Northwestern Preview 2006 - Offense
Northwestern Wildcats
Posted Aug 6, 2006

Northwestern Wildcats Preview 2006 - Wildcat offense

What you need to know ... It's Garrick McGee's offense now taking over for Mike Dunbar, but don't expect many big changes from last year with the exception of more two-back sets to get Terrell Jordan in the backfield at the same time as franchise runner Tyrell Sutton. The offensive line will be one of the best in the Big Ten with an anonymous group of rock-solid starters and helped by the return of center Trevor Rees after missing last year with academic issues. The receiving corps gets top-target Shaun Herbert back to lead the young but big group that should allow the offense to push it downfield a bit more. The real concern is at quarterback where C.J. Bacher, Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka will try to replace four-year starter Brett Basanez.

Returning Leaders
Passing: C.J. Bacher
6-15, 59 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton
250 carries, 1,474 yds, 16 TD
Receiving: Shaun Herbert
79 catches, 862 yds, 6 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Tyrell Sutton
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB C.J. Bacher
Unsung star on the rise: Senior OG Ryan Keenan
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Dylan Thiry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sutton, 2) C Trevor Rees, 3) WR Shaun Herbert
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, running backs
Weakness of the offense:

Brett Basanez passed for 10,580 yards and 44 touchdowns and ran for 996 yards and 14 scores, but it took him almost three years before he became an efficient all-around playmaker for the Wildcats offense. It also helped that Northwestern had one of its deepest and most talented receiving corps ever. In other words, don't expect the new starter to suddenly be the ultra-efficient Big Ten leader in total offense like Basanez was last year. C.J. Bacher will get the first look at the job mainly due to his practice experience and familiarity with the offense. Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka could be better fits, in time, for what the attack asks for.
The key to the unit: Get a good competition going among the three options all summer long. All three need practice time and need to develop.
Quarterback Rating: 6

Projected Starter
- C.J. Bacher, Soph. - 6-15, 40%, 59 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 6 carries, 25 yds, 4.2 ypc
Bacher knows the offense, has a good, accurate arm, and can run. Now it needs to be seen if he can consistently direct the offense as close to as well as Brett Basanez did. He has the arm to push it deep and utilize his young, speedy receiving corps, but he'll likely be the starter because of his running ability. He's faster than Basanez and will likely end up running more early on until his comfort with the passing game catches up.

Top Backups
- Andrew Brewer, RFr.
Brewer has all the skills to eventually explode in Randy Walker's offense. He's a tall, big-time passer with sprinter's speed. What he doesn't have is any experience. Even so, he'll be given every opportunity to win the starting job throughout the summer.

- Mike Kafka, RFr.
Kafka has good size and nice all-around athleticism and could grow into the best runner among the quarterback options. He's not a pure passer like Andrew Brewer, but he's every bit the runner that C.J. Bacher is.

Running Backs
The healthy return of Terrell Jordan gives the coaching staff several options to play with. There might be a few two-back sets and there should be more of a rotation with Jordan and Brandon Roberson seeing time to keep Tyrell Sutton fresh. Sutton is a special back who has to be accounted for on every play as both a runner and receiver. He's not big, so his health and durability will be one of the keys to the offense.
The key to the unit: Getting Terrell Jordan and Brandon Roberson meaningful carries and not wearing down Tyrell Sutton.
Running Back Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- Tyrell Sutton, Soph. - 250 carries, 1,474 yds, 5.9 ypc, 16 TD, 44 catches, 396 yds, 2 TD
Sutton took over in the first game of his true freshman season and was unbelievable the rest of the way. Not only was he a workhorse for the ground game with three games with more than 30 carries, and one with 29 carries, he was a reliable receiver highlighted by a ten-catch day against Purdue. He's not all that big at 5-9 and 190 pounds, but he's great at flying through the hole with elusive open field speed.

Top Backups
- Brandon Roberson, Jr. - 37 carries, 171 yds
Roberson got the start in the opener against Ohio but got knocked out with a sprained ankle and didn't get much work the rest of the way with Tyrell Sutton emerging into a superstar. He's a lesser version of Sutton with good quickness and excellent speed. However, he doesn't have the special moves to take over the stating role. He should play a role on special teams as an occasional kickoff returner if he can get over his ankle problems.
- Terrell Jordan, Sr.
It was supposed to be Jordan's show last year, but he suffered a hamstring injury and missed the entire season. He's a little bit bigger than Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Roberson and runs with more power. He can make moves and crack off big gains when he gets a good hole even though his game is about powering between the tackles. 

There are concerns losing 115 catches and 1,217 yards of productions from the team's second and third receivers, Jonathan Fields and Mark Philmore, but top target Shaun Herbert is back to be a steadying force for the young, interesting group. It's a big corps with plenty of size and speed to allow the offense to push the ball deeper than in year's past. This might not be one of the team's strongest areas to start the season, but that will quickly change game by game.
The key to the unit: Finding a reliable number two receiver to complement Shaun Herbert while hoping for some young talents to quickly emerge to provide some depth.
Receiver Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- Shaun Herbert, Sr. - 79 catches, 862 yds, 10.9 ypc, 6 TD
Herbert was the main main last year leading the team in receptions and will have to be even more of a star this year with all the new starters in the corps. He was a steady target all year with a fantastic two-game stretch catching 21 passes for 234 yards in wins over Purdue and Wisconsin. He's a good-sized receiver at 6-1 and 200 pounds who turned into a scorer last year even though he's not much of a deep threat playing the inside H position.

Rasheed Ward, Soph. - 7 catches, 99 yds, 14.1 ypc, 1 TD
Ward has the potential to be the team's breakout receiver on the outside X position. He's not as fast or as big as Lane, but he's a tremendous athlete who looked good early last year and was strong enough this spring to take over the starting job.

- Kim Thompson, Jr. - 19 catches, 326 yds, 17.2 ypc, 1 TD
Thompson needs to get the ball more. He was a reliable receiver when he was on the field missing a little bit of time with a broken finger and then getting suspended at the end of the year. He's one of the team's fastest players and is also the biggest receiver at 6-4 and 195 pounds.

- Tight end/R-Back Erryn Cobb, Sr. - 2 catches, 29 yds
The 255-pound Cobb is a bruising blocker used mostly as the R-Back, or fullback. He's expected to play a bigger role in the offense, possibly as a power runner, but his job will mainly be to open holes for the quick backs.

Top Backups
- Sam Cheatham, Jr. - 3 catches, 37 yds
Strictly a reserve, Cheatham will be used mostly as possession receiver at the H behind Shaun Herbert. He didn't do much outside of a 33-yard catch against Wisconsin even though he saw his playing time increase as the year went on
- Ross Lane, Soph. - 24 catches, 378 yds, 15.8 ypc, 1 TD
Lane had a breakout game in the Sun Bowl catching seven passes for 136 yards giving hope that he'll be a reliable number two target to take the heat off Shaun Herbert. He's a good deep threat with 6-3 size to pose matchup problems on the outside at the X position.
- Tight end/R-Back Frayne Abernathy, Jr. - 4 catches, 49 yds, 12.2 ypc, 2 TD

He didn't make too many plays, but he made his four catches count with two touchdown grabs scoring against Purdue and Illinois. The 245-pound junior is a bit more of a tight end than a fullback, but he'll be a solid backup for both spots.

Offensive Linemen
The line went from a concern to a major strength last season allowing a mere 11 sacks and paving the way for 193 yards per game. Four of last year's starters return with the big hole left by star tackle Zach Strief replaced by center Austin Matthews so two-year starter Trevor Rees, who missed last year due to academic issues, can return to the middle. Depth is a little bit of an issue, especially at tackle where there's young tackle, but no experience whatsoever.

The key to the unit: Develop the depth and hope for Trevor Rees to be as good at center as he was in 2004.
Offensive Line Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- OT Austin Matthews, Jr.
Matthews spent last year starting at center over the first half and then saw a little time a guard. With the return of Trevor Rees at center, the 6-5, 305-pound Matthews will move to the outside and start at right tackle to take over for All-American Zach Strief.
- OG Ryan Keenan, Sr. 
Keenan went from being a tight end playing guard to one of the best linemen in the Big Ten. He's strong, athletic and talented enough to play tackle if needed. He showed no ill-effects of a knee injury that bothered him earlier in his career.
- C Trevor Rees, Jr.
Rees is back after missing all of last year due to academic issues, and he'll instantly upgrade the already solid line allowing Austin Matthews to move to tackle. Rees started 21 straight games before the off-field issues and should contend for All-Big Ten honors.
- OG Joe Tripodi, Sr.
The 310-pound senior was considered the X factor on the line last year and he turned in a solid year starting every game on the left side. He's one of the team's biggest linemen and should be even better in the running game.
- OT Dylan Thiry, Jr.
He's the team's burgeoning star, but he has to stay healthy and he has to be consistent after struggling with a shoulder problem over the first half of last year. He blocks out the sun as a pass blocker at 6-8 and 315 pounds and is growing into a dominant run blocker. 

Top Backups
- C Joel Belding, Soph.
A pure run blocker, the 300-pound sophomore will push for a little bit of starting job at either center or guard. He'll be penciled in as the starter in the middle until Trevor Rees gets back in the swing of things, but he'll mainly be used as an excellent backup.
- OG Adam Crum, Jr.
Able to play center or guard, the 295-pound junior was expected to be the starter in the middle last year but turned out to be a little used reserve. He's experienced enough from plenty of practice reps to be counted on to play a big part of the rotation.
- OT Kurt Mattes, RFr.
The development of Mattes is one of the keys to the line. He's a good-sized 6-6, 285-pound athlete who was a big-time recruit for the Wildcats. Now he'll see time rotating at right tackle with Austin Matthews.

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