2015 Football Preview: Defensive line anchors defense with depth


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Senior defensive end Deonte Gibson helps anchor a strong and deep Wildcats defensive line.

Stephanie Kelly, Reporter

The necessary disclaimer:

Last year it seemed like the defense was Northwestern’s saving grace, even though its season was marked with injuries, inconsistencies and a dissatisfying amount of points and yards allowed. Other stats and past match-ups show a saga of ups and downs: NU posted a disappointing 17 sacks, the lowest in the Big Ten. Against Iowa, the defense crumbled along with the offense after a bad start, allowing 221 rushing yards in an ugly 48-7 loss. By conceding 40 points at Notre Dame, NU’s defense showed how it ended up a middling seventh in the Big Ten in points allowed.

But that game also saw the Wildcats force four turnovers, which was echoed in the following game against Purdue when the defense created three takeaways in the Boilermakers’ first few possessions. Matchups against Penn State and Wisconsin, both wins for NU, were notable highs for the defense as well.

While the Cats’ offense is taking the blame for the team’s second consecutive 5-7 season — as it should — the defense also needs improvement, and that’s been eagerly overlooked in the offseason as NU attempts to sort out the other side.

Looking ahead:

That being said, the defensive line is the most experienced position group going into the new season, and the line instills hope for what’s to come. It looks strong with rising standouts mixed in among veteran leaders.

Keeping the ends intact will most likely be seniors Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry, who together brought in more than 50 total tackles in 2014. Gibson and Lowry have proven backup in junior Ifeadi Odenigbo and sophomore Xavier Washington — the latter provided a needed quickness last season and appropriately saw his playing time increase throughout 2014. This season probably will see a similar stress on the rotation carried over from last year.

At 310 pounds, junior defensive tackle Greg Kuhar delivers size and quick-thinking play in the middle. A torn ACL at Notre Dame last year kept him from finishing the season, but Kuhar should be ready to play by by NU’s Sept. 5 opener against Stanford. Senior defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, who adds a significant amount of depth to the line, also returns from injury and will appear for his sixth year after being sidelined for part or all of the past two seasons.

The first test:

As for the opening game against Stanford, NU has a chance. The Cardinal may have gradually proven a dominant offensive line last year, but NU’s defensive line this season looks to be a worthy challenge. After all, Odenigbo and Washington are two of the best backup ends in the Big Ten. If the line can increase pressure and disrupt the pocket, it could give the pass defense — and the rest of the team — the momentum it needs out of the gate. Stanford could be the true test for a defensive line waiting to live up to its potential.

Projected depth chart:

Starter Backup
Right Defensive End Dean Lowry (Sr) Xavier Washington (So)
Defensive Tackle Sean McEvilly (Sr) Max Chapman (Sr)
Defensive Tackle Greg Kuhar (Jr) C.J. Robbins (Sr)
Left Defensive End Deonte Gibson (Sr) Ifeadi Odenigbo (Jr)

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