Wow it feels nice to write this. Ladies and Gentlemen, Northwestern football is finally here! This Saturday afternoon at 3 CST the Wildcats will kick off against the 24th-ranked Stanford Cardinal. Here are the three most important things to know about Stanford ahead of an important Week 1 clash:
The Cardinal have some big holes to fill offensively
Though they return senior quarterback KJ Costello, Stanford lost Heisman Award Nominee running back Bryce Love along with wide receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trent Irwin and Kaden Smith to the NFL in 2018. With part of their already-mediocre line departing after last season as well, the offense is in a bit of a predicament.
Head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard have begun to go away from their famous “mammoth formations” over the past few years, in a move that many attribute to their struggles up front. Missing both their dynamic running back and a significant amount of incredibly talented wideouts, the options for KJ Costello are beginning to dwindle.
They have had more than their fair share of offensive line struggles
In their most successful era, which isn’t too far in the rearview mirror, Stanford football made consistent use of powerful offensive linemen who, when working in concert, acted as game changers for the team. Often times, their advantage up front gave them the edge over other talented teams.
But their days of dominance in the trenches offensively are seemingly well in the rearview mirror. Last season’s line was one of the worst in recent history for the Cardinal, as the five up front battled injuries all season, never stabilizing into the force the team was looking for. They return highly-touted linemen Walker Little and Foster Sarell as they try to turn things around in 2019, both of whom have massive potential despite struggles with injury last season.
Their defensive unit is trying to take the next step
Junior cornerback Paulson Adedo looks to follow up on a breakout season for the Cardinal after leading the way for what was the 43rd-ranked defense in S&P+ last season. The front seven certainly should be vulnerable to a successful rushing attack: despite returning plenty of pieces in the middle from 2018, the guys they are bringing back didn’t have much success.
Adebo will look to build on the four interceptions he collected last season as he heads up what should be relatively successful, if changing, pass defense. Stanford, however, returns just five defensive starters on the whole, making them a relatively vulnerable unit even against an offense, like Northwestern’s, that is in transition.