Coming off of a bye week, the Wildcats defense is looking to flip the script from their most recent matchup against Nebraska in which Northwestern allowed 56 points. In Saturday's matinee game, the Wildcats will have to keep a few things in mind in order to defend their home turf against the Scarlet Knights for Homecoming.
While the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) are currently holding a three-game losing streak, it is significant to point out that all three of those matchups were against ranked opponents in Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. If anything, however, the Scarlet Knights are consistent, seeing as they've scored 13 points in each of their last four contests.
In five of their six games, Rutgers has totaled over 300 yards in total offense, with senior quarterback Noah Vedral leading the charge; against the Spartans, Vedral racked up 208 yards, completing 16 of his 31 attempts. Other key players for the Rutgers offense include junior running back Isaih Pacheco and senior receiver Bo Melton, who lead the team in rushing and passing yards with 314 and 253, respectively.
In terms of approach, Northwestern has to hit the Scarlet Knights while they're already down. Specifically, a noticeable Achilles heel for Rutgers is their conversion rates on both third and fourth downs, as they are 37.63% efficient on third downs and 40% efficient on fourth downs.
Northwestern has without a doubt struggled in slowing down the rushing game against opponents this season, allowing 14 rushing touchdowns on the year and an average of 234.2 yards per game on the ground. However, the Scarlet Knights tend to lean much more heavily on the passing game, which might be a best-case scenario for the Wildcats. With elite coverage from sophomore safety Brandon Joseph and more recent quality performances from defensive backs Coco Azema and AJ Hampton, the Wildcats secondary is well-equipped to cover Rutgers' go-to weapons Melton and junior receiver Aron Cruickshank.
Additionally, with the Scarlet Knights averaging around 6 yards per pass attempt and only 3.5 yards per rush attempt, there should be ample opportunities for the Wildcats'–and the Big Ten's–overall leader in tackles, graduate linebacker Chris Bergin, to shut down the Rutgers offense.
Ultimately, while the Wildcats' offense has definitely been streaky, the defense has continuously displayed holes. If there is any time to flip a switch and tighten up, Homecoming is a pretty good one.
Catch the Wildcats back at Ryan Field this weekend against Rutgers at 11 a.m.
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