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Know Your Foes, Week 10: Northwestern Wildcats and The Seven Kingdoms of Wessos or Whatever

We're bringing back the old shtick to dish on some nerds. Also George R.R. Martin.

this is George R.R. Martin
this is George R.R. Martin
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, IL
Enrollment: 21,055 (8,907 undergrads)
Home Stadium: Ryan Field (capacity 49,000)
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (66-55, 32-44 B1G)

Series History

First Game: November 20, 1993 (Penn State won 43-21)
Last Game: September 27, 2014 (Northwestern won 29-7)
Overall: Penn State leads series 13-4 (.764)
Current Streak: Northwestern has won 1 game in a row (Last Penn State win: 2012)

Nerd Alert

George R.R. Martin will be honored at halftime of this weekend's game, as if Northwestern wasn't already the dorkiest school in the conference. Martin, famous for his line-for-line book adaptations of HBO's critically acclaimed series "Game of Thrones," is a 1971 graduate of Northwestern's renowned Medill School of Journalism.

He is the enemy, and he must be defeated. Even if he does have a lightsaber.

(please don't fire me, Cari)

Last Week

Bye. In week eight the Wildcats snapped a two-game skid as they squeaked out a 30-28 victory at Nebraska. Poor Mike Riley.


You know how Penn State has had trouble against dual-threat quarterbacks this season? Bad news. Northwestern's QB, Clayton Thorson has had success on the ground to the tune of 4.6 yards per carry on 64 carries in 2015. The good news? He's not much of a dual threat right now. The redshirt freshman has completed less than 50 percent of his passes over the last three games, and those completions have produced just 413 yards. That's an average of 138 yards per game.

That low yards-per-game ratio may well be a product of Fitzgerald's preference for the short passing game, as Thorson's leading receiver is fullback Dan Vitale - a fact which is so B1G it hurts. Pardon me - Vitale is actually labeled as a damn "superback" on Northwestern's official site. Holy crow. Mr. Martin had to have come up with that for them.

The Wildcats' biggest offensive weapon, however, is sophomore running back Justin Jackson. The Illinois native is primed for his second straight 1,000-yard season, needing just 269 yards to eclipse that mark. Nice. He's seen a decreased workload in recent weeks as Northwestern has shied away from the run, but all you need to know to be wary of Jackson's ability is his line against Stanford in week one: 28 carries, 134 yards.


Defense wins games, and defense has won Northwestern quite a few games in 2015. Beginning with their complete stonewalling of Stanford (now the nation's 15th-best offense according to S&P+), Mike Hankwitz's defense allowed just 35 points in their first five contests. But again, the last three games have been a different story. First Michigan rattled off a relatively-high 24 offensive points in their attempt to erase M00N from memory, and Iowa marched into Ryan Field the following week and put up 294 rushing yards. Hawkeyes tailback Akrum Wadley busted out for 204 yards and four tuddies on 26 carries, which should give Saquon Barkley significant hope that he can find some lanes on Saturday.

As good as the rush defense has been, the passing defense has been downright suffocating. Even accounting for the fact that B1G West quarterbacks on the whole aren't anything to gawk at, Northwestern has been stingy in defending the air - they rank 8th overall in S&P+ pass defense. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong had moderate success with a Hack-like 24-48, 291 yard effort in defeat two weeks ago, but that's the best anyone's done against this secondary, which will get a big boost with the return of interception-leader Matthew Harris.

Special Teams

The Cats have one special teams touchdown this season, courtesy of a 98-yard kick return by the fantastically-named Solomon Vault. Place kicker Jack Mitchell has struggled on kicks beyond 40 yards, where he's just 2-5 on the year. Their punter is Hunter Niswander and he sure does punt the ball.


Inside NU, your home for all Northwestern coverage now that Sippin' On Purple is no longer. And you won't believe this, but another fanbase is taking umbrage with the fact that their coach used typical coachspeak to compliment Christian Hackenberg. But I digress. Inside NU always has great Wildcat coverage and you should be antagonizing their commenters reading it every day this week.