Overall, Northwestern has a talented football team.
And for the most part, I think NU’s coaches have the right guys in place, but that doesn’t stop this interested observer from offering a few thoughts on where the Wildcats could improve themselves.
First and foremost, Arby Fields needs to play running back.
I have all the respect in the world for Jacob Schmidt, who has accomplished something 99.9 percent of the population probably couldn’t do in going from walk-on to starting tailback in the Big Ten.
He’s also probably faster than 95 percent of the world’s population. But the five percent he isn’t faster than play defense in Division I football and, right now, Schmidt’s poor yards per carry average, sitting below four, is really hurting NU’s offensive balance.
Playing Fields might not be a total fix, but he is the back who will give NU the best chance to win.
The second personnel change involves the kickoff return team.
NU needs to find some guys who can block on this unit. Putting a bunch of receivers as up men isn’t working right now.
Now, most teams would use fullbacks in that spot, but NU only has one real fullback, Mark Woodsum, and he is on the return team. Somehow, NU needs to find other guys who can block so their returners don’t get seriously hurt.
Maybe linebackers who played fullback in high school could help get some blocking in front of Jeravin Matthews and Andrew Brewer.
Third, NU needs to put starting defenders on the kick coverage team.
I know this might not be the most popular suggestion, but many teams do it because the guys who start on defense are the fastest players that can also tackle.
Although it looks like NU’s defense can’t tackle, they really can. And if they can cover kicks faster, they’ll only help themselves by forcing opponents to travel a longer distance to the end zone.
Finally, Desmond Taylor needs to move back to tackle. Taylor was never the best tackle in the world, but he did a much better job at avoiding drive-killing penalties and missed blocks than Kurt Mattes and Neal Deiters this year.
Both Mattes and Deiters have struggled at the right tackle spot. I’m still hopeful Mattes can get back to form, but right now it looks like Taylor should start.
If Taylor moves back to tackle either Keegan Grant or Patrick Ward will need to step up their play at guard.
But after watching Minnesota’s defensive ends kill NU, I think getting a stronger guy to protect the outside of the pocket is critical.