Previewing the Northwestern Offense

GoBlueWolverine's Josh Turel breaks down the Northwestern offense by analyzing the Wildcat personnel.

Offensive Strategy:

Northwestern runs a multiple formation spread offense that works primarily out of the shotgun. The Wildcats scheme uses some single wing spread concepts with wing back Erryn Cobb, but he rarely carries the football. The emergence of C.J. Bacher coming off of injury was a blessing for the offense, as he has real spark in the Northwestern passing game. Last week against Michigan State, the play calling and the route concepts were very aggressive downfield. The team employed a lot of four/five vertical patterns, and the receivers were able to make plays. Wide receiver Shaun Herbert is the go to guy in the offense and he can come up big when the Wildcats need to make a play. Expect to see a heavy dose of shifts and motions, both in the backfield and with the receivers. The emergence of Bacher improved the crispness of the screen and shovel pass game to beat the blitz. Northwestern will deploy a number of two running back formations out of the shotgun and run the draw play with it. Trips, four wide, and five wide packages are the norm in this offense. Running back Tyrell Sutton often makes up the 5th receiver in those packages. The offense seemed more option oriented with Mike Kafka and Andrew Brewer but it has been less effective with Bacher, and thus called less often.


#18 C.J. Bacher  6-2, 190, So.
#12 Andrew Brewer  6-3, 205, Fr.
OR #13 Mike Kafka  6-3, 195, Fr.

If C.J Bacher (pronounced Bah-Shay) was the quarterback for the whole season, the Northwestern's record would not be what it is. Bacher isn’t the runner that Andrew Brewer or Mike Kafka are, but he has a much better arm and grasp of the offense. Despite having sloppy footwork and a low release point, he has decent enough arm strength to make the necessary passes in the offense. One thing the coaches have to love about Bacher is his willingness to stand and deliver. Against Michigan State he was able to make accurate throws despite taking some heavy hits. If backups Andrew Brewer or Mike Kafka are called, expect the offense to go into more option and quarterback run looks in order to take advantage their mobility.

Running Back:
#19 Tyrell Sutton  5-9, 190, So.
#26 Terrell Jordan  5-10, 200, Sr.
#11 Brandon Roberson  5-9, 195, Jr.

Super Back:
#44 Erryn Cobb 6-1, 255, Sr.
#35 Mark Woodsum  6-0, 225, Fr.

Tyrell Sutton continues to impress as a running back. He doesn’t have great speed, but anything else you could ask for in a running back, he has. Blessed with a very strong lower body, Sutton is hard to bring down and he fights for every inch he can get. He has excellent vision and deceptive quickness. Sutton is also underrated as a receiver, having caught 17 passes already this season. Fifth year senior Terrell Jordan will join Sutton in the backfield when the team runs double back sets. Jordan has been largely ineffective so far this season and Sutton has seen a majority of the carries lately. Brandon Roberson adds speed and burst to the mix when he is in the backfield.  Super back Erryn Cobb is a compact built fullback that is used in a variety of ways in the offense. He plays fullback in the I formations and a wing back look off the line of scrimmage in the other offensive formations. He doesn’t see the ball much however, his role being primarily as a blocker.

Wide Receiver

Z Receiver
#9 Ross Lane  6-3, 180, So.
#87 TJ Jones  6-2, 180, Jr.

X Receiver
#3 Shaun Herbert  6-1, 200, Sr.
#8 Rasheed Ward  5-10, 165, So.

H Receiver
#10 Eric Peterman  6-1, 200, So.
#32 Sam Cheatham  5-10, 180, Jr.

The receivers may have had their best game of season against last week Michigan State, but they still aren’t a very impressive group. Shaun Herbert is the best of the bunch and when the Wildcats need play, they look to him. Herbert doesn’t have great speed, but he is an exceptional route runner and has reliable hands. Expect to see a mix of which receivers are in the game at a given time. Ross Lane struggles to get off the line quickly, but he does have some good speed when he gets going. Lane is the Wildcats third leading receiver with 16 catches for 232 yards. Eric Peterman had his best game yet against Michigan State last week. He isn’t a great athlete, but is in the mold of Herbert in terms of route running and hands. Sophomore Rasheed Ward has shown some promise and reserve wide out Jeff Yarbrough could see some more playing time after catching a couple of passes last week against Michigan State.

Offensive Line

Left Tackle
#74 Dylan Thiry  6-8, 300, Jr.
#76 Desmond Taylor  6-3, 260, Fr.

Left Guard
#51 Joe Tripodi  6-3, 300, Sr.
#59 Alex Rucks  6-4, 300, So.
#50 Trevor Rees  6-2, 285, Jr.
#77 Adam Crum  6-1, 280, Jr.

Right Guard
#77 Adam Crum  6-1, 280, Jr.
#52 Joel Belding  6-3, 300, So.
Right Tackle
#56 Ryan Keenan  6-4, 290, Sr.
#78 Kurt Mattes 6-6, 275, Fr.

The Wildcats were grateful to get Dylan Thiry back at left tackle after Desmond Taylor struggled mightily at the position. Thiry has had some durability issues, but when he is healthy, he may be the teams best run blocker. Joe Tripodi and Trevor Rees have done a decent job sealing off the interior and they work well in double teams. Adam Crum takes over for Joel Belding at the right guard spot after playing in several games so far this year. Crum needs to do a better job of sustaining blocks, but he plays with a mean streak that his coaches like. Right tackle Ryan Kennan isn’t overly powerful but he brings nice athleticism to the fold. The line as a whole has done a better job run blocking than pass protecting, and as a group they need to improve in blitz pickup. 

Special Teams:

Joel Howells has made four of his seven kicks but is only two of five from 30-39 yards out. Howell is very good on kickoffs, however, and the Wildcats are the best in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage with a 45.1 net average.  Slade Larscheid could stand to improve on his punts. He has punted the ball an incredible 47 times so far this season for average of 38.1 yards. Lack of hang time has been his main enemy thus far. Freshman Sherrick McManus is establishing himself as one of the better special teams players in the league. Not only is he a big factor as a gunner in coverage, he has shown some pop in the kick return game as well. McManus is averaging 21.3 yards a return with a long return of 47 yards. Marquise Cole is an explosive return man but hasn’t had much opportunity on punts. Cole is averaging 3.5 yards off eight returns so far this season. Northwestern puts an emphasis on going after field goals and PATs. Look for the Wildcats to load up the middle in an attempt to get some push up the middle of the line.

The Michigan Insider Top Stories