Football: Defense continues turnover-filled start to 2013 season

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

After pitching a near-perfect first half against Syracuse on Saturday night, Northwestern’s defense let down its guard on the opening drive in the third quarter. Fresh out of the locker room, the Orange marched down the field and scored a touchdown.

As the Wildcats’ defense trotted over to the sidelines, an unhappy man stood waiting.

“We were lethargic and didn’t play very emotional,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s on me and us as a staff. We’ve got to get the guys going better and pay better attention to detail and start the fight again in the second half. We did not do that.”

The Cats heeded Fitzgerald’s advice after the opening drive, squeezing their third and fourth interceptions out of the Orange’s offense en route to a 48-27 win at Ryan Field.

NU’s defense lives by a simple but destructive message.

“We try to emphasize rips, strips, tips because tips equals picks,” said sophomore safety Traveon Henry, who corralled one of senior quarterback Drew Allen’s four interceptions. “That’s something we pride ourselves in.”

NU totaled seven interceptions in its first two games of 2013. By comparison, the Cats didn’t record their seventh interception until the final game of the regular season last year.

Sophomore defensive end Dean Lowry, who collected one of the picks, said California and Syracuse were similar in their approach to the passing game, which helped the NU defense.

“The past two games have been more of three-step drop teams, so it’s been more important to get our hands up and get tips because sacks may not always be there,” Lowry said. “(NU coaches) emphasized the last two weeks in practice to get your hands up in the air and get tips. … The past few games we’ve done that, and we’ve done a good job of that.”

NU’s defensive line played a big role in disrupting Syracuse’s passing attacks, specifically with the group of pass rushers known as the “cheetah package.” The Cats play four defensive ends on the line, with Lowry joined by senior Tyler Scott on the inside, and sophomore Deonte Gibson and redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo lined up at end.

“Those guys are all pretty talented, and they played well in the framework of what we’re asking them to do,” Fitzgerald said.

It’s no secret that the Cats have struggled closing out teams in the past. NU led going into the fourth quarter in all three of its losses last year, and Henry said the learning experiences of finishing games strong will help tremendously in the long run.

“Sometimes things don’t work out your way,” Henry said. “But you learn how to deal with adversity, and we’re going to look at the film and see what we can correct. And from there, we’ll take it step by step and get ready for the next game.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of redshirt freshman defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. The Daily regrets the error.

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