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December 31, 2010To get the inside scoop on Texas Tech's bowl opponent, we went to the expert on Northwestern football -- WildcatReport.com publisher Louie Vaccher -- with five questions about the Wildcats and their bowl matchup with the Red Raiders.
What has been the biggest storyline surrounding Northwestern's defense this season?
LV: "I think the biggest storyline was the collapse of the defense in the last two games. As you know by now, the Wildcats were shredded by Illinois and then Wisconsin over the last two weeks of the season, surrendering a Nintendo-like 118 points.
"Against Illinois, the Wildcats gave up 519 yards rushing - that's not a typo; 5-1-9 - and made Mikel Leshoure look like Jim Brown. Then, against Wisconsin, they let the Badgers pile up 329 yards rushing and 559 overall.
"The defense was certainly not helped by 10 Northwestern turnovers in the two games, but a lot of their problems were their own doing.
"The irony is that to that point Northwestern had been respectable against the run. But a slew of missed tackles in those final two games -- Fitzgerald counted 31 against Illinois -- turned them into a sieve."
What can Tech fans expect to see out of the Wildcats' defense in Dallas in terms of general style and scheme?
LV: "The Wildcats don't take a lot of chances defensively, especially in the backfield. They will play a Cover-2 for the most part, and play their cornerbacks well off of receivers to guard against the big play. Their goal is to keep receivers in front of them and then make the tackle.
"Up front, they are not afraid to blitz, but their preference is to put pressure on the quarterback with their front four. Once they start blitzing and leave their defensive backs one-on-one, bad things can sometimes happen."
Who are some of the more notable players on NU's defense?
LV: "I'll give you one standout at each level of the defense.
"Up front, defensive end Vince Browne has been a beast all season. He is a 265-pounder with speed coming off of the edge, and he's blessed with one of those non-stop, high-revving motors. He finished tied for second in sacks in the Big Ten with seven, and he was third in TFL with 15.
"Senior Quentin Davie is the leader of the defense and one of the best athletes on the team. He got off to a great start this season, with three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, but his play seemed to slump during much of the Big Ten season. The reason, we found out just a couple weeks ago, was that he was suffering from a shoulder injury for much of the season. The hope is that he is back to his old self on Jan. 1.
"In the backfield, Jordan Mabin is the Cats' best cover corner. He led the Big Ten this season with 13 PBU. He's not very big, but he has good (not great) speed and is very athletic."
What was the defensive high-point of the season for the Wildcats? The low-point?
LV: "Defensively, the high point was probably the Wildcats' 21-17 upset of Iowa in Week 10. The defense held the Hawkeyes to 371 total yards and, most importantly, shut them out in the fourth quarter while the offense scored two touchdowns in the final 6:21 to pull off the upset win.
"The low point? Well, you can pick either of the final two games, but I'll go with the Illinois game. The defense was just flat-out blown off the ball for four quarters."
How do you expect the matchup between Northwestern's defense and Tech's offense to play out?
LV: "If the Northwestern defense that played the last two games shows up, they will have no chance against the Red Raiders. However, there is a lot of reasons to believe that the Wildcats will be much better on New Year's Day.
"First of all, they were embarrassed in those last two games and want to redeem themselves. Plus, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is one of the best in the business and he'll have them ready to play after a month of preparation for Texas Tech.
"The key, I think, will be first downs. If Northwestern can limit Tech on first downs and put them into predictable second- and third-and-long situations, they may be able to contain the Raiders. If Tech consistently picks up five or more yards on first down, the Wildcats will be in trouble.
"And it goes without saying that Northwestern will need to create some turnovers to give their foundering offense a short field."