Football: Bye week gives Northwestern’s offensive line time to ready for Rutgers


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior right guard Conrad Rowley blocks a Nebraska defender. Rowley and three other offensive linemen injured in the contest are listed in the projected depth chart against Rutgers. Alt: Player in white jersey guards man in red jersey

Lawrence Price, Assistant Sports Editor

Many things did not go in Northwestern’s favor in its 56-7 loss to Nebraska two weeks ago. 

The Wildcats’ defense allowed 657 yards, the most in a game under coach Pat Fitzgerald. NU’s rushing attack gained a season-low 37 yards. But the hardest-hit unit was the protectors of the offense — the offensive line. During the Big Ten West contest, the group lost senior center Sam Gerak, sophomore left guard Josh Priebe, junior right guard Conrad Rowley and sophomore center Ben Wrather to injuries.

 NU’s (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) much-needed bye came the following week. Offensive line coach Kurt Anderson expressed that while injuries are “a part of the game,” the time gave the group a chance to recover, receive treatment and prepare for this weekend’s matchup against Rutgers (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten).

“We always take the approach of, ‘You need to prepare like you’re the starter because you never know when your number is going to be called,’” Anderson said. “It’s nice to have time to teach them the little details of that sense of urgency that needs to be heightened instead of going right into another game where if you get thrown into that fire feet-first, there can be a sense of anxiety.”

Using the time to recuperate and ready for a Homecoming matchup, the offensive line also has the opportunity to review its miscues against the Cornhuskers and throughout the season’s first five games. Of the Cats’ 26 total penalties, 12 stem from the offensive line.

Two of these marks came against Nebraska in the first quarter, resulting in a loss of 19 yards. Though the mistakes didn’t make a great impact on the 49-point loss, lowering the amount of miscues will help NU’s offense in the future.     

“Communication is going to be huge,” said sophomore left tackle Peter Skoronski, an All-Big Ten Second Team honoree in 2020. “We could have done a better job of that against Nebraska and the weeks past, so that will be a big thing to have down.” 

Excelling in these departments will be crucial to the unit’s success against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has secured only one sack in its past three games, but the team has faced three squads ranked in the Top 25: No. 8 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State. These squads rank first and tied for second, respectively, in sacks against in the Big Ten. 

In addition to its recently tough schedule, Rutgers averages the least penalty yards and the fourth-most yards per game for opposing team penalties (54.5) in the conference. As a result, maintaining the fundamentals could be key for NU.  

“You’ve got to fall in love with the mundane, the monotonous, because it’s doing the same things over and over again,” Anderson said. “That bye week always allows you to go back to the fundamentals, little details of what you do on an in-and-out daily basis.” 

Both teams enter the contest after going through rough patches, making a win for the Cats all the more important. Following this weekend, NU has six games remaining, with five of them against opponents in the Big Ten West. Preparing for the schedule’s cream of the crop, the Cats need the momentum of a victory.

Five days before kickoff, the team received good news. NU’s projected depth chart listed each offensive lineman injured against the Cornhuskers as a starter or backup. With the Ryan Field stands likely filling up more than usual due to Homecoming, NU’s offensive protectors will get to showcase their never-quit mentality in full effect.  

“Until the clock hits double zero in the fourth quarter, we’re going to fight, we’re going to give you battle no matter what the score is,” senior right tackle Ethan Wiederkehr said. “When it comes to our depth at the O-line, I trust every guy that’s next up, and going into this game I have all the confidence, whoever’s in on the O-line, to go out there and do their job and do it well.”

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