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2020 Northwestern Football Position Reviews: Offensive line

The offensive line saw big impacts from its newest member and solid production from the rest.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Northwestern at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After a shortened season capped by a Citrus Bowl victory, it’s time to begin our postseason coverage by handing out grades and taking a look at what’s to come in the fall. We’ll evaluate each position group and discuss how well they performed, as well as what the future might hold. Up next is the offensive line.

Overall Grade: A-

Much like the rest of the roster, 2020 was a bounce-back year for Northwestern’s offensive line. The group saw some big changes from last year with the introduction of two newcomers to the trenches in Ethan Wiederkehr and Peter Skoronski along with some position changes. Former right guard Sam Gerak slid over to replace former center Jared Thomas while Wiederkehr filled Gerak’s old spot. Meanwhile, Skoronski was tasked to fill the monumental hole left by project first-round pick Rashawn Slater at left tackle.

All in all, it was an impressive year for the ‘Cats in the trenches. They gave up 13 sacks this year, a significant improvement from the 23 sacks they gave up in 2019. Unlike previous years, there were fewer miscommunications early in the season, which can be credited to the veteran presence upfront as well as the fact that Skoronski hardly missed a beat in his first year.

Player Grades

Peter Skoronski: A+

As mentioned previously, Skoronski, a first-year out of Park Ridge, Ill., was made responsible for filling the gap left by Slater after he opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. When Slater made his announcement in August, many were unsure about who would be starting at left tackle up until the Week One depth chart was released.

Once he got started, Skoronski looked like a seasoned pro. The five-star recruit made very few mistakes in the season opener and only improved from there. He started all nine games at left tackle for the ‘Cats, and at the end of the season, was named Second Team All-Big Ten as well as a member of the FWAA Freshman All-America Team. Skoronski has a great career in store, as he will headline the offensive line heading into next season.

Nik Urban: A-

Urban was a staple to the offensive line this year, as he started in all nine games upfront for the Wildcats. Urban only improved on his performance a season prior and helped propel Northwestern to an average of 162.8 rushing yards per game. He was a force to go up against for opponents and was a clear leader for the Wildcat line. Overall, Urban had a great senior season before announcing that his impressive career in Evanston has come to an end.

Sam Gerak: A-

Gerak was solid all season for the ‘Cats, as he helped create holes for a running game that often saw a different running back in the backfield every few plays. His season was capped off by arguably his best performance in the Citrus Bowl, where Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 85.1 and was named to the AP’s All Bowl Team for his efforts against Auburn.

Ethan Wiederkehr: A-

While Wiederkehr saw some playing time at right tackle last season as he traded places on and off with Gunnar Vogel, it wasn’t until this year that he slotted in at right guard. He started all nine games for the Wildcats this season and held firm against some of the tougher pass rushes in Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State. As a senior next season, Wiederkehr may be called upon to lead an already impressive group.

Gunnar Vogel: B+

After ceding his right tackle position to Wiederkehr on and off in 2019, Vogel managed to hold down the position this time around. He improved upon his pass blocking mistakes that plagued him last year, and while he still lapsed at times, it was a good way to end his career for the ‘Cats (unless, of course, he decides to come back). Like the rest of the Trench Cats, Vogel started all nine games at right tackle.