Northwestern Bowl Preview: Defensive Line

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Both Northwestern and Tennessee look very similar with a few weeks before the two teams take the field. Both teams are defensive minded with similar players on the offensive side of the ball. With two teams matched up the way they are, it is important for one team to set the tone. Northwestern will look to do that with their defense, and Dean Lowry will be the best player to do that.

Coming off his best season in the purple and black, Lowry will have to lead his Wildcats one more time. All season Lowry has been the player who stalls the opponent’s offense and gets the defense going. In 2015 Lowry recorded 33 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks and four turnovers. His pressure on the edge made quarterbacks uncomfortable an put Northwestern in winning positions.

As Tennessee game plans for Northwestern they will look for ways to slow Lowry down and neutralize any threat. It is important for Lowry to continue the success he is having because of everything he does for the players around him.

As the season progressed another senior has stepped up, Denote Gibson. Gibson has shined this year when the offensive line is worried about Lowry and sending help his way. With more players trying to protect the edge the middle of the line opens up. Gibson’s job has become so much easier with less of a crowd around him and more opportunities to stop a big run or a chance to chase the quarterback.

The defensive line is going to play a huge part for Northwestern against Tennessee because of their threats in the backfield. Their quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, is a dual-threat quarterback who is efficient running and throwing. Dobbs completed just under 60 percent of his throws for over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. On the ground Dobbs ran for 623 yards and nine touchdowns.

With a quarterback who is effective in multiple ways Northwestern wants to create pressure but not allow Dobbs the space to create big plays. The best way, and not always the easy way, is to set the edge with Lowry so Dobbs can not extend plays to the outside and have Gibson in the middle to stop Dobbs from moving up in the pocket to throw.

Of course when we are weeks away from game day it is a lot easier to say what needs to be done to stop Dobbs, but that game plan will also put a halt to Tennessee’s running game.

Jalen Hurd rushed for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015 for the Volts. Stopping him is going to be important because Tennessee is going to go to Hurd often to weaken the Northwestern frontline and suck the rest of their defense in. Just like defending Dobbs it is key Lowry does not let Hurd bounce to the outside and Gibson has to clog the middle. With no gaps at the start of runs it is hard for any running back to be effective.

One part of the game to be mindful of with a running quarterback is the read option. Tennessee may want to get Dobbs and Hurd out on the run and force Northwestern to pick a player. On plays like this Lowry has to be smart and patient to not allow Dobbs make a decision. All season long Lowry has played this mind game very well. He has quick feet to get himself even with the quarterback, but he has also stayed at home to make the quarterback give up the ball further back than he wants. Forcing Dobbs to give the ball up deep in the backfield allows Lowry to make the tackle or for another player to stop the play before it even happens. Even if Tennessee runs a similar play where the quarterback rolls out to make a pass, Lowry very good jumping ability and timing to make the quarterback have to throw it around him.

The Outback bowl is leading up to be a tough game for Northwestern and their defensive line. In games Northwestern has lost, they lost the battle at the line. If the Wildcats are looking to have success on New Years Day, they have to win the battle in “the trenches.”


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