Preview 2008 - Offense
2007 CFN Northwestern Preview
What you need to know ... New offensive coordinator Mick
McCall has one main goal going into the season: hurry everything
up. The offense will go to a no-huddle, fast-paced attack to get
everyone into more of a rhythm, and while a slight change in
style and philosophy might seem like an issue, it shouldn't be
for the veteran skill players. QB C.J. Bacher's job is to get
the ball to his playmakers as quickly as possible, and that
shouldn't be a problem with almost all of the top targets
returning. RB Tyrell Sutton is a star to revolve around as both
a runner and a receiver, but unlike last year, he has to stay
healthy. The line is an X factor with three new starters coming
in, but last year's group was full of talented veterans and it
was mediocre. The new front five is more athletic and a better
fit for the new style.
Passing: C.J. Bacher
318-521, 3,656 yards, 19 TD, 19 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton
108 carries, 522 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Eric Peterman
66 catches, 744 yds, 3 TD
Star of the offense: Senior RB Tyrell Sutton
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman C Ben Burkett
Unsung star on the rise: Netter
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Dylan Thiry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sutton, 2) QB C.J.
Bacher, 3) WR Eric Peterman
Strength of the offense: Skill positions, passing game
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line, backup receiver experience
Projected Starter: Senior C.J. Bacher
had a fantastic first year as the full-time starter throwing for
3,656 yards and 19 touchdowns, while running for 31 yards and
four scores, but while he completed 61% of his throws, he also
gave up 19 interceptions. While picks were a big problem
throughout the year, when he was on for a two-game mid-season
stretch against Michigan State and Minnesota, when he threw it
106 times for 990 yards and nine touchdowns, he didn't throw a
pick. However, he pressed over the last month of the year and
made too many mistakes. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has decent
size to go along with his mobility, and now he'll have to make
shorter, quicker passes and will have to make the right reads
all the time. He should do that.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 215-pound junior
Mike Kafka is a big, strong, athletic option who runs the
ball better than Bacher, but he didn't get much of a chance last
year seeing a little time in four games running for eight yards
and completing two of three passes for 11 yards. A starter for
the first part of 2006, he has the skills and the experience to
step in and start if needed, but he's nowhere near the passer
that Bacher is.
6-1, 205-pound redshirt freshman Dan Persa is a perfect
fit for the offense. A great runner and an accurate passer, he
was the first player in Pennsylvania high school history to run
for over 1,000 yards and threw for over 2,000 yards in the same
season. He doesn't have a big arm, but he's extremely fast and
will be groomed over the next year to become a better
passer and be in the starting mix in 2009.
Watch Out For ... Bacher's interceptions.
Northwestern went 5-0 when Bacher threw fewer than two
interceptions, and was 1-6 when he threw two or more.
Strength: Smarts. This is Northwestern; there
aren't a lot of dumb mistakes. The interceptions thrown last
year were part of the offensive design problems, and because the
receivers weren't in place. Bacher doesn't screw up too much and
is a tough, smart leader.
Weakness: The passing game if Bacher goes down.
Persa isn't quite ready yet to lead a team to a bowl, and Kafka
makes the offense one-dimensional.
Outlook: Northwestern always seems to get good
quarterback play when its quarterbacks are experienced. After a
year of Bacher getting all the work, and going through the lumps
needed, he should be even stronger and even sharper now that he
has a no-huddle, hurry-up offense to work with. Kafka is a nice
luxury as the No. 2, and Persa should eventually be a nice
Projected Starter: Senior Tyrell Sutton
appears determined to make his final season special, and to do
whatever he must to stay healthy. After starting out as one of
the Big Ten's hottest young players, rushing for 1,474 yards and
18 total touchdowns, he was kept under wraps a bit as a
sophomore before blowing up late in the year and finishing with
1,000 yards and five touchdowns. Last season
he was going to be the focal point of the offense, but he
suffered an ankle injury in the second game of the year and
wasn't right until late October when he finished up with 72
yards against Purdue, 116 against Iowa, 141 against Indiana and
71 against Illinois. Not just a great runner, finishing last
year with a team-leading 522 yards and four touchdowns despite
missing five games and most of another, he's one of the nation's
best receiving backs with 114 career catches for 939 yards and
four scores. The key is staying healthy. A compact and
lightning-quick 5-9 and 200 pounds, he's able to work his way in
and out of jams to go along with his workhorse ability.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 210-pound senior
Omar Conteh stepped in when Sutton was hurting and was more
than fine rushing for 115 yards and a score against Michigan and
70 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan State. A banger
with a nice burst, he ran for 447 yards and five touchdowns, and
caught 20 passes for 215 yards and two scores, but he got hurt
late in the year. He'll be the team's most physical back.
Sutton is quick, Conteh is powerful, and 5-8, 175-pound
sophomore Stephen Simmons is a flash of lightning. One of
the team's faster players, he wasn't able to get much work last
season, with -3 yards on four carries, and one catch for ten
yards, but he could flourish in a change-of-pace role.
Watch Out For ... the Wildcats to not finish last in
the Big Ten in rushing again. The loss of Sutton for half the
season, even with the emergence of Conteh, basically killed the
rushing production averaging 120 yards per game. A massive sack
total didn't help the cause.
Strength: Receiving. The idea in the Mick McCall
offense will be to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers
where they can do something with it. If Sutton just has to make
one man miss in the open field, he's gone. All the backs can
catch, and they'll all be used on a regular basis in the passing
Weakness: Durability. Sutton and Conteh aren't
huge, but they're going to have to stay healthy all year long.
That's been a problem, and if those two go down, the running
game goes kaput.
Outlook: Sutton is one of the Big Ten's most
dangerous weapons and will be the league's best all-around back
if he can stay healthy. Now that Conteh is proven, there should
be more of a rotation. These two should add nice balance to the
offense that was too reliant on the passing attack last year.
Projected Starters: With everyone getting
hurt, senior Eric Peterman turned into the team's leading
receiver and a No. 1 target. The 6-1, 195-pound senior caught 66
passes for 755 yards and three touchdowns, exploding for 21
catches for 255 yards and two scores over a two-game stretch
against Michigan State and Minnesota. He's an explosive wide
receiver with the speed and cutting ability of a corner, which
he played early in 2006. He'll line up at the inside Y spot.
Back at the outside Z position is Ross Lane, an athletic
6-3, 190-pound senior who led the team with seven touchdown
catches and was second with 49 grabs for 649 yards. While he was
steady, he was shut out against Ohio State and Illinois. Even
so, he showed great flashes when the passing game got humming in
the middle of the season. Watch out for October 11th against
Michigan State. Over the last two years, Lane has caught four
touchdown passes against Sparty.
One of the biggest boosts is the return of 6-3, 210-pound junior
Andrew Brewer to the lineup, starting a the hybrid H
spot. A great quarterback who saw starting time in 2006, he was
quickly moved over to wide receiver when C.J. Bacher emerged as
the better option. He missed all of last year with a broken arm,
but with his size, athleticism and smarts, he should be ready to
be a major go-to target. Under center in 2006 he ran for 202
yards and three touchdowns while completing a mere 50% of is
passes for 344 yards and touchdowns in four games of work.
5-11, 180-pound senior Rasheed Ward is supposed to be a
field-stretcher, but he only averaged 9.4 yards per catch and he
didn't get in the end zone. Able to play any of the receiver
spots, he made 46 catches for 434 yards last year moving where
needed, but 64 of those yards came on one play against Michigan.
He has yet to scare anyone on a consistent basis, but he has 75
career grabs for 745 yards with a score.
Projected Top Reserves: Northwestern doesn't use a
true fullback and it rarely keeps a tight end in the game, but
it has a "Superback" playing a hybrid of the two positions. 6-6,
255-pound sophomore Josh Rooks will fill the role after
catching one pass for seven yards in a limited role. With good
size, surprising speed, and excellent toughness, considered to
be a possible defensive tackle prospect coming out of high
school, he should be a versatile all-around player.
5-11, 185-pound senior Jeff Yarbrough proved to be a nice
reserve on the inside last season making 18 catches for 188
yards and two touchdowns. One of the team's faster players, he
can work inside or out, but he's had a hard time staying healthy
throughout his career, suffering a leg injury last season to go
along with past problems. He'll play on the Y behind Peterman.
Sophomore Sidney Stewart was a big recruit for the
program three years ago, but he hasn't done anything yet on the
field. At 6-1 and 180 pounds, he has decent size and great speed
to be used on the outside behind Ward. If needed, he could move
inside as a slot receiver to get him going on the move.
Watch Out For ... Brewer. A strong inside presence,
he'll be used like a tight end would at the H position and he
could grow into an up-the-middle field stretcher when he gets
the ball on the move.
Strength: Veterans. Peterman and Lane started
every game last year, Ward started the first half of the season,
and Brewer has been a big part of the offense in the past. This
group should be strong now that it has a full year-plus of
playing with Bacher.
Weakness: A true outside field stretcher. The receivers
made plenty of big plays, averaging 11.5 yards per catch, but
the outside X position is what's supposed to open up the field
and it hasn't happened. Ward has the speed and the experience,
but he has to hit more home runs on the outside so the quick,
inside passes can be more effective.
Outlook: It'll be interesting to see how quickly
the veteran receivers take to the new offense. They'll be given
plenty of chances to make plays on the move as the idea will be
to get the ball in the targets' hands quickly. It'll require
adjustments and good rapport with Bacher. This group will have
it. There will be plenty of passes to go around for the strong,
There's plenty of movement up front with the
biggest switch coming for 6-3, 300-pound senior Joel Belding. A
starter in every game at right guard, he was originally moved to center
this off-season, and then switched back to right guard where he'll have
to battle to hold on to a job thanks to a knee injury. He's not the best
pass blocker, but he was serviceable as run blocker.
The one player staying put is 6-6, 285-pound junior Kurt Mattes
at right tackle. A top recruit for the program a few years ago, he
didn't get into the mix until last year where he showed off good
athleticism to go along with his size, but he has to be more consistent.
He's the veteran the line will work around early on.
The high-riser of the line is Ben Burkett, a 6-4, 265-pound
redshirt freshman who's not all that big, but he's great on the move.
He's a perfect fit for the offense and the new hurry-up style with his
athleticism and potential to make things happen down the field. He could
be the quarterback on the line for the next four years.
Former defensive tackle Keegan Kennedy
has the potential to be a whale of a guard.
The 6-2, 280-pound senior made the switch last year and didn't see much
action, but he was a natural this off-season and should be a pounder for
the running game at left guard.
Moving up the depth chart in a hurry was 6-6, 285-pound redshirt
freshman Al Netter, one of the team's top recruits last year and
a potential star at left tackle. While he's young and still figuring out
what he's doing, he doesn't make many mistakes and has played like a
seasoned veteran in practice.
Projected Top Reserves: Going into spring ball,
6-4, 305-pound Alex Rucks appeared to be a near lock to start at
left guard. A versatile veteran, he didn't see much time last year after
having problems earlier in his career with a knee injury, but with the
emergence of Kennedy, Rucks was moved to center where he'll be a key
A spot was needed somewhere for Belding after he was tried out at
center, so 6-2, 295-pound sophomore Keegan Grant, who went into
spring ball as the possible starter, will get pushed to a backup role at
right guard. The former walk-on is one of the team's stronger linemen
and is good enough to play either guard spot.
Ramon Diaz needs a little
luck. One of the team's most highly-ranked line recruits, he has
never been right after suffering a knee injury early in his
career. He has gotten better and will work behind Netter at left
tackle, but the 6-4, 295-pound junior could be moved where
Watch Out For ... Netter and Burkett. The line loses
some good veterans in Dylan Thiry and Trevor Rees, but Burkett
and Netter are two talented young players who'll be the anchors
of the line for the next four years. Once they get a little
experience, they should be fantastic.
Strength: Versatility. The coaching staff had no
problems quickly shuffling things up and trying new combinations
this spring, and while the young line needs continuity, getting
several players involved in several spots will help the depth.
Weakness: Production. The line was a major disappointment last
year considering the good veterans returning. The pass
protection was lousy and the run blocking wasn't consistent. As
good as the redshirt freshmen are that are stepping in, they're
still redshirt freshmen. Kennedy is promising, but he has to
prove he's not a defensive tackle playing guard.
Outlook: This should be a problem area after
losing veterans like Kurt Mattes, Thiry and Rees, but the
overall production can't be that much worse, and now there's
more athleticism up front to do more things on the move. This
won't be a dominant line in any one area, and it'll need at
least half the season to figure out what it's doing, but it
should be fine in time.