For some fleeting moments in today’s contest, it appeared as though the ‘Cats might actually stand a chance against their top-10 ranked opponent. Alas, the game eventually dissipated into what most (if not all) were expecting — a dominant Michigan victory. Here are some highs and some lows from Northwestern’s 26-point loss in the Big House.
Early performance on the road
The halftime score of Northwestern’s first road game of the season against Duke was 30-7 in favor of the Blue Devils. When the ‘Cats visited Nebraska, the game was over nearly as soon as it started, as the Huskers piled on the points while NU’s offense stalled.
Today in Ann Arbor, the Wildcats fought their way to a first quarter tie and wound up down only three at half despite being outgained by 154 yards in the first 30 minutes of play. The impact of taking the crowd out of the game in an atmosphere as hostile as the Big House cannot be understated, so the ‘Cats being able to keep things close early instead of creating a massive hole for themselves is a notable improvement on their performance in the first two business trips of the year.
What a game from the former HAT game running back savior! Azema wracked up 13 tackles — 10 of which he made all by himself — and forced two fumbles that likely kept Michigan from adding additional points. In an otherwise drab contest, he had a standout performance in front of a big crowd against an undefeated team. Good for him, I guess.
Evan Hull big plays
Again, after a horrendous second half performance from the ‘Cats, it didn’t matter much. But add this 75-yard house call to the list of long scores for Hull.
Admit it: even if it was only for a moment, you had hope that NU would stun the Wolverines after this play. At the end of the day, that’s worth something.
Honorable mentions: M00N game enthusiasts, people who stopped watching at halftime, the Michigan City, Ind. Five Guys, defensive line depth
We’ve said it before this year and I imagine we’ll say it again, but the performance of Northwestern’s offensive line this season simply has not been up to snuff on multiple occasions, with today’s game being the latest example.
Obviously, protecting the pocket against a defensive line as fearsome as Michigan’s is an easier task to write about than it is to accomplish in reality. However, the fact of the matter is that the NU front did little to stop Aidan Hutchinson and Co. from disrupting Northwestern’s offensive scheme, both by getting to Ryan Hilinski within seconds of the snap and by locking up NU’s running backs in the backfield. Many expected a massacre in the trenches during this one, and that’s just what they got.
The fifth-year kicker has spent so much time in this stock down section throughout his career that he’s probably regretting not investing in real estate here during his freshman year.
The latest blunder from the Ohio native was a missed 39-yarder that would’ve put the ‘Cats within a score in the third quarter. Once again, NU fans were left to wonder what could’ve been if only their kicker converted on a fairly routine attempt. Kuhbander is now 4-for-9 overall this season and 1-for-5 from more than 30 yards out. That’s not the type of play that should warrant a starting job for a Power Five program that has been to its conference championship twice in the last three years, especially as Michigan State transfer Jack Olsen waits in the wings.
Of Hilinski’s four starts as the Wildcats’ QB, today’s was by far the least impressive. He wound up with a final stat line of 14 completions on 29 passing attempts for 114 yards and one interception, but he was lucky to escape with such a favorable statistics, as a number of Michigan defenders let picks fall out of their hands. In addition to the should-have-been interceptions, Hilinski simply missed open targets on a number of occasions. Sure, he wasn’t given much to work with — especially after his go-to target Stephon Robinson Jr. went out for the game with a lower-body injury. At the end of the day, though, the quarterback’s play was more of a detriment to his team than a help, and that’s not a recipe for winning football games.
Honorable Mention: Mike Bajakian’s playcalling, Northwestern +23.5 bettors, halftime hopes and dreams, the Hilinski-Robinson connection