On the night of December 1, 2018, as red and white confetti descended from the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium, Clayton Thorson was the last Wildcat to leave the field. He wanted one more moment to appreciate the significance of this game.
After, he spoke of dreaming of a rose in his mouth postgame after pulling off a massive upset of Ohio State. “We’re really proud to get here, but that wasn’t the end goal,” Thorson said. Pat Fitzgerald called it a learning experience.
“Now [the players] know what it takes to win a Big Ten Championship,” Fitz said. “And I think until you’re in this game, you really don’t quite understand all that extra work that needs to go into getting you onto that field for the celebration.
Northwestern no longer has the ability to cite that as a justification ahead of this Saturday’s game. This Wildcat team is experienced, and having faced Ohio State last season, it knows what lies ahead.
With that being said, understanding the challenge ahead is far different than beating them. Northwestern’s defense has proven vulnerable to the quarterback draw in the past, and Justin Fields is a particularly mobile quarterback.
However, in a season full of outside challenges and adversity, it somehow makes sense for the Wildcats to once again prove their doubters (of which there are many) wrong. Northwestern is nearly a three-touchdown underdogs in the game, and the disrespect from the national media and even Ohio State players is real.
Shaun Wade on the Ohio State-Northwestern Big Ten title game: "Like I've been telling a lot of my teammates, we've got to blow them out." He mentions the Buckeyes need to "show the world what we can do."— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) December 15, 2020
Northwestern football seems to be taking notice, however, and much like Michael Jordan, they seem to be taking it personally.
Among Ohio State media, the disrespect of the Wildcats has run rife, with massive scoreline disparities as shown below.
Gotta love Buckeye hubris. Here's what the folks at @LettermenRow predict:— RevDJEsq (@RevDJEsq) December 15, 2020
OSU 31-13 (Thanks Evan Spencer!)
(They say nice things about NU trying hard/being well-coached, but those won't end up on locker room bulletin boards in Evanston)
While there is no doubt of the talent within the Buckeye offense, which contains six of the 12 first-team All-Big Ten offensive players, Northwestern still holds the Big Ten’s best defense.
In order to stand a chance, the Wildcat defense will need to return to their offseason goal — forcing the turnovers that can turn into game-changing plays.
Northwestern has seen both the highest of highs, reaching an all-time record in the College Football Playoff rankings this season, and extremely low lows in the disappointing result of last season.
As for this season, the story is still yet to unfold, but this Saturday they have the chance to not only achieve greatness but earn retiring defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz his 400th win — cementing that he deserves the Broyles Award for the best assistant coach in college football this season because of the indelible mark he has left on this program.