Football: Experienced defensive line pacing Northwestern by finding success against the pass


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Trevor Kent prepares for a play. The senior defensive tackle is a key component of Northwestern’s defensive line, which stymied Indiana State despite his absence.

Patrick Andres, Senior Staffer


Midway through the first quarter of Northwestern’s 24-6 win over Indiana State, the Sycamores were on the march.

Trailing 7-0, Indiana State ripped off seven, eight and 17-yard gains in succession early on its first drive. But after a pair of fruitless rushing attempts, the Sycamores faced third-and-eight from the Wildcats’ 36-yard line. Quarterback Anthony Thompson dropped back to pass.

There to meet him in the backfield was junior defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore.

“I kind of anticipated the pass,” Adebawore said. “I found the ball, tried to do a physical move, hit the ball, and just stripped it.”

Thompson fell on the loose ball, but Indiana State lost seven yards and was forced to punt. NU scored again less than two minutes later, to go up 14-0.

The tenor of the game was set. The Cats never truly established their offense, managing only 10 more points, and the Sycamores moved the ball ably on multiple occasions. But it was never a close contest thanks to a steady stream of plus plays, particularly against the pass, from the defensive line.

“They make our job a lot easier,” graduate linebacker Chris Bergin said. “That’s something I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the entirety of my time here. We’ve had phenomenal defensive linemen.”

NU’s pass rush was keyed by Adebawore, a fixture in the Indiana State backfield last Saturday. He hurried Thompson into an incompletion on third-and-four to force a three-and-out on the Sycamores’ final substantial drive of the first half. His hurry on third-and-nine early in the third quarter forced another punt, and a first down sack two Indiana State possessions later wiped out eight of the 17 yards the Sycamores gained on the previous play.

After a relatively quiet two-tackle night against Michigan State in the opener, Adebawore played closer to his 2020 form, when he recorded four tackles against Nebraska and five hurries against Wisconsin.

“Seeing how the older guys go about their business and the experience of getting in-game reps has been huge,” the defensive lineman said. “It’s been really healthy for my growth as a player and a person.”

Beyond Adebawore, the Cats flashed their bevy of experience and depth in the trenches. Graduate defensive lineman Jeremy Meiser’s sack on third-and-eight snuffed out Indiana State’s opening drive of the second half. Jeffrey Pooler Jr., another graduate defensive lineman, assisted Adebawore’s sack and contributed two tackles.

NU notably found defensive success despite an off day from graduate student defensive lineman Samdup Miller, who was absent from the stat sheet after amassing four tackles and half a sack against the Spartans. Senior defensive tackle Trevor Kent was inactive, and the Cats’ linebackers failed to record a sack.

As NU heads on the road for the first time this season, Duke figures to challenge its defensive line. The Blue Devils struggled to begin the 2021 season, dropping their season opener to Charlotte and unwittingly becoming the 49ers’ first-ever Power Five victim. But Duke has given up just one sack. After North Carolina A&T defensive lineman Devin Harrell brought down quarterback Gunnar Holmberg on Duke’s opening drive last Saturday, the Blue Devils recovered to pass for 283 yards in a 45-17 victory.

Noteworthy players Adebawore, Kent, Miller and company will contend with center Jack Wohlabaugh, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference Honorable Mention in 2019, and offensive guard Maurice McIntyre, a three-game starter last season. They’ll also face offensive tackle Graham Barton, who earned freshman All-America plaudits from The Athletic.

Bergin believes the defensive line will have a vital role in any Cats successes going forward — both in North Carolina this Saturday and beyond.

“As they continue to get better, (the defense) will continue to play better, as a cohesive unit,” he said. “Our D-line played great Saturday, and they’re gonna play even better next Saturday.”

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