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The 10 best moments from Mick McCall’s Northwestern tenure

Despite a 12-year reign consisting mainly of mediocrity or worse, good offensive things did happen!

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout his time in Evanston, Mick McCall made Northwestern fans pull their hair out a lot, but he also came up with some spectacular performances. Wildcat offenses at the beginning of his tenure were high-powered and exciting, but he still came up with some tricks in his last few years. What follows are the ten best moments from his NU career.

Note: This list is heavily back-weighted in terms of McCall’s time at Northwestern, both because earlier videos, game summaries, etc., are more difficult to find, but also because nobody involved with this article was a diehard Wildcat fan before 2012. Yell at us about it in the comments if you’d like.

No. 10: Trevor Siemian’s TD Reception vs Cal in 2014

Down 31-14 in the 2013 season opener at Cal, Mick decided to open up the playbook and get crazy by calling a double-pass trick play. Siemian took the snap and quickly threw it left to redshirt freshman Jayme Taylor, who threw it back across the field to Touchdown Trevor, who picked up some blocks and navigated his way 17 yards for a touchdown with a pylon dive to boot. (Start watching at 1:49)

No. 9: High-scoring affair vs Ohio State in 2013

The build-up to this game, and really the contest itself, had everything. Playing a top-five Ohio State team in front of a national audience, McCall’s dynamic two-QB offense didn’t fail to show up. Northwestern didn’t upset OSU, but it came close and the offense gave them a good chance to do so.

NU didn’t have a great rushing day, but Siemian and Kain Colter (with plenty of help from Rashad Lawrence) shredded the Buckeyes for 343 passing yards and continually gave fans hope that the ‘Cats could score on any given drive. This was a relatively equally contested shootout that, despite the loss, represented Northwestern well on a big stage and should have helped set them up for a big year.

No. 8: 2012 HAT Shellacking

The entire 2012 season was unique offensively, with McCall first truly employing the two-quarterback system that spilled over into 2013. Colter was the dynamic runner, and Siemian stood in the pocket and fired darts all across the field. The ‘Cats averaged nearly 32 points per game with this duo, and on the march to their first bowl win in 63 years was the traditional HAT game against Illinois.

NU hung 50 (!!) on the Illini, outgaining them 450-242 on the day. Led by Colter in a ground performance similar to this year’s HAT victory, the Wildcats ran for 338 yards and three touchdowns while the nominally running QB tossed three more.


No. 7: Dropping 54 on Michigan State in 2016

Any time Northwestern scores 50 points, especially against a Big Ten opponent, I feel like it’s notable enough to make this list. In an impressive year for Clayton Thorson and the offense in general, they lit up the Spartans in East Lansing. Justin Jackson and the Big Ten’s leading receiver in 2016, Austin Carr, each had career days.

JJTBC rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns, while Carr caught 11 balls for 130 yards and two scores. After an early pick, Thorson turned in one of the best passing performances of his career, going 27-35 for 281 yards and accounting for four total touchdowns. The offense showed the ability to be both methodical and explosive, and the game produced several memorable highlights.

No. 6: Trey Klock’s Receiving TD in the 2018 Holiday Bowl

The Holiday Bowl was a weird game. Northwestern’s offense didn’t do much of anything for a while, but once the defense started making plays the offense joined the party. As part of NU’s 28-point third quarter, Clayton Thorson hit offensive lineman Trey Klock, who had reported in as eligible, for a 20-yard score in which Klock galloped (?) into the end zone. It was fun!

No. 5: Overtime vs Michigan State in 2017

In what went down as a classic win for the Cardiac ‘Cats, the action really didn’t pick up until overtime. Northwestern won 39-31, but as often happens in college overtimes, the final scoreline was quite different from that of regulation, at which point the teams were knotted at just 17.

In the three overtime periods, though, the Wildcat offense ran roughshod over the Spartan defense. Thorson opened OT by finding a wide open Cam Green for a touchdown, and Flynn Nagel took a short pass and managed to stay on his feet as he stumbled for about seven yards until he scored the final NU touchdown, allowing the ‘Cats to carry on the legend of their three straight overtime victories for time immemorial.

Oh yeah, Justin Jackson also threw an impressive touchdown earlier in the game. That was cool too! (Start watching at 5:08)

No. 4: Game-tying, 99-yard TD drive vs Nebraska in 2018

Way before any diving catch in a Kinnick Stadium end zone could happen, Northwestern’s 2018 season hopes were on life support in early October. Facing a winless Huskers team, the ‘Cats turned in a lackluster performance for the majority of the game, but veteran leadership and execution brought them back.

Starting at their own one-yard line with just 2:02 remaining and no timeouts, Clayton Thorson took the game into his hands and triumphantly led the ‘Cats, with plenty of help from Flynn Nagel, and, in the end, JJ Jefferson to the game-tying score that forced overtime with 12 seconds left. NU would win in overtime.

No. 3: 2010 Outback Bowl Performance

At the beginning of McCall’s reign as OC, Northwestern’s offenses were high-flying and often had to outscore other teams. Despite falling to Auburn in overtime, quarterback Mike Kafka threw for a program-record 532 yards and four touchdowns. He led the Wildcats from 14 down in the game’s final four minutes to force the extra session.

The ‘Cats totaled 625 yards of total offense, and McCall’s unit did all it could. Kafka’s completed 47 passes on 78 attempts, and the Wildcats ran 115 total offensive plays in an absolute explosion.

No. 2: Bennett Skowronek’s TD catch at Iowa in 2018

Does this one really need to be explained? This improbable play was set up after McCall dialed up a draw on third-and-five that fan favorite Chad Hanaoka converted for a first down. Then came the shot to the end zone and the unbelievable catch that would clinch the program’s first ever West division title.

No. 1: #ShirtlessMick pregame in Minnesota in 2018

Mick and the ‘Cats were feeling good heading into Minneapolis after clinching the division the week prior. In chilly 22-degree weather, NU players came out shirtless onto the TCF Stadium turf for pregame warmups. Not to be left out, though, was McCall. In a season full of memories, this one ranks near the top of the list in my book.

Tell us about all the Dan Persa and Mike Kafka highlights we left out in the comments below! (Or feel free to tell us how much you agreed with certain items on the list, if you are so inclined)