Players To Watch Against Western Illinois

Steven Goldstein with a few predictions about Saturday's game.

Saturday's game against Western Illinois provides a needed forum for experimentation and readjustment. Northwestern likely won't do either of those things, and from what I gathered from Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall during the bye week, the Wildcats should continue to use Trevor Siemian and only Trevor Siemian at quarterback, take the I formation on third and shorts, and frustratingly play it safe en route to their first win of the year.

But that forum is still there if they want it. The changes in practice since the NIU loss have been to culture and rhetoric, not personnel. In what should be a blowout, however, NU has a chance to at least shore up some underperformers and increase the workload of a few bright spots.

Justin Jackson

As Treyvon Green's penchant for plunging into defensive lines for a two yard gain continues, expect Jackson to see more reps. Jackson was the team's leading rusher against Northern Illinois, and saw his carries increase from eight in Week 1 to 12 in Week 2. He also saw his receiving yardage quadruple. Wisconsin ran all over the Leathernecks in their 37-3 routing, and you have to still think that Northwestern's rushing game is closer to the Badgers than it is to the Valparaiso and Drake ones that Western Illinois stuffed. Jackson has shown a great first step on outside runs and appears to have earned the staff's confidence already after averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He's primed for his first 100-yard outing.

Pierre Youngblood-Ary

Nick wrote about Youngblood-Ary's well-rounded NIU game, and McCall told me last week that PYA does indeed deserve more reps. He's listed as a second-stringer right now, but could see ample looks given the inconsistent output from Cameron Dickerson and Miles Shuler. We're not expecting another 54-yard touchdown of course, but Youngblood-Ary's 6-3 frame should be utilized more in the red zone.

Dan Vitale

Vitale told me last week that his blocking hasn't been up to his standards. McCall said the team needs to get him the ball more. There's no better confidence booster than Saturday's game, and NU's run-heavy game plan gives way to some needed play action opportunities. Vitale is averaging under 10 yards per catch; Wisconsin tight end Sam Arneson averaged more than 20 on four catches against Western Illinois.

Eric Olson

Olson is now listed as a co-starter at right tackle, along with the promoted Adam DePietro. This is still his job to lose, though, and the right side of the offensive line is in need of a solid outing, even if against an inferior opponent. Western Illinois has sacked opposing quarterbacks eight times in three games. It will be important to see how Olson adjusts after receiving scrutiny from Fitzgerald.

Drew Smith

The word around NU this week is that Drew Smith will receive the start over Jimmy Hall. Smith can solidify his role in this defense with good pass D, as Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo have been fantastic against the run. But Smith is best known for being a hard hitter. WIU tight ends account for just 43 receiving yards in three games, while Leatherneck running backs don't look much better.

Traveon Henry

Northwestern's pass defense over the top has been horrendous through two games. And while Ibraheim Campbell has been solid as ever, Traveon Henry has looked lost on deep balls. Henry forced a bunch of early season turnovers last year, and this is his last chance to tune up before Big Ten play kicks off and bigger receivers attack center field. This shoring up really applies to the entire secondary after Nick VanHoose's bumbling start and Matthew Harris' foot injury.


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