4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NORTHWESTERN DEFENSE
– The D will be terrific. Nine starters and seven of the top ten tacklers are back. This was a young group that gave up 391 yards and 23 points took the ball away enough to make up for a slew of other issues. The run defense was good, the pass D just okay, but when it came time for a clutch stop, this group almost always figured it out.
– Jared McGee is done, but Paddy Fisher inside and Blake Gallagher outside will seem like they’ll get in on every play. The two junior linebackers will combine for well over 100 tackles again, and 213-pound junior Chris Bergin is a good veteran coming off a 51-tackle season.
– Joe Gaziano isn’t your normal pass rushing end, but the 275-pound senior has the type of non-stop motor needed to live in the backfield. He’s not alone up front with Samdup Miller a good tackler on the other side and 268-pound Alex Miller inside – and that’s an issue. The line is active and productive, but it’s missing bulk in the interior.
– It was a young group of defensive backs last season that held up okay, and now it welcomes back three starters starting with all-around playmaking safety JR Pace. The junior was third on the team in tackles and led the way with four picks, and fourth-leading tackler Travis Whillock is right next to him. Trae Williams is a good-sized corner with a decent rotation on the other side.