Football: Northwestern’s defensive line holds Ohio’s run game at bay in 35-6 win


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Adetomiwa Adebawore lines up before the snap. The junior had three tackles and a sack in Saturday’s win over Ohio.

Gabriela Carroll, Senior Staffer


Defending the run is one of Northwestern’s biggest weaknesses going back to the 2020 season, and games against Duke and Michigan State this season didn’t show many signs of improvement.

Spartan running back Kenneth Walker III ran for 264 yards and four touchdowns against the Wildcats in the season opener, while Blue Devils running back Mataeo Durant ran for 102 yards and a touchdown against NU last week

But the defense showed signs of growth in the second half of that Sept. 18 contest against Duke. After giving up 163 rushing yards and 30 points in the first half, the Cats allowed just 45 rushing yards in the second half, and no points.

In a 35-6 win against Ohio, NU continued that strong defensive performance.

“A great response by our team today,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We started the way we wanted to, carrying over the momentum from the second half down in Durham last week.”

The Cats allowed just 179 rushing yards over 60 minutes, limiting the Bobcats to 5.8 yards per carry.A big portion of those rushing yards came on the final play of the game — a 55 yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Armani Rodgers. The defensive line also had four sacks, including two on third down to force punts.

Graduate lineman Jeremy Meiser had a particularly strong game with one sack to force a punt on third down and a tipped ball that led to NU’s first interception of the day by sophomore safety Brandon Joseph.

Improving the turnover margin was one of the Cats’ biggest focuses coming into this week’s matchup. NU forced three turnovers at Duke last week, but committed four of its own. This week, the Cats committed just one turnover, a red zone fumble, and forced three — one fumble and two interceptions.

“It’s like the old saying, when it rains it pours,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve turned it over, they can turn it over in bunches, and when you create turnovers, it’s great to be back to a winning formula.”

Despite the improvements and the victory, senior linebacker Chris Bergin emphasized that the team still has to improve to play to its standards.

“My takeaway from the game is that we played far from our best in the tackling game,” said Bergin, who had 15 tackles and a forced fumble. “I have a lot to do in that area in our practice and our preparation. We’ll be a lot better next week.”

Missing key defensive lineman Samdup Miller, who had 11 tackles last week at Duke, Fitzgerald said they’ve been playing a significant number of players in these first four games. He pointed out the final drive, on which Ohio scored its only touchdown, as an example of the poor tackling.idFitzgerald added that many of the players on the field were young and more inexperienced than the starters

Despite the improved play against the run, the secondary struggled, allowing eight yards per completion.There were moments, such as a 14-yard-run from Bobcats running back O’Shaan Allison, where the Cats struggled to take down the runner despite making a lot of contact. However, Joseph and senior safety Bryce Jackson — members of the defensive back room — reeled in both of NU’s interceptions.

“I thought we tackled better,” Fitzgerald said. “And then on series six all of a sudden we’ve reverted to this ugly defense that we’ve played at times where we’re reaching, and not running our feet, not wrapping up, getting more population to the football with effort. We’ve got to eradicate that.”

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Twitter: @gablcarroll

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