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2007 Northwestern Wildcats

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 21, 2008


2007 Northwestern Wildcats Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

 

2007 Northwestern Wildcats

2007 Recap: The Wildcats made progress in Pat Fitzgerald’s second year at his alma mater, but not quite enough to earn an invitation to a bowl game.  The C.J. Bacher-led passing attack kept Northwestern in most games, often having to overcome the shortcomings of a defense that was No. 10 in the Big Ten in almost every statistical benchmark.  The unit’s performance cost sixth-year defensive coordinator Greg Colby his job, creating the first big hire Fitzgerald must make as he tries to get the Cats back on the other side of .500.    

Offensive Player of the Year: QB C.J. Bacher

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Adam Kadela

Biggest Surprise: Beating Michigan State Oct. 6 in a 48-41, overtime thriller.  Bacher threw for a school-record 520 yards and five touchdown passes, avenging a brutal loss to the Spartans in 2006, and starting a three-game winning streak in October.

Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Duke on Sept. 15, becoming the first team to do so in two years.  The 20-14 home loss to a program riding a 22-game skid would haunt Northwestern, which fell one win shy of dramatically improving its postseason resume.

Look Ahead: If the defense makes strides, a likelihood, there’s enough skill position talent for the Wildcats to be back in the bowl hunt next November.  Although Bacher can be brilliant at times, he’s also thrown 27 picks in the last 18 games, something that must be addressed in the offseason.    

- 2007 NU Preview
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2006 NU Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
6-6
2007 Record:
6-6

Sept. 1 Northeastern W 27-0
Sept.8 Nevada W 36-31
Sept. 15 Duke L 20-14
Sept. 22 at Ohio State L 58-7
Sept. 29 Michigan L 28-16
Oct. 6 at Mich St W 48-41 OT
Oct. 13
Minn. W 49-48 2OT
Oct. 20 Eastern Mich W 26-14
Oct. 27 at Purdue L 35-17
Nov. 3 Iowa L 28-17
Nov. 10
Indiana W 31-28
Nov. 17 at Illinois L 41-22

Nov. 17
Illinois 41 ... Northwestern 22
Illinois ran for 321 yards and coasted after taking an early 21-0 lead on two one-yard touchdown runs from Juice Williams and a three-yard Rashard Mendenhall dash. Northwestern scored late in the first half on a one-yard Tyrell Sutton run, but the Illini ended any excitement in the third quarter with a 42-yard Jeff Cumberland catch and an eight-yard Mendenhall run for a 35-7 lead. C.J. Bacher threw two late touchdown passes and finished with 310 passing yards for the Wildcats.
Player of the game: Illinois QB Juice Williams completed 15 of 23 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 23 times for 136 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Isiah Williams, 15-23, 220 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Iaiah Williams, 23-136, 2 TD. Receiving: Jeff Cumberland, 4-131, 1 TD
Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 29-49, 310 yds, 2 TD< 2 INT
Rushing:
Tyrell Sutton, 13-71, 1 TD. Receiving:
Eric Peterman, 10-120
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
The Wildcat offense didn't get enough going early against Illinois, and the defense, specifically the linebackers, weren't close to slowing down Juice Williams and the Illini ground game. Illinois controlled the clock, holding it for almost 40 minutes, the Northwestern defense never got a rest, and it was over early. Even though this was a nice 6-6 season, it likely won't end with a bowl game considering there are too many eligible Big Ten teams for all the spots. Michigan's loss to Ohio State means there will almost certainly be just one Big Ten team in the BCS. That all but kills the Cats' chances.

Nov. 10
Northwestern 31 ... Indiana 28
Northwestern got a three-yard Ross Lane touchdown catch with 44 seconds to play, and then held on with a big sack in the final few moments to get by the Hoosiers. IU got its first touchdown on a 91-yard James Bailey kickoff return after a Northwestern 29-yard field goal. With two James Hardy touchdown catches in the second half from 11 and five yards out, and a 14-yard Kellen Lewis touchdown run, the Hoosiers held the lead late before NU's final 12-play, 73-yard drive. The Wildcats went on a midgame 21-point run on a 41-yard Eddie Simpson interception return for a touchdown, a 15-yard Kim Thompson catch, and a one-yard Tyrell Sutton run.
Player of the game: Northwestern RB Tyrell Sutton ran 33 times for 141 yards and a touchdown, and caught six passes for 72 yards
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 26-33, 276 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton, 33-141, 1 TD. Receiving: Kim Thompson, 6-78, 1 TD
Indiana - Passing: Kellen Lewis, 18-27, 204 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Bryan Payton, 15-55. Receiving: James Hardy, 7-107, 2 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Northwestern certainly knows how to play interesting games. Against Indiana, on its final home game of the year, and with bowl eligibility on the line, it came through with a clutch drive that'll end up defining its season. Tyrell Sutton played like Tyrell Sutton again, and C.J. Bacher came through when he had to. The Wildcats will end up getting hosed in the bowl pecking order unless they beat Illinois next week, and will likely get shut out of a 13th game, but that shouldn't diminish what a nice season this has been.

Nov. 3
Iowa 28 ... Northwestern 17
Iowa overcame an early 14-0 deficit with two Damian Sims touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, a 16-yard Albert Young run, and a 20-yard Trey Stross touchdown grab as part of a 28-3 scoring run. Northwestern got a two-yard Tyrell Sutton scoring run on the opening drive, and a two-yard Mark Woodson scoring catch late in the first, but three interceptions, a blocked field goal, and a missed field goal, helped keep points off the board. The two teams combined for 12 sacks, each getting six.
Player of the game: Iowa DB Bradley Fletcher made 12 tackles, one interceptions and broke up three passes
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 27-54, 264 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton, 23-116, 1 TD. Receiving: Tyrell Sutton, 7-40
Iowa - Passing: Jake Christensen, 21-36, 299 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Albert Young, 16-59, 1 TD. Receiving: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, 8-119
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It's almost like the healthy return of Tyrell Sutton has hurt the overall production of the offense, since now the attack has become reliant on him to carry the load for stretches. C.J. Bacher played like a world-beater in the first quarter against Iowa, and then he struggled under the Hawkeye defensive pressure and starting making too many mistakes. Iowa's defense is good, but at home, there's no reason the Wildcats should've put up just three points in the final three quarters. Now there's one real shot left as a bowl game, and that's next week at home against Indiana. Forget about winning at Illinois.

Oct. 27
Purdue 35 ... Northwestern 17
Purdue got 220 rushing yards and a big day from Jaycen Taylor, who tore off 157 yards and two one-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. Northwestern turned it over four times and didn't get its running game going, but it went on a 17-point run with Omar Conteh rushing for an 11-yard score and a 15-yard Eric Peterman touchdown catch off a hook-and-lateral, but the Boilermakers owned the fourth quarter pulling away with a 21-yard Dorien Bryant scoring grab. The Boilermakers held on to the ball for 11:46 in the fourth.
Player of the game: Purdue RB Jaycen Taylor ran 20 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns, and caught a pass for 14 yards.
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 20-39, 208 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton, 12-72. Receiving: Kim Thompson, 5-64
Purdue - Passing: Curtis Painter, 24-38, 182 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Jaycen Taylor, 20-157, 2 TD Receiving: Dorien Bryant, 7-65, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Tyrell Sutton might have been back in the offensive mix, but he wasn't used enough with on only 12 carries and an average of six yards per carry. C.J. Bacher had his worst game in weeks, failing to connect on the several third down conversion chances, and the defense paid for it in the second half. There's still work to do to get bowl eligible, and to beat Iowa or Indiana before dealing with the trip to Illinois, Bacher has to get back on track.

Oct. 19
Northwestern 26 ... Eastern Michigan 14
It took Northwestern a while to wake up, but eventually, the offense got going with C.J. Bacher leading the offense 82 yards, with a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and then ended the drama with a 71-yard touchdown pass to Kim Thompson. EMU hung tough with Kyle McMahon, in for an injured Andy Schmitt at quarterback, running for scores from five and 19 yards out. Four turnovers proved costly for the Eagles, who were outgained 516 yards to 381.
Player of the game: Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher completed 41 of 58 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns, and ran seven times for 21 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 41-58, 470 yds, 4 TD
Rushing: Omar Conteh, 14-81. Receiving: Eric Peterman, 12-114, 1 TD
Eastern Michigan - Passing: Kyle McMahon, 28-48, 282 yds, 3 INT
Rushing:
Kyle McMahon, 13-44, 2 TD. Receiving: Tyler Jones, 8-104
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It wasn't exactly the easy win the Wildcats were hoping for, but Eastern Michigan helped out with some key turnovers, and C.J. Bacher got hot at the right time to pull away in the fourth quarter. Now NU is within striking distance of bowl eligibility needing just one more win. If the offense is rolling like it can when Bacher is hot, any of the final four games, at Purdue, Iowa, Indiana and at Illinois, are winnable. The defense was fine against EMU, but that was EMU. The souped up version is next week when NU goes to West Lafayette.

Oct. 13
Northwestern 49 ... Minnesota 48 2OT
In the second overtime, Northwestern got a six-yard touchdown run from Brandon Roberson, but Minnesota answered with a three-yard Adam Weber touchdown run. The Gophers chose to go for two, but the play never had a chance as Weber's pass attempt fell incomplete. Minnesota was up 35-14 late in the third quarter, thanks to two of Ernie Wheelwright's three touchdown catches and a nine-yard Amir Pinnix touchdown run. And then C.J. Bacher got hot, and Northwestern scored the final 21 points of regulation, with Eric Peterman catching a four-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds to play. In the first overtime, Wheeleright caught a 21-yard touchdown pass, but Northwestern answered with a five-yard Ross Lane touchdown run. The two teams combined for 1,169 yards of total offense.
Player of the game: Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher completed 25 of 42 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown with an interception
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 25-42, 361 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Omar Conteh, 19-122, 1 TD. Receiving: Kim Thompson, 5-133, 1 TD
Minnesota - Passing: Adam Weber, 25-38, 341 yds, 5 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Jay Thomas, 22-100. Receiving: Ernie Wheelwright, 7-116, 3 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Northwestern was amazing in the comeback against Minnesota, but it played with fire in yet another shootout. C.J. Bacher has gotten red hot at the right time, and now it appears this is going to be the norm. If the offense isn't blowing up, the Wildcats will have problems. The defense simply isn't getting any production from the linebackers, but it stiffened up when it absolutely had to late against the Gophers. Now there's real hope for a bowl game with Eastern Michigan coming up next. Win that, and it's just one win and bowl eligibility.

Oct. 6
Northwestern 48 ... Michigan State 41 OT
Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher threw five touchdown passes including a 12-yarder to Omar Conteh in overtime. Michigan State misfired on four passes, and the Wildcats pulled off the big road win. The two teams traded shots all game long, with neither getting up by more than a score in the see-saw battle. Northwestern rolled up 611 yards, with Conteh scoring three times, with touchdown runs of 11 and nine yards in the first quarter, and then it was all Bacher, hitting five different receivers for scores, including a 78-yarder to Jeff Yarbrough and a 70-yarder to Eric Peterman. Until overtime, MSU always had an answer, with Javon Ringer ripped off three touchdowns with dashes from four, 47 and 80 yards.
Player of the game: Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher completed 38-of-48 passes for 520 yards and five touchdown passes, and rushed five times for five yards.
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 38-48, 520 yds, 5 TDs
Rushing: Omar Conteh, 19-70, 2 TDs. Receiving: Eric Peterman, 9-141, 1 TD
Michigan State - Passing: Brian Hoyer, 17-31, 194 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Javon Ringer, 12-185, 3 TDs. Receiving: Javon Ringer, 6-54
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Now that's the way the offense is supposed to work. Against Michigan State, Northwestern cranked out 611 yards, held on to the ball for 35:46, and converted 13 of 19 third down chances. With Minnesota and Eastern Michigan ahead, the goal can be nothing less than a 5-3 record going into the back stretch, needing one more win for bowl eligibility. If the line can play like it did this week, and C.J. Bacher can stay hot, this will be a dangerous team.

Sept. 29
Michigan 28 ... Northwestern 16
Northwestern owned the first half, but managed three field goals and just one touchdown, while Michigan owned the second half with three touchdowns. Chad Henne threw three touchdown passes, with two to Mario Manningham from 11 and 16 yards, out, and Mike Hart punched in a one-yard scoring run late in the fourth for a little breathing room. The Wildcats got up on a 49-yard Omar Conteh scoring run, but five turnovers proved costly.
Player of the game: Michigan LB Shawn Crable had 10 tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a sack.
Stat Leaders: Michigan - Passing: Chad Henne, 18-27, 193 yds, 3 TD
Rushing: Mike Hart, 30-106, 1 TD. Receiving: Mario Manningham, 10-123, 1 TD
NorthwesternPassing: C.J. Bacher, 22-42, 289 yds, 3 INTs
Rushing:
Omar Conteh, 15-115, 1 TD. Receiving: Ross Lane, 6-87

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Despite not having Tyrell Sutton to count on, the Northwestern running game had its moments against Michigan. It wasn't consistent, but Omar Conteh busted off a big scoring dash and made things interesting early on. C.J. Bacher isn't enough of a rushing threat to throw a scare into anyone, so if he's not bombing away effectively, the offense isn't going to move for a full 60 minutes. After the Ohio State debacle, the defense did a great job this week, but it'll have to toughen up in a big way or Michigan State will run wild next week.

Sept. 22
Ohio State 58 ... Northwestern 7
Ohio State ended it before everyone got settled in their seats. Brian Robiskie caught touchdown passes from 42 and 28 yards in the first four minutes, and later added a 19-yard score. The running game got into the act with two short Maurice Wells touchdowns and a 36-yard Chris Wells dash. Northwestern was held to 120 yards of total offense and only scored on a 99-yard Sam Simmons kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half.
Player of the game: Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie caught three passes for 89 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 17-32, 120 yds, 2 INTs
Rushing: Omar Conteh, 15-28. Receiving: Eric Peterman, 6-61
Ohio State - Passing: Todd Boeckman, 11-14, 179 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing:
Chris Wells, 12-100, 1 TD. Receiving: Brian Robiskie, 3-89, 3 TDs
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Mr. Blutosky; 0.0. Northwestern wasn't beating Ohio State no matter what, but it certainly didn't help the cause to not have Tyrell Sutton for yet another week. The Wildcat offense didn't net a rushing yard, and C.J. Bacher was never able to find anything open for the passing game to get going. At the moment, the Cats can't beat anyone decent with just the air attack, and needs Sutton back and healthy as soon as humanly possible. Forget about staying with Michigan next week without him.

Sept. 15
Duke 20 ... Northwestern 14
Duke broke its 22-game losing streak as Thaddeus Lewis threw three touchdown passes, with a 56-yard pass play to Ronnie Drummer to take the lead for good, but it wasn't easy. Northwestern rallied back with a one-yard C.J. Bacher touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, and had plenty of chances at the end after a 35-yard Bacher run got the Cats down to the Duke seven. The Blue Devils held on as a pressured Bacher had to hurry his fourth down pass into the end zone. Northwestern outgained Duke 506 yards to 309.
Player of the game: Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis completed 19 of 23 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns and ran eight times for ten yards
Stat Leaders: Duke - Passing: Thaddeus Lewis, 19-23, 246 yds, 3 TD
Rushing: Tielor Robinson, 4-21. Receiving: Jomar Wright, 7-63, 1 TD
Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 30-50, 368 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Brandon Roberson, 21-80, 1 TD. Receiving: Ross Lane, 9-128
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
It'd be easy to partially blame the loss to Duke on not having RB Tyrell Sutton, who was out with an ankle injury, but the offense had no problems putting up big yards. What it couldn't do was finish off drives, with 13 penalties and two interceptions proving costly. After the way the team has had to rally so far, it was bound to get burned at some point. That the loss came to a lowly team like Duke at home hurts, but it was even more painful considering Ohio State and Michigan are up next.

Sept. 8
Northwestern 36 ... Nevada 31
In a wild game with several big plays, Northwestern came up with a game-winning 80-yard drive in :51 with Ross Lane catching a 13-yard touchdown pass with just :21 to play. Nevada held a 24-10 lead at halftime helped by two Nick Graziano touchdown passes, including a 48-yard bomb to Kyle Sammons with no time left. Northwestern owned the second half as C.J. Bacher threw two of his three touchdown passes and Brandon Roberson ran for a one-yard score, but the Wolf Pack grabbed the lead late in the game with a 27-yard Luke Lippincott run..
Player of the game: Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-45 passing, adding another 60 yards on the ground on eight carries.
Stat Leaders: Nevada
- Passing: Nick Graziano, 22-36, 337 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Luke Lippincott, 28-140, 1 TD. Receiving: Kyle Sammons, 5-102, 1 TD
Northwestern
- Passing: C.J. Bacher, 20-45, 227 yds, 3 TDs
Rushing: Brandon Roberson, 13-128, 1 TD. Receiving: Tyrell Sutton, 5-59
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... One of the trademarks of Northwestern teams under Randy Walker was the ability to come up with heart-stopping comebacks to pull games out of the fire. After the win over Nevada, now the Wildcats know that they can do the same under Pat Fitzgerald. C.J. Bacher carried the offense once Tyrell Sutton was out with an ankle injury, and this might be the performance that gives the offense the confidence that knows it can move the ball at any time when down. As good as Bacher is becoming, to have a shot at Ohio State (after playing Duke next week), Sutton has to be healthy.

Sept. 1
Northwestern 27 ... Northeastern 0
Northwestern pitched a shutout as the defense allowed 260 yards of total Northeastern offense and was never threatened. C.J. Bacher ran for a five-yard score and threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Ross Lane. Tyrell Sutton added a one-yard scoring run in the third quarter. Northeastern managed 151 passing yards and 109 rushing yards.
Player of the game ... Northwestern RB Tyrell Sutton ran 24 times for 108 yards and a score, adding four catches for 24 yards.
Stat Leaders: Northeastern - Passing: Anthony Orio, 10-18, 69 yds
Rushing: Maurice Murray, 16-48 Receiving: Alex Broomfield, 7-50
Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 23-29, 243 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Tyrell Sutton, 24-108, 1 TD  Receiving: Jeff Yarbrough, 7-68

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Northwestern came up with the exact type of opening day performance it needed against a team like Northeastern. The defense never allowed Northeastern in the red zone, the offense got an efficient day from QB C.J. Bacher, and the offensive line was dominant in all phases. The Wildcats need to control the ball and the time of possession to beat most teams, and they did that, holding the ball for 36:58 including almost 23 minutes of the second half.

Sept. 1 - Northeastern

Sept. 8 - Nevada
Offense: The offense is going to be a work in progress and should be far better midseason than it will be to start. The biggest question marks are on the offensive line, particularly at tackle, after Charles Manu moved to guard and Dominic Green move to center. The receiving corps is big, faster than last year, and should make more big plays with big-armed Nick Graziano taking over at quarterback. The running backs need Brandon Fragger to be healthy to add a speed option along with Luke Lippencott. The Pistol offense will likely use a little more fullback this year, and will try to push the passing game deeper.
Defense: There will be some new defensive coaches taking over with coordinator Ken Wilson keeping the 3-4 scheme to take advantage of the great linebackers. Ezra Butler, Jeremy Engstrom, and Joshua Mauga are as good as any trio in the WAC, and will be the team's strength. The line is solid, helped by the emergence of nose tackle Matt Hines as a top all-around playmaker. The secondary is fine, but nothing special; the better WAC passing games won't have a problem against it.

Sept. 15 - Duke
Offense: Eleven starters return to an offense that lived through the growing pains of a youth movement in an attempt to take a giant leap forward. New offensive coordinator Peter Vaas, who comes over from Notre Dame, should help make quarterback Thaddeus Lewis more consistent. Helping the overall cause even more is a veteran line that needs to be far better after doing next to nothing well throughout last year. It'll be tailback by committee with several different options to see carries, while the overall strength will be at receiver with several young, big, good-looking targets for Lewis to use to push the ball deeper.
Defense: The defense is still not going to be a rock, but there's promise with several good young players to revolve around. Top prospects Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk are rising stars on the line, while Patrick Bailey is a playmaker who'll be one of the ACC's better pass rushers. Michael Tauiliili is a playmaker at middle linebacker, but the outside linebackers are question marks. Safeties Chris Davis and Adrian Aye-Darko are good, and they'll need to be with major concerns at corner.

Sept. 22 – at Ohio State
Offense: You don't get better after losing Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Antonio Pittman, and, oh yeah, some quarterback who won a Heisman and owned Michigan. While many will predict doom and gloom, the offense might crank out close to as many yards as last year when it was 26th in the nation as long as Chris Wells holds up and becomes the running back everyone's expecting him to be, and new starting quarterback Todd Boeckman is merely above average. The receiving corps is talented, but untested, while there's plenty of reason to be excited about a line that'll field one of the best starting fives in the nation. Tackles Alex Boone and Kirk Barton and guard Steve Rehring will be first day draft picks. Welcome back to Tressel ball with more running and fewer shots taken down the field.
Defense: A question mark last year thanks to a ton of turnover, the defense reloaded and should be fantastic as long as the tackles and safeties shine and a second corner emerges on the other side of Malcolm Jenkins. There are stars to build around, with Jenkins, LB James Laurinaitis and end Vernon Gholston among the best in the country, while there are emerging stars, as always around OSU, in like linebackers Larry Grant and Ross Homan and end Lawrence Wilson. Don't expect too many bells and whistles; this D will beat teams by simply being far more athletic.

Sept. 29 - Michigan
Offense: Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord didn't change things up much in his first year, and there aren't going to be a lot of bells and whistles for an attack with all the stars returning. Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Mario Manningham form the best skill trio in America, while tackle Jake Long and quarter Adam Kraus form one of the nation's best left sides. The only issue is depth, which is stunning undeveloped or a program like Michigan. Of course there are talented prospects waiting in the wings, but there will be major problems if injuries strike early on.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Ron English did a fantastic job in his first season sending the dogs loose to attack more than previous Michigan teams. Now the hope will be for overall speed and athleticism to make up for the lack of experience and a few gaping holes. This won't be the nation's number one run defense again, and it won't be fourth in sacks, but it will create plenty of turnovers and force a ton of mistakes. It'll also give up too many big pass plays. The safeties are fine, the linebacking corps won't be an issue, even without David Harris to anchor things anymore, and the line, in time, will grow into a strength. The biggest issue will be at corner, where Morgan Trent isn't a number one lockdown defender, and there are several untested prospects waiting to get their chance to shine.

Oct. 6 – at Michigan State
Offense: In keeping with the overall belief system of the new coaching staff, the offense will try to become more physical and should play to the strength, which will be running the ball. The line is big, and now has to start hitting to open things up for the speedy duo of Javon Ringer and A.J. Jimmerson and the pounding Jehuu Caulcrick. All eyes will be on Brian Hoyer, who might not be Drew Stanton talent-wise, but should be a more consistent quarterback as long as the receiving corps, which loses the top three targets, becomes productive right away.
Defense: The aggressive, attacking approach didn't work under the old regime, and now the new coaching staff will want to play it a bit closer to the vest to start, and then will start to make big plays as everyone figures out their roles. There won't be too many bells and whistles in the basic 4-3, but some chances will need to be taken, and head coach Mark Dantonio is great at adjusting and forcing teams out of their gameplans, after not doing much to generate any pressure in the backfield last year. A pass rusher has to emerge, but the overall potential is there to be better with Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick good safeties to build around, while the linebackers should be one of the team's biggest strengths. The line is the key after a few awful years of doing a lot of nothing.

Oct. 13 - Minnesota
Offense: New offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar and his spread offense might seem like a radical departure for the Gophers, but the pieces are there, for the most part, for the thing to work right away with small, athletic linemen, quick running backs, and big receivers. The one thing missing is a steady quarterback who can hit the open receiver on a regular basis, meaning the Tony Mortensen vs. Adam Weber battle will go on until fall. Basically, the offense will undergo a change to achieve the same rushing results with a less effective passing game.
Defense: What the Gophers lack in talent they'll try to make up for in intensity and experience. For good and bad, ten starters return along with loads of experienced reserves to give hope for a big jump in overall production after finishing 113th in the nation in defense. However, there was a method to the old coaching staff's madness as the D allowed yards, but went for the big play forcing 32 turnovers. The new regime will be far more aggressive and take far more chances; they can do that with a veteran group like this. The linebacking corps will be the strength, while Willie VanDeSteeg and the line should get into the backfield more often. Can the Gophers shut down a power running attack or a high-octane passing game? No and no, but it'll be better in all phases.


Oct. 20 - Eastern Michigan
Offense: EMU's defense hasn't been productive in years, but if there's not a major improvement this year with ten starters returning along with a slew of experienced depth, it might never happen. Junior Daniel Holtzclaw is a superstar middle linebacker who'll be the one the rest of the defense revolves around. Tackles Jason Jones and Josh Hunt can't stop the run, but they're regulars in opposing backfields. As long as the corners and ends start to produce, and the experience and quickness at all spots makes up for a general lack of size, things should be better after finishing 116th in the nation against run and 98th in total defense.
Defense: New offensive coordinator Scott Ispohording has his work cut out for him despite getting seven starters back along with a ton of experienced depth. The supposed wide-open offense was awful with no ground game from the running backs and even less of a passing attack with quarterbacks Andy Schmitt and Tyler Jones basically running, running and running some more. The line should be better with three returning starters and a decent interior, but the offense won't go anywhere unless Pierre Walker, or possible Jones, turns into a reliable tailback. The loss of top receiver Eric Deslauriers means the passing game will be spread out among several options with the hope for former quarterback Dontayo Gage to turn into a true number one.


Oct. 27 – at Purdue
Offense:
The Purdue offense was like a big budge action movie with a ton of fireworks and explosions, but had a plot that goes nowhere. It cranked out yards in bunches but did absolutely nothing against the big boys scoring three points against Wisconsin, seven against Maryland, 17 against Iowa, and was shut out by Penn State. It'll be in the top ten in the nation in yards again with Curtis Painter getting a jaw-dropping good receiving corps to work with led by the amazing Dorien Bryant in the slot. The 1-2 rushing punch of Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets is the best yet in the Joe Tiller era, while the right side of the line, Sean Sester at tackle and Jordan Grimes at guard, along with center Robbie Powell, will be dominant. The left side of the line is a concern and there's no developed depth anywhere, but the starting 11 should move the ball at will.
Defense: The Boilermakers haven't played defense for two years, and now the hope is for experience to turn into production with nine starters returning. Stopping the run will be priority one after finishing last in the Big Ten allowing 191 yards per game. The porous secondary should be better with all the young, inexperienced prospects of last year ready to shine as veterans. Overall, the pillow-soft D needs to find a nasty streak and start to play far tougher.


Nov. 3 - Iowa
Offense: The Jake Christensen era starts after four years of the Drew Tate regime, but backup quarterback Arvell Nelson is a terrific prospect who could push hard this fall. With the 1-2 rushing punch of Albert Young and Damian Sims, the ground game will be strong if the questionable offensive line pulls out a better season than last year (when injuries were a major problem). Dominique Douglas and Andy Brodell are emerging targets, and they'll shine with a passer like Christensen winging it. As good as Christensen might be, the offense will try to run first.
Defense: You basically know what you're getting with the Iowa defense. It's not going to do anything fancy, it's not going to bring any funky blitzes, and most teams should be able to get yards through the air without a problem. However, everyone can hit and there are few mistakes made. Eight starters return, led by end Ken Iwebema and one of the Big Ten's best lines, while the replacements for the departed starters are good. Forcing more turnovers, making more plays behind the line, and generating more pressure are all vital to coming up with a better year.

Nov. 10 - Indiana
Offense: The IU spread offense has the pieces in place with rising star quarterback Kellen Lewis about to come into his own as a leader, and a good receiving corps to put up big numbers, led by James Hardy. There's speed at running back, but Marcus Thigpen and Demetrius McCray have to be more productive. The X factor is the line, which the late Terry Hoeppner did a great job of putting together in the 2006 recruiting class. Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon are just two who should upgrade the front.
Defense: The IU defense has struggled over the last few years to slow anyone down, but now the youth movement should produce results. The goal is to bend but not break, and now there has to be less breaking. It's still a young overall group, but there's experience and potential, especially at corner where Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors should be among the Big Ten's best. There's little proven pass rush up front, while the linebacking corps is small and quick by design.

Nov. 17 – at Illinois
Offense: Has there ever been so much of a buzz for an offense that's done absolutely nothing? Juice Williams led the way to the nation's most inefficient passing attack, the O struggled to average 20 points a game, and never, ever came up with a clutch play. Chalk it up to youth, but this year's offense is still insanely young, and getting younger with the best receiver, Arrelious Bean, a true freshman. Even so, all will be fine as long as the starting 11 stays healthy. If injuries strike, things will go in the tank with no one to rely on behind Williams, no solid number two running back behind home-run hitter Rashard Mendenhall, and little developed depth behind an average line with four starters returning.
Defense: The defense never got any credit for a not-that-bad season. It was good at not giving up long drives or tons of yards, but it never, ever, ever came through with a key stop. How strange was the Illini D? It was 33rd in the nation allowing 310 yards per game, but allowed 26.75 points per game. This was going to be a good defense returning with J Leman tackling everything in sight at middle linebacker and Chris Norwell staring at tackle, and now there's actual talent to get excited about with the addition of mega-star recruits D'Angelo McCray on the line and Martez Wilson at linebacker. It'll be an interesting mix of good senior veterans and more talented underclassmen.

 


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