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Northwestern on the Defensive in upset of Stanford

The Northwestern Wildcats entered this season with a lot of new faces in new places, and after their 16-6 upset over Stanford on Saturday, the faces are becoming more familiar and the questions are starting become answered.

So much of the focus this offseason has been on the quarterback position, with the job ultimately going to freshman Clayton Thorson. Thorson was far from perfect in his debut, but in the end did everything he needed to do, and a little bit more, to secure the win for  Northwestern. nuvstanfordpic

While the offense did just enough to help lead Northwestern to the win, it was the defense that ultimately look center stage. The Wildcats held Stanford to only six points and 240 total yards, which included only 85 total yards on the ground from Stanford’s highly touted running backs. All of this against an offensive line that ESPN had ranked 8th best in the country headed into the season.

That said, things were not looking good on Stanford’s first drive of the game, in which Northwestern’s defense looked underprepared and overmatched. On their opening possession, Stanford drove down the field easily with a 12 play, 64 yard drive which ended in a field goal. Coach Pat Fitzgerald claimed the team didn’t make any adjustments after that drive, but something was different, and it was all Wildcats from there.

“There was nothing that we needed to adjust”, Fitzgerald said after the game. “We had opportunities to get off the field on that drive and we didn’t and that was probably what we were most disappointed with, was our inability to get off the field on third down”.

Northwestern’s dominance on defensive started up front with the veteran defensive line, led by Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson, who kept the Stanford rushing attack at bay and put pressure on quarterback Kevin Hogan all day. But Northwestern was able to bring pressure from all over, with sacks by Ifeadi Odenigbo and Traveon Henry.

“This game needed to be won up front. I thought there was a dominant performance by our defensive line. It looked like we controlled the line of scrimmage on every single play”, said Fitzgerald.

It was a balanced attack on defense from Northwestern, but the guy who spent the most time standing over tackled Stanford players was Anthony Walker. The promising young linebacker was all over the field, in on nearly every play, totaling 10 total tackles, 1 sack assist, 2 broken up passes, and a fumble recovery.

“We wanted to let everybody know that we’re a physical football team”, Walker said after the game. “We wanted to be able to stop the run first and that starts with the front seven and I think we were able to get that job done today”.

Walker came onto the scene unexpectedly last season as a freshman, when he was thrust into battle after an injury to Colin Ellis. He very quickly emerged as a star for Northwestern in 2014 with dominant performances in wins over Penn State, Notre Dame and Purdue. He is a player we featured as someone we were looking toward to make the next step and emerge is a true star and leader on this defense. This victory was a very big first step in that direction.

To put this game into perspective, last season Northwestern opponents averaged 25.2 points per game. This game was the lowest point total they’ve given up to an opponent since defeating Penn State 29-6 on September 27th, 2014. In fact, it was the first ranked team they’ve held without a touchdown in 20 years.

Stanford’s offense averaged 27.2 points and 388.6 total yards per game last season, compared to just 240 total yards against Northwestern on Saturday, with an offense almost entirely intact from last season. It was their lowest output on offense since their 45-16 loss to Oregon last season.

Of the game, Fitzgerald said, “It was probably one of the best performances I’ve seen our group play, top to bottom, against a ranked team, maybe in my time (here)”.

It was only fitting that the game ended on a touchdown saving interception by Kyle Queiro with under a minute to go in the 4th quarter.

This was a big win for Northwestern but also a big statement game for this defense, which came into the season with a lot of questions surrounding who would step up and be difference makers, particularly behind the defensive line.

“We unleashed a cage bull today”, said Lowry after the game. “It’s just a start though. Just a start”.

This win over Stanford set the tone for the Wildcats, and set the bar for the defense to be the group they believe they can be, but haven’t been over the last couple years. But with a young, albeit promising quarterback at the helm, the defense is going to need to be counted on to, at the very least keep them in games, and at times, win games for Northwestern this season. Now they’ve shown what this defense is capable of, and now that they are on the radar of the rest of their opponents, they know the real work is still ahead of them.

 

 

 

 

Northwestern Basketball Names 2015-2016 Team Captains

Entering his third full season as Northwestern basketball head coach, Chris Collins has named his team captains for the 2015-2016 season – redshirt senior Tre Demps, senior Alex Olah and redshirt junior Sanjay Lumpkin. MG_2340-300x200

Last season was a mixed bag for this young but promising Wildcats team. After a strong start to the season, the team went on to lost ten straight games, before finishing off the season strong with big wins over Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana and a double overtime win over Michigan.

While the team’s overall record last season was among the bottom tier of the conference, the team has a lot to look forward to entering the season and the positive outlook starts with these three captains.

Demps was the team’s leading scorer last season, averaging 12.5 ppg. He was a big part of the team’s final five wins and has emerged as their most reliable scorer and one of their best perimeter shooters.

Olah was the team’s second leading scorer last season behind Demps, and led the team in rebounding. Last season was his best yet and enters his senior season as the Wildcats’ all-time leader in blocked shots.

Lumpkin emerged last season as a defensive specialist, leading the team in steals.

The Wildcats are not expected to make a huge jump in the Big Ten next season, a conference still stacked with powerhouses, but there is reason for optimism. Collins has clearly had an impact on the team both on the court and off, including recruiting. Collins agreed to an extension this off season. They will return all five starts from last season, which will allow them to build off the chemistry they began to establish at the end of last year as they hope to contend for the school’s first NCAA tournament bid.

They will play five exhibition games in Spain from August 22nd – September 1st, and will kick off the 2015-2016 season on November 13th at home against the UMass Lowell River Hawks.