The Northwestern Wildcats managed to clinch a win against the Nevada Wolf Pack, but both of their offensive and defensive line play was cause for worry.
For the an entire half of the game against the Wolf Pack, the Wildcats fans felt a growing perception of “already seen” phenomenon. In the last season’s non-conference defeat to the Western Michigan Broncos and Illinois State Redbirds, the driving force the Wildcats’ loss was indeed a mediocre line play. In their contest against the Nevada, Northwestern scarcely avoided a similar defeat. Once again, it was the tough men up front that put Wildcats in a resilient position.
The Northwestern averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in their recent matchup against the Nevada despite facing a the latter’s defense that gave up 300 rushing yards per game in the previous season. The roster were unable to make holes for running back Justin Jackson for most of the contest, as the 2016 Outback Bowl player had to break a number of tackles just to earn a positive yardage for multiple times. The senior running back was never able to truly crack free for a massive gain. Despite a whopping 50 total carries, no running back have ever gained more than 13 yards on a single game, and this lack of unpredictability made the Northwestern University predictable for much of the matchup.
The Wolf Pack’s new 3-5-5 stack worked well against Wildcats’ running game, as running backs Justin Jackson and John Moten as well as offensive guard Jeremy Larkin were often kept back behind the line of scrimmage.
“It looked like we had some run-throughs by their linebackers where our o-line was targeting improperly,” Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “They had a lot of guys in the box.” Fitzgerald also said that their lack of third down success in the first half of the game, which was partly caused by the inefficient running game forging a difficult down-and-distance situations. Hence, the Wildcats’ rushing attack was unexceptional against a purportedly weak opponent. Perhaps the Wolf Pack’s run defense will be more better this season.
The Northwestern offensive line did protect quarterback Clayton Thorson well, providing him enough amount of time to finish three significant deep passes that were pivotal to the team coming away with the win. However, the Wildcats’ inability to create space for Jackson, most importantly on running up in the middle, made their run contest one-sided.
On the defensive side of the football, the players on the front seven were massively unable to make push for the sum of the first half.
The Nevada Wolf Pack’s offensive line, meanwhile, is nothing compared to the blockers the Wildcats will see as they head into Big Ten Conference play, which makes the near-catastrophic slow start even more distressing.
Tyler Lancaster and Pat Fitzgerald stressed out the essentially of starting quickly numerous times over the summer, but against Wolf Pack neither of the offensive nor defensive lines were able to do so.