Why Northwestern Keeps Collapsing Late

By michaelcronin

The Northwestern Wildcats had a lead late but couldn’t hold it. Sounds familiar? Yeah, it isn’t just a fluke anymore, it’s becoming a trend. The Wildcats looked like they were going to walk out of the “Big House” with their 2nd consecutive victory in Ann Arbor but it wasn’t to be as the Michigan Wolverines Roy Roundtree made a ridiculous catch which set up overtime that the “maize and blue” took easily. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald thinks it’ll change, but will it? Don’t bet on it.

It’s hard to put your finger on why Northwestern continues to falter late in games but I see one glaring weakness: depth. The Wildcats have quality horses to compete game in and game out with the Big Ten‘s best, sans the Ohio State Buckeyes, but they don’t have a stable full of talent. When you lose your top corner, most other teams will compensate according. Fitzgerald’s staff just doesn’t have that luxury.

Defensive back depth is so bad at Northwestern that at least 3 of the 5 players listed on the depth chart are primarily special teams players. That’s just embarrassing for a Big Ten school and Fitzgerald himself is to blame.

While recruiting has gotten better and Northwestern finally has some solid units on defense, corner back continues to be neglected. You can’t just keep having high school quarterbacks come in and flip them to the defensive backfield as former coach Randy Walker used to do. That’s a major transition which is at best a hit or miss proposition.

You need to forget about recruiting a 6th wide receiver one year and scour the country for talented corners. I know they don’t grow on trees and I don’t expect the five star level talent but there are plenty of “diamonds in the rough” and Northwestern is even getting some. Problem is, they tend to be at safety and not at corner.

If former Northwestern star Jerry Brown is all he is made out to be, he needs to bring in the next starters at that position. During his tenure as the defensive backs coach, nearly every corner I can think of has regressed. They don’t even know the basics of how to play the ball while it’s in the air. That’s led me to advocate his firing for years now. However, he can prove to Wildcat fans he means business by bringing back some competence on the outside.

Redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose looks to be a keeper who could eventually be a star for the Wildcats. Besides that though, there are 2-3 more spots to be filled by newcomers. Unless those spots are taken by guys with actual talent, expect the late game problems to continue well into the future.

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