Northwestern doesn't have much talent on defense to work with, but they deserve credit for experimenting with multiple schemes to see what works best. The Wildcats have gone to more three man front looks with Kevin Mims, Keegan Kennedy, and Mark Koehn working the line. Expect to see both some 3-4 looks and some 3-3 looks if Michigan goes to any spread packages. Ideally, the 3-4 defense works best against the zone blocking scheme but the Wildcats are reeling at linebacker, so it is up in the air how much they will utilize this scheme. In the defensive trench, the Wildcats also lack a dominant nose man, which is the main weapon against zone blocking teams. Although the blitzing hasn’t been largely effective for the, they do use some creativity up front. Northwestern won’t hesitate to blitz either safety and play cover 3 behind it, or bring a cornerback/linebacker combo from the boundary side. They will run some zone blitz variations off the three man front as well. Coverage wise, expect to see a lot of zone. Their favorite coverage is cover 3 but they will also throw in some cover 2 - man under and other man concepts once in awhile.
#91 Mark Koehn 6-3, 270, Jr.
#72 David Ngene 6-3, 265, Jr.
#99 Corey Wootton 6-6, 275, So.
#95 Kevin Mims 6-3, 280, So.
#70 John Gill 6-3, 300, So.
#92 Keegan Kennedy 6-3, 290, So.
This is a young defensive line crew that doesn’t have one senior in the two deep. The team has the most experience and depth at defensive end. Corey Wooton is the crew's best pass rusher, having tallied four sacks and 7.5 for loss this season. Wooton isn’t overly quick, but his 6’7 frame and long arms have caused some problems for opposing offensive linemen from time to time. Mark Koehn and David Ngene are more of run anchors and really haven’t stood out rushing the passer. On film, Kevin Mims has been the other defensive end that has stood out to me. He doesn’t have great tools but he is a smart player who reads blocks well and shows nice instincts for the position. On the interior Adam Hahn and John Gill really struggle to hold their gaps at times. Both struggle to get off blocks and lack ideal experience. Keegan Kennedy is the main rotator inside and will see time in some of the three man fronts the Wildcats deploy. Overall, this unit's inability to rush the passer as a group has forced the coaching staff to bring more pressure from the back seven to try to make things happen.
#52 Chris Malleo 6-3, 220, Jr.
OR #40 Eddie Simpson 6-0, 220, Jr.
With the loss of the team's best defender in Nick Roach, and questionable status of reserve Eddie Simpson, this unit needs to really step up this week. It was apparent after Roach left the game that Michigan State went to work on his replacement, Chris Malleo. The Spartans hit drag route after drag route on the junior linebacker and attacked him constantly. Malleo is good against the run, but his lack of athleticism becomes apparent when he drops into coverage. If Eddie Simpson is ready to go, he may get the nod here. Strongside linebacker Demetrius Eaton is inconsistent in coverage as well. Eaton is a decent athlete, but he seems to follow up every good read with a bad one and just doesn’t look comfortable going through his progressions. Expect to see Campbell Black sub in on reduced front situations as well. Middle linebacker Adam Kadela is the leading active tackler with 52. Like his counterparts, zone coverage isn’t really one of his strengths, but he may just be the best pass defender the team has left at the position. Sophomore Mike Dinard also subs in and provides a little more athletic ability, which is something the unit as a whole lacks.
#22 Deante Battle 5-10, 180, Jr.
#6 Cory Dious 5-9, 165, Sr.
#27 Reggie McPherson 6-1, 190, Jr.
#45 Ben Rothrauff 5-10, 190, Jr.
#39 Brendan Smith 6-1, 215, So.
#17 Brad Phillips 6-2, 200, Fr.
This is another group with marginal talent. Cornerback Marquice Cole is the best of the group, but he hasn’t really played up to potential so far this season. Cole breaks on the ball fairly well and has good overall athleticism, but his lack of size translates into him being pushed around while defending the run. Opposite cornerback Deante Battle has the same size limitations, but he shows more aggressiveness in his play. The team will play Cole and Battle to the same side while leaving freshman Sherrick McManis to handle one side. McManis shows sloppy technique from time to time, but he has the athletic ability and frame to develop into a fine cornerback down the road. The loss of Bryan Heinz at safety was tough to deal with. Free safety Reggie McPherson and strong safety Brendan Smith have had their ups and downs so far this season. Smith lacks ideal range but has played the run well with 46 stops. Smith generally takes good angles to the ball and is one of the better tacklers on defense. He has intercepted two passes as well.