Questions from the Other Side: Northwestern football beat writer Bobby Pillote

Pillote is a senior at Northwestern University, and has been covering Northwestern football for three years.

Jack White

For this weekly column, the Minnesota Daily interviewed Bobby Pillote, the assistant game day editor for Northwestern University’s student newspaper, the Daily Northwestern.

Pillote is a senior at Northwestern University, and has been covering Northwestern football for three years.

Northwestern is .500 with a close loss to Ohio State. What has Northwestern done well and what do you think they need to improve on?

In terms of things they’ve done well, the offense has really come together in the second half of the season. We’ve seen a lot of maturation from the quarterback … wide receiver Austin Carr has been fantastic all year long. [The secondary] played pretty last week against Purdue, but you know it’s hard to have takeaways from playing Purdue. So yeah, sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re not. It’s really just more consistent play out of the back four on the defense.

What kind of dynamic does Carr bring to the team?

Oh, Carr’s huge. Especially looking at you know last year, there wasn’t really sort of a reliable target, a guy you could always count on if you needed a big play or a first down. Carr is that guy. He just always finds a way to get open. I think he’s only dropped like one pass all year … He and Thorson have a really good rapport …

What can people expect from Clayton Thorson in terms of a skill set?

Expect him to actually look pretty poised in the pocket. His pocket awareness I think has improved for him from a year ago. He’s gotten much better under pressure, he’s gotten much better at … getting the ball away when he has to and he’s gotten much better at making good decisions. So look for him to be pretty poised. Especially after last week. He threw two interceptions against Purdue — I think look for him to be a little more careful with the football and really sharp.

You talked a little bit about it already, but do you think the win against Purdue will help carry over to success against Minnesota?

It’s hard to pull too many things away from Purdue, but I think so. I think it shows that the offense is still clicking on all cylinders and that the pass defense might finally be there … Purdue’s not great, but they do throw the ball a lot and I thought the secondary held up OK against them. But really I think the big teaching against Purdue is they were able to get the run game going late. That’s not always there for them … Justin Jackson is one of the top backs in the Big Ten, so if they can get him going as well and Thorson is having a good day, then it’s gonna be hard to stop that Northwestern offense.

What does Northwestern have to do to find success in a game?

Defense has to get off the field. A lot of times when they struggled it’s not about giving up the big play but it’s letting the other team’s offense go down the field for 8, 10, [or] 15-play drives that really eat up a lot of clock … actually getting off the field … and winning that field position battle is really key for Northwestern.

How would you grade Pat Fitzgerald as a coach?

You know he’s gotten a lot better this season. He came into the year having a [reputation] for kind of being a very conservative guy and not being very good at clock management, but I think he’s gotten a lot better this year. Part of that is [their] kicker is not very good. He really won’t try anything beyond 40 yards, but Northwestern will go for a lot of fourth downs. So, if you’re kind of in the 40 to 30-yard range and it’s fourth and short, watch out … overall he’s gotten a lot more aggressive in his coaching style this season and I think you’ve seen that pay off with some fourth down conversions.

What does Northwestern have to do this year to make a bowl game?

Realistically, just one more win. [They’ve] got Minnesota left on the schedule and Illinois the week after that, so a win over Illinois looks pretty likely … Of course, it does look like there are gonna be some 5-7 teams in bowl games this year as well so if they lose out, Northwestern I think is fourth in [Academic Progress Report] and the top-3 teams have already qualified for bowl games, so if a 5-7 team is gonna be taken, Northwestern is gonna be first. So it’s not quite official yet, but it does look like they’re [going to] be playing.

What is Northwestern’s strongest position group?

I’m inclined to say running backs now. Justin Jackson is one of the best in the Big Ten. He’s just so consistent in his play, and we also saw last week, backup [John Moten IV], break out a 100-yard game. So if [Moten] can be good break for Jackson … they can kind of switch back to that two-headed attack, I think they’re [going to] be really effective. But really just having Jackson in there, it’s hard to call anything but the running backs the best position.

Speed Round Questions

How many wins will Northwestern get this year?

Seven.

Clayton Thorson as a QB on a scale from 1-10?

6.5.

Northwestern’s best offensive player?

Justin Jackson.

Northwestern’s best defensive player?

Anthony Walker.

Northwestern throws for more than 250 yards against Minnesota?

Yes.

Big Ten Championship winner?

Michigan.

Big Ten Player of the Year?

Jabrill Peppers.

Heisman winner?

Lamar Jackson.

National Championship winner?

Alabama.

Score prediction?

28-27 Northwestern.