The 2018 Northwestern Wildcats Football Preview

Ideally, your doctor should screen you during regular physical exams for risk factors that can lead to a heart attack. Tests include Electrocardiogram, Blood Tests, Chest X-ray, and being a Northwestern fan. Each minute after a heart attack heart tissues dies or deteriorates. To minimize negative effects restore blood flow quickly as possibly. Consider taking Aspirin.

Pat Fitzgerald has been head coach of Northwestern, The Real NU, since 2006. The Cats are 87-65 during his reign. Under Fitzgerald, NU’s mode record is 10-3 a feat accomplished in 2012, 2015, and 2017. Since 2012, Northwestern boasts more double digit win season than Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, and Penn State.  When Fitzgerald was coaching upperclassmen he recruited (i.e. 2008-present) Northwestern is 77-51. That’s a respectable .600 win percentage.

With shiny new facilities and former 5-star QB Hunter Johnson ready for 2019, Northwestern has the potential to make a Stanford-esque leap and be a contender not just regionally but nationally, as well. At 43 years old, Pat Fitzgerald is there for the long haul. The ambition is there. Northwestern is scheduling the right teams such as Syracuse, Boston College, Duke, Vanderbilt, Cal, and Stanford. We wanted to suggest Tulane but the administration is way ahead of us with a match scheduled in 2020. The future looks bright. However, let’s focus on this year.

2018 Northwestern Wildcats Offense

Meaningful departures from 2017: RB Justin Jackson, TE Garrett Dickerson

The offense won’t skip a beat, as the core of the team returns. Four of the five offensive linemen return, top two WRs Ben Skowronek (42 receptions, 619 yards, 14.7 yards per reception, 5 touchdowns), Flynn Nagel ( 47 receptions, 483 yards, 10.3 yards per reception, 2 touchdowns).

Running Backs

RB Jeremy Larkin has 2 years in the system. One as a redshirt, the other as back up to Justin Jackson. Off the bench he ran for 503 yards, 5 TDs, while averaging 6.0 yards per a carry. Larkin came to Northwestern as a high 3-star recruit/borderline 4-star, the 25th best RB nationally. At 5’10” 194 lbs, Larkin is of the same mold as Justin Jackson who was 5’11” and 200 lbs at departure. Larkin is patient. Larkin is fast. And Larkin has vision. Cats fans might remember his zig-zagging run vs the fake NU:

Wide Receivers

The wide receivers’ numbers are far from gaudy. This is a product of the offense they run. Last year, 6 Cats caught 20 or more passes. Expect the ball to again be spread around to a number of targets. The 6’0″ sophomore Riley Lees should improve on an good debut season last year. He was featured as kick and punter returner, while averaging 13.1 yards per a catch, good enough for second among returning WRs. Another WR to look for is Jace James. While touches for Jace were limited in 2017, he made the most of them. In the Music City Bowl, James recorded 2 receptions both on third down and both resulted in critical first downs.

Overall, the Northwestern offense is poised for a good 2018 campaign. There is only one teenzy-weenzy tiny detail: starting QB Clayton Thorson’s timeline for return from a torn ACL is unknown. Thorson is the winningest QB in Northwestern history. His experience and arm make the difference in the numerous close games the Wildcats are bound to play. Therefore, even missing Week 1 puts the Cardiac Cats behind the 8-ball, when they open with B1G West rival Purdue. One should realistically expect Thorson back Week 5 or 6.

2018 Northwestern Wildcats Defense

Meaningful departures: S Godwin Igwebuike, S Kyle Queiro

Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher
Linebacker Corp

Northwestern will lean on a strong defense. The Cats run a 4-3 base, and will be relying on a strong front seven. Paddy Fisher might be the best linebacker in school history. In 2017, he record 111 tackles, 65 solo tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 1 interception and a monster 4 forced fumbles. For context, Georgia’s Roquan Smith the #8 overall draft pick in 2018 recorded 137 tackles, 85 solo tackles, 14 tackles for a loss (6.5 sacks), 0 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. It should be noted that Smith played special teams and in a Georgia scheme that allowed him to blitz more.

Paddy Fisher has 3 more years of eligibility. Among 2019 Draft-eligible linebackers, Fisher had the highest run-stop percentage at 15.8%. Next to Fisher is LB Nate Hall. The senior outside linebacker recorded 81 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks in 2017. Between the two, Northwestern’s linebackers might be their strongest unit on the team.

Defensive Line

Or they might not. The defensive line features the 2017 B1G sack leader RS junior #97 Joe Gaziano. In 2017, he recorded 8 sacks. However, they’re more than a one-man wrecking crew. Because this Northwestern team features something rare among middle class programs: depth. On the opposite side DL Samdup Miller comes off a freshmen season featuring 5.5 sacks. In addition to Samdup, his older brother #91 Alex Miller is a junior and will start at defensive tackle, alongside returning starter #99 Jordan Thompson. Behind the starters seniors #75 Ben Oxley and # 92 Fred Wyatt provide depth and rest.

2018 Northwestern Wildcats Schedule

Northwestern boasts the best home schedule in football. Duke, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame come to Ryan Field. With a healthy Thorson, Northwestern might have challenged for the B1G West. Because he’ll likely miss important games early in the season, look for Northwestern to finish strong against a weaker back half of the schedule. Don’t fret Wildcats. 2019 is the year all the heart attacks pay off.