Thursday, April 5, 2012
Scott hopes to revive Wildcats' pass rush
By Adam Rittenberg
The quarterback hurry is one of the more misleading statistics in football. It seems to be subjectively recorded and varies widely from team to team.
But Northwestern can take something away from the category known as QBH. According to statistics recorded by each Big Ten team, Northwestern finished third in the league (behind Michigan State and Nebraska) with 24 hurries in 2011. According to the official Big Ten statistics, the Wildcats ranked dead last in sacks with 17.
Translation: pressuring the quarterback isn't horseshoes.
Tyler Scott is "on the cusp of being a breakout guy nationally," said Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald.
"We left a lot of sacks out there last year," Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz told ESPN.com. "We had a lot of missed tackles. And we got hurt on some quarterback scrambles where we got pressure and he was able to find a crease."
Tyler Scott takes Hankwitz's words to heart. Scott, a junior defensive end, showed snippets of promise last fall, displaying good speed and recording 31 tackles, an interception, two pass breakups, a team-high three fumbles recovered and, yes, two quarterback hurries.
But he only recorded one sack, two shy of the team lead. Only two Big Ten teams, Northwestern and Minnesota, didn't have a player ranked among the Big Ten's top 20 in either sacks or tackles for loss in 2011.
Not surprisingly, spring practice has been all about the pass rush for the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Scott.
"Many times I was not getting to the quarterback or not squeezing the pocket," he said. "I've started to make some improvements in that. My problem was I was going up the field too much and not attacking the man. So I'm trying to focus on attacking a spot every time and being more active with my hands."
Run defense became the peak priority for Northwestern after the 2010 season, when it surrendered 185 rush yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. While the defense made slight improvements there -- 177.3 ypg, 4.5 ypc -- the pass rush suffered for the second consecutive year.
After recording 30 sacks in 2009, the Wildcats have just 33 combined in the past two seasons. Twenty teams had more than 33 sacks in 2011 alone. The lack of pressure particularly hurt Northwestern on third down, as opponents converted exactly half of their attempts (90 of 180) against the Wildcats, the highest percentage in the Big Ten and the seventh-highest percentage nationally.
Northwestern had been decent to good on third down in Hankwitz's first three years as coordinator -- ranking 28th, 23rd and 42nd nationally -- but the bottom fell out last fall.
"We were aware of it, but we didn't have that mentality to say, 'Yeah, we're getting off the field,'" Scott said. "It was just another down."
The mentality should change during the offseason, and Hankwitz is evaluating what he can do schematically, including whether he rushed only three linemen too often on third down. But the easiest solution is to have an effective pass-rusher or two emerge.
Scott seems to be the obvious choice.
"Tyler Scott to me is on the cusp of being a breakout guy nationally," coach Pat Fitzgerald said following last Saturday's scrimmage. "He's got some special qualities."
Scott wants one of those qualities to be putting quarterbacks on the ground this fall.