Wildcats’ stout defense ready to stifle Big Ten West

Illinois’ Mason Monheim (43) and T.J. Neal (52) tackle Northwestern ‘s Treyvon Green (22) during the game at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. The Illini won 47-33.

By Dan Escalona

On a nippy Chicago fall afternoon, the ferocious defense of the Northwestern Wildcats forced the Minnesota Golden Gophers into the meat grinder that Ryan Field has become.

The 27-0 win over the Gophers was Northwestern’s second shutout of the season.

That dominant performance is another exploit of a Wildcats defensive unit that has been one of the surprising stories of the Big Ten through the first five weeks of the season.

The defense has only allowed three touchdowns all season and limited Stanford to two field goals in Week One — those are two staggering statistics. Northwestern’s commanding performance against Minnesota was forcefully punctuated by a fourth-quarter fumble return TD by Anthony Walker.

Considering how poorly the rest of the offenses in the Big Ten West performed in Week Five, head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his defense must be looking on with absolute glee at the prospect of playing these impotent units.

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With the exception of Purdue, every other team in the division scored fewer than 14 points – and none of them competed against a defense of the caliber of Northwestern.

Obviously, the Wildcats’ fantastic defense is what gives them a prime opportunity to win the division, but they showed other strong facets of their game in the conference opener.

Northwestern controlled the tempo via its rushing attack which — led by Justin Jackson’s 120 yards — ran for 184 yards. This efficiency on the ground allowed the offense to keep possession for more than 34 minutes.

True freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson had another admirable performance, rushing for two scores and – most importantly – not committing any turnovers. It is still important for Thorson to acclimate himself as more of a passer for Northwestern to become more balanced offensively.

The Wildcats also got major contributions on special teams, notably in the punt return game: Miles Shuler ran back an electrifying return to set up a touchdown.

Fitzgerald’s squad has all the necessary pieces to go undefeated.

The Wildcats’ 5-0 record will be tested this weekend, however, when they visit Michigan – a team with an equally destructive defense that is coming off consecutive shutouts.

Believe it or not, this matchup between two of the Big Ten’s surprises has playoff implications to it.

As long as the defense continues to fly around the field, the Wildcats’ stout defensive unit is strong enough to carry the team to the conference title game – frustrating offenses along the way.

It might be time to start calling “Chicago’s Big Ten team“ the “Monsters of the North Shore.”

Dan is a senior in Media.

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