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Stock up, stock down from Northwestern’s season-opening loss at Stanford

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Not much to love in this one.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats struggled to get much going in Week 1. Three things that went well in their 17-7 loss to the Cardinal, and a lot more that didn’t:

Stock Up

Daniel Kubiuk

The sixth-year senior punter was pretty much the only individual bright spot for Northwestern in this one. Kubiuk’s first punt of the game was a beautiful 54-yarder that fully switched the field, and he followed that up by dropping his second bomb of the day inside the 10-yard line in the corner of the red zone. His third attempt looked a bit less pretty, but still traveled 44 yards and trapped Stanford inside their own 20, and were it not for an illegal formation penalty on his final kick, he would have gone 4-4 in that regard. It’s reassuring to know Northwestern should have a leg up in the field position game moving forward.

Hunter Johnson’s legs

This was about the only positive takeaway from what was otherwise an abysmal offensive performance. Johnson had over 40 yards rushing (with sacks taken out) and put together a few nice read options/designed draws as he made plays scrambling. The Clemson transfer’s success on the ground kept the ‘Cats in it at the end.

Traveling NU fans

Shout out to all the purple fans who made the trip out to Palo Alto! The team didn’t give them much to cheer for, but the Wildcat faithful made it pretty much a 50/50 crowd at Stanford and stayed loud throughout the entire game.

Honorable mentions: Trevor Kent’s blocked kick, Isaiah Bowser’s pre-injury hard-nosed running

Stock Down

Open field tackling

Offensive stagnancy no doubt cost the ‘Cats in this one, but it wasn’t a great showing for the NU defense either. Blake Gallagher and A.J. Hampton had a few noticeable whiffs in the first half that turned into a few big gains for the Cardinal, and those struggles continued for the entire defense after the break. Ten total points given up isn’t a horrible to start the season, but the tackling has to be better in the ‘Cats’ next outing.

Turnovers

Northwestern’s inability to protect the ball was simply unacceptable. TJ Green’s fumble in the red zone was probably the biggest mistake of the game, as the ‘Cats appeared ready to punch it in from inside the five yard-line after what had been an impressive (and crucial) drive up to that point. Berkeley Holman’s drop also cost the Wildcats an INT in the first quarter, although it looked like he was interfered with before the ball got to him. Johnson made a terrible decision on a third-quarter interception by going after Paulson Adebo, and the last play...I don’t even know what to say.

Bottom line: the ‘Cats need to take better care of the ball.

Hunter Johnson‘s passing

This was far from the dream debut Wildcat fans hoped for from Northwestern’s coveted five-star transfer. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Johnson looked sluggish all day as he was a second or two late on hitting a number of open receivers and his accuracy wasn’t all that impressive either. He missed a wide open Drake Anderson in the flat in the third quarter even though DA probably should’ve made the play. The first INT wasn’t his fault, but the second one was just a poor decision of trusting his arm too much. The only positive for Johnson in his debut was the impact he made with his legs.

Penalties (decision-making)

Earnest Brown’s awful late hit at the end of the first half was another inexcusable and costly mistake that you typically don’t see out of a Pat Fitzgerald team. Brown should’ve been ejected for targeting, and gave the Cardinal a critical three points to end the first half, which largely ended up being the difference in the game. Overall, the Wildcats committed an uncharacteristic eight penalties, many in important spots, losing 67 yards in the process.

Honorable mentions: Run defense (time of possession), the kicking game (both Charlie Kuhbander and rough kickoffs from Trey Finison), wide receivers getting consistent separation, scoring, staying healthy