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Player to Watch: Northwestern’s Godwin Igwebuike

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The safety is a bright spot on the Big Ten’s worst defense.

NCAA Football: Illinois State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The installment in this week’s Player to Watch: Godwin Igwebuike

Name: Godwin Igwebuike. 6-0, 205

Year: Junior

Position: Safety

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Let’s preface this by saying Northwestern’s defense has been really bad to start the year. Like, last in the Big Ten in total defense bad. Part of that is because of a struggling front seven, which in turn, creates more tackles for safeties like Igwebuike, .

Makes sense, right? It’s part of the reason Igwebuike is second in the the Big Ten in tackles behind teammate Jaylen Prater, but make no mistake, he’s anything but a slouch defender. I admittedly can’t find a ton of film on him and don’t DVR Northwestern games (so why would you pick him Danny? Just wait), but let’s watch at least one or two tapes and talk about the matchups he presents with Iowa.

Northwestern starts this play in a two-high look (Igwebuike’s on the near side of the field, just off camera to start), as the Duke receiver runs a crossing pattern from the slot. He trails him step-for-step, and the quarterback doesn’t lead his target enough, allowing Igwebuike to step in front and make a nice play.

So, why does he present trouble for the Hawkeyes? Because there’s going to be a new wide receiver this week in the slot, duh. And given his four TFLs, he also presents a challenge for an offensive line that has looked porous at times in the early going.

So, let’s start with the first issue, the guy replacing Matt VandeBerg. Don’t be surprised if we see a host of guys trickling through that slot before Iowa sticks with a consistent one. For now, let’s say it’s a combination of Riley McCarron, who has had a decent season so far, and Jay Scheel. That could be totally off — Ronald Nash, Devonte Young, or Jonathan Parker (JET SWEEPS!) are names flying around too.

If they’re going to have the same success against the ‘Cats, it’s going to have to be on quick, effective routes to avoid Igwebuike making plays like the one we just watched video of. But, if it makes you feel any better about the passing game, Northwestern is dead last in the Big Ten in pass defense, so this may be a lesser issue than I’m making out to be.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Fitzgerald’s group isn’t as bad against the run — only 11th — but with guys like Igwebuike and linebackers Jaylen Prater and Anthony Walker in the mix, I’d like to at least think they’ll present a challenge to a fluid offensive line. As players start to come back (Sean Welsh last week, blitz protector Derrick Mitchell Jr. this week), you should feel better about a unit that has seemed a little shaky.

What better defense to rid of worry against than Northwestern?