The ‘Cats will take the field at Rutgers tomorrow afternoon with not much to gain, but a whole lot to lose. The Scarlet Knights come into the game riding a six-game losing streak while Northwestern appears to be hitting their stride mid-season, but it’s never that simple with this team. Here are the reasons why Northwestern will/won’t beat Rutgers.
Why Northwestern will beat Rutgers
1. Clayton Thorson’s confidence is at an all-time high
Coming off a career performance against Nebraska last weekend, the Northwestern quarterback seems to be finding his groove at a crucial time in NU’s season. He was the engineer behind the Wildcats’ improbable comeback against the Huskers and is carrying a ton of momentum into this weekend’s matchup. His pass protection has improved greatly since the Michigan loss and he’s developed an impressive chemistry with veteran targets like Flynn Nagel and Cam Green, not to mention the true freshman JJ Jefferson. Clayton Thorson is playing some of the best football of his career.
2. Rutgers is a very bad football team
The Scarlet Knights had eight total passing yards against Maryland last week. Eight. They also lost to Kansas by 41 points.
3. The Wildcats play their best football on the road
Northwestern’s two strongest performances of the season thus far have been their two road games at Purdue and Michigan State. For whatever reason, this team looks their most comfortable when they’re away from Evanston. In the last four seasons with Thorson as the starter, Northwestern is 10-4 in conference road games with wins at Michigan State (2), Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska (2). Not bad.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Rutgers
1. Northwestern will get caught looking ahead to next weekend’s game
If you’re not familiar with the current state of the Big Ten West, Northwestern is very much in the driver’s seat of the division as we near the midpoint of conference play. Northwestern fans (Inside NU) are looking ahead to the potential of a crucial showdown against Wisconsin in Evanston next weekend, and I’d assume the players are thinking about it too at least to some extent. The ‘Cats need to take care of business at Rutgers first.
2. This is the most winnable game left on Rutgers’ schedule
This 2018 season has already been ugly for Rutgers, and it’s about to get a whole lot uglier. After a bye week following Saturday’s game, the Scarlet Knights close the season with Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State, so Rutgers’ best chance of picking up a second win this season is against Northwestern. Perhaps the Scarlet Knights will come out with a little fire on Saturday knowing they’re going to get obliterated in their last four games.
Two parts to this one. First, Rutgers has never lost to Northwestern in football. None of the players taking the field on Saturday were alive the last time the two programs met in 1991, but the Scarlet Knights lead the all-time series 3-0. Second, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Northwestern isn’t good at winning the games they’re supposed to win. It sounds like a broken record at this point, but this team’s poor track record in these types of games can’t be ignored. Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Akron. Is Rutgers next?