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Bye Week Mailbag: SweeTARTS® economics, fixing the defense, transfer updates and more

You had questions. We had some answers.

Northwestern v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Needless to say, it’s been a long start to the season for the Northwestern Wildcats. After some optimistic observers prophesied that NU would arrive at its bye week undefeated, the ‘Cats have instead reached their break in the season 2-3, with wins only against measly Indiana State and Ohio. While the team tends to its wounds, our co-Editors in Chief — Ben Chasen, Daniel Olinger and Mac Stone — tended to some of your questions in our bye week mailbag:

Questions via Twitter

“Why hasn’t Pat Fitzgerald gone Phone Mode what’s wrong with our boy?” - @kicknyrgios

Daniel: Sources are saying that Scott Frost chucked an ear of corn at Pat Fitzgerald pre-game, then flashed his 2013 Blackberry in Fitz’s face, thus hypnotizing him for the duration of Satuday’s game. No wonder they didn’t go for two after the first touchdown.

Ben: To give a more serious answer to this question, I think Fitz typically reserves his most peculiar comments for when things are going well. Take the soundbite that I think this question is based off of as an example. That was from Big Ten Media Day before the 2019 season, fresh off of NU’s first Big Ten Championship appearance and its comeback win in the Holiday Bowl. The ground was fertile to give reporters and fans a quote they’d be able to use as a meme for years to come, and that’s just what Fitz did.

In the last few weeks (especially after the Nebraska debacle), though, he’s just seemed kind of stoic and numb in his media availability. Pat Fitzgerald is as entertaining a coach as there is in the Big Ten when the tide is high, but when the going gets rough, it seems that he adjusts his tone, perhaps so that no one can question his seriousness.

“How many Sweetarts Extreme Chewy Sours can I buy with $480 million?” - @tristanjjung

Daniel: A quick google search shows that a normal-ish priced SweeTARTS® Extreme Chewy Sours bag costs $2.29 (sorry I don’t know the price off hand, I devour Twizzlers like a civilized man). Dividing 480 million by said cost gives you just under a cool 209,606,987 bags of Sweetarts, or a cool 842,105,263 ounces of these toxic sugar pills. Of course, shipping costs and such would costs you quite a few bags here and there, but you’re still clearing hundreds of millions of units pretty easily.

But who needs that when Northwestern will have a hovercraft football stadium with laser beams floating over Lake Michigan in 2026, losing to Michigan 13-8 in front of 18,283 excited fans?!

“Why have only three MLBs gotten any run?” - @fghtngmethodist

Ben: Wish I had any journalistic knowledge that would give me a wiser-than-typical-observer answer here, but your guess is truly as good as mine. It’s not like there’s a lack of talent at linebacker overall... the Northwestern Football website itself proudly proclaims that true first-year Mac Uihlein, who we’ve seen nothing from this year, is the “highest ranked inside linebacker in program history.” I understand that he’s a fresh face that the NU coaches would love to get to mold a little more before he sees serious field time, and they likely want to redshirt him but: a) it’s not like Northwestern has been completely insistent on not using young and talented players when need has presented itself in the past (see: Peter Skoronski last year) and b) even if they do want to redshirt him, the NCAA rules allow him to play four games before his redshirt would be burnt.

Even if you don’t want to use the blue-chip Uihlein, though, there are other options. It remains a mystery why the players who have seen time at MIKE have been so limited when the returns have been so disastrous.

“Will we see any new players getting significant playing time after the bye? Who?” - @tacos4robots

Ben: As a lot of our readers know, Northwestern plays its cards incredibly close to the vest in regards to personnel, so it’s damn near impossible to give you a great answer to this question. But, to allude to my previous answer, I’d love to see Uihlein get some time on the field. He’s already been named a practice player of the week, so it’s not like he’s not shown himself incapable of game action.

“Which team finishes the season with a higher win % in B1G games: football or men’s basketball?” - @Jonathan_Wood1

Mac: Considering that football is yet to win a conference game and what we’ve seen from them so far, I’m going to go with basketball here. The three most winnable conference games for Northwestern football are probably Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. If the ‘Cats take two of those three and don’t win any other games, they’ll finish 2-7 in conference play with a 22.2% win percentage in Big Ten games. For men’s basketball to top that, they’ll have to win just five of their 20 conference games. They won six last year, so I don’t see why they can’t do it again. Basketball school!

Ben: On the football side of things, Mac’s logic is sound. Two is probably the over/under line on remaining wins for NU this season.

Let’s assume that line pushes. You're then counting on the basketball team to win a quarter of its conference contests. I’m no big believer in the ‘Cats’ prospects on the hardwood this season... but it strikes me that the ‘Cats should have a better combination of experience and young talent this year than they have had in the last few, and that should be good enough to get over the five-Big-Ten-win hump.

“Best part of Nebraska?” - @MattAlbert14

Ben: As the only one of the three of us who attended, let me say that, to an extent, I agree with former Inside NU EIC Lia Assimakopolous, who responded to this tweet simply with, “Leaving.”

But actually, everything about game day in Lincoln was incredibly pleasant until the actual game begun. Here’s the thing about Nebraska... when you’re walking around the area outside Memorial Stadium hours pregame wearing a suit (as I was, dressed for the press box) with a bunch of friends who are wearing Northwestern gear (as my friends were, decidedly not dressed for the press box), the regulars know you’re not locals. But not only do they not make your trip any less pleasant as a result of that understanding... they actually go out of their way to welcome you. I can’t even count the number of times red-clad individuals came up to us completely unprompted, welcomed us to Lincoln, told us they hope we enjoy our visit and wished us good luck. It was quite a display of hospitality, so shout out to the Big Red Nation for that one.


Commenter Questions

“With the ticket price of $75 for students, what are you hearing about student attendance for the Wrigley Game? Will the bleachers be scarce?” - JT2311

Ben: I don’t want to say too much about this because we’ll have a column up on the site about this topic soon, but there were questions in the comments about whether this number was right, so I wanted to give an exact price. Student tickets are listed as $60 on the link sent to students to purchase. After fees, the total comes out to exactly $73 dollars.

This is the base cost. Northwestern has stated that “if cost is a barrier to participation,” students can apply to have their ticket paid for via the Student Activities Assistance Fund, but there’s no guarantee that their requests will be granted.

That’s all on this for now. Expect a column with more thoughts soon.

Mac: What Ben said. Trust me, people are not happy about it.

“Will we ever see HJ again? Carl Richardson has been going in at the end of the last two games, but I wonder if HJ would still be the backup if Hilinski is hurt and the game was in question.” - Atomic Wildcat

Daniel: At the very least, you won’t see HJ in a meaningful Northwestern football game barring injuries of catastrophic proportions. The Indiana State game was discouraging, and the Duke game was more of a sketch you’d see on The Eric Andre Show than it was a football performance. I can’t say it with certainty, but I have to imagine that disaster in Durham broke the coaching staff and Johnson himself in irreparable fashion. Move on from the once well-thought of dream that the Clemson transfer might usher in a new era of NU football, because his time here is all but done.

Mac: My guess is the reason we’ve seen Carl Richardson at the end of games is because he’s a younger guy who the coaching staff is just trying to give experience at the end of a blowout. I personally think that HJ is still backing up Hilinski, and we’d see him again if Hilinski were to go down with an injury, but maybe they’d just try to get Richardson some more reps.

“How many yards will Rutgers get on the first play?” - Atomic Wildcat

Daniel: Probably none because the first play will be a kickoff! (Exits stage left to a cascade of boos)

Ben: Boooooo, Daniel. Booooooooo.

In all seriousness, probably... ok, fine... hopefully not more than 50. I’d say like 35. Progress? Progress.

Mac: Give me a seven yard draw play up the middle. Thank you for saving us from more embarrassment, Greg Schiano.

“How are all of last year’s transfers doing? Stock up or stock down for each?” - MeNU

Ben: I’ll go one by one.

RB Isaiah Bowser transferred to UCF, where he has become the lead back for the Knights and ranks fourth in the American Athletic Conference in rushing touchdowns with five and seventh in rushing yards with 268. Stock up.

DE Eku Leota transferred to Auburn, where he just cracked onto the two-deep for the first time this week as an “OR” in the backup slot. He’s got three sacks thus far in the four games he’s recorded stats in (he had only four sacks in the entire 2020 season), but is seeing the field less than he had at NU. Stock neutral.

WR Kyric McGowan transferred to Georgia Tech where he’s on pace for his biggest statistical season yet, catching 16 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. He’s second on the Yellow Jackets in receiving yards, but leads in touchdowns. Stock up.

RB Drake Anderson transferred to Arizona, where he’s become the main change-of-pace back for Jedd Fisch’s Wildcats. He’s got 182 yards and a touchdown on 46 carries and 53 yards receiving on 10 catches, but it surely feels like he could’ve wound up with similar or better numbers if he had stayed at NU. Stock down.

S Gunner Maldonado went to Tuscon with Anderson. He’s worked himself into a nice playing role, accumulating 19 tackles, two passes defended and a forced fumble this season. Stock up.

DB Jeremiah McDonald transferred to Southern Miss and hasn’t recorded any stats for the Golden Eagles, but he hadn’t done so at NU either. Stock neutral.

“Who is Carl Richardson? Name is totally made up.” - NUDave

Daniel: Apparently, he’s Northwestern’s backup quarterback for the remainder of the 2021 season. He’s also the man who earned a “We love you shirtless Carl!” shoutout from one of his teammates during the lacrosse team’s playoff match against Denver, as he indeed stood shirtless on the deck of the Walter Athletics Center overlooking Martin Stadium.

Ben: Carl Richardson of Salinas, California was a three-star recruit out of high school, ranked 40th among pro-style QBs in the Class of 2020 according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. His only other Power Five offer was from Washington State. Yes, he was shirtless watching NU take on Denver in the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament last year and it was awesome. And, yes, he’s NU’s backup QB for the foreseeable future. Maybe we’ll do a feature on him some day and get to learn a little more.

“How would you (the Inside NU writers) address the defensive problems?” - laxpuck

Daniel: I’m no X’s and O’s wunderkind when it comes to football (ask me hoops-specific questions if you want detailed explanations and answers), but the gist I’ve gotten on the schematic difference between the Hankwitz and O’Neil regimes is that Hank liked to have the team sit back, surrender everything underneath and rely on opponents’ impatience providing their own downfall.

In contrast, the O’Neil defense is of the “hang up there and make a play” elk. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Friend of the site Beng detailed in his latest piece on the team how the desire to change and adapt in favor of a higher potential outcome can be a very good thing.

But playing that aggressive, ambitious style requires physical talent that is not only good but far superior to one’s opponents — a statement Northwestern could only fulfill against teams like Ohio and Indiana State. Against foes who won’t fall at bended knee the moment they have to play football, the ‘Cats are biting off more than they can chew, and paying for it. A team like Georgia — stacked with as many as 15 dudes who you will see real playing time in the NFL soon enough — can play swarming, close-to-the-line football and bully its opponents. Northwestern trying to do the same is akin to your buddy who hasn’t worked out in a while trying to do a standing backflip. That’s not your place, ma. Stick to what you’re good at, because I don’t want to see you break your neck (i.e. get schmacked by Nebraska).

Mac: Like Dan, I’m no football genius, but I understand the basic gist. The linebackers seem to be the root of many defensive issues (something I’ve never seen under Fitz) so I’d start by trying to work out a new game plan for them. Additionally, Jim O’Neil is putting too much pressure on his front seven to read plays, which has left the secondary out to dry on numerous occasions. There isn’t a lot of speed on this defense either, and I’m not sure how you’d fix that. If you want to try out for the team, be my guest.

“What world leader, past or present, compares most to Fitz? Is he the Suge Knight to Bajakian’s Snoop? Is he Genghis Khan somehow (a notorious stats are for losers warrior)? - NU’06er

(For this one, we turned to former Inside NU staffer Matt Albert via some late night group chat messaging. Take it away Matt!)

Matt: Angela Merkel — Merkel picked up the pieces and became an influential politician at the age of 36 after a really successful career. She has won four straight terms as Chancellor and is remarkably popular for her ability to be boring, yet uniting. She has been a steady leader in Germany and NATO through the past decade of the refugee crisis, financial crisis of 2008, and is an incredibly popular figure.

Fitz carries many of the same traits — a steady leader who was trusted with responsibility from a young age, is overwhelmingly popular and functions as a steady hand to weather the ups and downs of football.