NU defense still becoming point of pride

Despite the recent losses, everyone can admit one thing: The defense has been fine.

Beginning in the fourth quarter against Ohio State, Northwestern collapsed. The Wildcats dropped three consecutive games, including a home loss to Minnesota that led some fans to panic.

And yes, that's acceptable given the 0-3 conference record: The quarterback position is struggling behind the shaky offensive line, and the running game has followed suit.

NU heads to Iowa with one unexpected quality. Throughout the season, this Wildcats defense has been strong—making these struggles even more difficult to explain.

"Defensively, I love the effort level that our guys are playing with right now," Pat Fitzgerald said. "I think they're giving us an opportunity to win games."

NU allowed 75 combined points against OSU and Wisconsin. Much of that, though, was indicative of the offensive struggles or fluky late touchdowns.

Tyler Scott continues to play like an All-Big Ten talent. Ibraheim Campbell provides solid leadership and frequent interceptions as safety insurance. The linebacker corps–now highlighted by Collin Ellis–tried to rebound from a mediocre game against Wisconsin with solid early returns.

The point is not perfection. The point is that they've done enough to help the Wildcats win, and perhaps even more than anticipated. With or without Kain Colter and Venric Mark, NU's offense still has the requisite talent to score against Big Ten opponents. They were disappointing in the recent losses.

"The last [two] games, we've played like garbage on offense," Fitzgerald said. "You get what you deserve: When you don't play well enough, you lose football games."

Now underdogs against Iowa (who'd have thought), NU has one surprising worry to address. Though Colter figures to return on Saturday, the Wildcats need to move the ball to avoid what would be a disastrous 0-4 start—followed by games against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State.

"[Iowa] played outstanding against Ohio State, very impressed to watch them on tape," Fitzgerald said. "It's going to be a great challenge."

And leaning on the defense? Some things have seen change, others could use some. Heading to Iowa City, however, Pat Fitzgerald has at least one unit in line for success.

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