Analyzing the Northwestern Defense
Through Three Games

By Brian McGuire

The Northwestern Wildcats have had a disappointing season so far through three weeks. The defense was the strength of last year’s 10-3 team, as they only gave up 17.2 points in 12 games, including two shutouts. This season, even though the Wildcats are 1-2, their defense has once again is a strength, giving up 14.6 points this season.

In the first game of the season, the Western Michigan Broncos scored 22 points, but bullied the Wildcats on fourth down, converting on all four fourth down attempts in the game. The defense allowed 416 yards, eleven total first downs on the day, along with recording zero turnovers and four sacks on the day. The defense failed on a key fourth and 1 on the goalline with 5:38 left in the game, as the Broncos offensive line plowed over the Wildcats defensive front to pave the way for Jamauri Bogan to take the lead for the game-winning score.

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck was proud of his team’s aggressive gameplan saying,

 “We didn’t come here to lay up. We came here to win a football game. I believe in this football team and I believe in our short-yardage system. It comes down to attitude, how and will, and I believe that’s what we do well.” Fleck mentioned the attitude of his team, which might not be a shot at Northwestern, but sure indicates that the Broncos came into Ryan Field with the mentality to win.

In the second game of the season against the Illinois State Redbirds, the defense had the “bend but don’t break mentality,” only giving up 9 points on the day but also allowing 372 yards. The Redbirds shot themselves in the foot, committing nine penalties for 89 yards and turning the ball over twice. The Wildcats stepped up on third down, holding the Redbirds to three third down conversions out of 13 attempts, preventing the Redbirds from extending drives and limiting scoring opportunities. The defense picked off Jason Kolbe two times, deflected three passes, and sacked him seven times. The defense did their job, but Northwestern just could not pull out the victory.

The Wildcats’ defense played another great game in their third game against the Duke Blue Devils. The Wildcats held the Blue Devils to seven points up into the 51 seconds in the game, where the Blue Devil scored a touchdown in their last drive of 24-13 Northwestern victory. After losing the time of possession battle 39:04-20:06 in week one, and once again losing that  battle 34:18-25:42 to the Redbirds, the Wildcats won the battle 32:53-27:07 in their first win.

The Wildcats recorded two sacks on the day, one interception, one forced fumble, and eight pass deflections. The defense allowed only five third down conversions on 17 attempts, and stopped their first fourth down conversion of the season, stopping two of the three attempts by the Blue Devils.

All in all the Wildcats defense has once again been the strength of this team. The team has a 68.1% third down stoppage rate, forced six sacks, three interceptions, and one fumble. Senior linebacker Jaylen Prater is leading the way with 17 tackles, along with junior safety Godwin Igwebuike with his sixteen tackles, one interception, and four pass deflections. The team ranks first in the Big Ten with 149 solo tackles and tied for first with 15 pass deflections.

The defense has been reliable and has put the Wildcats to put a position to win in every game. With Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all slated on the schedule this season, the defense will be tested against the top-tier teams in the country.