By football standards, Northwestern's 41-17 loss to Duke was a disaster.
The Wildcats entered the game favored by 2.5 points on the road, and lost by 24, though it felt like a whole lot more than that.
The running game was a complete non-factor, mostly thanks to an offensive line that couldn't create any push. The passing game was a little better, but Clayton Thorson was running for his life or on his back drive after drive; when he did have time to survey the field, he missed several throws or had to check the ball down because his receivers couldn't separate. The defense made Blue Devils QB Daniel Jones — who's admittedly a good player — look like DeShaun Watson or Cam Newton. The positives were few and far between.
Here’s a selection of postgame comments on Inside NU. Needless to say, the fans were not pleased.
"Sorry, I’ve never been one to call for someone’s job. I take that damn seriously. And, it is "just football" after all. But I lost my freaking job this year, and I was performing well. It happens. And, it’s time."
"Cushing needs to go. Period...The inability to develop players and get them in positions to succeed on Saturdays is damning."
"Players come and go but the incompetent coaching remains with no player development."
"You don't have to be a Sicilian to know it would be inconceivable for the O, D and ST to ever play this badly in the same game again. Unless the coaches stay the same."
Quite frankly, nobody saw that kind of performance coming, the team included.
"If you would've asked me on Thursday whether we would execute this way offensively, I would've said no way," said Pat Fitzgerald.
Fitz made it clear he doesn't think there are issues in practice. The problems lie in execution. Not enough players are winning one-on-one battles consistently enough on Saturdays, the only days when it counts.
A lot of criticism is warranted after such a disappointing loss. Big questions need to be asked about the team, and maybe even the program.
But, after Week 2 of the season, those questions shouldn't be that big, this soon.
The offensive line is often the target of scorn from Northwestern fans and media, and that's because the group has badly struggled in recent years. The line, basically by itself, cost Northwestern several games last season. From what we've seen this season, it hasn't improved drastically, which shouldn't be a huge surprise given that the personnel is the same in several spots.
Northwestern has one of the nation's best running backs on its roster in Justin Jackson, but it almost feels as if his talents are going to waste with so little room to run. He was banged up against Duke, according to Fitzgerald, but the point still stands: The Ball Carrier hasn't had a chance to showcase his lethal jukes and cuts because he has rarely made it to the second level of the defense.
It seems like offensive line coach Adam Cushing gets put on the chopping block after every loss, and, at the end of last season, the discussion was at least justified.
But now, after just two weeks in the season, the calls for Cushing's firing are unnecessary. Ditto for Mick McCall, or any of the assistants.
An in-season coaching change probably won't make the team better. Much has been written on this site about the benefits and problems associated with Northwestern's unparalleled coaching continuity, and those are fair points. When something doesn't improve after a while, a change is necessary. Some discomfort is a good thing.
Northwestern bounced back after a brutal start in 2016, and this season's beginning isn't even that bad, at least in terms of the team's record. Fitzgerald & co. were just dealt a major blow, so let's see how the players and coaches react, not just against Bowling Green, but against Wisconsin, Penn State and the rest of the schedule. Football is an adjustments game, so now, after a full-on beatdown, is the time when we'll see what the coaching staff has or doesn't have up its sleeve.
The Wildcats played a Power 5 team on the road and didn't show up. The secondary, along with Jackson, was banged up. Some days, you just don't have it. That's certainly an indictment on the coaching staff. But expecting the offensive and defensive lines to somehow improve tremendously in one offseason was irrational.
Recruiting is one area you can point to try to explain a team's performance, but that isn't the main issue here. Duke doesn't perennially recruit at a higher level than Northwestern.
The more pressing issue is player development and preparedness to play, which the coaching staff will ultimately have to answer for.
But teams aren't — and shouldn't — be judged as finished products after Week 2. "There's a lot of football left," Fitzgerald said Saturday. "But we've gotta get a lot better, obviously."
The next 10 games will glean a lot with regards to the coaching staff, and should provide a clearer answer to whether a change has to be made. If this promising season continues to spiral out of control, Fitzgerald absolutely needs to shake things up on his staff.
But just two weeks into a 13-week grind, some words from the great Aaron Rodgers can apply.
At least for now.