clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Column: Northwestern's defense, and the beauty in winning ugly

New, 22 comments

Everybody loves shootouts. But more importantly, everybody loves winning.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

It's sexy to rack up hundreds on hundreds of yards of offense.

It's electric to see offenses move up and down the field biting off 15 yard chunks of turf at a time.

Games that finish 47-40 are the football equivalent of a 1980s trip to South Beach where you spend the last bit of cash in your savings account on a night of cocaine, strip clubs, and whatever other bad decisions fit your fancy.
Games where teams struggle to put the ball in the end zone? Well, they're usually mocked.

And yet, there's something sickly satisfying about watching your squad smash the snot out of someone for 60 minutes, not do anything really pretty, or even anything really good, on offense but still win and win convincingly. Was it fun watching Clayton Thorson struggle badly for the first time in his career? Nope. But it was a lot of fun watching Duke fans give up hope when they were down 9 points.

"Scoring two separate times against this team?" they must have thought.

"Nah. Can't be done. Let's go home."

Part of being a Northwestern fan is learning that no lead is safe. 38-3 at home against Michigan State? Not big enough. 22-0 in the first quarter of the Sun Bowl? Not gonna cut it. Up 3 against Nebraska with no time on the clock and the Huskers at midfield? Something's going to go wrong.

This team is different.

If NU gets out to a lead, any kind of lead, whether it's 21-0 or 3-0, this defense has the goods to get to the finish line.
As Duke and Northwestern exchanged over 1,000 yards of punts on 21 tries, you couldn't help but smirk. The game was awful. But it was our awful. This is how Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern wants to play in 2015. Boring, predictable offense backed up by a defense that could be somewhere in or around the top 10 in the country in every meaningful metric. They're almost certainly going to be one of the best third down defenses in the entire country.

And for as stifling as the defense is, it isn't like the great Miami defenses that were stacked with freaky speed and big play ability. There are still studs in NU's defense (Anthony Walker and Godwin Igwebuike appear to have sure-fire next level talent, and Matt Harris, Nick VanHoose and Dean Lowry are no slouches either). But Northwestern didn't get a single sack on Saturday. The Wildcats only had 2 tackles for loss. They forced two turnovers thanks to heady plays. Dean Lowry, as he is wont to do, filled a passing lane on his pass rush. Godwin Igwebuike spotted a ball carrier not protecting the ball and ripped it out.

It's a bend-but-don't-break defense on steroids. NU will let you get two or three yards. That's cool. But you're not getting to that yellow line.

Northwestern isn't going to be playing many games that neutral fans are going to be glued to. Another M00N could be approaching in the Big Ten opener, and many more stereotypical old-school Big Ten slugfests could be on the horizon.

That doesn't mean that it won't be fun for us though. We get to watch a defense that is immovable, loaded with swagger, and one that is capable of leading Northwestern to Indianapolis.

Yeah, I said it.