After a season of disappointment, that’s probably pretty close, unfortunately, to how most Northwestern fans pictured last night’s 34-3 loss to a team, in Indiana, that they had beaten in nine out of their last matchups going. The slivers of hope that remained within a small portion of the Wildcat fanbase are no longer. Here are five things to take away from the Wildcats’ disheartening 31-point defeat:
Indiana is a very good team
Before jumping into what Northwestern did wrong, the Hoosiers deserve credit. In their first primetime November home game ever, they absolutely delivered. Freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. started the game for the Hoosiers, throwing 10/15 for 162 yards while also scampering for one touchdown. Late in the second quarter, he was taken out due to injury for junior Peyton Ramsey, who kept things rolling with seven completions on 10 attempts for 108 yards and one touchdown.
Indiana also dominated on the ground. While Northwestern’s secondary was burnt (more on that soon), the front seven was methodically worn down. Indiana running back Stevie Scott III rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Overall, the Hoosier racked up over 400 yards of total offense against a Wildcat defense that had been staunch to that point against all teams not named Ohio State.
The secondary needs to clean up their act
Let’s start with the penalties. In the first half alone, the ‘Cats had four pass interference calls against them in the end zone alone (only one, maybe two could truly be argued). Each of these led to the ball being placed on the two yard line for Indiana, and each of these led to scores. JR Pace also got away with a couple of holding calls that could have been very costly, and Ruiz caught a break on a potential PI down the sideline.
While the ‘Cats weren’t thoroughly torched through the air (allowed 270 passing yards), the secondary played very sloppy. Greg Newsome II got turned around a couple of times in man-to-man coverage during the first half before leaving due to an unfortunate injury, while Travis Whillock was absolutely run over by Scott on a run up the middle. All around, it certainly was not the best game for the Wildcat defensive backs.
Isaiah Bowser is dearly missed
If you take a quick look at the box score for this one, you’ll notice that Northwestern’s two leading rushers in last night’s defeat were…quarterbacks?
That’s right, topping the rushing charts last night for the ‘Cats were none other than Aidan Smith and Hunter Johnson. Smith led the way with 34 yards on six carries, while Johnson followed with four totes of his own for 15 yards. Smith’s longest gain of the night came on the first play of the game for Northwestern, in which he ran for 22 yards and then proceeded to fumble at the end of the play, gifting possession right back to the Hoosiers.
The ‘Cats finished with three fumbles on the night, with the two most important ones occurring while Aidan Smith and starting running back Drake Anderson, respectively, were fighting for yards. Each giveaway led to a short field for Indiana and an eventual Hoosiers touchdown, with both occurring early in the first half and totally flipping whatever momentum Northwestern had hoped to gain on its head.
Anderson finished with just 11 yards on seven carries, while converted wide receiver Kyric McGowan led the way (excluding QBs) with four carries for 14 yards. It’s clear that the team’s running game is heavily impacted by the absence of Isaiah Bowser, who was re-injured last week vs. Iowa and did not travel with the team to Bloomington.
A 2-10 season is a legitimate possibility
Purdue, Massachusetts, No. 13 Minnesota, @ Illinois. These are the remaining games on currently 1-7 Northwestern’s schedule.
If, hypothetically, the ‘Cats were to win out, they would likely make a bowl game based on APR (academic progress rate). The odds of that happening, however, are slim to none. Based on their performance tonight, and those that came before it, it’s not hard to see the defending Big Ten West champions going 4-8, 3-9 or possibly even 2-10 this season.
Purdue just beat Nebraska, Minnesota is currently undefeated and Illinois has now won their last three games (including their shocking win over Wisconsin) and appear to be bowl-bound. While two of the three contests are at home, home field advantage doesn’t mean much at Ryan Field these days. It looks like the only trophy NU will be competing for this season is the HAT.
It’s time to look ahead to basketball season
In what’s truly just an extension of the previous takeaway, it’s time to look ahead to spending some time in Welsh-Ryan.
Here’s a fun fact: in just one game, Northwestern men’s basketball has scored more points than the football team has this entire season (105 to 102). Granted, the ‘Cats faced Division II Quincy in that tune-up exhibition, but the offense looked exciting nonetheless. Freshman guard Boo Buie scored 18 points, while the greatest lacrosse player in the country, aka Pat Spencer, demonstrated his hops with a couple of flashy dunks.
Meanwhile, women’s basketball is coming off an exciting run to the finals of the WNIT, and brings back one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten in its entirety. Behind exciting true sophomore point guard Veronica Burton and USA national team member Lindsey Pulliam at shooting guard, this team looks like a contender to reach the NCAA Tournament. Don’t sleep.
No matter how much the men’s team struggles, and even if their counterparts disappoint, it certainly can’t get worse than having the worst offense in the FBS, right?