Tigers face unpredictable Pirates
Scouting a team in Week 1 is never an easy task. Very little game film exists of the opponents and they can always be expected to make some tweaks and adjustments to what they did in the preseason.
Friday night Northwestern's going to see a Palisades team that not only has a new coaching staff, but also has several of last year's key players in new positions.
"They were very conservative in their scrimmages," said Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder. "They're going to have a lot more to offer than what they have been showing. You're going to see a lot of coaching on the sidelines and a lot of adjustments at halftime."
The Pirates moved last year's quarterback, Jess Snyder, to tailback and replaced him with Kyle Jesiolowski, who caught two passes as a wide receiver last year.
Snyder, a junior, ran for 633 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 133 carries last year. He completed just 13 of 52 passes with one touchdown and nine interceptions.
Junior fullback JD Donnelly returns to the backfield. He carried the ball 25 times last year for 80 yards. Sophomore Christian Gretzinger, who was the team's only All Colonial League selection last year as an honorable mention running back, will likely share time with Snyder at tailback. Gretzinger was second on the team with 215 yards on 49 carries (4.39 per carry) last year.
"They have two good running backs and an athletic quarterback," said Josh Snyder. "We expect them to try to establish the run against us."
Palisades is coming off a 1-9 season and has a new head coach in Kevin Rondalds, who was the team's defensive coordinator from 2007-2009 when the Pirates were a perennial district playoff team and Colonial League title contender.
Ronalds ran a vanilla 4-3 defense in his team's two scrimmages this year, but Northwestern's coaching staff expects to see more variation Friday night.
"They didn't stunt one time and they stayed in their base 4-3," Josh Snyder said. "They have three aggressive linebackers that run to the football. And their strong safety reads the run and gets in the box."
Northwestern beat Palisades 47-9 in last season's isades 47-9 in last season's opener. Many of this year's Tigers were back ups and junior varsity players then. They will field a team with just five seniors this year. Sophomores and juniors will be among the team's stand outs in 2012. By the end of the season some freshmen could even be contributing regularly.
A boost of confidence this Friday night would go a long way in the maturation of this young team.
"It's important for us to have success early in the season," Josh Snyder said. "Once you have success it builds confidence. Success breeds success."
He cited two big keys to the game: First, his team needs to win the battle of field position. For that to happen the Tigers need solid special teams play. The defense needs to get stops and the offense needs to pick up first downs.
Second, they have to secure the ball and take advantage when Palisades doesn't.
"We need to win the battle of the turnovers," Josh Snyder said. "Successful teams are usually on the plus side."
Coming off two straight 5-5 seasons and heading into a year in which the Colonial League has no clear favorites, the Tigers have just as good of a chance as any team to compete for this year's title.
It all starts this Friday night.