As Inside NU continues to count down our top 10 Northwestern football players from 2022, we move on to No. 5 on the list: Bryce Gallagher. The junior led the Wildcat defense for the first time at the middle linebacker position, with both some positive and negative results.
Gavin Dorsey (8):
Stats: 100 tackles, 58 solo, five tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one pass breakup
In 2021, Gallagher got his first taste of the starting linebacker job. After his brother, Blake, and Paddy Fisher graduated, the Wildcats needed someone to step up beside Chris Bergin. When Bergin wrapped up his career last season, Gallagher was handed the keys to the middle linebacker position.
Gallagher opened up the season strong, posting a season-high nine solo tackles in Dublin against Nebraska. However, he then followed that up with zero two weeks later against Duke, when the defense couldn’t seem to stop anyone on the Blue Devils’ offense.
A few games later, Gallagher starred in Northwestern’s 17-7 loss to Penn State. The Wildcat defense forced five Nittany Lion turnovers, with Gallagher being the direct cause of two of them. Late in the first quarter, Gallagher picked off Sean Clifford at the Penn State 28-yard line, putting the ‘Cats in prime position to score. Although the offense turned it over again and continued to flail with the help the defense gave it, Gallagher wasn’t done yet. The junior linebacker punched out a Kaytron Allen fumble at midfield with six minutes remaining in the fourth, his sole forced fumble of the season.
Against Maryland, Gallagher logged a career-best 16 total tackles, while contributing 1.5 sacks, his only QB takedowns of the year. Despite his efforts, the Northwestern defense struggled heavily against the Terrapins in what ended up being the last game that the Wildcats’ offense looked competent. Gallagher ended up missing the Minnesota game with a concussion, then finishing the year with just four tackles against the Illini.
Overall, Gallagher’s season was a mixed bag. He was fourth in the Big Ten in total tackles and second in solo tackles, although a large amount of that came from the defensive line’s inability to stop the rusher at the line of scrimmage. Nonetheless, his tackling efforts were enough to earn him an 81.6 tackling grade and 76.4 run defense grade from PFF.
However, one of Gallagher’s biggest struggles was in the pass defense. When dropping back in coverage, Gallagher often looked lost, and it was very evident that he could not keep up with the wide receivers he was supposed to be covering. As a result, he earned just a 46.2 coverage grade from PFF, with his worst days against Wisconsin (36.3) and Purdue (37.6).
This difficulty to defend the pass was perhaps my biggest reason for ranking him eighth, which is where I differed from my nine of 14 colleagues that voted Gallagher inside the top five. Unlike most, I had Jeremiah Lewis, Malik Washington and Xander Mueller in front of the middle linebacker, all of whom I believed to have bigger contributions. Gallagher’s lapses in the pass game were evident in many games this season, and while it wasn’t the biggest problem on this Wildcat defense, the lack of speed at the linebacker position certainly was an area for improvement.
Despite this, Gallagher still performed mostly well this season. His contributions in the run game could not be ignored, and the trio of him, Mueller and Greyson Metz will have another chance to show improvement as all three likely return as seniors in 2023.