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Behind Enemy Lines Q&A: Northwestern

In this week’s edition, I spoke with Caleb Friedman of in advance of the Northwestern game.

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

As the Michigan Wolverines — and our weekly Behind Enemy Lines Q&A enter their fifth weeks of the 2018 season — I sat down with Caleb Friedman of

Caleb provided some great insight on the status of the Wildcats after a disappointing start to the ‘18 campaign and much more.

Josh LaFond: How will the loss of former starting running back Jeremy Larkin affect Northwestern going forward?

Caleb Friedman: There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: Larkin being forced to medically retire because of cervical stenosis is just devastating for Northwestern. Larkin was a rising star at running back, and he might’ve been the best player on the team. He was versatile and consistent, and the best running back on the team by a decent margin. For Larkin to be taken away so abruptly is not only extremely sad for Larkin and his promising career, but crushing for a Northwestern offense that was already struggling. There’s some experience behind him, but nobody quite as good.

Josh: After losing to Duke and Akron in consecutive weeks, are Northwestern fans still optimistic in their chances for division contention, or has that faded?

Caleb: I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the Big Ten West title is a pipe dream for Northwestern at this point. I mean, NU just lost to...Akron. Pat Fitzgerald has engineered in-season turnarounds before, and beating Michigan Saturday would certainly swing the narrative of the season, but it’s a stretch to think Northwestern can compete with Wisconsin and even Iowa in the West.

Josh: What has been the main cause(s) for the Wildcats slow start?

Caleb: It’s been a combination of different factors, but, as it often is, Northwestern’s offensive line has not held up. There are a lot of plays where the NU quarterbacks don’t really have enough time to go through their progressions, so there isn’t much of a deep passing game. The QB play has also been pretty iffy too, which doesn’t help.

Defensively, there are just so many individual breakdowns in the secondary. Northwestern has two new starting safeties and a true freshman starting at cornerback this season, and those new starters have taken their lumps. Too many times someone in the secondary will bite on a play-action fake or give up leverage and allow a big gain. The pass rush could be better and alleviate that problem, but the secondary deserves more blame.

Josh: In your eyes, what will be a successful season for the Wildcats?

Caleb: Well, coming into the season I would’ve said winning nine games would’ve been a successful season. So, if I’m taking a macro view of things, that would still qualify as a success (or winning the Big Ten West, which would be unlikely with fewer than nine wins anyway). Unless NU goes on some kind of miracle run in Big Ten play, this season is already a lost cause in that regard.

But, with the disappointing start, now I think getting to six wins and bowl eligibility is probably a decent way to salvage this mess. With a difficult schedule, wins aren’t going to come easy, and dropping a buy game to a team like Akron could easily derail bowl eligibility. Given the circumstances, six wins is fine.

Josh: Pat Fitzgerald compared RPOs to communism, and Jim Harbaugh has had his fair share of quotable moments too. Lock both of them in a cage, who comes out on top in a fight?

Caleb: Well, who do you think would win if you put a middle linebacker in a cage with a quarterback?

Advantage Fitz.

Josh: Who is the most overrated team in the Big Ten so far this season?

Caleb: I’d say Michigan State. The Spartans should’ve lost to Utah State in Week 1, before losing to an Arizona State team that has now dropped two straight. MSU is still ranked, but I doubt that will be the case after the meat of its schedule.

Josh: What’s the best beer/snack combo for tailgating?

Caleb: I’m still in college, so I gravitate toward cheaper options -- Bud Light and buffalo wings.

Josh: Who wins Saturday?

Caleb: Michigan is a particularly bad matchup for Northwestern because the Wolverines’ athletes are just far superior to Northwestern’s. With teams like Wisconsin and Iowa, NU can usually hang around for a while, but Michigan has the talent to blow this game wide open early and exploit deficiencies on the Wildcats’ offensive line. I’ll go with Michigan 34, Northwestern 17.