Midseason review: Northwestern

Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 5-1 (1-1 Big Ten)

It says something that Northwestern can go 5-1 in the first half and still feel a little disappointed. After overcoming myriad mistakes to win the first five games, the Wildcats couldn't escape their problems with penalties and special teams in Saturday night's home loss to Purdue. A win against the banged-up Boilers would have given Northwestern its first 6-0 start since 1962. Still, Pat Fitzgerald's crew should feel fortunate to be 5-1 after finding ways to win despite not playing its best football. Junior quarterback Dan Persa has been fabulous so far, ranking fourth nationally in passer rating (173.3) because of a sparkling completion ratio (78 percent) and three 300-yard passing performances. His receivers also have been outstanding, which helps because Northwestern's struggles in the run game have carried over from 2009. Despite several attempts and personnel groupings, the Wildcats rank ninth in the league in rushing average (143.3 yards per game). The defense has been opportunistic so far with 14 takeaways, including three interceptions by linebacker Quentin Davie, although the secondary looks vulnerable after losing three multiyear starters from the 2009 team. Northwestern has capitalized on a weak schedule so far, but to keep winning games, the Wildcats must cut down on penalties (46 for 395 yards) and find more consistency from kicker Stefan Demos and the special-teams units. The good news is Fitzgerald's teams typically play their best in November.

Offensive MVP, QB Dan Persa: An obvious choice here, as Persa has been exceptional in the first six games. He executes Northwestern's short-passing attack extremely well and remains a threat to run with 295 rush yards and three touchdowns. He has completed 138 of 177 passes for 1,663 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (35 receptions, 560 yards, 5 TDs) merits a mention here.

Defensive MVP, Quentin Davie: The senior has been a little quiet in Big Ten play but very active during the nonconference, recording three interceptions in the first three contests. Davie boasts 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 passes defended and a forced fumble. Defensive end Vince Browne (8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) and tackle Jack DiNardo also deserve to be recognized.