Northwestern's Offense A Major Concern

Illinois concludes its 2007 football season against the Northwestern Wildcats Saturday in Champaign. As usual, Northwestern appears to have great incentive to defeat the favored Illini. In this case, they also have the weapons to pull off the upset.

The Wildcats are bowl eligible and hungry for a seventh win that would guarantee them a spot in a post season game. Ten Big Teams presently have six or more wins, so a seventh will be essential for them to reach their goal. With 25 Illinoisans on their roster, they will be sky high for the matchup.

And they have an extremely intricate offense that poses major problems for all defenses. Co-Defensive Coordinator Dan Disch knows he and his defensive staff have their work cut out for them.

"Northwestern is a great football team. They have the best offense in the Big Ten. We haven't had much of a break all year. It's a spread offense, and it's real complex. They run alot of option with zone read, and they throw it real well. It's got a lot of the elements we've seen with our offense and with teams like Missouri and Indiana. We've seen elements of it, but they do so much different stuff they present us with some unique problems."

The key to Northwestern's offense is quarterback C. J. Bacher (6'-2", 210). Bacher is first in the Big Ten in passing yardage (304.2) and total offense (308.1). This places him high on the national lists as well. C. J. ranks 12th nationally in total offense, 11th in passing yards per game, 10th in completions per game and 4th in overall passing yardage.

Bacher completed 38-48 passes against Michigan State for 520 yards. He has gained more than 200 yards through the air in 15 of his 16 starts over two seasons. He is fast climbing the career passing charts at Northwestern, and he still has two seasons to play. Solid quarterbacking is an absolute necessity in the Wildcats' multiple offense, and Bacher is becoming a master of it.

Given the success of Northwestern's passing attack, it is no wonder they presently have three receivers with more than 1100 career receiving yards each. Ross Lane (6'-3", 190) has over 1400 career yards and has scored 7 touchdowns this year. He is joined by Kim Thompson (6'-4", 190) and Springfield native Eric Peterman (6'-1", 200). Peterman leads this year's team with 56 receptions. Tonjua Jones (6'-2", 185) is also a starter in Northwestern's version of basketball on grass.

What helps the Northwestern passing attack is a solid running game. Star Tyrell Sutton (5'-9", 190) missed several games with injury, but he has rushed for over 100 yards on two occasions since his return. He burst onto the scene as an unheralded freshman and is still a major threat who must be neutralized. In thirty career games, Sutton averages 5.5 yards per carry, has almost 3000 total yards rushing and has scored 24 touchdowns. He also boasts 107 career receptions for 871 yards and four additional scores.

Backups Brandon Roberson (5'-9", 200) and Omar Conteh (6'-0", 205) have both rushed for over 100 yards in games while filling in for Sutton.

The Wildcat offensive linemen have done an excellent job of protecting Bacher and have given up sacks only sparingly. Leading the way are Trevor Rees (center, 6'-2", 280), Dylan Thiry (left tackle, 6'-8", 315) and Adam Crum (left guard, 6'-1", 285). Coach Disch describes the reasons for their success.

"They really do protect well. They keep a lot of guys in when they throw downfield, and they throw quicker when they send a lot of guys out. When you run the football like they do, it slows down your rush a little."

If there is a chink in Northwestern's armor, it is their defense. Most of their games are high-scoring affairs. As good as its offense is, they have had trouble outscoring their foes. Northwestern often scores quickly, forcing their defense back onto the field with little rest. And the all-out passing attack extends the length of games, giving opponents more time to mount scoring drives of their own.

Senior linebacker Adam Kadela (6'-3", 240) ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 108 tackles. This places him 35th nationally in that category. His linebacker partners are senior Eddie Simpson (6'-1", 230) and junior Prince Kwateng (6'-2", 235). This is an experienced group.

Junior defensive tackle John Gill (6'-3", 290) and senior defensive end David Ngene (6'-3", 260) lead the team in sacks. Defensive end Corey Wootton (6'-7", 280) has also performed well.

Their defensive backfield has experience and athleticism. Senior cornerback Deante Battle (5'-10", 180) is joined by Peoria sophomore Sherrick McManis (6'-0", 180). McManis is also a dangerous kick returner. Senior safety Reggie McPherson (6'-1", 200) was once a recruiting target of former Illini coach Ron Turner. Sophomore safety Brad Phillips shows promise at 6'-4", 210.

Special teams are also sound. Junior placekicker Amado Villarreal has made 12 of 18 field goals this year and is the Wildcats' leading scorer with 70 points. Stephen Simmons joins McManis as kick returners who must be accounted for on every kick.

Northwestern gives up yardage and points, but it scores in bunches and can never be considered out of any game. Their extremely diverse offense is simultaneously fun to watch and excruciating to defend. They have beaten Illinois four straight times, and they will be primed to win again Saturday.

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