Northwestern went over a month without scoring a touchdown during the 2019 season, and its offense struggled all year long, due primarily to shaky play at quarterback.
The combination of former five-star recruit and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson with Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty, who all made starts throughout the season, lacked pocket presence and creativity en route to a 3-9 season.
The name missing from this list is TJ Green, the son of former NFL standout quarterback and current CBS color commentator Trent Green.
Unfortunately, Green injured his foot on the first drive of the third quarter in the ‘Cats opener at Stanford, just as NU looked to find the end zone for the first time. Tests showed he would need season-ending foot surgery.
What if this injury never occurred?
Green and Johnson fought for the starting job in a tight offseason battle, and despite him not taking the first snaps at Stanford, Green looked in control of the NU offense during the short time he played. With more consistent quarterback play, the ‘Cats’ season could have been completely different.
It was easy to overlook Northwestern’s top-thirty defense in terms of yards per game and touchdowns allowed, as the offense finished in the bottom ten of all DI football teams in scoring and S&P+.
There’s a case to be made that the defense would have most likely been even better had it not been on the field such an absurd amount due to the inability of the offense to sustain drives.
Here is a look at the rewritten 2019 football season with TJ Green under center.
Game 1: at #23 Stanford
Green brought explosiveness and efficiency to the Northwestern offense. With Fitz riding the hot hand and the fifth-year senior playing the majority of the second half, Northwestern punches it in on their opening drive of the third quarter and scores late to upset the Cardinal on the road.
Final Score: Northwestern 14, Stanford 10 (1-0)
Game 2: vs. UNLV
Green comes out of his shell in the home opener and throws for 330 yards and four touchdowns against a defensive unit that allowed over 440 yards per game in 2019. The offense begins to gel with quarterback stability as the Wildcats roll over the Rebels.
Final Score: Northwestern 45, UNLV 14 (2-0)
Game 3: vs. Michigan State
Excitement dominates the air as students make their way to Ryan Field for their first game of the year. Michigan State’s top-20 defense is the first real test for NU. The game starts extremely slow with neither team able to produce offensively in the first half. The Spartans’ run defense continues to hold tough, but Green’s veteran presence guides NU as the game progresses. Some home-field grass advantage kicks in and Northwestern escapes its Big Ten opener with a close win.
Final Score: Northwestern 24, Michigan State 21 (3-0, 1-0 B1G)
Game 4: at #8 Wisconsin
Northwestern is battle-tested at this point and provides a different challenge for the streaking Badgers. The ‘Cats keep it close until the fourth quarter when Jonathan Taylor and the stingy Badger defense prove to be too much.
Final Score: Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 20 (3-1, 1-1 B1G)
Game 5: at Nebraska
Nebraska is always a pesky team to beat, especially at home. It took back-to-back overtime battles for Northwestern to take down the Huskers in 2017 and 2018. But frankly, these Huskers simply aren’t very good. The real NU offense settles down after a tough start and silences the sellout crowd.
Final Score: Northwestern 27, Nebraska 17 (4-1, 2-1 B1G)
Game 6: vs. #4 Ohio State
After a strong 4-1 start, Ryan Field is packed like it’s 2013 for this Friday night showdown with the Buckeyes. After taking the lead with a field goal on their opening drive, Northwestern’s offense stalls. Green has never seen a defense as daunting or athletic as that of the Buckeyes. Justin Fields exerts control over the bend-don’t-break NU defense, and Ohio State piles it on late.
Final Score: Ohio State 45, Northwestern 17 (4-2, 2-2 B1G)
Game 7: vs. #20 Iowa
With a second-straight ranked opponent on the schedule, Northwestern is eager to avenge its embarrassing loss to Ohio State. The ‘Cats uninventive play-calling only makes AJ Epenesa, who finishes the game with two sacks and four and a half tackles for loss, a bigger challenge. The entire game is a grind. Down 20-14 late in the fourth, NU gets a lucky pass interference call and takes advantage of it to convert a game-winning touchdown and all-important Kuhbander extra point.
Final Score: Northwestern 21, Iowa 20 (5-2, 3-2 B1G)
Game 8: at Indiana
After a massive emotional win versus Iowa, Northwestern comes out extremely sloppy in Bloomington. Behind the electric arm of Michael Penix Jr., Indiana builds a quick twenty-one point lead in the first half — sound familiar? — which proves too much to overcome for the ‘Cats.
Final Score: Indiana 28, Northwestern 24 (5-3, 3-3 B1G)
Game 9: vs. Purdue
This game is more about defense than offense, as JR Pace and Trae Williams each record first quarter interceptions. Purdue never gets a chance to get anything going, and the ‘Cats secure bowl eligibility with three games still left on the slate.
Final Score: Northwestern 31, Purdue 10 (6-3, 4-3 B1G)
Game 10: vs. Massachusetts
Northwestern sets the tone early against UMass, who owned the worst offense in FBS football in 2019. Something about 2019 home non-conference opponents. Five first half scores for Green and co. allow Hunter Johnson to take some valuable reps in the second half. The Indiana native’s mobility and flashiness against a weaker opponent bring positive expectations for the 2020 season with Green set to graduate.
Final Score: Northwestern 52, UMass 6 (7-3, 4-3 B1G)
Game 11: vs. #8 Minnesota
It’s senior day at Ryan Field, and TJ Green comes ready to play. Nobody knows what to expect out of a PJ Fleck’s rising squad after they suffered their first loss of the season at Iowa the week before. Northwestern comes out of the gates firing, but the explosive Golden Gopher offense battles back in the third quarter. Holding a small lead, NU loses steam as the final period approaches and can’t come up with a turnover. Tanner Morgan throws two fourth quarter touchdowns to seal it late.
Final Score: Minnesota 35, Northwestern 24 (7-4, 4-4 B1G)
Game 12: at Illinois
With the Land of Lincoln trophy at stake, Northwestern comes in ready for a battle. Surprisingly, Illinois doesn’t put up much of a fight, and the ‘Cats take this one in style.
Final Score: Northwestern 27, Illinois 7 (8-4, 5-4 B1G)
Bowl Game: Gator Bowl vs. Texas A&M
The Wildcats return to the Gator Bowl for the first time since their memorable 2013 victory. Their opponent this time around is Texas A&M, an uber-talented team that never lived up to expectations. Kellen Mond looks shaky against the ‘Cats defense, but Green throws two interceptions in his final collegiate game. The ‘Cats can’t keep up, and the Aggies come away with a close victory.
Final Score: Texas A&M 28, Northwestern 25 (8-5, 5-4 B1G)
Green’s final stat line
63 percent completion, 2487 yards passing, 27 TDs and 12 INTs. This very reasonable estimate helps lead Mick McCall’s offense to average a respectable 27 points per game.