I had a chance to chat with Jay over at the Northwestern fan blog Lake The Posts who helped give me the skinny on the Wildcats for Syracuse fans who are planning on heading to the Dome September 1st. Lake The Posts has been around since 2007, and provides everything from scouting reports on Northwestern opponents to scouting reports on various Northwestern bars across the country. Head on over there to get the down low on Northwestern football before they head to the ‘Cuse.
ITLH: Probably the biggest offseason story for the Wildcats was the grant from the NCAA for USC transfer Kyle Prater to be able to play this upcoming season, rather than having to sit out a year. How prominent in the Wildcat offense will he be in the Carrier Dome September 1st? Is his health still a concern?
LTP: Great question. Indeed a 5-star recruit who transfers from USC to Northwestern is not an every day, every year or even every decade occurrence. Prater has some personal family issues that led him to be close to home and the NCAA (finally) granted him the ability to play this year. He’s 6-5, 225 pounds and looks like a beast on the field. However, NU has been very cautious with him and if you read between the lines of what Fitz and his coaches have been saying, it’s either because a)he’s not fully up to speed or b)they are trying to manage fan/media expectations.
However, what is legit, is the fact we have the deepest WR corps in the 21 years I’ve followed this team – and yes, that includes the back-to-back Big Ten champion teams of the mid 1990s. What’s different about this WR is the size and speed. We go 8-deep at WR and NU has typically had a ton of possession type receivers who kill defenses with the dink and dunk. Now, however, we have a new dimension as we have returning guys like Tony Jones who can go deep and Rashad Lawrence and Cameron Dickerson and Christian Jones. Only Demetrius Fields, the lone senior of the group, is more of that possession type receiver. Jones, Lawrence, Jones, Dickerson are all 6-2 plus and will give Syracuse nightmares with match-ups. This is where the fear should be from Syracuse’s standpoint and I hope it happens. After Mike Williams 200-yard performance in 2009 in your win over us, I’d love nothing more than to beat you through the air to avenge that still painful loss.
Prater was injured most of his two years at USC and when he sat out a bunch of practices last week the feeling was “uh-oh, here we go again”. However Prater shined in the Camp Kenosha scrimmage displaying the downfield dazzle and he admitted after the scrimmage that he and the coaches are being very conservative and trying to avoid injury at all costs. Fans will be eyeing him from the first snap at Syracuse.
ITLH: It is pretty clear that Northwestern will be able to score points on offense. But who will stand out on defense? How confident is Pat Fitzgerald in his young secondary this season?
LTP: Fitz never lacks for confidence in his players nor does his coaching staff. Ask the fans, however, and you’ll get a different answer. It’s really a 2-pronged problem that surfaced last year. Inexcusable communication gaffes that the coaches have fallen on the sword for and a lack of a pass rush which let QBs have all day to throw. That one could be pinned on DL talent AND lack of aggressive play-calling by Defensive Coordinator Mike Hankwitz who has been very direct about being more aggressive, in part because of a slew of extremely good, but young talent. We’ve got a RS freshman who has locked down one CB spot and a returning freshman All-American (Sporting News) in Ibraheim Campbell at safety. The other safety and corner back spot are of fan concern and I expect Nassib to test them early and often.
ITLH: From the Northwestern perspective, who are most Wildcat fans afraid of from Syracuse? What player from Syracuse do you think will be most key for Northwestern to contain on either offense, defense, or both?
LTP: We’re paranoid of the passing game and there is nothing like getting thrown in to the fire against such an experienced and savvy QB as Ryan Nassib on opening day. Clearly, from my perspective it is as simple as that. We have
to find ways to get to Nassib, particularly early to disrupt the flow. Otherwise, we could score another 35 and lose again. I’m curious/afraid to see how Marrone utilizes much-hyped Ashton Broyld, who seems to be getting Tim Tebow-like treatment from the ’Cuse faithful (for what it’s worth, one potential safety on NU, Hunter Bates, went to Tebow’s high school).
ITLH: How well do you Northwesterners travel? A marquee non conference game like this one to open the season will absolutely get some national attention for week 1, are there any bus trips or things of that nature for you guys out in Chicago to head out to the ‘Cuse?
LTP: The number one fan improvent quotient in recent years has been road
travel. However, with only 8,000 undergrads and the relatively inconvenient location of Syracuse from our deep NY-area fan base, I don’t expect a lot of purple. We brought 10,000 to Army last year and
sold out the place which was 25% purple, however the allure of a game at West Point, and organized floating tailgates up the Hudson were really the drivers. No offense, but the Carrier Dome on Labor Day Weekend is not a bucket list destination for most purple-clad fans. I expect a very small purple contingent – a few thousand at most.
ITLH: Prediction time. Whodoyagot?
LTP: Man. We both need this game badly. NU fans are looking at the
non-conference with you, BC and a very good Vandy team and saying we
absolutely need to go 3-1 to keep our fifth straight bowl season in
tact. We’ve got a back half of the schedule that reads Iowa, Nebraska,
@Michigan, @Michigan State – in ORDER so we need to do our damage up
front. Frankly this game scares the crap out of me. We now open every
year on the road at a BCS team, so it’s not like it is foreign to us,
however your QB’s experience and our secondary will be the key to the
game. This one is a toss-up, but I’m thinking we keep Fitz’s season
opening record a perfect 7-0, but barely. I’d be surprised if it
doesn’t come down to the final possession, just like in ’09. Cats
Huge thanks to Jay for taking the time out to answer some questions! Head on over to Lake The Posts to stay up to date with everything Wildcats leading up to the season opener September 1st in the Dome!