Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 1, 2014

No team had a bigger win last Saturday than Northwestern, which went into 4-0 Penn State and stormed out with a commanding 29-6 win. Who saw this coming from a Northwestern team that opened 0-2 and whose lone victory was vs. FCS Western Illinois? Now, Northwestern has won two in a row after going 1-9 in the 10 prior games. The possibilities are growing.

Justin Jackson always has believed. The Northwestern freshman running back has become a key cog in a Wildcat offense that may be gaining traction after a slow start. Northwestern gained 361 yards vs. a strong Penn State defense. And Jackson led the way on the ground with a team-high 50 yards rushing.

Jackson paces the team with 234 yards rushing and also has seven catches for 52 yards. And he?ll likely need a big game if the Wildcats want to spring another upset with Wisconsin coming to Ryan Field this Saturday. This Wildcat attack needs consistency, as it ranks No. 11 in the Big Ten in scoring (23.0 ppg) and No. 12 in total offense (348.0 ypg).


I caught up with the 5-11, 185-pound Jackson as he prepped for the Badgers, a team many think will win the Big Ten West.

Q: Did you get a feeling that people doubted Northwestern after that 0-2 start?
Yes, definitely. We have been through so much and we expected to do a lot better at the end of last year (1-7 finish after a 4-0 start) than we did. We needed to respond, and we did. We came out flat the first two games (vs. Cal and Northern Illinois) and weren?t executing hard. That?s not like us. We weren?t playing with energy. That wasn?t how Northwestern plays football. We have reverted back to our way, how we play. We have to continue that.

Q: How big is this Saturday?s visit from Wisconsin?
It is gonna be a grind-it-out game. They will try to control time of possession, they will want to run the ball, run the play clock down to five seconds and run as few plays as they can. That?s how they wanna play it. They want to keep our offense off the field by running the ball. It will be tough. Our defense played well last week. We are preparing well and getting ready for this challenge.

Q: Are there any unity issues on the team?
I don?t believe so, especially after last year. There may have been a little rift in the locker room last year. This year, everyone gets along great, offense, defense. We have great team unity.

Q: Is the union issue ever brought up any more?
I think people make too big of a deal of that. I haven?t heard anything about it. It?s never mentioned. That?s how it should be, because it doesn?t impact our season. We already have enough to worry about with Wisconsin and other Big Ten games coming up.

Q: What allowed the offense to get clicking on Saturday at Penn State in the 29-6 victory?
It began in practice. We did a good job coming out and starting fast in practices and it translated to the game.

Q: What was the mind-set of the team when you started 0-2?
We have a lot of good senior leadership, which helped us stay up. And Coach Fitz picked up the tempo in practice. The practices got a lot harder. We knew that no one was going to feel sorry for us, that we needed to go out there and just do it. We responded well when practices got harder. That bye week (after the Northern Illinois loss) helped us to recover and get healthy. We knew we had the people and the ability to get things turned around. It was about us going out there and executing.

Q: What does each of the running backs bring to the table?
Trey (Treyvon Green) is our senior leader. He?s a hard runner, a bigger back who also is shifty. Warren (Long) just runs hard. He puts his head down and goes. I am a mix between Tray and Solomon (Vault). I am not as fast as Solomon or as big as Trey. I am shifty and can play behind my pads.

Q: What did Coach Fitzgerald say to the team after the win at Penn State?
It was an exciting moment to hear those fans go hush and the fans started leaving the stadium with about seven minutes left. I was proud with how we handled our business on our first road trip. It was the first time for a lot of our young guys to be on the road. We went in there and dominated. We started fast, the defense played well, our sideline was into it. Coach Fitz was proud with how we came in there in a hostile environment and handled our business. We have to continue to do that. And, we can.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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