Northwestern Scouting Report

Story posted October 4, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Ben Ferree

Northwestern comes into this matchup against the Nittany Lions with a 2-2 record. The Wildcats lost to Duke on the road and were narrowly defeated last week by No. 10 Wisconsin, a game that Northwestern was winning at halftime.

Penn State has played Northwestern two times under the coaching of James Franklin and both times the Nittany Lions were defeated, 29-6 in 2014 and 23-21 in 2015.

Northwestern is led by head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has been the coach at Northwestern for 12 seasons. In those 12 seasons, Fitzgerald has become the winningest coach in Northwestern history and led the Wildcats to a Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl as a player in 1995.

At Quarterback for the Wildcats will be junior Clayton Thorson. Thorson leads the Big Ten in completions per game and he is second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game. When Thorson has been successful this season, Northwestern has also been successful.

In Northwestern’s two losses this season, he has only averaged 169.5 yards per game and has thrown four interceptions, but in the Wildcat’s two wins he has averaged 361 yards and has not thrown an interception.

At running back for Northwestern is arguably the best player on their team Justin Jackson. Jackson has 4,402 yards for his career. So far this season, Jackson only has 273 rushing yards and 103 receiving yards. Jackson is only averaging 68 yards per game this season, but in his career, he is averaging 104.8 yards per game. Jackson is someone that the Nittany Lions will have to contain in order to come away with a victory on Saturday.

Bennett Skowronek is leading the Wildcats in receiving yards this season, with 256 yards on 17 receptions. Skowronek also has two receiving touchdowns this season, including a 58-yard touchdown reception against Bowling Green. Northwestern has had the difficult task of replacing three key receivers from last season.

The offensive line is a weakness for this Northwestern team. Last season, the group allowed sacks on 10 percent of passing downs and they have not seen much improve so far this season.

The Wildcats return four starters on the offensive line, but even with their bountiful experience, the Wildcats gave up 8 sacks last week against Wisconsin. In their four games this season, the offensive line has allowed Thorson to be sacked 15 times.

The offensive line has struggled to open holes in the run game as well. Jackson, one of the best running backs in the country, is only averaging 4.3 yards per carry, a career low for Jackson.

Northwestern returns two defensive tackles from last season, but the suspension of defensive end Xavier Washington is a big loss for this position group. Freshman Earnest Brown IV has been receiving more and more playing time for the Wildcats as the season has gone on. The four-star recruit was the top recruit in Northwestern’s 2017 recruiting class and has been making an impact right away on a young, but talented Northwestern defensive line.  

At linebacker, the Wildcats are led by Paddy Fisher. Fisher averages 9.3 tackles per game which is third in the Big Ten. Brett Walsh is the senior leader for the Northwestern linebackers. Walsh led the team with 11 tackles against Northwestern. Nate Hall is also an impact player in the Northwestern linebacker core. Northwestern has some talented players, but it is not a very deep position group for the Wildcats.     

Senior safety Godwin Igwebuike leads the Northwestern secondary. Igwebuike has a total of 29 tackles this season, including 7 last week against Wisconsin. Against Wisconsin, Igwebuike also had an interception, his first of the season. Montre Hartage is the best cornerback on this Northwestern team. He had 11 tackles against Duke as well as an interception. The Northwestern secondary does not have a lot of depth this season, but does has players that are capable of making an impact.

Northwestern has on the best punters in the Big Ten in Hunter Niswander. Niswander averages 45.7 yards per punt which is second in the Big Ten. Charlie Kuhbander is the kicker for Northwestern. Kuhbander is 15 for 15 on extra points this season and has made 3 out of his 4 field goal attempts, with his longest of the season coming from 40 yards out. Northwestern’s freshman long snapper Tyler Gillikin is the brother of Penn State punter Blake Gillikin.


Ben Ferree is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email