2008 Northwestern Preview - Offense
Northwestern RB Tyrell Sutton
Northwestern RB Tyrell Sutton
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Offense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Northwestern Preview | 2008 Northwestern Offense
- 2008 Northwestern Defense | 2008 Northwestern Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Northwestern Preview | 2006 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.

Returning Leaders
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 option.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

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 game.
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.
Rating: 8.5


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.
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, productive corps.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: 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 backup.

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 needed.

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.
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.
Rating: 6.5


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