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Walfish: Rejuvenated defense needs to continue momentum

Josh Walfish

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Sometimes the best source of motivation is wanting to prove someone wrong.

That is the exact mindset the defense has taken this spring, trying to regroup after a disappointing 2011 season. With all the fingers pointing in their direction, the defense had two choices: embrace it or run from it.

It made the right choice, embracing the criticism and using it to fuel the fire that the defense showed in its dominance of the Spring Exhibition on Saturday. The scoreboard said Northwestern won 47-43, but that useless scoring system did not tell the entire story.

The defensive dominance was sparked by the rejuvenated defensive line, which has played extremely well this spring. The line placed tremendous pressure on the quarterbacks, sacking them six times and hurrying them a handful of times. It smothered the running game, limiting the offense to 47 yards on 36 carries, which averages out to 1.3 yards per touch.

The big guys in the trenches even picked up a touchdown thanks to a great tip and catch by rising sophomore tackle Chance Carter, who ran the intercepted screen pass 19 yards for the score. The play epitomized the improvement the defensive line has made.

Last season, a defensive player getting a hand on the ball was an accomplishment. The quarterbacks had way too much time in the pocket and torched the NU secondary because of it. On Saturday, a pass that was completed without a defensive lineman in the quarterback’s face was a disappointment. Carter said he could feel what type of block the offensive lineman was in and was able to adapt and find the ball. That rarely happened last year, especially in the bowl game, when Texas A&M used the screen to gain signficant yards and torture the NU defense. A swarming and disruptive defensive line playing with the same tenacity it played with Saturday will do wonders for this defense. With an inexperienced secondary, constant pressure on the quarterback will give the secondary more opportunities to defend the pass and not hang them out to dry as much.

Though the defense will never admit it, the off-season chatter about how bad it was helped it become the unit it was in the spring. The anger you feel when someone thinks you’re not good enough is a stronger feeling than people let on. That burning passion inside this defense to prove its skeptics wrong showed up Saturday.

It showed up in the defensive line, it showed up in the linebackers and it showed up in the secondary as individual units. But more importantly, it showed up in the defense as a whole, and that is what it will take for this defense to take the next step. If it can come together as one unit and play as 11 individuals with one heart, as coach Pat Fitzgerald loves to say, this defense will compete. This defense will not blow leads late. This defense will bring the pain.

The question remains which defense we will see in the fall, but I love the defense I’m seeing now.

Sports editor Josh Walfish is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at joshuawalfish2014@u.northwestern.edu.

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About the Writer
Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

Josh Walfish was Sports editor of The Daily. His past positions include Gameday editor. He is from Rockville, Md., and has interned for RantSports.