DiNardo: The grand finale awaits

The regular season comes to a close on Saturday when the Wildcats host rival Illinois at Ryan Field. It provides the chance for Northwestern to finish its season the right way. Former standout Jack DiNardo offers a look at the team.

Northwestern's 23-20 victory over Michigan State Saturday came courtesy of big plays from NU's defense. Four forced turnovers, including a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown from senior captain David Nwabuisi, were among some of the notable plays.

Northwestern's defense has been called young all season due in large part to the large number of underclassman like Campbell, Ariguzo, and Proby who are contributing in big ways. But the leadership displayed by this group's seniors has been very impressive the past few weeks.

This group of seniors on defense for the Cats, while small in number, is extremely influential to the success of the team. Nwabuisi and Brian Arnfelt are both captains and have elevated their already high level of play the past two weeks. Quentin Williams, a four year member of the Leadership Council, is Northwestern's most consistent high motor player. Williams never considers himself out of a play, and that tenacity has been contagious for the rest of the defense as of late.

In addition to Nwabuisi's interception, senior Jared Carpenter notched a timely fourth quarter interception. Carpenter's elevated level of play the past two weeks has been a microcosm of the entire senior class at NU. This group is playing with more confidence and capitalizing on their ability to the fullest during the most important time of their college careers.

Northwesten's defense showed up Saturday in East Lansing poised to play their best football of the year. Mike Hankwitz and the entire defensive staff deserve much credit for the well-executed game plan.

MSU quarterback Andrew Maxwell rarely had time to set his feet in the pocket, as NU was able to get pressure through both their base and blitz packages. Northwestern sacked Maxwell three times on the day, compared to only one for an MSU defense that has been praised all year for their ability to punish opposing quarterbacks.

And while NU allowed more yards then Hankwitz would have liked in the passing game, the team appeared on the same page with communication and coverage assignments throughout the game.

This Northwestern team has not yet put together a complete game with all three phases firing on all cylinders. With Illinois coming to Ryan field Saturday I can not think of better time to see the Cats offense, defense, and special teams playing their best football of the season, and the Land of Lincoln trophy returning to its proper home in Evanston.

Jack DiNardo was a standout defensive tackle with Northwestern's winningest-ever senior class. He graduated with a degree in political science and is an associate at Cushman and Wakefield .

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