Preview 2017: Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2017: Northwestern Wildcats

Big Ten

Preview 2017: Northwestern Wildcats


Preview 2017: Northwestern Wildcats

Previewing and looking ahead at the Northwestern Wildcats season – and what you need to know.

Contact @PeteFiutak

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2017 Northwestern Preview: Is It Even Possible To Win Big Ten?
2017 Northwestern Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Northwestern Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Northwestern Offense

Great at times against the bad teams, mediocre against the good teams, non-existent in the 9-7 loss to Illinois State, the offense had its moments.

Justin Jackson continues to be in the argument for the pound-for-pound toughest runner in college football, tearing off over 1,500 yards and 15 scores behind a line that gets back four starters, but couldn’t keep the heat off the quarterback. Even so, QB Clayton Thorson held up.

He bombed away and started to push the ball down the field more, but now he’ll have to spread the ball around with the main man for the passing game gone.

Austin Carr is done after catching 90 passes in an all-star season, but there’s hope with a good-looking receiving corps returning. However …

Biggest Key To The Northwestern Offense

Thorson needs more time to work. The line is half full: four starters are back. The line is half empty: they weren’t very good. Oh sure, the line was able to help Justin Jackson run for over 1,500 yards, but give Thorson more time, and then look out.

Guard Tommy Doles is a good one who can pound away for the ground game, but pass protection was optional for long periods of time, allowing 39 sacks – ten more than in 2015 – and 95 tackles for loss on the year.

What You Need To Know About The Northwestern Defense

It might have given up a ton of passing yards thanks to a banged up secondary that had to patch things together at times, but the defense was terrific overall.

All-around playmaking linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. is gone early, but more than enough key parts are back to expect another terrific season as long as the linebacking corps holds up. There’s no Walker, but the starting three should be fine – the depth will be lacking early on, though.

Ten of the 27 sacks are gone with the graduation of Ifeadi Odenigbo, but three starters return up front to an underappreciated line against the run, allowing 139 yards per game. Can the front four get to the quarterback? That would be nice considering the secondary still needs a little help.
This was a bend-but-rarely-break secondary that made up for a few problems with 16 interceptions and a ton of third down stops. If everyone can stay in one piece this year, the defensive backfield will be a plus.

Biggest Key To The Northwestern Defense

Where are the killers up front? Odenigbo never quite lived up to the initial hype – even with the ten sacks last season – but he was the one who made things happen behind the line along with Walker, who was second on the team in tackles for loss.

There weren’t enough plays made behind the line overall, but there was enough pressure from all parts of the defense to force 25 takeaways, with four in three of the final four games and 18 during the final run. To do that again, that’ll start up front.

Northwestern Will Be Far Better If …

It scores and keeps scoring. The defense was good enough to hold its own, but the O had a bar it had to hit. The Wildcats were 7-0 when scoring 24 or more, and 0-6 when scoring fewer. 24 would’ve beat Western Michigan, it would’ve rolled by Illinois State, and it would’ve been enough to get by Wisconsin.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but the Cats didn’t give up more than 24 in five of the six losses – even against Ohio State – with the 29-12 loss to Minnesota the worst scoring defensive performance in any of the defeats.

Best Northwestern Offensive Player

QB Clayton Thorson, Jr. – Few are buying into the idea at the moment, but just wait. The 2018 NFL Draft will be loaded with top-shelf quarterbacks, and while Thorson isn’t the Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Mason Rudolph zip code quite yet, he’s going to be in the suburbs.

The 6-4, 220-pound improved by leaps and bounds after a shaky freshman season, throwing for 3,182 yards and 22 touchdowns with just nine picks, while showing enough mobility to run for 98 yards and five scores. He might need to be more accurate, and he might not have the Allen/Darnold arm, but he’ll find a spot in The League – after at least one more huge season in Evanston.

2. RB Justin Jackson, Sr.
3. OG Tommy Doles, Jr.
4. WR Flynn Nagel, Jr.
5. FB/TE Garrett Dickerson, Sr.

Best Northwestern Defensive Player

S Godwin Igwebuike, Sr. – One of the Big Ten’s best tackling defensive backs over the last three seasons, he followed up an 87-tackle season with a team-leading 108 stops with two picks and seven broken up passes.

The 6-0, 205-pounder doesn’t miss in the open field, with 13 solo stops against Nebraska and three double-digit tackling games on the season. Now he’s the veteran leader of what should be an improved secondary.

2. LB Nate Hall, Jr.
3. DE Xavier Washington, Sr.
4. CB Montre Hartage, Jr.
5. S Kyle Queiro, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

DE Xavier Washington, Sr. – Is he going to provide the pass rush? Built like a big linebacker, the 6-1, 243-pound defensive end on the outside rose up in his third season turning into a solid starter, making 38 tackles with 4.5 sacks. Ultra-quick and with a great motor, he has to be the main man in the backfield now with Odenigbo, Walker and C.J. Robbins gone.

The Northwestern Season Will Be A Success If …

The Wildcats flirt with a ten-win season. There can’t be a home loss to a MAC team – even if Bowling Green is as good as Western Michigan was last year. There can’t be a home loss like there was to Illinois State, either. Had the Cats won those two games, it would’ve been a nine-win regular season.

This year, they’re good enough to beat Nevada, Duke, and Bowling Green to start with a three-win base. They should also be good enough to handle Purdue, Illinois and Maryland – or at least be close. There’s Penn State at home, and the Wisconsin and Nebraska games are on the road, but there’s no Ohio State or Michigan.

Key Game To The Northwestern Season

Sept. 30 at Wisconsin – Northwestern was able to force a gajillion turnovers in wins over the Badgers in 2014 and 2015, but it was a different story in Evanston last season in a 21-7 Wisconsin win. Want to be a player in the West this year, Wildcats? Make it three wins in four seasons over Bucky with a win in Madison to kick-off the Big Ten season. With Penn State up next, this might be a must to avoid an 0-2 conference start.

2016 Northwestern Fun Stats

– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 14-of-26 (54%) – Northwestern 17-of-32 (53%)
– Fumbles: Opponents 14 (lost 9) – Northwestern 9 (lost 7)
– Red Zone Scoring: Opponents 41-of-56 (73%) – Northwestern 31-of-42 (74%)

2017 Northwestern Preview: Is It Even Possible To Win Big Ten?
2017 Northwestern Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Northwestern Previews: 2016 | 2015


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