Wildcats excited for "challenge"

Saturday, December 27, 2008 | 7:55 p.m. CST; updated 10:36 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 28, 2008

SAN ANTONIO — Gray hair is expected for a 61-year old man, especially one who’s been a coach in Division I football for almost four decades.

But Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz isn’t blaming old age for his fading hair color. He blames the Missouri offense.

2008 Alamo Bowl

Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday

WHERE: San Antonio




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“I actually had more hair, and I didn’t have any gray before I started watching Missouri,” the first-year defensive coordinator said. “If there was another (offense NU has faced) more potent, I can’t remember it. But our guys like challenges and we’re excited.”

If the Wildcats like challenges, they will enjoy facing Missouri’s offense, which has had no problem scoring this season. The Tigers have only been held under 30 points against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

By contrast, Northwestern has only given up more than 30 points against Michigan State and Ohio State.

But Hankwitz said that facing Missouri will be unlike anything the Wildcats have faced in the Big Ten.

“They like to pull at people, create extra gaps in your defense,” he said. “We’re going to have to be at our best to stop that. We’re going have to just mix up our coverages, try to get our hands on footballs, and create some bad plays for them. They don’t give you a lot of things. We’re going to have to make those things happen.”

To make those things happen, the Wildcats plan to employ a mix of zone blitzes with four-man rushes in an attempt to keep Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel offbalance.

Hankwitz said being aggressive on defense is risky, but it has worked well for the Wildcats earlier this season.

“A lot of our sacks came in zone blitzes,” he said, “and we had another number of them coming in just four man rushes where we weren’t just all out blitzing and leaving our secondary hanging out to dry. We try to pick our spots, mix it up, and the zone blitz package has been very effective for us.”

But Hankwitz added that Missouri’s frequent use of an empty backfield makes a zone blitz difficult to employ effectively.

“It's a little easier to zone blitz and match up with things,” he said. “But they give you the five quick receivers and their empty look. It’s harder to do that, but we’ll still mix them in there and pick our spots.”

Wildcats defensive end Corey Wooton said that he thinks listening to Hankwitz’s game plan is the key to a victory, and he is excited for the chance.

“They have one of the most prolific offenses in the country,” he said. “Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, they have a great offense. It will be the greatest challenge we’ve faced all year. We just want to be out there and we just want to prove that we can play with anybody in this country.”

TEN IS JUST AS GREAT HERE: Missouri has talked about a desire to win 10 games in back-to-back season, but after years of struggling, Northwestern wants a 10-win season to establish itself as a relevant program again.

“It would set a precedent to say that we’re a program that’s going to win from now on,” Wooton said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys playing this year. The tradition should be we should continue along and keep getting wins and keep getting to bowl games.”


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