Becht: ‘Bend, don’t break’ defense enough for Northwestern

Colin Becht, Assistant Gameday Editor

Let’s start with the obvious flaws.

Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig threw for nearly 300 yards. The Northwestern pass rush was inconsistent. A lack of discipline cost the Wildcats dearly on a few occasions.

After noting the clear caveats, the NU defense deserves the praise befitting a unit that kept its team in a game for the second consecutive week. Though far from perfect, NU’s defense held an opponent to 13 points for the second week in a row, rendering the Cats’ offensive red zone struggles merely a red flag in an ugly 22-13 win rather than a crippling weakness in a disappointing loss.

“I definitely felt good that the defense was getting stops,” junior quarterback Kain Colter said, describing how he felt about the offense having to settle for field goals.

NU’s defensive front seven have proven to be an intimidating collective force, daring opponents to attempt to run on them. Boston College rushed for just 25 yards, averaging 1.2 yards per carry. When the Eagles attempted to move the ball on the ground in the first half, they were more likely to go backwards than forwards, picking up negative-three yards rushing by halftime.

“We take a lot of pride in just shutting down the other offense, just keeping our team in the game doing what we can do,” linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo said.

The defense has now posted back-to-back games of solid run stopping. Vanderbilt averaged just three yards per carry despite a 25-yard rush by running back by Jordan Rodgers. NU has now gone 160 minutes and 58 seconds without allowing a rushing touchdown.

“We had a good momentum going with us, so we just tried to keep that,” Ariguzo said.

Although the Cats’ pass rush took a step back from its three-sack performance against the Commodores, NU managed to make Rettig uncomfortable, registering three quarterback hurries. Ariguzo built off his selection as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week by picking up 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry.

The pressure the Cats kept on Rettig helped get them off the field, limiting Boston College to two third-down conversions on 11 attempts. NU entered Saturday’s contest with a 45.7 percent third-down conversion rate.

The Cats only brought Rettig down once but made it count, ending a second-quarter drive with a Tyler Scott sack.

“So far this season that group’s been really active outside of about eight minutes in the fourth quarter at Syracuse, where we were gassed,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said of the defensive line’s play. “Outside of that, I think that front has played really well.”

When backed into a corner, the defense also responded superbly. Boston College scored on just two out of four trips to the red zone and was held to field goals both times.

Senior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt’s forced fumble on running back Rolandan Finch early in the third quarter kept the Eagles out of the end zone and preserved the Cats’ 12-10 lead at the time.

No one can say the Northwestern defense has flirted with flawlessness. But with a 3-0 record thanks to two strong defensive efforts, the Cats will settle for satisfactory.