Who Has The Edge?

The Wildcats look to earn their second win of the season against the Eastern Illinois Panthers. Get the breakdown of each matchup and find out who has the edge.

Last week, Northwestern went into its game against Boston College filled with uncertainty.

Who would be the starting quarterback? How would backup Kain Colter respond if called upon? Would the defense improve from last season?

The Wildcats answered those questions better than this writer, and many others, thought they could.

After facing a tough ACC opponent on the road, NU comes home for the typical FBS-FCS tune-up game that most teams took last weekend, taking on Eastern Illinois.

Check out who has the edge in each phase of the matchup.

When Northwestern has the ball

No matter who plays quarterback for Northwestern, the Wildcats will have the edge, simply due to the FBS-FCS talent gap.

Backup quarterback Kain Colter performed very well in place of Dan Persa, and he, along with NU's stable of running backs, gashed last year's No. 1 rushing defense for 227 yards on the ground.

The offensive line was impressive as well and we've known all along that the receivers would be talented.

Talent-wise, Northwestern will just be too much for Eastern Illinois to match offensively.

Edge: Northwestern

When Eastern Illinois has the ball

At points last season, the Eastern Illinois offense might have been able to move the ball on the Northwestern defense.

This year, however, it seems as though the Wildcats' defense is much improved from the beatdowns is endured late in 2010.

The secondary was spotty at times against Boston College, but that's actually where the unit is most talented. The unheralded linebacker group was a pleasant surprise and the defensive line was the most improved unit, manhandling the BC offensive line and causing disruptions in the backfield throughout the game.

The Golden Eagles' offense is clearly a piece of work compared to some of the Big Ten offenses the Wildcats will face. However, don't expect Eastern Illinois to be much more of a test.

Edge: Northwestern

Special Teams

Last week I gave the special teams edge to Boston College simply because it had more placekicking experience, and historically, Northwestern's placekicking has struggled in big games.

This time, however, the Wildcats came won the special teams battle.

The kick coverage was solid, as were Scott Flaherty's kickoffs. Sophomore kicker Jeff Budzien made his first field goal as a Northwestern kicker and outplayed Boston College's Nate Freese, who went one for three on the day.

Special teams can be a game-changer, and they're typically the way FCS teams manage to stay in games against FBS opponents.

However, Northwestern has more talent, size and speed and will have the edge on the Panthers.

Edge: Northwestern

Coaching

Pat Fitzgerald was pumped up as usual for last week's game, celebrating big plays along side his players.

Now, the youngest coach in the Big Ten will face one of the oldest coaches in college football.

Bob Spoo is in his 25th,, and final season as Eastern Illinois's coach, ranking fourth among Division 1 coaches for the longest tenure at one school. Ironically, Fitzgerald may someday pass Spoo in the record books.

While Spoo's tenure is impressive, Fitzgerald is considered one of the best in the business and the Northwestern coaching staff has more resources at its disposal.

Edge: Northwestern

Intangibles

Any time an FCS team has to travel to a Big Ten stadium it's going to be at a disadvantage.

The Panthers have seen this before, traveling to Penn State in 2009 and Iowa in 2010—two far more hostile environments—but this still won't be an easy trip, especially because it's the Wildcats' home opener.

Northwestern is coming off of a confidence boosting win and the defense is playing with more momentum than it has in a long time.

Edge: Northwestern

Prediction:

Northwestern tends to have issues early in the season, which is part of the reason I picked it to lose last week.

However, the Wildcats came out focused and prepared despite the having Dan Persa on the sidelines.

Expect Pat Fitzgerald to have his players focused and ready to go Saturday in what should turn into a blowout early.

This will give the Wildcats a chance to get each of their running backs a good number of touches and get quarterbacks Evan Watkins and Trevor Siemian into a game situation.

Expect NU to take care of EIU easily and role into West Point in week three.

Prediction: Northwestern 41, Eastern Illinois 10


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