It’s getting kind of hard to find reasons to be optimistic about this 2019 Northwestern football team. If it weren’t for the outstanding play of Northwestern’s defense, you would have a strong case for labeling the Wildcats as one of the worst Power Five teams in the country.
Through four games, NU ranks 128th out of 130 teams in the country in total scoring (15.5 points per game), and 126th in total offense, averaging just 292.8 yards. Outside of a Georgia Tech team who lost to The Citadel a few weeks ago and is trying to transition away from the triple option, the Wildcats are the only Power Five program averaging below 300 yards per game.
Let’s not forget that Northwestern’s 11 turnovers through four games are close to the worst in the country as well. This week’s opponent, Nebraska, is the only Big Ten team with more turnovers (14), but the Cornhuskers have also played an extra game. So don’t count your chickens!
Couple these excruciatingly bad offensive numbers with the fact that Northwestern’s October slate features two top-15 opponents and an always-tough trip to Lincoln, and it’s hard to believe things are going to get better before they get worse for this Wildcat team. There’s no reason to sugarcoat things. Barring an upset or sudden offensive renaissance, Northwestern has a good chance to be staring a 1-6 start to the season in the face as they enter November.
But this is October, and any Wildcat fan knows that October success and Pat Fitzgerald’s program have gone hand-in-hand for the past few seasons now.
This renaissance typically starts in the win-loss column. The Wildcats are 5-10 in August/September matchups since 2016. In October games during that same span, the team is 10-2.
It’s hard to pinpoint a single factor responsible for Northwestern’s recent string of success as Halloween approaches, but for whatever reason, this team seems to turn it up a notch right around this time of the year.
The 2019 version of the Wildcats (and the murderers row they are about to face) haven’t given us much reason to believe a drastic turnaround is coming, but the same (or similar) can be said about the 2016, 2017 and 2018 squads that lost multiple games in September. All three of those groups ended the season above .500 in conference play.
Now before I get bombarded with comments from the Fitz haters and #FireMcCall faithful, I’m not suggesting that finishing above .500 in conference play should be the mark of a successful Northwestern season. The tendency to respond in October doesn’t excuse the Wildcats’ repeated stale play calling and flat performances out of the gate.
The fact that this Northwestern team constantly finds itself in a position where they have to turn things around and make up from a slow start is nothing short of infuriating, but Fitz and the players deserve the credit for the impressive October performances they’ve put together in the wake of these difficulties. This season, making that leap will be even more difficult than usual with the impressive lineup of teams awaiting them, but recent success makes it tough to call that bounce-back impossible.
None of that is to say this 2019 Wildcat team and its 126th ranked are going to run the table and win the Big Ten West, because I think we can all agree that’s far from likely.
But weren’t we saying that after the Akron loss too?