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Northwestern looking for answers in pass protection

Updated: November 20, 2013 6:15AM



There isn’t any way the offensive line can go without blame when Northwestern’s quarterbacks have been sacked a combined 12 times in the last two games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.

But coach Pat Fitzgerald has been adamant this week that the blame doesn’t fall solely on the five guys up front. In fact, he has made every effort to deflect blame away from the offensive linemen.

Regardless of who is at fault, the Wildcats can’t afford to allow that many sacks Saturday against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers’ defense likes to bring pressure from multiple angles.

‘‘I understand that sacks always get put on the O-line, but if we get rid of the ball on time and we run good routes, [we will prevent them],’’ Fitzgerald said.

‘‘There are some things that the O-line has got to do better. But the quarterback has got to get the ball out of his hands on time, [and] guys have got to get open when their route calls for them to get open.”

Once the ball is snapped, it is hard to blame receivers for sacks because their backs are turned to the play. Of course, getting open will aid in the effort. NU allowed at least one coverage sack in each of the last two games.

But where the Wildcats’ receivers can be most effective in helping to keep quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian upright is with their pre-snap reads.

If the receivers see pressure coming, they are supposed to adjust their routes based on previously determined audibles during practice. Success in completing passes on adjusted routes won’t merely prevent Minnesota from blitzing, but it also could result in big gains.

‘‘I don’t think a lot of people realize that when you’re getting pressure, you’ve got to know everything that’s going on with the defense, everything that’s going on with the offensive line and the protection,’’ receiver Tony Jones said. ‘‘So you might have to shorten your route [or] have to run a hot. So just knowing your assignment and, obviously, catching the ball.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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