Northwestern defense learning from the past

Northwestern's defense saw numerous struggles in the 2011 football season. Those errors are now part of the past, but haven't been erased from memory. The Wildcats hope they use those mistakes as a learning tool.

The past is in the past, but such is not entirely true for Northwestern's defense. The unit which saw tremendous tribulations in 2011 is learning from its mistakes.

"If you can't learn from the past, you're ignoring it," said NU senior linebacker David Nwabuisi. "We definitely looked at the tape and evaluated what went wrong to move forward this year. We don't dwell on it; at the end of the day, this is a new year, new team, new defense."

During Northwestern's five-game losing streak, the defense surrendered 35.2 points per game, which in conjunction would stifle the offense.

The main issue in which the Wildcats faced was poor communication, allowing opposing receivers to run open down the field.

NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his coaching staff took the blame for the defense's issues. Later in the season, simple terminology and numerous corrections were put in place, part of the reason the Wildcats reeled off four straight wins.

"There were some things that we needed to fix quicker," said Fitzgerald. "We didn't do that and it was our fault. When we did, to our young men's credit, we stuck together and played pretty good defense down the stretch."

Those many issues currently sit in Northwestern's film room -- the lowlights from last season. While the Wildcats aren't concern of their past mistakes, they want to learn from them.

"You can flush it, but there's no reason to completely flush it," said Nwabuisi. "You've got to learn from your mistakes, learn from the past."

Northwestern's defense will feature many new faces this season, and that may be a good thing.

Chance Carter and Deonte Gibson join a young, hungry defensive line, which could be a strong point for Northwestern. At linebacker, Nwabuisi leads a deep unit which includes key returners such as Collin Ellis, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Damien Proby, and Rockerick Goodlow, plus potential impact freshmen such as Ifeadi Odenigbo and Andrew Smith.

NU's secondary was at the center of the team's struggles last season, but Freshman All-American Ibraheim Campbell could be in store for another big season, and redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose appears poised to steal a starting job.

"We've got a lot of young faces out here that I'm excited to see what they can do," Nwabuisi said. "I expect great things from our defense this year."

Fitzgerald offered his sarcastic appreciation to the defense's many critics who offered the group motivation during the offseason. To those who still hold doubt, Nwabuisi isn't paying much attention.

"People are always doubting us," he said. "That doesn't really bother me. Day to day, we don't play for the media, to see great articles about us. We play to get a winner, to go to a bowl game, and play to win a Big Ten championship."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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