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B1G 2016: Northwestern Potluck, Day 2: DEFENSE

We have an outstanding defense!

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Welcome back to B1G 2016, where it’s Day 2 of Northwestern Week! So far we’ve had some excellent contributions you should go check out if you haven’t already:

Cocktail Party Preview || Potluck: Offense

Coaching Preview || Hoegher’s Preview

As the offense was really just an appetizer to Northwestern’s defense in 2016, it only feels fair that we turn to something a little meatier. Unfortunately, contrary to our customary Northwestern bluster and bravado, I am not actually a monocled, top hat-wearing aristocrat, but rather a poor graduate student from the wrong ‘burbs (read: not Edina/Eden Prairie/Minnetonka/etc) of Minneapolis-Saint Paul. So let’s get to what I’d actually consider an appetizer to something much more substantial:

The Chicago-style Hot Dog

Now, like most other things Chicago, I (1) do not actually understand how or why this came to be, or (2) choose to consume this particular food product as part of my diet, owing to about 6 things I don’t like being on that hot dog. But it’s quintessentially Chicago and, no doubt, sure to engender some controversy.

[LPW Note: Chicago-style hot dogs are excellent. I’ve had many a hangover cured by getting hot dogs at old Demon Dogs in college right under the Fullerton El stop] [MNW: can confirm. Demon Dogs is a staple.]


MNW: Oh yeah, defense.

Northwestern was actually pretty good at defense in 2016. Like, 21st in S&P+, allowing just 18.6 ppg (12th nationally, albeit 4th in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan) and 319 ypg (13th). They did this with just an average turnover margin (+1 on the season) but a stifling 3rd down defense (32.5%, 15th in the nation). Instead, it was the playmakers for the Northwestern defense: CB Matthew Harris, whose 4 INTs and general lock-down play earned him 3rd Team All-B1G, the now-departed Dean Lowry and Nick VanHoose, and most importantly 1st Team All-B1G LB Anthony Walker, who racked up 20.5 TFLs and anchored Mike Hankwitz’s best defense to date, now earning first-round draft pick mentions.

Does Northwestern return to those heights on defense this year, or will a rebuilding defensive line (losing both Lowry and sack machine Deonte Gibson) struggle against the run? And seriously, why bother trying to throw on Godwin Igwebuike and Matthew Harris? Finally, a question about Northwestern’s greatest defender: what comes to mind when I say "Pat Fitzgerald"? Is it his play as a linebacker? His coaching? The memes?

Candystripes4Breakfast: I think the key to repeating last year’s performance for the PurpleCats is gonna be the linebacker play. Even if the line breaks down, if the backers are making tackles with any consistency, that might be good enough.

The only thing that comes to my mind when you say Pat Fitzgerald is that he coaches Northwestern. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

Al NamiasIV: I disagree with C4B; the key for NU will be the play up front. As was detailed, the Cats, if they stay healthy, have plenty to work with in the back seven, but the front four is a bit green. If I’m an OC, I attack the Cats right up the middle. With that said, no, Northwestern doesn’t repeat last year’s defensive performance, but it’s still a solid bunch that teams will have to work to score on. It will also be helped by what I expect to be a better offense that can hold on to the football.

When I think of Pat Fitz, I think of Iowa breaking his leg during the Cats’ Rose Bowl year and his holding a grudge ever since. That and his haircut.

Stew: Similarly to how I don’t see the offense being quite so eye gougingly awful, but still super bad, I think the defense will take a small step backwards, but still be quite formidable. There will be times the excellent LB play is a bit undone by the inconsistent play from the DL. And the other side of the field will get tested plenty in the passing game. Plus, if the DL can’t get a consistent pass rush, it doesn’t really matter how good the secondary is.

It’s probably ass sandwiches.


What he must be saying is "Mikel Leshoure might as well have a car the way he’s gonna run on us today"

Townie: I don’t think this defense will be as good as last year. Remember that Stanford game at the beginning of the year? You guys started out 5-0, with good wins against the Cardinal and Duke. If you had an offense, last year’s team would’ve won the west.

Last year’s squandered what was a solid defense. If you look at the Michigan game, you see that they were up 14 points and your offense had only run 4 plays for zero yards. The defense did give up some drives, for 24 points. Michigan’s other two scores came from a pick six and the opening kickoff return.

By the way, Michigan only put up more points against Rutgers, Indiana, and Florida last year...and Indiana took them to overtime!

Damn, Indiana’s offense grafted to last year’s defense would’ve made a pretty good team. Oh well. Northwestern fans’ butlers will be up in arms when I say this, but...I think the 2015 defense was the high water mark for Northwestern. They will see a let down this year.

WSR: You can count me among the doubters, too. It’s not like you can count on gifts from Jerry Kill & Matt Limegrover or Mike Riley anymore. Nebraska did fire Mike Riley, right? Also: who’s Pat Fitzgerald?

Speth: Blah, blah, blah, Joel Stave, blah, blah, blah interception. FUCK! Obviously, I can’t give any credit to jNW’s defense, because I’m from Wisconsin and incapable of giving credit. jNW’s defense was just incredibly lucky, and will be horrible this year, because. Also, just for the record, fuck Bo, and Iowa is responsible for every good thing for Wisconsin football. Also, also, Wisconsinites are all fucking lightweights, it’s the truth, we’re horrible people.

[ed. note: this may not have been Speth]

GoFor3: Why try throwing on the Northwestern secondary? Hell, why does anyone in the West try to throw at all? Seriously, though, NU will probably be better in the secondary than any other defensive unit on the team. Their stats will be aided by the existence of innumerable Stave analogs in the B1G West. Though maybe guaranteed first round draft pick Mitch Leidner will light up the Wildcat defense through air enroute to a big wi-....yeah, even I can't take that seriously. If he was that good, he'd have transferred to Michigan already.

Andrew K: I'm too young to remember Fitzgerald as a player, so to me he's just the coach that prevents your program from being Vanderbilt. And his calling card has typically been a defense that's been solid without a ton of top-level playmakers, so it's reasonable to expect that to continue. Of course, every time we think we know what Northwestern is going to be, they become the opposite, so maybe in six months we'll be talking about a Texas Techian passing attack covering for a sieve defense.