Taken to the house

While Northwestern's pick sixes on Saturday may not be sustainable offense, they're more than just dumb luck.

At first glance, it's nothing to sweat. A double-digit home win, 35 points on the scoreboard and a cache of big play highlights to scroll through. Dean Lowry and Damien Proby were beaming at the postgame press conference, and rightfully so.

Take away the Wildcats' two interceptions returned for touchdowns Saturday, however, and you're left with something different. You're left with 10 total completions between Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, one offensive scoring drive through three quarters and a red flag as the Cats prepare for Ohio State. Yes, the Wildcats went 1-0 this week, as Pat Fitzgerald likes to preach, but you can't help feeling like something was lost Saturday.

Perhaps we're looking too much into it. After all, the offense looked spectacular against Cal and Syracuse, and for three quarters against Western Michigan. And in the fourth quarter, Northwestern turned on its running game to the tune of 14 points. Regardless, it shouldn't be hard to be optimistic about the defense's playmaking ability, which has been on display all season.

"The defense's job is to create turnovers. We emphasize taking the football away," Pat Fitzgerald said. "I'll take it. Especially Proby's, that was a great job, getting to the near sideline like we coached.

"I think that might have been the first ball Proby's every caught in his life here."

Northwestern's offense may have been bailed out by defensive touchdowns, but it wasn't exactly a lucky break. Instead, the Cats showed off a strong defensive line, an active pair of safeties and an aggressive unit that capitalizes on athleticism and pressure.

"We're happy with ourselves internally, that's probably the biggest thing," Proby said.

On Proby's interception return, the defense swatted passes and showed off its speed. More importantly, it showed heart, responding to a deflating Colter interception as the Wildcats were charging down the field in a two-minute drill. On Lowry's, the defense successfully deployed a Collin Ellis blitz, took advantage of mismatches on the edge and made a second-half statement.

There's no reason to see these pick sixes as lucky. The Wildcats are showing that for every moment their offense sputters and doesn't live up to expectations from last year, the defense steps up and exceeds their expectations.

Things will change in Big Ten play. Marcus Wasilewski obviously isn't Braxton Miller, and that ill-advised lefty toss to Lowry won't be seen Oct. 5.

Still, the Wildcats had eight quarterback hits Saturday, after laying down eight a week before against Western Michigan. This defensive line is still getting pressure and the Wildcats had another two interceptions to add to their FBS-best total.

There was an underlying assumption that Northwestern would struggle on D–if anywhere–this season. Maybe this isn't lucky, maybe this is just the defense being better than we thought, carrying this team more than expected. Maybe there's a bit of a culture change going down in Evanston.

As the offense works on playing better, the defense can continue with more of the same. Even if they're not taken back to the house, the Wildcats are still forcing turnovers. That usually leads to wins, regardless of the opponent.


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