Godwin Igwebuike will return to lead the Northwestern defensive backfield again in 2017, the junior safety revealed over social media Sunday, dispelling any notion that the squad’s leading tackler might follow fellow junior Anthony Walker to the 2017 NFL Draft.
Igwebuike announced his decision with an Instagram post and a Tweet. He joins junior running back Justin Jackson, who has also said he will return for his final year of eligibility in spite of NFL prospects.
Igwebuike had two interceptions and 108 tackles this fall, leading the back end of an NU defense that allowed just 13 touchdown passes. His return will bolster a team that expects to return most of its starters.
Starting next year, the Big Ten is rolling out an annual Friday night slate of conference games to be broadcast on ESPN and Fox as part of the conference’s television agreement.
The Wildcats will appear twice on Friday next fall, the conference revealed . They will take on Maryland on Oct. 13 in College Park and will host Michigan State on Oct. 27 in another Friday night tilt.
NU is the only Big Ten school that will appear twice on Friday night. Nebraska and Illinois will play Sept. 29 in the other conference game on the 2017 Friday slate. Rutgers, Wisconsin and Purdue will each play a non-conference opponent on a Friday night.
On its website, the Big Ten described the Friday night contests as being part of a “broad initiative to provide more primetime exposure on national platforms” to Big Ten programs.
Northwestern’s secondary is 3-for-3 predicting its own interceptions pre-game on social media this year. Last week, junior safety Kyle Queiro tweeted “Thanks for the INT,” and ended up with the top play on SportsCenter, making a spectacular one-handed pick.
Junior Godwin Igwebuike, who started the trend with a prediction and pick against Duke in September, seems to be trying to get the group to 4-for-4.
The Ohio native, who’s making a homecoming of sorts for the Wildcats’ game against No. 6 Ohio State, tweeted the following this afternoon:
First it was junior safety Godwin Igwebuike, tweeting “Thanks for the int,” before the Duke game in September and following through with an interception.
Then it was sophomore safety Jared McGee, taking to Instagram to call his shot before the Michigan State game and then picking off Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Connor in the fourth quarter.
This week against Indiana, junior Kyle Queiro is trying his luck. Last night, the safety tweeted “Thanks for the INT.” Queiro is wearing a cast on his left hand today, which might make keeping the streak alive more difficult.
UPDATE (2:20 p.m.): Kyle Queiro’s tweet seems to have worked. In the fourth quarter, the safety leapt up with one hand and picked off a pass from Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow. Check out the video below.
After opening the season with a pair of unexpected, narrow losses, NU rebounded under the lights Saturday against Duke, winning 24-13 at Ryan Field.
The Cats benefited from an improved performance from its offensive line, which opened up enough holes to allow junior running back Justin Jackson to carve out 94 rushing yards, and provided solid pass protection for sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson, who set a career-high with 320 passing yards.
The Cats set the tone for the win with a quick 10-play, 75 yard drive to open the game. Thorson ended the drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to junior superback Garrett Dickerson. After the first drive, though, the Cats’ offense stalled for the remainder of the half, with a late drive ending in a missed 34-yard field goal. The Cats headed to the locker room locked in a 7-7 tie.
Duke threatened to score on its opening drive of the second half, but an Anthony Walker forced fumble snuffed out the drive at NU’s 21 yard line.
Later in the quarter, a botched punt snap gave the Cats offense the ball at the 44-yard line. NU struck on one play as Clayton Thorson connected with junior Solomon Vault for a 44-yard touchdown pass that gave the Cats a 14-7 lead they would not surrender.
NU extended its lead to 17-7 with a 40-yard field goal from Jack Mitchell with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
Clayton Thorson connected with senior Austin Carr for a 58-yard touchdown pass with 4:56 left in the contest, further padding the Cats’ lead. Carr finished with six catches for a career-high 135 yards.
Duke would add a touchdown in garbage time on a one-yard run from Shaun Wilson, but the Blue Devils missed the extra point, giving the game its final score.
NU finishes its three game non-conference having won just one of its three contests before Big Ten play.
Northwestern stats to know:
Justin Jackson: 28 carries for 94 rushing yards; 3.4 yards per carry.
Clayton Thorson: 18-of-39, career-high 320 passing yards. Tied a career-high with three passing TDs. Threw two interceptions.
Northwestern found itself in a slugfest with Western Michigan, as a retooled NU defense struggled to keep one of the MAC’s most dynamic offenses off the field, and a late goal line fumble from NU sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson sealed the Cats’ fate in a 22-21 home loss.
Western Michigan controlled the ball for much of the day, finishing with 39:04 time of possession. The Broncos held the ball for most of the second quarter during a 19-play, 10:08 drive that ended in a field goal, and later seemed to break the back of the NU defense with a quick six play, 72-yard touchdown drive that gave Western Michigan a 13-7 to start the second half.
But, after the two teams traded three-and-outs, Justin Jackson raced 46 yards a few minutes later to push NU back into the lead. Western Michigan responded with another long drive, covering 63 yards on 16 plays before kicking a field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Again, Jackson and the Cats’ offense responded. With a drive highlighted by a 37 pitch-and-catch from Thorson to Jackson and punctuated by a one-yard touchdown run from Jackson, the Cats took a 21-16 lead.
Once more, Western Michigan responded with a long scoring drive. The Broncos went 75 yards on 12 plays, eventually arriving in the end zone to take a 22-21 lead with 5:38 left in the game.
NU looked poised to respond minutes later, as the Cats slung their way to the goal line, but Thorson’s fumble on the goal line was recovered by Western Michigan in the end zone.
Western Michigan ran out the clock to win the game, continuing to show an ability to stay on the field with third down conversions with 2:45 and 1:13 left on the clock.
A big day from Justin Jackson was wasted in the defeat. Jackson scored a career high three touchdowns.
It was Western Michigan’s first win over a Big Ten team since 2008.
Northwestern stats to know:
Justin Jackson: 23 carries for 129 yards, 3 rushing touchdowns; 2 receptions for 47 yards
Clayton Thorson: 15-for-22 with 196 passing yards, 5 carries for -8 yards
Brett Walsh: First career sack
Warren Long: OUT with an upper body injury
Hunter Niswander: 3 punts for an average of 51 yards
Western Michigan stats to know:
Zach Terrell: 26-for-36 with 218 yards passing and one touchdown
If Northwestern is to compete for a first place finish in the Big Ten West, it will need its linebacker unit to perform at an exceptional level.
The good news: the Wildcats’ linebackers are among the best in the conference, if not the nation.
Anchored by superstar Anthony Walker, NU’s linebackers were instrumental in leading a defense that allowed just 18.6 points per outing last fall. Walker, now a junior, finished the year with 122 tackles (20.5 for loss) and garnered All-America honors, while Drew Smith contributed double digit tackles for loss as well. Junior Jaylen Prater started nine before a season ending injury sidelined him for the Cats’ final four games. Sophomore Nate Hall filled in for Prater during that period and performed admirably as a redshirt freshman, making key plays in a critical win at Wisconsin and finishing the year with 56 tackles.
Smith graduated in the spring, and NU will miss his experience, but the nucleus of Walker, Prater and Hall should put the Cats in good stead going into this fall. The sensational Walker will prowl the middle of the field, while flanked by an experienced senior in Prater and a potential rising star in Hall.
The position features both star power in Walker — whom the program is promoting as “The Franchise” — and depth. Sophomore Cameron Queiro appeared in every game as a freshman, while another member of the unit, senior Joseph Jones, recorded 18 tackles and a pair for loss last fall. Jones has made 24 appearances in three seasons in Evanston, and earned the start at SAM linebacker for the Cats’ opening game against Western Michigan.
That said, it will be crucial for Prater, Hall and especially Walker to stay healthy. NU’s frontline in the middle could be a destructive and dominant force.
Walker has already proven himself as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive players, and a Bronko Nagurski-winning type of season from the junior, a la coach Pat Fitzgerald who twice won the award given to the nation’s best defensive player, could allow the program to rise to new heights following its 10-win 2015 season.
Fresh off a campaign in which the athletic Florida native wowed with a 19-tackle performance at Duke, a 14-tackle show against Purdue and a stellar performance against Illinois featuring 3.5 tackles for loss, a further improved Walker is a scary prospect for the rest of the Big Ten.
But Walker will not be expected to do it alone. Expectations are far from modest for Hall and Prater. And the emergence of other young members of the unit such as redshirt freshman Nathan Fox could boost an already strong unit.
Razor sharp performances from Walker and the whole unit will be a weekly must for a team with numerous offensive weaknesses, a reshuffled defensive secondary and a defensive line that may take some time to recover from the losses of Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson.
Fortunately for NU, the unit appears to have the personnel to smooth over some of the squad’s other weak points.
In the first ever AP ranking of the top 100 all-time college football programs, Northwestern came in at No. 50.
Big Ten peer Ohio State topped the list, and Nebraska and Michigan clocked in at No. 6 and No. 7 respectively. Seven Big Ten programs made the list’s top 25, including Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa. Rutgers was the lowest ranked program from the conference at No. 86.
The ranking is based on a formula taking into account the AP’s rankings going back to the poll’s creation in 1936. Ohio State has appeared in more than 77 percent of all AP polls since the ranking’s inception and has topped the ranking 105 times. The Wildcats hold an all-time record of 14-60-1 against the Buckeyes.
NU finished last year ranked No. 23 in the AP poll having peaked at No. 12 before its bowl loss to Tennessee. The Cats landed ahead of academic peers such as Duke (No. 53), Boston College (No. 57) and Vanderbilt (No. 89) in the all-time ranking. They also finished one spot ahead of in-state rival Illinois.
NU kicks off its season Sep. 3 against against Western Michigan. The AP will release its preseason rankings on Aug. 21.