Northwestern survives against Syracuse

I would hate to see the EKGs of Northwestern fans.

The Wildcats never make it easy, or boring, and no lead ever seems safe. Even when they raced out to a 35-13 advantage over Syracuse midway through the third quarter today, no one who has followed this team for any period of time could feel entirely comfortable.

And so, in typical Northwestern fashion, the Orange rallied for four straight touchdowns to take a 41-35 lead with 2:40 to go. It looked like an all-time gag job for a program that has given away more than its share of leads over the years.

But these 'Cats just love drama. Northwestern needed less than two minutes to drive the length of the field, and backup quarterback Trevor Siemian hit Demetrius Fields for a nine-yard touchdown pass with 40 seconds to go as the Wildcats pulled out a 42-41 thriller. Pat Fitzgerald still hasn't lost an opener as head coach.

So bully for Northwestern starting out 1-0 and winning on the road against a BCS AQ team. Good on them to be so resilient late. But the team has much to worry about after this one.

The defense, so maligned after last year's performance, actually played pretty well for the first two-and-a-half quarters. Syracuse committed three turnovers and Chi Chi Ariguzo scored on a 33 yard fumble return after the Orange gave up on a fumbled lateral. Ariguzo also had an interception.

But once Syracuse got down big, it took to the air. And the Wildcats' shaky pass defense looked lost. Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib completed 44-of-65 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns as the Northwestern defensive backs got burned again and again. Nassib basically lobbed up a punt to wide open Jeremiah Kobena for a 50-yard score at the end of the third quarter as the defender fell down.

Syracuse is not normally an explosive passing team. The Wildcats' defense obviously still has a long ways to go for this team to be any kind of factor in the Big Ten. The good news is their offense can still put up a bunch of points in a hurry, and Venric Mark even returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown.

But if that defense doesn't figure things out, they might be looking at more shootouts in the future. And that means Northwestern fans will probably deal with a lot more heartburn this season.