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2021 Northwestern Football Position Reviews: Defensive Line

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After losing a few key pieces, the D-Line crumbled.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Indiana State at Northwestern Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the dumpster fire that was Northwestern’s 2021 season in rear view, we take a look at how each of the position groups performed in the 3-9 season. Next up: the defensive line.

Overall Grade: C-

Like most position groups, this one failed to meet expectations.

Northwestern’s rushing defense was abhorrent from the first snap of the season, when Kenneth Walker III rushed for a 75-yard touchdown. He finished that game with 264 rushing yards and Northwestern’s defensive line’s lack of containment on the edge against MSU turned into a recurring theme throughout the season. NU’s defense allowed the most rushing yards in the Big Ten by over 500 yards and allowed 213 rushing yards per game, the most in the Big Ten by a margin of 51 rush yards per game. While Northwestern’s linebackers’ inexperience and lack of talent contributed to a porous run defense, each play started in the trenches, where Northwestern’s defensive line lost to opponents time and time again. The ‘Cats’ passing defense did fare better, finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but that was largely due to the talent in the secondary. As such, the D-Line receives nearly-failing marks in their collective year end grade.

Player Grades

Samdup Miller: C-

Stats: 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, 27 total tackles, 0 QB hits, 0 forced fumbles

Unfortunately, Miller’s season was cut short due to a lower-body injury in the game against Iowa. However, after a promising start to Miller’s career, it ended on a low-note in 2021. A defensive end’s job is to contain the edge and apply pressure on the QB. Simply put, there were too many times when Northwestern was beaten around the edge — the area Miller patrolled — and he also failed to accumulate a single QB hit in 2021. It did not help Miller that he could not trust the second level of linebackers behind him, but he is not without a healthy dose of personal responsibility for NU’s defensive shortcomings this season.

Joe Spivak: D+

Stats: 0 sacks, 0 TFL, 8 total tackles, 1 QB hit, 0 forced fumbles

Spivak thrived in previous seasons in his role as a run stuffer. However, with Northwestern’s lack of player personnel in 2021, Spivak was forced into a much greater role that required him to anchor the defensive line in the middle. It is hard to give Spivak much, if any, credit for his role in the middle of a porous run defense. If Spivak performed better this season, I am guessing he would have pursued a job in the NFL rather than WWE. Either way, Spivak — like Miller — should be commended for all he achieved and contributed to Northwestern football over his tenure.

Jeremy Meiser: B+

Stats: 4 sacks, 7 TFL, 31 total tackles, 3 QB hits, 0 forced fumbles

As a depth-focused graduate transfer from Old Dominion, Meiser was not expected to do much this season. With poor performance across the defensive line, however, he was thrust into a much bigger role than anticipated. He excelled given what he was expected to do entering the season, while still falling short of what would be considered . For that, Meiser earns a solid B+.

Jeffery Pooler Jr: B-

Stats: 3.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 25 total tackles, 2 QB hits, 0 forced fumbles

Pooler Jr. entered the season with a lot of hype coming from West Virginia. As a backup defensive end, he contributed solidly throughout the season, as is evidenced by his final stat line. He was never spectacular enough to steal a full-time starting job (excluding when he took over for Miller following his season-ending injury), but there were far worse backup defensive ends to have than Pooler Jr.

Adetomiwa Adebawore: A-

Stats: 4.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 36 total tackles, 12 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles

We saved the best for last! Adebawore built off his previous season and had a good, if not great, 2021 campaign. He flashed his combination of unique speed for a defensive lineman and pure strength. He has a chance to be the next great Northwestern defensive lineman. Unfortunately for Adebawore, the unit’s lackluster performance overall prevents him from earning an A.