Breaking it down: Northwestern hoping for repeat of defensive dominance
Who: Eastern Illinois vs. Northwestern
When: 3 p.m. CT
Where: Ryan Field, Northwestern
TV: ESPN News
Matchup to watch: Jalen Whitlow vs. Anthony Walker
He isn’t Tony Romo or Jimmy Garoppolo, but Eastern Illinois does boast a talented signal-caller. Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow will be leading the Panthers offense against a Northwestern linebacker that emerged in the biggest way last week. Walker was a menace for Stanford to deal with. It seemed like he made every tackle and was involved in every key third-down stand. His job will be a little different against the mobile Whitlow. Pat Fitzgerald might even elect to throw a spy on him. If he does, Walker would be a fitting candidate to chase the EIU quarterback around.
Thing I’m excited to see: Justin Jackson go off
Am I predicting Eastern Illinois to slow down the Northwestern tailback? No, I’m not. Clayton Thorson is still working on getting settled into the offense, which means the Wildcats should give Jackson a heavy workload in non-conference play. He got a career-high 28 carries against Stanford, a number that he shouldn’t need to hit against the Panthers. Jackson should be able to find enough running alleys against an EIU defense that won’t resemble Stanford’s. The Panthers did hold Western Illinois to 1.9 yards per carry last week, but it’d be surprising to see Jackson held in check on Saturday.
Number to remember: 5
What a weird number of points to produce. The Panthers couldn’t score a touchdown against Western Illinois last week. That’s also the amount of turnovers they had. Whitlow was picked off three times and fumbled twice, one of which on the goal line. How many touchdowns did the Wildcats allow last week? Well, as many as I did. Northwestern held strong on third down and Stanford converted only 20 percent of its chances. Fitzgerald might’ve called his team’s performance “average,” but the reality is if the Wildcats deliver the same defensive effort on Saturday, Eastern Illinois will be held off the scoreboard.
Prediction: Northwestern 35, Eastern Illinois 7
Having said that, I’m not saying the EIU will get shut out. I think Whitlow makes something happen with his legs and helps EIU avoid the goose egg. Thorson gets his first collegiate touchdown pass to Christian Jones and the Wildcats roll into the Duke showdown with all the defensive confidence in the world.