If Northwestern was to win its next two games, it would be in a significantly improved spot to where it was at the same point last year.
I know it’s crazy to believe, but the team actually seems to be doing just fine right now. Much like the rest of you, I wanted NU to reverse its early season woes in Palo Alto and start the season off right. But that didn’t happen. And that’s okay.
Pat Fitzgerald sets three big goals at the beginning of every season: win the West, win the Big Ten, and win the bowl game. None of those goals were hampered by the team’s loss at Stanford. Sure, you can look at the game and say, “this isn’t a team that’s going to compete for a Big Ten title.”
But this is Northwestern. For better or worse, Fitz’s teams play better as the season goes along. It’s certainly something that needs to be examined in the offseason, but right now, it’s how the team operates.
So this week offers a chance for the squad to work out some of the kinks. Tackling, offensive execution, and line play will all be focuses, and UNLV provides Northwestern with an opponent that offers a significant margin for error. While NU is capable of losing these games (see: Illinois State, Akron), a slip up here seems almost impossible.
The Rebels got destroyed in their week two contest against Arkansas State, a Sun Belt foe who lost significant production from last year’s postseason-eligible squad. If the ‘Cats were to drop this game, there would be some serious issues with the state of the program. But with a bye week behind the team and certainty at quarterback, you should expect a team to come out on Saturday that knows it has a prime opportunity to find its groove. And if they don’t? Well, it’ll be tough to find that groove in the weeks that follow.
After UNLV comes to Evanston, the ‘Cats will face a brutal stretch of games that includes hosting Michigan State and Ohio State as well as travelling to Wisconsin and Nebraska. That’s not a stretch where a team wants to be finding itself.
This is the week where Northwestern positions itself to achieve the goals it has set out to do. It would be a massive statement, not to the country, but to the fans of this team, if the Wildcats were finally able to dismantle an inferior team.
Rebound from a poor effort last week and build towards a difficult Big Ten slate. Onwards and upwards.