Northwestern defense avoids dj vu

900311.png

Northwestern defense avoids dj vu

It was a tale of two halves for the Northwestern defense Saturday at Ryan Field in the Big Ten opener.

The Wildcats held the Indiana offense in check throughout the first half, allowing just 145 yards and heading into half with the shutout intact.

In the second half, the Hoosiers struck early and often, scoring 29 points and racking up 280 yards. At one point, Indiana got into the endzone on four straight possessions, though one of which was a 96-yard kick return. No scoring drive lasted longer than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, displaying the Hoosiers' complete efficiency.

"In the second half, they caught us in passing coverages as we were transitioning," said linebacker Damien Proby, who led all players with 14 tackles. "It opened up gaps and that's something we just can't have happening. It's little fundamental things that will get corrected in the future."

"Obviously, we've got some holes in the dam," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We allowed way too much water to sift through. Credit the Hoosiers. They blocked us, they ran through us and they ran around us. We've gotta fix that starting right now."

The second-half defensive woes neared the point of dj vu for the Wildcats, who gave up 28 points late in the season opener at Syracuse before barely eeking out a last-second win.

But Proby and the defense came up with a big stop midway through the fourth quarter when the Hoosiers were in reach -- down just eight points -- and shut down Indiana the rest of the way.

"This game was a little bit different than Syracuse from the standpoint that we were in position and we gotta make plays," Fitzgerald said. "I don't have a magic pill for that. I don't have a drill for that.

"I have great confidence in the guys. They just have to have confidence in trusting themselves. I'm disappointed for them. But I think we're at a completely different place as a defense as we were then. You know, you also give up a kick return, which really hurts you.

The kick return was a point of emphasis for Fitzgerald after the game.

"You give them a freebie," he said. "When you don't tackle, you lose contain and you have guys out of their lanes. We have to do some figuring on that."

Fitzgerald said he would address some personnel issues on the kick coverage team, which features some players that played a lot of snaps on defense as well as special teams.

As much as the Northwestern defense "let the water sift through" in the second half, as Fitzgerald put it, they still managed to keep a prolific Indiana offense in check.

The Hoosiers entered play Saturday averaging 36 points and 538.3 yards per game. The Wildcats held them to 425 yards and only 22 points, with seven more points coming on that special teams breakdown.

Fitzgerald thinks the defense could have had an even better day, if just another few plays were executed properly.

"They did a terrific job in the second half by making big plays in the passing game," Fitzgerald said. "We had guys in position. If we win on those plays, it's a completely different outcome.

"Six or eight of those plays are gonna go for about 200-300 of the yards. Our guys are gonna watch it on Monday morning and they're going to see a technical, a fundamental or an execution issue.

"They're not going to see that they were out-talented. They're not going to see that we were out-schemed. They're going to see that they can fix those problems. And that's the way we're going to coach these guys. "we've got a lot of good momentum going on, but we're far, far from the finished product in all three phases of the game."

Prairie Ridge OL Jeff Jenkins commits to Iowa

Prairie Ridge OL Jeff Jenkins commits to Iowa

Prairie Ridge junior offensive linemen recruit Jeff Jenkins (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) made an unofficial Sunday Junior Day visit to the University of Iowa and came away verbally committed to the Hawkeyes.

"I didn't want to wait," Jenkins said. "I knew I wanted to be a Hawkeye when I met the coaches at Iowa and got on campus."

Jenkins, an All-State linemen for the 2016 Class 6A state champion Wolves, received a scholarship offer from Iowa back on Jan. 13. He pointed towards the Hawkeyes history of developing NFL caliber offensive linemen as one of several keys in his early decision.

"Iowa has a great tradition of offensive linemen," Jenkins said. "I was also just really impressed with the coaches at Iowa along with the facilities and everything that they have to offer. I just knew that I couldn't pass up the opportunity at Iowa. I knew it was home."

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

bryant-mcintosh-0122.jpg
USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.