Out with Player Grades and in with Three up, Three down, Inside NU's newest postgame evaluation. Rather than handing out grades to the different contributors, we'll give you three players (or position groups) whose stock went up and three players whose performances were disappointing. Here's the report from Maryland.
Nate Hall has been in the “stock up” section for three consecutive weeks, and it’s at least worth wondering if he’s been the best defender for the Wildcats this year. The largely unsung junior linebacker had a chance to shine with Paddy Fisher and Godwin Igwebuike out for the first half and he rose to the occasion. Hall displayed phenomenal open-field tackling and his knack for getting into the backfield while racking up a team-high 11 tackles, including 4 TFLs, a season high for the Northwestern defense.
Jackson broke the Northwestern all-time rushing yards record and put up 178 yards and 2 touchdowns in the process for his best game of the year. He averaged 6.1 yards a carry and was untouchable for most of the game (the first couple drives, on the other hand, we shall never speak of again). The star running back seemed back to form, showing off incredible cuts and an unwillingness to let the first hit bring him down while ripping off chunk after chunk and allowing the Northwestern offense to control the ball and ultimately the game.
The Offensive Line
After struggling massively against the first three Power 5 defenses they faced this year, the offensive line got a respite against a decimated and arguably league-worst Maryland front seven. The line certainly took advantage. Thorson had a clean pocket for most of the night and was only sacked once (and no credited QB hurries!), while Jackson had holes to run through all game long. This was the unit that needed a bounce-back performance the most, and they delivered. Now, let’s see how they fare in a true test: next week against Josey Jewell and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Honorable mentions: Charlie Kuhbander, the defensive line, DJ Moore
Montre Hartage and everybody else who tried to guard DJ Moore
Maryland had only one thing working for them on offense, and that was DJ Moore. The Terrapins ran 69 total plays: 17 of them were passes to Moore, of which he caught 12 for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns. The other 52 went for just 130 yards and a touchdown. Moore had a field day, taking advantage of Northwestern’s poor tackling on one play and Hartage and Co. on many others en route to his huge line. While the Wildcats’ defense shut down nearly everybody else, the coverage on Moore all day left a lot to be desired and something to work on for coming weeks.
The return game
Riley Lees had one good kickoff return, but he and Jelani Roberts were tackled short of the 25 on all three of the other Maryland kickoffs. Northwestern caught a break after Roberts was pushed back into Lees while he was attempting to make a fair catch with a phantom kick-catch interference call on Maryland, but it should have been a turnover, and no other punt returns yielded anything special. The Wildcats have struggled all week in the return game without Solomon Vault, and nothing changed in that regard this week.
This seems like a pretty vague category, but one of Northwestern’s biggest problem’s in a game that they ultimately won handily was penalties. They were called for 7 of them for 90 total yards, including 4 personal fouls. It didn’t come back to bite them in this one, but the Wildcats will need to keep the penalty yardage a lot lower if they want to come away from next week’s clash with Iowa victorious.
Honorable Mentions: Nathan Fox, Jared McGee