The Wildcat offense was never very good, but Northwestern didn’t need them to be good. The defense was amazing for the third week in a row, and special teams helped the Cats not only win the field position battle but put points on the board. It looks like Pat Fitzgerald has a winning formula.
-The defense is for real. There’s no doubt about it at this point. Duke averaged over 40 points in their first two games and has some legitimate playmakers. Thomas Sirk was expected to present a real challenge with his arm and legs, but Northwestern limited him to 150 yards through the air and less than four yards per carry. The ‘Cats benefitted from a few lucky turnovers, but the defense carried this team again.
-How about the special teams! Hunter Niswander had to punt ten times and averaged over 41 yards per punt with a 49-yard long. Solomon Vault took the second half opening kick and returned it 98 yards to the house. The kick and punt coverage was fantastic. Duke had a long return of just 24 yards. If Northwestern is going to play defensive battles like this one, the special teams have to perform on this level.
-Justin Jackson put the team on his back when they needed it. The sophomore rushed 35 times for 120 yards and helped run out the clock in the fourth quarter. Warren Long made the play of the game though, busting for 55 yards to put the Wildcats up 19-10 late.
-Clayton Thorson is still learning. He made a lot of poor mistakes and was picked off twice. Thorson also missed quite a few open receivers on short and deep routes. These were mistakes that Northwestern simply cannot afford going forward. Even if the defense keeps up their stellar play, the Wildcats won’t be able to win too many games when they go three-and-out seven times.
-19. Anthony Walker had 19 tackles Saturday. Northwestern might have their next great linebacker. The ‘Cats went nickel rather often, and they weren’t hurt because Walker could cover so much space. Godwin Igwebuike was great in the open-field as well. He sniffed out a bunch of outside runs and screen plays.
-Northwestern has one of the best resumes in the country. Does it mean they’re one of the best teams? No. But wins against Stanford and Duke should look really good in December when bowl selection season comes along. And with Ball State up next, the Wildcats should enter conference play undefeated.