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2011 Northwestern Preview
Northwestern DE Vince Browne
Northwestern DE Vince Browne
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 12, 2011


CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Northwestern Wildcats


Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2011
 

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Pat Fitzgerald
6th year: 34-29
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 28, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 14
Ten Best Northwestern Players
1. QB Dan Persa, Sr.
2. DE Vince Browne, Sr.
3. SS Brian Peters, Sr.
4. CB Jordan Mabin, Sr.
5. WR Demetrius Fields, Jr.
6. TE Drake Dunsmore, Sr.
7. OT Al Netter, Sr.
8. LB David Nwabuisi, Jr.
9. WR Jeremy Ebert, Sr.
10. P Brandon Williams, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Boston College
Sep. 10 Eastern Illinois
Sep. 17 at Army
Sep. 24 OPEN DATE
Oct. 1 at Illinois
Oct. 8 Michigan
Oct. 15 at Iowa
Oct. 22 Penn State
Oct. 29 at Indiana
Nov. 5 at Nebraska
Nov. 12 Rice
Nov. 19 Minnesota
Nov. 26 Michigan State

Northwestern football and Texas football have never been compared before in any way, shape, or form, but the Wildcats have to learn from the Longhorns and their recent history.

Texas was rolling along year after year under head coach Mack Brown, helped by huge years from the quarterbacks including Vince Young and Colt McCoy. The Horns got to the 2010 BCS Championship game against Alabama, McCoy got hurt, and that was it for the national title hopes. Seeing how the loss of one player destroyed his team in the biggest of moments, Brown pushed hard last offseason for a more balanced attack and for more help from the running backs to take some of the heat off the quarterback.

Texas, a team with as much talent as anyone in America, finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing and passing, tenth in scoring, and eighth in total offense in a disastrous 5-7 campaign.

Northwestern lost heart-and-soul quarterback Dan Persa for the season on the game-winning throw to beat Iowa, and a 7-3 start suddenly turned into a brutally ugly meltdown with the offense fizzling against Illinois and Wisconsin, the run defense going bye-bye, and with three bad blowouts to close an otherwise strong season.

Now, seeing how the loss of Persa – the team’s second-leading rusher and one of the nation’s most efficient passers – ruined the team, Northwestern is looking to get more out of the running backs and will try to take away from the reliance on just one player to carry the attack. Why didn’t this work for Texas when it made a fundamental change in philosophy? Quarterback Garrett Gilbert was awful, the offensive line was lousy, and the running backs didn’t get the job done. Of course, it didn’t help that Texas flat-out quit once the season turned sour, a problem Northwestern won’t have, but the biggest issue was that the team couldn’t seem to find an identity and there wasn’t any consistency. No matter what the Wildcats do, they need to be good at it week in and week out and they need to come up with their own niche.

Because head coach Pat Fitzgerald is a legendary linebacker, NU’s personality should be hard-nosed and tough defensively, but that wasn’t the case last year with the front seven getting flattened by the good running teams and the secondary getting picked clean way too often. Making matters worse, the offensive line was awful, allowing the most sacks in the Big Ten, while not doing nearly enough for the running backs. Basically, Northwestern has to get nastier.

Granted, it’s not always easy to ask some of the smartest 18-to-22-year-old people on the planet to get angry enough to take on the Neanderthal mentality needed to be a bunch of bullies, and the program has been mostly known for ripping up big numbers with its tippy-tappy, finesse spread attack ever since the offense came into vogue, but now, finally, Fitzgerald might have the team in place he’s been waiting for. This is the group that should start doing the shoving.

The O line has been a disappointment over the last few seasons, but four starters return, and it’s really five, with three seniors and two juniors knowing what they’re doing. They’re big, they’re experienced, and they finally should be in a position to start pounding away. The Cats have some decent backs to give it a go, with Mike Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt both solid backs to pound away with, while sophomore Adonis Smith has great upside. The receiving corps will be terrific. Almost all the key parts are back to go along with some exciting prospects.

the defensive front gets three starters back, led by end Vince Browne, and the linebacking corps should be great even though two new starters are stepping in. The secondary has two all-stars in Brian Peters and Jordan Mabin to work around, and the special teams should be good enough to get by if the placekicking job is settled.

And then there’s Persa.

Part of the reason Texas changed around its style was because Gilbert didn’t fit the normal way the offense was run. Persa is going to be back from his torn Achilles tendon, and if he’s the player he was last season, he’s the franchise playmaker you do run your team around, while hoping the backups are more ready than they were last season. Meanwhile, the Cats will try to get the backs more involved, they’ll try to spread out the wealth, and they’ll hope the D starts to play up to Fitzgerald’s expectations.

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. The offensive line is loaded with veterans, the running backs are in the spotlight to see if they can do more, and all eyes will be on Persa’s leg, but the unsung stars should be at receiver. No. 2 target Sidney Stewart is gone, but everyone else is back including leading receiver Demetrius Fields and do-it-all tight end Drake Dunsmore. Whether it’s Persa or backup Trevor Siemian, Evan Watkins, or Kain Colter under center, spreading the ball around to the various targets shouldn’t be a problem as Northwestern should have one of the more efficient passing games in the conference.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. Vince Browne has the potential to be a top 100 NFL draft pick with a huge senior season, but he needs help around him. Kevin Watt was supposed to be a dangerous No. 2 man on the other side, but he failed to come up with a sack, while the interior pressure wasn’t as strong as it should’ve been. If the Cats aren’t getting into the backfield from all four spots, then the linebackers will have to do even more to be disruptive – that’s not a plus for this team. Generating a pass rush was an issue when Fitzgerald took over, and then NU was terrific in 2008 – finishing second in the Big Ten in sacks and third in tackles for loss – and was decent in 2009. Last year the D regressed, finishing 104th in the nation in sacks. That can’t happen again.

The team will be far better if … the offense starts to score. The Wildcats put up 37 points on Illinois State, 30 against Rice, and 30 against Central Michigan. All three games were NU wins, and all three happened to be against the three non-BCS teams on the schedule. The offense failed to score more than 30 points against anyone else in the regular season, and came up with 38 in the Ticket City Bowl in a furious comeback attempt against Texas Tech, losing 45-38. Northwestern is 1-14 in the last 15 games when allowing 30 points or more, and this year’s offense has to be ready to do more in shootouts.

The schedule: The non-conference schedule will be better than it appears on paper. Starting out at Boston College could set the tone for the season with a win, but that’s asking a lot against what should be a solid Eagle squad. Going to Army to face a veteran team with a quirky offense isn’t fun, and while Rice is hardly anything special, the offense should be full of fireworks and the timing is awful coming after the Nebraska game and before Minnesota. The Wildcats couldn’t catch more of a break in interdivision play missing Ohio State and Wisconsin, and getting Indiana instead. If they can get by the middle of the season, with three road games in four weeks including dates at Iowa and Nebraska, things open up late with Rice, Minnesota, and Michigan State all in Evanston.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Dan Persa. Eighth in the nation in total offense, ninth in passing efficiency, and possibly No. 1 in the MVP race – or No. 1A next to Cam Newton. When he went down for the year late in the thrilling win over Iowa with a torn Achilles heel, the entire team went down with him, but he’s expected to be back and ready by the start of the season. Before he got hurt, he completed 74% of his throws for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four picks, while running for 519 yards and three scores. He might not be all that big, and he doesn’t have a huge arm, but he’s a talented baller who knows how to move an attack.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Vince Browne. Safety Brian Peters is a close second after leading the team with 107 tackles and three picks, but Browne has been forced to do more with less help. Despite not getting any sort of support from the rest of the line, the 6-5, 265-pound Browne still came up with 58 tackles with seven sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. While most of his production in the backfield came early in the year against the lightweights, he was a consistent factor against the run all season long.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DE Kevin Watt. The 6-4, 265-pound senior wasn’t a superstar recruit but he was a good pick up for the program in 2007 and was expected to be a factor early on. He redshirted, he beefed up, and the pressure was on for the talented prospect to become a strong pass rusher. Now, after three years and 39 games under his belt, he has all of two sacks, 40 tackles, and 7.5 tackles for loss. With Vince Browne on the other side, Watt should once again see plenty of single blocking and he needs to become a pass rusher. The defense needs to be more disruptive, and it starts on the outside.

The season will be a success if … win a bowl game. 20-14 over California in the 1949 Rose Bowl. That’s the last time Northwestern won a bowl game, losing its last eight attempts. For the Cats to finally break the streak and to finally win a post-season game, first they have to be good enough to come up with at least six wins to get there. If this is a good enough team to hope for a winning season and get a 13th game, it should be good enough to beat Eastern Illinois, Army, Indiana, Rice, and Minnesota. The Cats will lose at least one of those games, and they’ll be good enough to come up with an upset over a Michigan or a Penn State or a Michigan State, but the schedule is light enough to get to at least seven wins. The program has to take a step forward, and that starts with showing it belongs in the post-season.

Key game: Oct. 1 at Illinois. The last time we saw the Illini and the Wildcats get together, it was a gimmicky game in Wrigley Field, it was the first date after the loss of Dan Persa, and it was when Mikel Leshoure decided to go nuts. The Illini back tore off 330 yards and two scores as the Wildcats allowed a total of 519 rushing yards and five scores in the 48-27 loss. In the Big Ten opener, NU has to show that things have changed since last year, and with Michigan, at Iowa, and Penn State coming up next, coming out of Champaign with a win might be a must.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Opponents 40 for 219 yards – Northwestern 17 for 134 yards
- Penalties: Northwestern 82 for 736 yards – Opponents 67 for 597 yards
- Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 13-of-17 (76%) – Northwestern 5-of-11 (45%)

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