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The 2020 Northwestern football season by the numbers

And the advanced stats are even kinder to NU.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Auburn v Northwestern Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

“Stats are for losers.” -Pat Fitzgerald

As it turns out, if you run your statistics in retrospect, you can’t lose a game. Here are the nine numbers (one for each game) that made this Northwestern football season so special. Try and take a guess at what each one is before you read the explanation. Without further ado, we start with:


Following the No. 19 Wildcats’ win over No. 10 Wisconsin, the AP poll ranked NU 11th in the nation. You have to go back to Week 15 of the 1996 season to find the last time NU was ranked higher in the AP poll. That week was also the first release of the College Football Playoff rankings, which placed the Wildcats eighth (!) in the country, the highest-ranking NU team in any poll since 1995. It also marked the first time Northwestern’s football team was ranked higher than the University in the US News and World Report college rankings. It just makes us think: if only Michigan State didn’t happen.


Peyton Ramsey’s total number of passing yards. 1733 yards isn’t insanely high at first glance, and it boils down to 193 yards per game, which is less than notable. However, the only quarterbacks in the Big Ten to pass for more yards this year are Penn State’s Sean Clifford and you-know-who’s Justin Fields. The B1G was not a quarterback’s league this year. If you adjust the season for length, Ramsey was on pace to break 2,500 yards, which would put him just outside the school’s top 10 in single-season passing yards. Given his 263 yards on the ground, he’d almost certainly crack the top 10 single-season total offensive yards. Needless to say, he will be missed.


The number of extra points kicker Charlie Kuhbander attempted. That’s a whole nine more than last year! Kuhbander made eight of 12 field goal attempts and didn’t miss an extra point.


Running back Cam Porter’s net yardage. Porter played in seven games for the ‘Cats, but only saw significant snaps in three of them. If you calculate his yards in those three games, it turns out to be an even 100. 4.1 yards per carry isn’t too shabby either. The future looks bright for the run game.


We can now turn to our overall offensive statistic — the number of offensive yards per game. This number is good for only 94th out of 130 FBS teams. It ranked 10th in the Big Ten. So how did this team go 7-2? As we said preseason, NU’s offense only had to go from god awful to normal bad to compete for the Big Ten West.


We now turn to the defensive yards allowed per game. This is 21st in the nation, and only 3rd in the Big Ten (behind Wisconsin and Penn State, puzzlingly), but boy, it might just be first in our hearts. It all comes back to the doctor of fundamentals, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz: bending, not breaking.


The SP+ ranking of NU’s defense. The third-most efficient defense in America.


Win the turnover battle, usually win the game. Northwestern’s defense generated 18 total takeaways — 14 interceptions and four fumble recoveries — good for 2.1 turnovers per game, which ranked 11th in the country. The so-called “pick club” was led by safety Brandon Joseph’s FBS-leading six interceptions, but opened its doors to nine Wildcat defenders.


Last, and most certainly not least, 248 is the number of tackles made by the members of the Irish Law Firm. The linebacking crew of Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and Chris Bergin was a force to be reckoned with. While none of them finished with record numbers individually, they spread the work evenly. The Firm went 2-3-4 on the Big Ten’s list of total tackles, with the lowest of them, Bergin, finishing the season at 78. If you project three to four more games, which would comprise a normal length season, you’re likely looking at a linebacking trio with 100 tackles per starter.