Football

Speed Option: Northwestern Wildcats

There are some lopsided series in conference play across the nation and the one between Ohio State and Northwestern is one of those with the Buckeyes holding a 64-14-1 edge, having won every game since 2004 and having to go back to 1971 for the next most recent loss in the series, more than 50 years for those counting at home.

Now, Ohio State and Northwestern don’t play yearly and in fact, two of the last three meetings were in the Big Ten Championship game, but these games generally are not close.

Eight of the last 10 games were decided by more than a touchdown while five of those games were decided by 30 points or more.
If you believe in trends, this should be a good season for Northwestern as the Cats have won the Big Ten West in both 2018 and 2020 and then had subpar seasons in 2019 and 2021. It is an even year, could the Cats shock again? Let’s hit the Speed Option.

Northwestern

All-time Series Record: Ohio State leads 64-14-1

Last Meeting: 2021 – Ohio State def. Northwestern 27-22

2021 Record: 3-9, 1-8 Big Ten Conference

Returning Starters: 14 (9 Off., 5 Def.)

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Offense

Total Offense: 321.6 YPG (116th)

Rushing Offense: 144.2 YPG (82nd)

Passing Offense: 177.3 YPG (111th)

Scoring Offense: 16.6 PPG (125th)

Yes, Northwestern did roll 11 players out on the field for offense last season but that is about the only evidence we have that the Cats played offense. Northwestern was in the bottom five nationally in scoring, bottom 15 in total offense and bottom 20 in passing offense in all of D1-FBS.

Northwestern has one of the best offensive tackles in the nation but so what? That may sound kind of harsh but if the other parts of the offense don’t work, what does it matter?

Last year the Cats couldn’t make a decision at quarterback and this year the Cats have to settle on a guy, be it Ryan Hilinksi, Brendan Sullivan or Pat Fitzgerald himself in some sort of WWE plot-turn.

If this offense is going to do something, it needs to get as much as it can out of Evan Hull, a running back who can play receiver as well. Hull rushed for more than 1,000 yards and had 30-plus receptions as well. They just can’t build an offense around one guy but let’s be real here, even when Northwestern plays well and wins a lot of games, it is not because the offense gets them there.

It just sounds like this team needs a lot of help on offense to just make it to the break-even line.

Defense

Total Defense: 429.5 YPG (101st)

Rushing Defense: 213.0 YPG (119th)

Passing Defense: 216.5 YPG (46th)

Scoring Defense: 29.0 PPG (89th)

Northwestern’s defense was not all that special last season as well, as evidenced by a 3-9 record and just an overall bad season in general.

The Cats had guys on defense with Braddon Joseph in the secondary and Chris Bergin in the middle of things and even with that duo, couldn’t get things done. When was the last time that Northwestern was 119 out of 130 teams in run defense? Without looking at the stats, we are going to bet it has been awhile, and maybe never the case under Pat Fitzgerald.

You would think that the transfer portal may not be the easiest thing for the Cats based on getting into Northwestern but they have looked for some help on the interior defensive line with Taishan Holmes and Ryan Johnson. Okay, maybe DT is not the most sexy position for transfers but the Cats were really, really bad against the run and both of these players could go a long way in helping stabilize a thing or two for Northwestern.

One other thing of note is to remember that 2021 was the first year in a long, long time that Northwestern was without its longtime D-Coord Mike Hankwitz, who retired. You can’t put all of that at the feet of Jim O’Neil, but it is something that you can’t ignore that things took a serious fall after the loss of Hankwitz.

Random Musings

We were told that the Cats were outscored 208-97 in the first half of games and could not believe that stat but looked and it appears to be true. Northwestern is not built for the comeback, that is something that will have to be fixed if the Cats are to be competitive this upcoming season.

The Cats will have two open weeks due to starting the season in “zero week” in Dublin, Ireland. The game against Ohio State will be a lone home game in a four-game run that will see Northwestern travel to Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue.

If Northwestern is going to turn things around, we will know by October 8th as the Cats have back-to-back games with Penn State (at) and Wisconsin. If Northwestern can play up and pull off one or two upsets, it may be one of those special seasons in Evanston (Ill.). If not? It may be another long year.