2009 Northwestern Wildcats Football Preview
2008 Record: (9-4, 5-3)
2008 Bowl: Alamo Bowl vs. Missouri (L 23-30)
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (19-18 at Northwestern, 19-18 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz
Other Key Returnees: G Doug Bartels, DT Corbin Bryant, C Ben Burkett, LB Quentin Davie, CB Sherrick McManis, OT Al Netter, S Brendan Smith, OT Desmond Taylor, LB Nate Williams
Key Losses: QB C.J. Bacher, DT John Gill, G Keegan Kennedy, LB Prince Kwateng, WR Ross Lane, DE Kevin Mims, WR Eric Peterman, RB Tyrell Sutton, K Amado Villarreal, WR Rasheed Ward
Northwestern did not challenge themselves during their out of conference schedule in 2008. The result was a 5-0 start to the season. However, the team did have some big wins on the road against Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. Wins like those do not happen very often, especially outside of Evanston, Illinois.
Depending on the health of end Corey Wootton, the Wildcats could have a dominating defense. Wootton, who injured his knee during the Alamo Bowl, tallied ten sacks during his junior campaign and will be in for a big senior season if he regains his form. And the front line will need him to be healthy. While the defense does return eight starters, two of the losses are on the line. Replacing John Gill and Kevin Mims will be difficult enough without Wootton at full strength. The other loss is linebacker Prince Kwateng, but Nate Williams and Quentin Davie should be able to pick up the slack in the middle of the defense. The secondary gave up 214 yards per game in the air, but what was once an inexperienced group is now a veteran secondary led by safety Brad Phillips.
There were times last year when Northwestern had to survive without quarterback C.J. Bacher and running back Tyrell Sutton, both of whom struggled with injuries. Now they have to live without those two for an entire season. Mike Kafka proved to be a capable quarterback who could make plays with his feet, but his passing and decision making was erratic. His experience last year cannot hurt, but he must turn into a leader of the offense and keep the mistakes to a minimum. It would also be beneficial if Kafka did not lead the team in rushing or feel the need to scramble as often as he did last season. Stephen Simmons, who ran for 178 yards on 62 carries as a sophomore last year is the most experienced running back, but redshirt freshman Alex Daniel and sophomore Jeravin Matthews could see some carries as well.
The Bottom Line for the Wildcats:
Despite all of the turnover among the skill players on offense, they are set up to be successful due to the offensive line. Northwestern ranked second in the conference in sacks allowed while starting three freshmen on the line. Those freshmen are now experienced sophomores and there are plenty of experienced upperclassmen ready to fill the rest of the holes. A successful offense has to have a good line and that is especially true in the Big Ten. If the Wildcats can create space and time for the running backs and Kafka, this could be a surprisingly dangerous offense.
By Joel Welser
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