That was... something. There’s not much else to say after Northwestern's loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in which the 35-7 score made things seem much closer than they were. Here is our stock report from yesterday’s action.
Stephon Robinson Jr.
Let’s give some flowers to the one guy who might warrant some praise for his performance yesterday. The graduate transfer from Kansas might’ve had a more enjoyable Saturday if he was still with the Jayhawks, but nonetheless, he put up an admirable performance in the cold at Camp Randall. Robinson hauled in five passes — some of them difficult to hang onto or get to in the first place — for 80 receiving yards, and, in doing so, became the first Wildcat to crack 565 receiving yards in a season since Flynn Nagel did in 2018. Robinson also added 56 yards on the ground, 49 of which came on a fumble recovery that wound up being NU’s most exciting offense play of the day.
All in all, he accounted for nearly 57 percent of NU’s total yardage, which is perhaps more an indictment on the offense as a whole (more on that soon) than it is a sign of his prowess. Still, with only two games of eligibility left in his college career, it’s clear that the ‘Cats will miss Robinson when he departs.
Honorable mentions: Non-bowl Winter Break plans, fumbling as an efficient offensive strategy, Camp Randall Stadium soft pretzel vendors, Brandon Joseph’s stat line, misery
The rest of the Northwestern offense
Remember NU’s first drive of Saturday’s contest? Put more sentimentally, remember a time when you had hope things wouldn’t go as abysmally as they possibly could? Sure, NU caught some breaks to get things started — namely a dropped interception and a tipped fourth down pass that happened to land right into Evan Hull’s hands, allowing the drive to continue — but there was some legitimate offensive movement to start, and, as a result, Northwestern’s offensive found itself with second down and goal to go 18 plays into its day.
Play 19 of the opening offensive series, of course, was when everything began to go wrong. Andrew Marty tossed a ball directly into end zone coverage, resulting in an easy pick for the Badgers. From there, the Wildcats never got going again. Poor play from just about every position group meant that, aside from the opening drive and the 66-yard Andrew Clair run-turned-Stephon Robinson Jr. fumble recovery dash, the ‘Cats only gained only 97 yards on the day. It doesn’t matter how strong the opposing defense is, that’s simply not an acceptable result for a Power Five program.
The defense, too
I haven’t gone back and checked every single play, but I’d venture to say that it’s possible Northwestern missed more tackles than it made yesterday. Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen feasted on a steady diet of NU failures, rushing for 173 yards and three touchdowns on 25 attempts and saying postgame that, after his first few carries, he thought, “these guys aren’t really trying to tackle.”
Meanwhile, the ‘Cats allowed Graham Mertz — a quarterback Eastern Michigan held to 141 passing yards and zero passing touchdowns — 216 yards through the air and two TD passes on 23 total throws, just five of which fell incomplete. It was a disgusting effort — if you could call it that — from a unit that just a year ago shocked this same Wisconsin team, allowing just seven points while forcing a whopping five turnovers. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Charlie Kuhbander, again
At this point, Kuhbander should be expected in this section of these articles until otherwise noted. The fifth-year, somehow still starting kicker missed his only attempt of the day, a 32-yarder that would’ve given the ‘Cats their first points of the contest. He’s now 6-for-12 on the season and a shameful 2-for-7 on kicks more than 30 yards deep. Despite being pressed about his pitiful play numerous times, Pat Fitzgerald has stood by the defunct Kuhbander and has shown no signs of stopping now. As such, at least NU will have one area in which it improves by subtracting at the end of the season.
The trajectory of the program
After defeating Illinois to cap off an arduous 3-9 2019 season in which the ‘Cats won just a single Big Ten game, Pat Fitzgerald proclaimed boldly to the press that “this type of record will never happen again.”
Here we are, just two years later, and NU has won just three games (and only one in-conference) with two matchups remaining on the schedule. The powerful “never” from Fitz feels less significant now, as the Wildcats have a pair of legitimate chances at wins left, yet no confidence exists within the fanbase that they will capitalize on either. Fitz deserves credit for building higher standards than this in Evanston, but it’s time for all to recognize that he also deserves blame for failing to prepare his teams enough to live up to them. Northwestern wants to be taken seriously on the national scale, and a few seasons of deserved prominence have impressed the college football world, no doubt. But games like Saturday’s show that there is still a long way for NU to travel until it reaches the position of regular respectability in the Big Ten West that it has insisted it deserves.
Honorable mentions: pretty much everything