Surprise, surprise, there wasn’t a lot of good to report this week either. Northwestern came out of the game and fell to Minnesota not only in poor fashion but in boring fashion. Truly a horrific outcome for all of us.
Let’s see who came out worse, and who came out better (if any) in this game’s edition of stock up, stock down.
Andrew Marty, the savior
He’s the one, apparently. Once the enjoyable meme of the 2019 HAT upset victory, Marty is quite clearly the most capable quarterback on Northwestern’s current roster. Limitations are still apparent, especially considering the senior has been out for over a month following a big hit to his throwing shoulder against Duke, but the offense came to life every time he was on the field today. His running ability prevents defenses from loading up against Northwestern’s best offensive weapon in Evan Hull, and his sound decision making prevents the mind-numbing mistakes that doomed the team when quarterbacked by Hunter Johnson.
Time will only tell if Pat Fitzgerald and the coaching staff are comfortable with him as the guy for the rest of the season, but sans health concerns, it’s hard to see anyone else listed as the starter for next week’s match against Iowa.
The sad thing is that it doesn’t matter. A run-first, run-only offense only works if the defense is killer, which isn’t the case for Northwestern this year like it was in 2020.
Still, props where props are due. The redshirt-sophomore running back eclipsed 100 yards for the third time this season and had several long bursts through the middle of the field. Again, running back is a highly replaceable position, evidenced by how well Hull has run in Cam Porter’s stead this season, but it’s nice knowing that if he was lined up against other starters at his position from around the Big Ten, Northwestern’s tailback would not be out of place. If only we could say that for literally any other position group.
Honorable Mention: October weather in Evanston, bad games ending in under three-and-a-half hours
This can’t be emphasized enough. Northwestern has, was and always will be a team that can’t afford to go down by two scores in the first quarter. The firepower needed to consistently rally back from that deficit simply isn’t present in the program. A team like Oklahoma that specializes in scoring 28 points in under seven minutes can afford to goof around for the game’s first period. A Northwestern team that has only scored over 28 points in one out of eight games this season cannot.
Of the five losses the ‘Cats have now suffered in 2021, only Michigan was spared an early bump from early mistakes made by Northwestern, and the Wolverines clearly had enough talent to make due without that. It’s hard to say exactly why, but Northwestern has come out as the worse prepared team far too often, and the team is now very much in danger of finishing with a losing record because of it.
Remember leaving the Nebraska and Rutgers games thinking, “Hilinski might be limited, but at least he doesn’t kill them!”?
Well, he went out and attempted homicide on the Northwestern offense and was promptly arrested by Pat Fitzgerald via benching. Hard to blame the head coach after the South Carolina transfer finished a brutal 1-for-6 for a measly five yards in the first half, and to add insult to injury, said yards came off the screen pass that ended in a scoop-and-score for the Gophers. Mike Bajakian called acceptable plays, giving Hilinski a chance to find his guys open down the field, but he just kept missing them, be it due to poor arm strength or poor accuracy. Thus ends Hilinski’s time atop the 2021 Northwestern quarterback carousel.
Discipline and execution
For years, Northwestern has prided itself as a team that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. Not anymore, unfortunately.
The offense quite literally began the day with two straight mistakes, with Josh Priebe committing a false start and Washington fumbling soon as he touched the ball. Add in constant gaffes in short- and mid-area coverage from the Wildcat defense, an it adds up to make what is almost always the less talented team the more sloppy team as well. That’s a formula that adds up to a whole bunch of losses, often in ugly fashion.
There was no better example than that final, nail-in-the-coffin touchdown run from Minnesota’s Mar’Keise Erving. The UMN running back received a wide open alley down the left side of the field and was gone from there, easily outpacing Northwestern’s linebackers and defensive backs on the way to the end zone. When other teams break free, even just for a moment’s notice, NU cannot catch up, and it’s not any more complicated than them just being too slow. Sure, guys like Brandon Joseph flash the occasional burst, and better play recognition from the team as a whole would stem some of these issues, but the bottom line remains the same — the ‘Cats keep getting left in the dust by their Big Ten opponents, a problem that can likely only be solved via recruitment in the upcoming years.
Honorable Mention: Entertainment value of Big Ten football, 2:30 pm kickoff times, Wide receiver depth, Amount of time needed to come up with stock up’s for this depressing team