Northwestern’s interior D-linemen have not been very good this year, something that was to be expected with the loss of Sean McEvilly. In non-conference play, NU’s four defensive tackles combined for fewer than seven stops a game, and no DT registered a sack or quarterback hit against (relatively) inferior offensive lines.
C.J. Robbins has been the unit’s biggest under-performer, primarily because he didn’t perform against Western Illinois Saturday.
“I wasn’t surprised that I got suspended. It was my fault,” Robbins told PurpleWildcats.com about the one-game ban he received from the Big Ten. “I got caught up in the moment. I obviously need to be more poised.”
Robbins, who was getting double-teamed during a goal-line stand that found NU down two scores to Northern Illinois, threw a punch with four minutes left to play. His return this week is crucial for a team that has lacked stable defensive tackles for at least a full year now, one that faces a Penn State rushing attack averaging nearly two touchdowns per game. The last time NU played the Nittany Lions, they were gashed by the bruising now-senior running back Zach Zwinak for 121 yards and a score.
It’s telling that the slow-starting Robbins still assumes a starting role fresh off the suspension. Chance Carter was strong in relief last weekend, but he will sit behind Robbins and Greg Kuhar Saturday. The playcalling on both sides of the ball has been starkly conservative, and without much blitzing of Christian Hackenberg, the Wildcats will need to get pressure from their front four. It’s also worth reiterating that Dean Lowry was excellent when playing DT next to Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Kuhar has struggled to get off the line. The staff appears to have little faith in Carter. Robbins has to be the tackle to step up Saturday.
“I’ve already learned a lot from it,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I apologized to my teammates right after it happened.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but Robbins’ true redemption comes with a big performance Saturday. Northwestern desperately needs a push from the middle, and if Robbins can command concern from Penn State’s guards, the line of scrimmage shapes up much more favorably for NU.