It's finally, FINALLY, Game Week for the Stanford Cardinal, and that means it's time to know your foe. This week it's the Northwestern Wildcats, who just named their starting quarterback, Clayton Thorson, a Redshirt Freshman who beat out two other Wildcats for the job. Coach Pat Fitzgerald tries to rally Northwestern from back-to-back losing seasons (5-7 in both 2014 and 2013). We talked to Beth Long, who writes for both Scout.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Here's what she told us about the Wildcats:
1. Size up the results of the Quarterback battle.
Clayton Thorson will start, Northwestern announced. I have had the added advantage of watching both Thorson and Alviti play their high school ball because my primary beat is recruiting in the area. I think that Thorson is likely the quarterback of the future for the Wildcat’s and I’ve been saying that since he committed. I would imagine that we see Oliver and Alviti in some capacity though.
2. What type of tempo do the Wildcats typically play with?
Northwestern was one of the first teams to really buy into the spread. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the offense change a bit (from the last couple years) with Thorson under center — he’s got the mobility of a Kain Coulter and a good arm as well. So, he can stand in the pocket and make the throw, but can perform on the ground as well. It seems like Thorson will also bring back the possibility of the zone read.
3. Did that Ohio State loss in '13 really set them on the two-year funk they've been in ?
I’m not quite sure what did it — but since that loss, Northwestern is 6-14. The good news from the 2012 season that resulted in a Gator Bowl are names like Thorson and Justin Jackson, but this season is a pivotal one because it’s time to produce on field results.
4. They beat both Wisconsin and Notre Dame last year after losing streaks. Would you still say Coach Fitzgerald has the faith of the locker room? How hot would say his seat is at this point?
I think that Fitz is in a unique situation, he’s under a long term deal at his alma mater. While at NU as an athlete, he was one of the most memorable athletes they’ve seen. I don’t think his seat is very hot, but I think the staff wants to win because they love the school and athletes. That being said, this year is important for them to show improvement and that the athletes they are bringing in can get moving early. As for the faith of the locker room, from what I have seen he’s got it completely.
5. Biggest reason for optimism on offense:
The return of Justin Jackson. A four-star RB out of high school, Jackson got one offer to play running back (many others to play cornerback) and he took it. And started as a true freshman running for over 100 yards six times. He’s back for his sophomore season and is a reason to be optimistic.
6. Biggest concern on offense:
Having a young quarterback and featured back. It’s two-fold to have a redshirt freshman and a sophomore running the offense, there is plenty of optimism — but you must expect them to make some mistakes because they are young and inexperienced.
7. Biggest reason for optimism on defense:
Recruiting paying off. Fitzgerald has alluded to the talent and depth he’s got on defense several times, and this may be the year that we see the the last three classes of top end recruits make a difference on the field.
8. Biggest concern on defense:
Finishing games. We’ve seen plenty of times in the last several years where Northwestern has been ahead and lost a decent sized lead after bogging down in what appeared to be quicksand. Hence the nickname “cardiac Cats.”
9. What's the best case record for the Wildcats this year? Where do you see them finishing in the Big 10 West?
Best case: 8-4. That means going 3-1 in the non conference slate and then winning five out of eight big ten games. I think 9-3 could be possible but with a new QB and inexperienced OL I would say 8-4 is best case.
Best steak place in Chicago:
I think the one that gets the most buzz (especially with football fans) is Ditka’s restaurant. I think Gene and Georgettis is pretty darn good too.
Best pizza (Non-Lou Manatti's category):
When you are talking not-deep dish, I think that Homeslice (Lincoln Park) or Piece (Bucktown) are pretty darn good. Bonus, Piece brews their own beer. If you are looking for that deep-dish, try Pequod’s — it’s the deep dish the locals eat.
Funnest Bar/Sat. Night Spot (City Center Area):
Oh man there are so many. Depends on the vibe you want, the best places have huge patios and you can sit outside sipping the drink of your choice. I’m not sure that this is the most fun bar, but if you go to the Hancock building head up to the Signature Room and you can sip a cocktail at the top of one of the tallest buildings in Chicago. (Tip: you don’t have to pay for the view, just the drink.) If you are looking for a Saturday night spot, head down to Wrigleyville or Lincoln Park to reminisce on your college days and drink cheap beer. The neighborhoods are gold in Chicago.
Five more days.......
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