Shout out to Rockwell again, who has been maligned somewhat over his annoying song and the ridiculous jeri curl. I'm sure he doesn't take his weak historical reputation too badly, considering he's bound to inherit some riches from his dad Berry Gordy and GEICO has to pay him royalties for using "Watching Me."
This week I put the blinders on and aim my focus on Preseason Playboy All American defensive end Corey Wootton. After shredding defensive lines all across the country last year and accumulating 10 sacks, many people questioned where Wootton could possibly duplicate that success while recovering from a bad knee injury that required surgery. My questions are somewhat along the same lines. Has Wootton lost a step? How will teams gameplan for this beastly DE?
First Possession, 1st Half
Wootton is lined up in a familiar spot, the left edge of the vanilla 4-3 that NW plays. Lined up across from him is Minnesota's hulking tackle, Jeff Wills. We've called out Wills in the past, claiming he plays soft and lazy. This 370 pound monster has his way with Wootton on the first play though, easily pushing him aside to pave an avenue for a successful run play. Minnesota runs sweeps away from Wootton the next two plays and when Weber drops back to pass, Wills easily wards off Wootton's pass rush by keeping him at arms length. Minnesota scores an easy touchdown.
Wootton has learned his lesson early and beats Wills with an outside rush, only to be quickly double teamed. Ah ha, Wootton's first impact play is made by beating the tight end with a quick first step and forcing the RB away from his blockers. On a third down pass play, Wootton again goes at Wills and is soundly knocked back by the big tackle. Wootton keeps fighting, but finds a double team again.
Wootton is getting no rush on the bigger tackle and is drawing a double team on almost every passing play. On a third and one, he holds his ground against Wills, but Bennett just avoids the left side and slashes through where the DT's should be. Minnesota has inserted Gray into the backfield and Wootton stays home, using his outstanding athleticism to keep the speedy frosh from getting the corner. I believe Wootton is credited with his first tackle for forcing Gray out of bounds.
Minnesota, who has been smartly running away from Wootton up until now, runs right at him behind a double team. Wootton is forced out of the play and one begins to think that the Gophers are really doing whatever they want. Fitz has seen enough of Wills smacking Wootton around and runs the first stunt. This brings Wootton a bit closer to hurrying Weber. Minnesota is driving again and Wootton seems to summon extra energy, beating Wills to the inside and getting his arms around the running back, who promptly rolls into the end zone for a touchdown. It's that kind of day for the Wildcat defense.
Wootton forces a run play away from him and the linebackers combine to miss a few more tackles. Minnesota has decided to attack Wootton with a running back and a tight end. Wootton skips past a back and helps Quentin Davie smash Weber, forcing an incompletion and getting his first quarterback hurry.
Sixth Possession, 2nd Half
Wootton is lined up in the same position and Minnesota's excellent tight end, Nick Tow-Arnett, blocks him outside, only to watch Woottton hustle his ass off and catch Weber scrambling for his second tackle. Minnesota is driving now and Wootton cannot find a place to impact the game. He is double teamed consistently even, after beating Wills, and is taking wide angles that make him a non-factor on most plays. Tired of rushing too wide, Wootton goes right at Wills and is soundly rejected, MMA style. I don't make the All-Big 10 teams, but Jeff Wills is making a case today by physically overpowering Corey Wootton.
After sitting out the first couple of plays, Wootton comes in for a third down play and beats Wills to the inside, almost getting a QB hurry. Frankly, it's almost impossible to go outside on Wills today, plus Minnesota is throwing the ball so quickly that a slow developing rush has no impact.
Subbed out again for first down and his substitute shows a little more fire right off the bat. This was the go-ahead drive for Minnesota, putting them ahead 28-24, and Wootton sits the entire time. Either Fitz wants to inject some fresh blood or just thinks his star DE is ineffective.
A familiar site for the run game - Wootton holds up Wills at the LOS and the linebacker swoops in to miss the tackle. Wootton finally gets tired of poor play by teammates, stuffing the middle and chasing down the ball carrier for his third tackle of the day. Wootton follows up this excellent effort by beating two blockers to the outside and forcing a bad throw by Weber for his second quarterback hurry.
Wootton had three tackles, two quarterback hurries, and two impact plays where he individually altered the play. He didn't miss any tackles or commit any penalties. His attempts to go right at Jeff Wills were rejected soundly and Minnesota threw the ball too quickly for him to show any spin moves or double moves. He doesn't lack for hustle, but too many times Wootton chose to hand fight with Wills instead of dipping inside with his shoulder.
Other "Watching You" Articles
Playing at home versus Cali, Adam Weber hates throwing the ball away and loves Eric Decker.
Ian Thomas, promising Illinois linebacker, is a coach on the field even as a sophomore against Illinois State.
I don't think Wootton has lost a step, but his numbers and effectiveness have waned due to the defensive unit's ineptitude. Minnesota had so little respect for the other Northwestern lineman that they felt comfortable to attack Wootton with constant double teams. Even when Wootton was able to attack the LOS and push the play back to the middle of the field, the DT's were nowhere to be found.
Northwestern runs a simple 4-3 scheme that relies on pressure and solid tackling by the linebackers, neither of which happened Saturday. It remains to be seen whether Fitzgerald and the defensive coordinator will mix things up (more stunts, more press coverage) against a hard working Purdue team.