The Daily Northwestern

Football: Northwestern secondary falters against Michigan

Northwestern defensive back Ibraheim Campbell (24) watches as Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (12) celebrates after rushing into the end zone for a touchdown that took Saturday's game into overtime.

Kaitlin Svabek/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern defensive back Ibraheim Campbell (24) watches as Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (12) celebrates after rushing into the end zone for a touchdown that took Saturday's game into overtime.

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

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The secondary is supposed to be the defense’s last line of protection. For Northwestern on Saturday, the defensive backfield was the place where Michigan attacked first.

The Wolverines’ quarterback Devin Gardner shredded the Cats’ defensive backs, and when the secondary was not giving up big completions, it often got flagged for penalties.

Gardner finished the game with 286 yards passing and two touchdowns, completing 16 of 30 attempts. He picked on NU’s cornerback tandem of redshirt sophomore Daniel Jones and redshirt senior Demetrius Dugar, with Dugar starting in place of the injured redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose.

“We knew on Thursday that he wasn’t starting,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said of VanHoose. “We hoped he would turn it around, but we anticipated he couldn’t go.”

Dugar, who secured a late interception that nearly sealed the game, was picked on early and often by the Wolverines’ play callers. During Michigan’s first scoring drive, Dugar had a particularly tough time.

First, Dugar allowed Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree to make a reception and then missed a tackle that permitted Roundtree to pick up 32 yards. A play later, after an off-sides penalty against NU, Dugar interfered with Roundtree, sending the Wolverines inside the 10-yard line.

“We know that Demetrius will make those plays,” redshirt junior linebacker Damien Proby said. “We know that he’s going to be on top of every route. We know the drive that he has on the field and off the field. If they pick on him, we expect him to make those plays.”

Dugar struggled in the second half as well. He picked up another pass inference on Michigan’s third scoring drive and was also in coverage on a 42-yard pass to Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon the very next play. The Cats finished the game with eight penalties for 75 yards.

“We need to be fundamentally sound,” Proby said. “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot and expect to win a Big Ten football game.”

The secondary also failed to step up when NU needed a stop the most. With the Cats nursing a 3-point lead in the fourth quarter, Gardner went through the air to put the Wolverines in front.

On a drive that started at the Michigan 9-yard line, Gardner completed passes of 12, 25, 13 and 8 yards before an 8-yard touchdown throw on third down put the Wolverines ahead 28-24.

Even with the ball on the ground, the NU secondary did not fare much better.

On Michigan’s first score of the game, Gardner scored on an 8-yard touchdown run. Redshirt sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell appeared to have Gardner stopped near the 5-yard line, but whiffed on the tackle, allowing the score.

Campbell missed another tackle on a 28-yard touchdown on the Wolverines’ third scoring drive, making him one of three NU defenders who failed to make the tackle on the play.

The play that fans will remember the most — a 53-yard Hail Mary to Roundtree at the end of the fourth quarter — was actually one of the secondary’s better moments. Jones was in position to make a play, and did get a hand on the ball, but it deflected upward as opposed to falling to the turf.

“We asked our guys to make a play on the ball; that’s what he did” Proby said. “(There was) a lucky bounce and there’s nothing we can do to stop that.”


About the Writer
Rohan Nadkarni, Gameday Editor

Rohan Nadkarni is the Gameday editor of The Daily and a Medill junior. His past positions include Sports editor, assistant Sports editor and football beat...