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2011 Northwestern Preview – Defense
Northwestern SS Brian Peters
Northwestern SS Brian Peters
Posted Jul 12, 2011 2011 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Defense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Northwestern Preview | 2011 Northwestern Offense
- 2011 Northwestern Defense | 2011 Northwestern Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Seven starters return to a defense that got run over by the teams that could pound away, and was way-too-easily bombed on by the good passing attacks. Illinois ran for 519 yards and five scores, and Wisconsin ran for 329 yards and five touchdowns the week after, while four teams threw for 300 yards or more; teams exploited the NU weaknesses. Vince Browne is a big-time end who needs help to improve the anemic pass rush, while the linebacking corps has the potential to be terrific if David Nwabuisi can be a major factor in the middle. The secondary gets back three starters, led by tackling machine safety Brian Peters and speedy corner Jordan Mabin, but it has to start shutting more teams down after struggling to keep the better passing teams down. Overall, the experience is there, but the production has to follow after finishing 97th in the nation in total defense.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brian Peters, 107
Sacks: Vince Browne, 7
Interceptions: Brian Peters, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Vince Browne
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Kevin Watt
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB David Nwabuisi
Best pro prospect: Browne
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Browne, 2) SS Brian Peters, 3) CB Jordan Mabin
Strength of the defense: Experience, Safety
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Consistency

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Northwestern was 34th in the nation in sacks two years ago and 41st against the run. Last year, the pass rush dried up, with the Wildcats finishing 104th in the nation, while the run defense finished 92nd in America. Three starters are back to a veteran group, and the depth should be solid with some promising young prospects ready to show what they can do, but more pressure in the backfield is a must.

Don’t blame the team’s pass rushing problems on Vince Browne, a 6-5, 265-pound senior who led the team with seven sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss after coming up with five sacks in 2009. Big, athletic, and extremely quick off the ball, the senior has all the tools to work on some NFL team’s defensive front, and now the Second Team All-Big Ten former linebacker should get a bigger spotlight and will be the star the line works around. He’ll be backed up by junior Quentin Williams, who beefed up to 260 pounds on his 6-4 frame, and now he has to do more to get to the quarterback in a rotation with Browne. He came up with 18 tackles and three tackles for loss, but he failed to register a sack. The former linebacker started three games in the middle of the season, and now he’s ready to be more of a factor.

Working at one end is senior Kevin Watt, a 6-4, 265-pounder who started ten games last season on the left side and once on the right, finishing with 29 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. While he’s big and has the potential to be a dangerous pass rusher, he failed to come up with a sack and hasn’t yet lived up to his tools. He’ll be pushed hard by 6-4, 255-pound sophomore Tyler Scott, a great-looking young athlete who missed all of 2009 hurt but came back to be a key reserve throughout last year. A top outside linebacker prospect out of high school, he switched over the end early on and finished with 12 tackles with three tackles for loss in his limited time. Now he’s ready to do far more.

Trying to become more of an anchor on the inside is senior Jack DiNardo, a 6-4, 290-pound veteran who came up with 33 tackles with seven tackles for loss and two blocked kicks. An active interior presence, the nephew of former Indiana and LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo showed he could be more than just a run defender in his 11 starts. Quick and talented, he could be terrific now that he knows what he’s doing, while the combination of 6-3, 280-pound redshirt freshman Chance Carter and 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Will Hampton will produce when they get a chance. Carter is a local product from Evanston, and was a top recruit, while Hampton is a Texas native who saw a little time as a true freshman making one tackle.

6-5, 290-pound junior Brian Arnfelt is a smart, tough end who’s going to work as a quick inside tackle. A reserve last season, he came up with 14 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. Now that he has spent a year at his bigger weight, he should know what he’s doing and he should be more comfortable in the rotation on the inside. He’ll have to fight off 6-3, 310-pound senior Niko Mafuli, a big body who appears ready to gum up the works. He only made ten tackles over the last two seasons, but he had a great offseason and could be a breakout star in his final year.

Watch Out For … Scott. While Watt is a veteran starter who started all but one game last year, the emergence of Scott as one of the top end prospects could shake up the line. If Watt doesn’t start getting into the backfield on a regular basis, Scott might.
Strength: Experience. Three starters are back and while tackle Corbin Bryant was a key to the interior, he should be replaceable if Mafuli and Arnfelt are ready to start doing more. The line has good size and nice upside, but now it has to come up with more of a …
Weakness: Pass rush. The Wildcats got a great year out of Browne, and … and … that was about it. Watt has to hit a quarterback and Scott and Williams need to become more dangerous. The secondary needs help, and it has to start with more pressure in the backfield.
Outlook: The line has the experience and it has the star to work everything around in Browne, but the production has to start coming from the other three spots. The line was a plus over the year under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, and it could be again if Watt can finally live up to expectations and if the tackle rotation starts to produce.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Gone is Nate Williams, the team’s second-leading tackler with 96 stops and two sacks with 9.5 tackles for loss, and Quentin Davie also needs to be replaced after coming up with 71 stops with three picks and six tackles for loss. While they were great players who’ll be missed, Pat Fitzgerald knows how to find and coach up linebackers, and the players are in place to be more than fine. The goal will be to quickly fill in the gaps while being more disruptive and more productive; no Fitzgerald led team’s leading tackler should be a safety.

The lone returning starter is Bryce McNaul, a 6-3, 230-pound senior who came up with 62 tackles with a sack and five tackle for loss. The starter on the weakside, he was the main man for 11 games but had issues with a shoulder problem early on. When he’s right, which hasn’t been a given throughout his career, he’s extremely quick and always around the ball. Considering his injury history, 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Tim Riley will have to be at the ready. He only made two tackles in his first season, but he has the speed and the range to be a stat-sheet filler once he gets more of a role.

Starting in the middle for Nate Williams will be junior David Nwabuisi, a 6-1, 240-pounder who’s built for the position. Strong, thick, and very, very quick for his size, he has the range to be one of the team’s top three tacklers now that the job is his. He got a start in 2009, and last year he was a big part of the rotation making 26 tackles with two tackles for loss, a pick, and three broken up passes. A light-em-up hitter, he should put up big numbers. 6-0, 230-pound sophomore Damien Proby made 20 tackles as a top special teamer, a good backup, and a spot starter getting the call on the outside against Illinois. A pure tackler, he’s versatile enough to play any of the three spots.

Getting the starting strongside job in place of Quentin Davie will be senior Ben Johnson, a 6-3, 225-pounder who made 31 tackles with a sack and a pick in his time as a key reserve. A strong pass rusher, he was always jumping on the quarterback when he got on the field and was always providing pressure. Built like a beefed up safety, he moves extremely well and should be a disruptive force if he can stay healthy; he had problems with a leg injury early in his career. Backing him up on the strongside will be the combination of redshirt freshmen Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo, two athletes who are ready to go. The 6-3, 215-pound Ariguzo is like a strong safety playing linebacker, while Ellis is only 6-2 and 205 pounds who can get around in a hurry.

Watch Out For … Nwabuisi. Nate Williams was terrific in the middle last year, and Nwabuisi should be able to do a little of everything, too. In his limited time, Nwabuisi showed he has the ability to make things happen all over the field. He’ll be a threat for 100 tackles.
Strength: Pat Fitzgerald’s linebackers. It’s like being Dave Grohl’s drummer; you need to have a certain make-up and a certain quality to make the cut to play for one of the greatest linebackers in college football history. The Wildcat linebackers can all hit and they don’t make mistakes.
Weakness: Proven starting veterans. Johnson will be a great pass rusher and Nwabuisi is about to blow up stat-wise, but they’re not sure things quite yet. Williams and Davie were a tremendous twosome who knew what they were doing, and it might take a little while for the new threesome to be as strong as last year’s.
Outlook: The linebacking corps will be fine. Health has always been an issue for many of the returning pieces of the puzzle, but there’s a ton of good tackling talent and the projected starting threesome should come up with well over 250 tackles and could end up being one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Unit Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The Northwestern pass rush was terrific in 2009, and the secondary stunk. The Northwestern pass rush was awful in 2010, and the secondary stunk. Three starters are back, and they can all tackle, but the pass defense has to be stronger after allowing 241 yards per game. There weren’t a ton of huge plays allowed, but the Wildcats were dinked and dunked to death at times. But last year was supposed to be about the transition with several new starters in the mix. Now the defensive backs know what they’re doing.

Senor Brian Peters was a huge question mark going into last year after suffering a leg injury, but he was fine by the start of the season and went from being a good nickel back to a great strong safety with a team-leading 107 tackles with three interceptions and four tackles for loss. At 6-4 and 215 pounds he has good size, great range, and has a knack for coming up with the big play. A Second Team All-Big 12 performer, he’ll once again be the leader and the star of the secondary. While Peters is a lock for the job, 5-11, 195-pound redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell is ready to play a big role in the rotation. Terrific in practices this offseason, he has range and great hitting ability. He could take over a job as a nickel and dime defender.

Back at the free safety spot is 6-1, 220-pound junior David Arnold, a former linebacker who moved to his more natural safety spot and finished the year with 42 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes after making 34 stops with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2009. A veteran starter who got the call in five games as an outside linebacker two years ago, he played in eight games last year but had problems getting over a foot injury early on and didn’t end up starting until the final month. If he has injury problems again, 6-1, 195-pound senior Mike Bolden will get a look at the job after spending most of his career at corner. He made 14 tackles last season, but has yet to make a pick and has just one broken up pass in 32 career appearances.

Back at one corner spot after starting the last 37 games, senior Jordan Mabin has been a great tackler and all-around playmaker making 190 career stops with 63 last year with a pick and 15 broken up passes. An Honorable Mention All-Big Ten performer, he has good speed and 5-11, 180-pound size. A superstar high school playmaker, he was one of the team’s top recruits in 2007 and has played like it for the last three years. Peters might be the team’s top defensive back, but Mabin is the best all-around talent. He’ll be backed up by 5-11, 180-pound senior Ricky Weina, a walk-on who worked mostly on special teams last season finishing with five tackles. He broke up three passes in 2009.

Special teams superstar Jeravin Matthews is 5-11 and 175 pounds with terrific speed, and now he’ll get his shot at the right cornerback spot. A great kickoff returner in the past, the former running back has made 33 career tackles and will get to use his wheels and athleticism in the defensive backfield. However, he’s hardly a sure thing, meaning 5-11, 175-pound junior Demetrius Dugar is a terrific athlete who made 21 tackles in his two seasons. Smart, fast, and with good upside, he’ll make a push for the job.

Watch Out For … Campbell. It’ll be tough to find a steady spot for him early on with Peters and Arnold all but set at safety, but he’s a rising playmaker for the defense who should be a key starter next year and the first one off the bench. With his range and upside, he’ll be a key to the secondary soon.
Strength: Experience. Matthews is a question mark at one corner, but the other three jobs are rock solid. Peters and Mabin are near locks for all-star honors, and Arnold is solid at safety.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Wildcats came up with 15 picks last year, but the linebackers were involved throughout. Only five interceptions from last year’s secondary are returning, with Peters getting three of them.
Outlook: Alright, NU secondary, it’s time to start producing. The Cats gave up 200 yards or more in ten of the 13 games with one of the games under the mark coming against Illinois State and the other coming against Illinois … when the Illini ran for 519 yards. More picks would be nice, but the key will be to start getting off the field more often with third down stops. After allowing 3,135 yards, the pass defense has to tighten up.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Gone is Stefan Demos, a decent, but unspectacular kicker who hit 16-of-23 kicks last year and showed a little bit of range. Now it’s up to sophomore Jeff Budzien to take over, and he has the high school résumé to handle the work. He has a great leg with range around 55 yards out, but he needs to be more consistent than he was this offseason, while junior Steve Flaherty will likely handle most of the kickoff duties, but he has to prove he can handle himself inside the 45.

The punting game was among the best in the Big Ten, finishing second in the conference averaging 38 yards per kick thanks to a great year from Brandon Williams, who averaged 40 yards per kick with 21 put inside the 20 and with 19 fair catches forced. Accurate, consistent, and with a great leg, the sophomore walk-on turned into a shockingly strong player, and now he’ll be in the hunt for all-star honors.

The Wildcats finished 45th in the nation in punt returns and 42nd in kickoff returns, and fourth in the league in each category, with sophomore receiver Venric Mark coming up with a great year. He averaged 12.9 yards per punt return, and will be the main option again, and averaged a whopping 26.2 yards per kickoff return including a 94-yard touchdown against Wisconsin.

Watch Out For … the kicking situation. Demos wasn’t special, but he had his moments. The problem is that Budzien and Flaherty weren’t great this offseason. It could be an ongoing battle for the job throughout the year.
Strength: The punting game. How great was Williams? He only put it in the end zone four times and he did a phenomenal job of working with the punt coverage team. The Wildcats allowed a paltry 3.3 yards per punt return with none longer than nine yards. Only Tulsa and Oklahoma were better.
Weakness: Placekicking. Four games were decided by three points or fewer, and Northwestern came up with three wins. The kicking game has to be rock solid, and Budzien and Flaherty need to combine to be great in the clutch. Had Northwestern gone 1-3 or even 2-2, instead of 3-1 in the close games, there wouldn’t have been a bowl appearance.
Outlook: If the placekicking can be merely adequate, the Wildcat special teams should be terrific. The coverage teams have been great, Mark is a star returner, and Williams should be in the hunt for all-star honors. Now it’s up to Budzien and Flaherty to get the job done for the kicking game.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 Northwestern Preview | 2011 Northwestern Offense
- 2011 Northwestern Defense | 2011 Northwestern Depth Chart