Our Big Ten spring game recaps roll on with Northwestern's spring exhibition, which took place Saturday at Ryan Field.
Star of the game: Redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson capped a strong spring with 2.5 tackles for loss, including two "sacks."
How it went down: Rather than split into teams, Northwestern's offense went against the defense and the defense prevailed 47-43, thanks to a modified scoring system.
Northwestern's defense has struggled for the past season and a half, but the unit stepped up Saturday, recording six sacks and eight tackles for loss. The line had a big performance as four players contributed sacks, and defensive tackle Chance Carter returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown, which earned the defense 17 points.
"It should be a pick-17 every time -- especially for a defensive tackle," Carter joked.
The defense recorded two takeaways and limited third-down conversions (6 of 18) -- a major problem last season.
"That side of the ball ... was very grateful for the negative comments about them," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "They've used that as fuel. As they said at the start of the spring, 'We deserve it. We didn't play very well last year at times.' What are you going to do about it? How are you going to respond? That's something we value here and they've taken that external motivation a little bit to really band together."
While the defensive line surged, the offensive line struggled to protect the pocket or generate a rushing attack. Top quarterback Kain Colter completed 7 of 12 passes for only 56 yards and took five sacks, and the unit finished with just 47 net rush yards on 36 carries. The running back spot looks wide open entering the summer, as Mike Trumpy returns from knee surgery and two freshmen enter the mix.
Fitzgerald didn't seem too concerned with Colter's performance, saying, "Maybe today's snapshot might not be his best practice of the spring, but he's done a really good job throughout." Backup Trevor Siemian appeared to help his cause, completing 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Redshirt freshman receiver Cam Dickerson ended a nice spring with three receptions for 61 yards.
Fitzgerald had the position coaches, rather than the coordinators, call plays during the scrimmage, calling it a professional growth opportunity. The team got some good news off the field as decorated quarterback recruit Matt Alviti verbally committed after the scrimmage.
Northwestern had several young defenders emerge this spring and should feel better about the defense entering the summer. Running back and offensive line are areas that need improvement, and Colter still has some strides to make as he becomes a full-time starting quarterback in the Big Ten.