2014 Northwestern football preview: defensive line

Joseph Diebold, Assistant Gameday Editor

Projected depth chart:

Defensive end:
1. No. 13 Deonte Gibson, Junior
1. No. 94 Dean Lowry, Junior
2. No. 7 Ifeadi Odenigbo, Sophomore
2. No. 96 Max Chapman, Junior

Defensive tackle:
1. No. 91 Sean McEvilly, Senior
1. No. 99 Chance Carter, Senior
2. No. 90 C.J. Robbins, Junior
2. No. 93 Greg Kuhar, Sophomore

Key losses:

Tyler Scott (graduated, now with Minnesota Vikings)

What to watch for:

The biggest difference between Northwestern’s 10-3 season in 2012 and its 5-7 disappointment in 2013 may have been the play of the defensive line. NU’s defense allowed 127.6 rushing yards per game on 3.8 yards per carry in 2012, with those numbers jumping to 167.3 on 4.1, respectively, in 2013. Tyler Scott, the team’s leader in sacks the past two years, is gone, with a mix of veterans and untested youth waiting in the wings. Junior Dean Lowry was one of few pleasant surprises for NU last year. He will look to build on a strong sophomore season, shouldering a bigger load against both the pass and the run on the wake of Scott’s departure.

Question mark:

Sean McEvilly’s midseason injury in 2013 pointed the spotlight directly on the Wildcats’ lack of depth in the trenches. An inability to get pressure on the quarterback or stop the run in key moments was glaring in losses to Ohio State and Minnesota. If the starting defensive tackles can’t stay healthy, there is little reason to expect this year will be different.

Underrated subplot:

With Scott gone, how often will coach Pat Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz pull the much-ballyhooed four-defensive end formation out of their bag of tricks? It was an important wrinkle in NU’s early-season wins but hinged on having four quality ends. The formation can help the Cats get pressure in obvious passing situations and reduces the number of snaps faced by the tackles.

If disaster strikes:

Panic. Sophomore Ifeadi Odengibo provides good depth at the end spots (he had 5.5 sacks last season, good for second on the team), but there are major question marks at tackle behind returning starters McEvilly and Carter. Big Ten offenses exploited the Cats’ lack of depth on the line last year. It may well happen again.

Email: [email protected]northwestern.edu
Twitter: @josephdiebold