The Big Ten West champions return to the field after finishing the 2018 season 9-5, going 8-1 in conference — Northwestern’s lone Big Ten regular season slip up was a 20-17 loss to then-No. 14 ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Katy, Texas, native and defensive captain Paddy Fisher is model of consistency at the middle linebacker position — the same position his head coach Pat Fitzgerald played at Northwestern in the mid 1990’s.
Overlooked by regional powers Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and TCU as a high school recruit, Paddy Fisher has emerged as one of the best middle linebackers in the entire country.
Size and a knack for stopping the run
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Paddy Fisher is a big student athlete with freaky size and length for a middle linebacker. The Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 was Michigan Wolverines star Devin Bush (selected 10th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers), and he was a mere 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds.
Paddy Fisher does not just play with a lot of heart and guts — he’s got some eye-popping size that will matter at the NFL Scouting Combine and when it comes to evaluating his measurables compared to his peers at his position. His best two games were at the end of the season: 11 tackles against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and 13 tackles against the Utah Utes in the Holiday Bowl.
In the last two seasons combined (2017 and 2018) no one in the Big Ten has more tackles than Paddy Fisher. Fisher led the Big Ten Conference in forced fumbles each of the last two seasons. Not only is he a tackling machine, but he’s player who’s always looking to punch the football out of the ball carrier’s hand.
Heading into 2019 with some elite-level teammates
Paddy Fisher earned All-Big Ten Honors in 2018 and he’s earned 2019 Preseason All-American honors according to ESPN College Football Insider Phil Steele. Outside linebacker Nate Hall graduated, but co-junior and fellow linebacker Blake Gallagher is back to help Fisher lead the linebacking corps.
Defensive end Joe Gaziano is the better NFL prospect and does more of his work in the offensive backfield, but the two combine for what is a menacing front-7 and one of the best run-stopping units in the country.
As the “quarterback of the defense”, Fisher already has played in 27 football games — and he still has half of his collegiate career to go. That experience combined with his size and other intangibles is integral for a team that has many more questions on offense than it does on defense.
The Streak.... has gotta end some time? Right??
The Wildcats have won four straight against the Illini and six out of the last seven. In two games against the Illini, Paddy Fisher has 14 tackles and two interceptions. He’ll be looking to continue his win-streak over the in-state rivals.
For what it’s worth, in Pat Fitzgerald’s four seasons playing for Northwestern, he went 2-2 against the Illini.
There’s no way around it: Northwestern’s been the better football team in the state of Illinois, and unless quarterback Hunter Johnson ends up being a dud, it’s hard to imagine the Wildcats struggling much in 2019.
Illinois has only one way to go — up, and who knows — by the time this game comes around at the very end of the season, the Illini might have the pieces and game-plan to compete with their rivals at the highest level.