Game Preview


Nevada at Northwestern
Ryan Field
Saturday, Sept. 8.  Time: 11:00 am CDT
WGN radio internet coverage.

Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Nevada
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern (1-0) heads into this Saturday's game against Nevada (0-1) after winning its first shutout in exactly a decade, although many questions remain - especially regarding the offensive and defensive line play.  Nevada, meanwhile, got eaten alive in Lincoln by Nebraska whose running game went wild to rack up a final score of 52-10, although that score may deceive one into believing Nevada has become an easy opponent.  The WolfPack get back their top LB, Butler, and now have a game under their collective belt and will be entering a much less hostile Ryan Field against a team they beat last season.

Looking back on last year, both teams are vastly different - Northwestern now has a functioning offense behind CJ Bacher (instead of the BREWFKA mishap of an offense) and the entire coaching staff has now had a year to adjust and settle into their positions after a tumultuous 2006 season after the unfortunate offseason events preceding that year.  Oh, and don't forget NU's 5 turnovers in last year's game - including the INT returned for a TD to seal the game.  Nevada, meanwhile, lost offensive weapons in the backfield and defensive weapons in the secondary, but still retain enough talent to cause problems.

Line: Northwestern -9.5 (opened at Northwestern -7.5)

Who Should Win: Northwestern should win and be pretty near the spread - the 'Cats have made huge strides over last year (the offense looks like night and day and the defense managed a shutout) plus Nevada is on the road a long way from home for the second straight week and lost some key weapons from last year.

What To Look For: NU had a tough time going from week 1 to week 2 last year as the 'Cats got thwomped by UNH after the week 1 win.  This year, though, the coaching staff knows what they're in for and will be facing a familiar opponent - now at home.  The players know they lost to these guys last year and had a chance to win but 5 turnovers killed NU's chances.  While Northwestern's offense looks bounds better than last year and the defense has shown steady improvement, the Wildcats still must prove themselves against some decent competition - and this is that chance.  Nevada stands out as the toughest nonconference opponent for NU, and they aren't going to be a pushover (even though Nebraska made it look easy).

NU's offense must attack and keep the passing game going but now actually add a rushing attack.  Sutton fought for every inch last week with almost no help from the OL - and if he gets room to run then watch out - we saw that Nevada is vulnerable to the run.  The offensive line must do a better job protecting Bacher who was sacked 3 times and had to unload the ball 2 others - look for the return of Rees to shore things up.  Also, Northwestern must continue the trend of no turnovers after doing well holding onto the ball in week 1.

On defense, the Wildcats must show improvement on the line.  While Nevada was held to very limited yardage against Nebraska look for improvement behind their first year play caller.  Against Northeastern, NU allowed the Huskies within field goal range 4 times although Northeastern only attempted 2 (that were badly missed), but don't expect Nevada to come away with no points.  Northwestern will have to try different defensive strategies this week AND put some pressure on the QB.  NU also must create turnovers which it was not able to do last week.  In 2006 it took a couple of weeks for NU defense to start getting its hands on the football, but hopefully the 'Cats can speed that along this year.

Special teams - kicking must keep up the good work.  Punting, FG/XP kicking, and kickoffs were spot-on.  The return game could use some improvement but with the talent NU has returning the ball they should be able to rack up the yards sooner or later as long as some focus is put on that area.

Opponent To Watch:  Butler, LB - he has the ability to help contain NU's rushing game (his suspension last week obviously caused problems against Nebraska), and their defense's ability to create turnovers may be troubling - much like the 'Cats learned last year.

Upset Factor: Nevada beat NU last year.  They are the 'Cats toughest nonconference opponent.  NU's DL and OL played relatively poorly last week.  NU had a letdown after a week 1 win last year.

Miscellaneous:  Things are looking up for the 'Cats so hopefully the coaching staff can correct the minor issues and keep NU cruising through the NC schedule.  Look for an attendance boost this week (thanks at least to the dismal showing this past week - if NU matches the previous worst showing it will already be approximately 25% more than last week's number).  Look for new variations in NU's offense - and even a possible pass to a TE or FB - something rarely seen at NU (reportedly the TE/FB "superbacks" have been receiving more than a few balls in practice).  On defense look for different looks: 4-3, 3-4, and 5-2 with some blitzes coming (especially against Nevada's inexperienced QB).

Injury Report: Brewer (WR) - broken arm/out for season; Smith (S) - shoulder/day-to-day (dressed for game 1 but did not play at all); Diaz (OL) - not listed as injured but did not appear in game 1 despite rotation of backups into the game.

Prediction: Northwestern 34 - Nevada 17

Go 'Cats!!!


e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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