Tag Archives: wildcats

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.

 

 

 

 

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Northwestern Basketball Gears Up for Spain Trip

Northwestern basketball embarks on a trip to Spain this weekend, where they will tour the country and play five exhibition games against professional European teams. Schools are only NU Media Day Photo 8:19eligible for the trip once every four years, the last one made by Northwestern was in 2010.

Collins is clearly setting the pace and the mindset for the players as they prepare for the trip, where they will face Estudiantes, Eurocolegio Casvi, UCAM Murcia II, Andorra and US Toulouges.

“I think more than anything [we’re looking forward to] the team bonding, the camaraderie, the chemistry”, said coach Chris Collins when he spoke to reporters at their practice on Wednesday. “Obviously you want to win the games, you wanna play well, you wanna try to see things about your team, but those things are secondary to what I think a trip like this can do for a team in terms of how they bond and the chemistry they have going forward”.

The biggest adjustments being made in practice as preparation for this trip involve playing with European rules, including a small ball, deeper three point line, wider lanes and a 24 second shot clock.

“Its been great to see guys up against the clock”, said Collins. “So you learn you have to push it up quicker, you have to get into your sets quicker, and then when it does get to five or six seconds on the shot clock, you can’t panic. You have to use those last few seconds to really get a good shot and I think those are gonna be huge things as we head into the college basketball season”.

Coming off a positive end to last season, the Wildcats are looking at this trip as an opportunity to build off of that success both on and off the court. The team has been spending more time together in the offseason, building their chemistry but also focusing on their games and their conditioning. There were some noticeable changes in some of the guys when they came out for practice Wednesday. Senior center Alex Olah is leaner, as are fowards Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey and point guard Bryant McIntosh. They are hoping to gain more versatility in their lineups where Law can not only be stronger in the post, but can also bring it up at times, taking some of the pressure off of McIntosh and allowing him to play off the ball at times.

Even with all of that, the success of the Wildcats this season will on their leading scorer, senior Tre Demps. Demps is coming off his best season at Northwestern and is looking to continue to improve as a player a leader, which starts with keeping the high expectations in check.

“I’m really not thinking about March”, said Demps. “If you’re thinking about March then you’re not really thinking about what it takes to get there, and what it takes to get there is buying in every single day, doing things right every single day, practicing hard, and not letting a day go by where you didn’t get better.”

Collins is very high on Demps, who he has only had for two years. He has worked hard this offseason on being more efficient in the lane, being able to finish more consistently at the hoop and improving his defense as well, a shortcoming in his game he is not afraid to address. He has matured nicely, as evidenced by his feelings about not looking too far ahead, and his eager to take on a leadership role this season along with fellow captains Alex Olah and Sanjay Lumpkin.

“He’s gotten better each year”, said Collins”. “No one works harder on their game. There’s an added maturity to him….and its nice to have that on the team. He’s obviously gonna be a big scorer for us and thats gonna be a great role, but, he’s also gonna have some ball handling duties as well, which he was anxious to add to his game and give him a chance to have the ball in his hands and bring it up a little bit, so I think you’ll see him in that role a little bit as well”.

This trip will be a great opportunity for this team to get a head start on the season, playing against international competition. It will not only benefit the players, but it’ll also benefit Collins, who is entering his third season and is really starting the settle in with this group. He knows that there will be a sense of urgency for his seniors this season, but he is quick to temper the excitement surrounding the team.

“We wanna be a team that’s talked about in March, but to do that, you can’t skip steps along the way. It’s August right now and we don’t talk about March, we talk about what we’re doing for this Spain trip. I think teams can really hurt themselves if they get too far ahead. I tell our guys all the time, to me words like “upside” and potential”, the only thing that means is you haven’t done anything. And even though its exciting to hear positive things, we have a long way to go and we have a lot to prove and I want these guys to come to the gym everyday trying to get better, not only individually but as a team.”

The team takes off on August 22nd and returns on September 1st.

 

 

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.

Northwestern Football Preview: Wide Receiver

For all of the questions surrounding who will be under center for Northwestern this fall, the group of guys catching the passes may be an even more unknown group. E7T5430-300x275

The wide receivers are one of the position groups that were hurt most in the off season with the losses of their top two targets from last year, Kyle Prater and Tony Jones. And with these two gone off of a group that really struggled even with them last year, the Wildcats could be in for another very rough showing from their receivers.

With only a few returning starters and a lot of unknowns and incoming freshman, the depth chart at wide receiver may be one of the most fluid heading into camp.

Christian Jones, Miles Shuler and Cameron Dickerson highlight the returning starters, and with Jones and Dickerson both coming off of injuries, its hard to predict at this point what we’re going to see from them. Jones has top-receiver potential, but has struggled to stay healthy and Dickerson has the physical build for the role, but has a bad habit of dropping passes. Both will likely be thrown into bigger roles by necessity alone.

But spots are no doubt going to be up for grabs, and guys like Mike McHugh and Pierre Youngblood-Ary are going to have opportunities in camp to vie for a bigger role in the offense.

These questions are all underlined by the uncertainty at quarterback, which was covered in last week’s positional preview. Because none of these guys are proven, consistent big-play receivers, their success will live and die by the quarterback’s ability to get the ball to the right spot and make plays.

This could also play into coach Pat Fitzgerald’s decision at quarterback. With so many questions surrounding how much production they could even have through the air, he may opt to go with someone like Matt Alviti, who could keep defenses off balance with his legs when there is nothing available down field. Alviti’s ability to run could also create opportunities for receivers if he can become a threat.

While Northwestern will likely depend primarily on the running backs on offense, an ineffective passing game will hinder their ability to run the ball. If they are not able to be a threat down field and keep linebackers and defensive backs on their heels, they are going to have a very hard time moving the ball and scoring on offense. Only truly elite wide receivers are able to compensate for or overcome weak quarterbacking or offensive line play, and it doesn’t appear Northwestern has any of those on their roster as of now. The best they can hope for is a balanced attack and it is unclear if they have the personnel or the talent right now to do that.

The best they can hope for at this point is to find the best combinations in camp, and that will be on Fitz and the coaching staff. They’ll need to evaluate which quarterback has the best feel for the offense, and based on that, see which receivers find the most chemistry with that quarterback. And since the three guys competing for the quarterback job are so different, it opens the door for any one of these receivers to step into a larger role.

Player to Watch: Christian Jones

The big question is whether or not Jones will be healthy and able to return to form from two seasons ago. Jones missed all of last season with an ACL injury and has had lingering knee issues since then. Jones is #1 receiver material but it is yet to be seen if he can live up to that potential. His health will be one of, if not the most important factors when it comes to the success of the receiving corps in this offense.

In 2013, Jones led the team with 668 yards and 4 touchdowns in a season that was capped off by a 182 yard, two touchdown game in a win against Illinois in the last game of the season.

If he can get back to that kind of production, he could be a very dangerous offensive threat.