A season-long trend of offensive ineptitude was maintained on Saturday, as the Northwestern offense suffered its first shutout since a 38-0 loss to Michigan in 2015. Here are our most pressing postgame thoughts:
A structural offensive change is needed
We talk about it nearly every week, but there needs to be a significant adjustment to Northwestern’s offense. The first thought that comes to mind is obviously making a change at offensive coordinator, but that won’t happen before the end of the year, according to Fitz, who was asked about a coaching change after the game.
“You look at everything,” Fitzgerald said. “I think you assess the entire program at the end of the season.”
The next progression would be a change at quarterback, but Mick McCall and Fitz have stuck with Aidan Smith after some brutal performances, so there’s no reason to believe that will change. So the question is, what will change? If not a coaching switch or quarterback switch, what is going to transform this offense? We’re yet to get that answer.
Lack of takeaways is a killer
With the current state of the NU offense, conceding 20 points is just too much for the team to overcome in order to earn a victory. Both defensive players and Fitz lamented the team’s inability to force a turnover and give the offense prime field position.
“We have one pick on the season in the DB room, so we just need to play better,” cornerback Greg Newsome said. Fitz added that, “We coach [getting takeaways] every day. It’s something that we talk about every day, T and T, tackles and takeaways. Right now, the turnover aspect isn’t happening.”
While holding your opponent to 302 yards and 20 points usually qualifies as a good defensive performance in college football, it, unfortunately, won’t cut it for Northwestern right now.
Bowl berth chances went from slim to circling the drain
Sitting at 1-6 with five games remaining, Northwestern needs to win at least four to give itself a shot at postseason glory. While no game is a given at this point, NU needs to string some victories together, and the back half of the schedule is much more conducive to that.
The only ranked team remaining on the ‘Cats’ schedule is Minnesota, and even that is a winnable game. However, a win today would’ve paid massive dividends in securing a game in December. At this point, you can sound the death knell if NU drops two more contests.
A Fitz team has never started like this
In 2016, it took Northwestern five games to reach two wins. That year represented the slowest start of the Fitz era for NU, but the 2019 ‘Cats are running laps around that team (which finished 7-6 with a bowl victory). Northwestern will attempt to win its second game of the year in its eighth attempt next week, by far the slowest beginning to a season for any Northwestern squad that even involved Pat Fitzgerald at any level.
It would be somewhat typical NU for this team to make a remarkable turnaround and either salvage the season or come painfully close to doing so, but right now that could not seem less likely thanks to the actual on-field product.
It’s only up from here
With all of that being said, the good news is that this truly seems to be as low as Northwestern will get under Fitzgerald. It’s a credit to Fitz, his staff and his players that a start like this is so disappointing, as troubling as it is in the moment.
Just last year, Northwestern was competing for a Big Ten title. You can look at 2019and ask how the team has fallen so fast, but you can also consider that the potential is definitely there for the team to reach its (more realistic) larger goal of a conference championship. That sounds crazy to say in the midst of a 1-6 season, but it’s true, and as fans begin to look forward to 2020 already, it’s something to keep in mind.