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Defense proves to be Northwestern's backbone

The offense and special teams will have their ups and downs, but Northwestern can always rely on the defense to give them a shot.

Justin K. Aller

Any given Saturday you can count on the Northwestern defense giving the team a chance to win. This Saturday they did much more than give the Wildcats a chance.

NU’s defense brought the heat from start to finish. The pressure created by the front seven held Christian Hackenberg to 22 of 45 passing and just 216 yards. The ‘Cats sacked Hackenberg four times and turned him over twice. Penn State’s highly-touted quarterback was never allowed to get his offense rolling.

The Nittany Lions’ running game wasn’t any better. Penn State rushed for just 50 yards in the game on 2.0 yards per carry. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak were turned into non-factors on their home-turf in State College.

Making their performance even more impressive, the Northwestern defense dominated Penn State while some of its stars watched from the sideline. Anthony Walker filled in at middle linebacker for Collin Ellis, and he played the game of his life. Walker led the team in tackles with eight takedowns and returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown that put NU up 20-6 late in the game.

When asked about his pick-six in the post-game conference, Walker said, "It was great, first of all. Just the fact that the crowd went silent was the best moment."

Godwin Igwebuike also played a majority of the game since Ibraheim Campbell was once again sidelined by injury. Igwebuike had four tackles and helped the secondary play the best coverage we’ve seen all season.

The first half in week one raised some eyebrows. On top of the rough offensive display, NU’s defense gave up 24 points to Cal in just 30 minutes. The sloppy start was simply a game-planning issue. The defense quickly turned it around and hasn’t looked back.

A scoreless half against NIU and limiting Western Illinois to seven points showed signs of improvement. The performance against Penn State verified the defense is for real.

The d-line, led by Greg Kuhar and Dean Lowry, was in the backfield all day. Ifeadi Odenigbo continued to beat up on offensive tackles and added another sack to his already outstanding 2014 season. The linebacking corps proved it is five players deep, if not six. And the secondary, while still behind the other position groups, didn’t get beat for big plays.

Northwestern’s results are going to fluctuate. The offense can never keep their foot on the gas pedal. Special teams goes from excellent to abysmal in the blink of eye. The only unit NU can rely on is the defense, and they will need them more than ever against Wisconsin next weekend.