcats missed a bowl trip for the first time in six seasons but avoided their first winless Big Ten campaign since 1998.

With senior quarterback Kain Colter sidelined with an injury, Northwestern got a spectacular day from junior Trevor Siemian who threw for a career-best 414 yards on 31-of-44 passing with four touchdowns.

It was the most completions since Dan Persa had 31 against Iowa in 2011.

"Coach Fitz has always told us that winning a Big Ten game is the hardest thing you will do in your life," said Siemian, who's projected to anchor the Wildcat offense in 2014. "We were just talking and we were saying how true that is with everything we've been through this year. It's good to finally get one, that's for sure."

Last Saturday's game was the finale for 14 seniors, a group close to Fitzgerald's heart.

"To see the way those guys developed over their four or five years is something that we're very proud of as a staff," he said. "That was our focus today: to play as hard as we could for our seniors, to send them off the right way and we got the mission accomplished."

The Wildcats face a more challenging schedule in 2014. In addition to the rigorous slate of Big Ten games, Northwestern adds two-time BCS bowl contender Northern Illinois (Sept. 6) and visits Notre Dame (Nov. 15).

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--PK Jeff Budzien was named Big Ten kicker of the year and consensus first-team all-Big Ten selection this week. He set single-season records for field goals (23), career field goal percentage (.873), consecutive field goals made (17), career points scored (280) and most consecutive PATs made (136). Budzien was also ranked No. 1 in the country in field goals made and tied for second nationally in accuracy among kickers with at least 20 attempts (92.0 percent).

--DE Tyler Scott was named second-team all-Big Ten after leading the Wildcats with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss along with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. His 16 career sacks rank sixth all-time.

--LB Chi Chi Ariguzo earned all-Big Ten honorable mention after he tied for the team lead with four interceptions and finished second with his first 100-tackle season (106).

--S Ibraheim Campbell, another Big Ten honorable mention, anchored a secondary with a team-high-tying four interceptions while knocking down five other passes.

--LB Damien Proby, also an all-Big Ten honorable mention, topped the Wildcats and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 112 tackles in his senior season. He also picked up two forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown. He's the first Northwestern defender with 300-plus tackles (304) since Brian Peters with 301 in 2011.

--OL Brandon Vitabile earned honorable mention after serving as veteran leader on a relatively young offensive line. He led a group that helped leading rusher Treyvon Green average 5.4 yards per carry and protected a Northwestern passing attack that was fifth in conference yards per game passing.

--QB Trevor Siemian completed 10 of his first 11 passes for 135 against Illinois and went on to finish 31-of-44 for 414 yards, the 10th-highest single-game passing game in school history. It was also the most since Mike Kafka had 532 yards against Auburn in the 2010 Outback Bowl. The 31 completions and four touchdowns were each career highs and a 54-yard pass play to Rashad Lawrence the Wildcats' longest this season.

--WR Christian Jones quickly set a single-game career high for receiving yards with 95 yards on six receptions in the first period against the Illini. He also had the first multi-touchdown game of his career while finishing with 13 catches for 182 yards. That was the fifth-best single-game performance in school history.

--Northwestern was one of the country's least-penalized teams, ranked 13th with an average 4.08 penalties per game and tied for 14th in fewest penalty yards per game (34.75 average).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told the team (that) no team in the country got socked in the gut more than these guys did. They got knocked down and they kept getting up." -- Pat Fitzgerald on handling adversity.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Northwestern finished in the middle of the pack nationally in rushing offense with a 172.4 yards per game average (64th). Treyvon Green topped the Wildcats with 807 rushing yards.

Scouting the passing game: The Wildcats employed both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian as quarterbacks and they collectively averaged 227.2 yards per game (69th nationally). Siemian did most of the passing, going 178-of-298 for 2,149 with nine interceptions and 11 touchdowns.

Scouting the run defense: Northwestern allowed an average 167.3 yards per game (67th nationally).

Scouting the pass defense: The Wildcats allowed 256.2 average yards per game but had a top secondary that was 19th in the country and led the Big Ten with 23 interceptions.

Scouting the special teams: K Jeff Budzien topped the nation with an average 1.9 field goals per game and his 92 percent completion percentage was 13th in the U.S. He set single-season records for field goals (23), career field goal percentage (.873), consecutive field goals made (17), career points scored (280) and most consecutive PATs made (136)

ROSTER REPORT

--QB Kain Colter wrapped up his Northwestern career on the bench, injured the previous week against Michigan State. He ended ranked fifth in school history with 28 rushing touchdowns, eighth with 2,178 rushing yards and 11th in total offense yards (4,340).

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