With the dumpster fire that was Northwestern’s 2021 season in rear view, we take a look at how each of the position groups performed in the 3-9 season. Next up: the quarterbacks.
Overall Grade: D-
A near failing grade seemed fitting for the worst position group of the team. After riding the coattails of Peyton Ramsey to a Big Ten West title in 2020, the position group floundered in 2021 and had one of its worst overall seasons of the century.
While the combined stats of 2021’s QBs are similar on paper to those of 2019, their play was just as inept as the unit of two years prior, if not more so. Hunter Johnson was again named the starter heading into this year’s season opener, and things went swimmingly for all of two games. The Indiana native would be benched for his struggles in Week Three for senior Andrew Marty; later in the same game, Marty would get hurt, leading to Ryan Hilinski seeing the field and starting the next few games before Marty recovered and reclaimed the mantle in an underwhelming fashion.
Let’s take a deeper look into each of their individual performances throughout the season.
Ryan Hilinski: D-
Stats: 54 percent completion, 978 passing yards, -67 rushing yards, three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, four interceptions
Despite starting the season as the third-string, Hilinski ended the year with the most passing yards on the team. The South Carolina transfer was thrust into action after Andrew Marty went down with an injury at Duke, and he started the next four games while Marty was recovering.
Unfortunately, Hilinski was simply unable to make accurate throws on a consistent basis in those games. While poor pass protection certainly did not help, the sophomore routinely made bad reads and missed several open throws. Add his lack of mobility into the equation (see his -67 total rushing yards), and the offense really struggled to move the ball with him at the helm.
Hilinski also got some run toward the end of the year due to the struggles of Andrew Marty, but he largely failed to do much with his opportunities. He threw three interceptions and didn’t pass for any touchdowns in the final three games of the season.
On the bright side, the sophomore still has two years of eligibility remaining. He needs to make drastic steps in his game in the offseason to be even be competent at the position, but the hope is that he can develop into the type of quarterback that analysts projected him to be coming out of high school. Sound familiar?
Hunter Johnson: D
Stats: 60 percent completion, 424 passing yards, -22 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns, four interceptions
It’s been a tough couple of years in Evanston for Hunter Johnson. After a disappointing 2019 season that saw him deal with a myriad of injuries and family struggles, many thought that 2021 would be the year he could put the pieces together. Johnson was named the starter for Northwestern’s first game of the season and he got off to a promising start, throwing for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns in the opener.
Just two games later, Johnson would throw three ill-advised interceptions in the first half against Duke while fumbling once, and he was subsequently benched and never given another shot at redemption. Indeed, despite the poor quarterback play that followed, Fitz’s original starter would not see another snap for the rest of the year.
Considering Marty’s injury and Hilinski’s struggles, it is somewhat surprising that Johnson was not given another opportunity to see the field following his dismal first half in Durham. The former five-star seemed to be the best passer of the bunch in his limited playing time, and while his decision-making was questionable at best, Northwestern’s offense couldn’t really have gotten much worse with him at the helm.
Ultimately, though, Johnson had his share of opportunities and was not able to cash in on them. While he did show off some of the tools that made him such a highly-touted recruit out of high school, he never grew into the type of quarterback that Northwestern needed him to be in order to win games in what may become his final year with the ‘Cats.
Andrew Marty: D-
Stats: 60 percent completion, 707 passing yards, 101 rushing yards, six passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, six interceptions
Coming into the season, no one expected Andrew Marty to be Northwestern’s starting quarterback. Most figured that that role would be up for grabs between former five-star Hunter Johnson or the transfer Hilinski. Yet, by the end of the season, it was Marty who was lining up under center for the ‘Cats. However, although he was the season-ending starter, he was just as ineffective as the rest of the position group.
His senior season started with a bang when his number was called just before halftime against Duke. Marty led the best half of offense that Northwestern played all year in a comeback effort that fell just short and was injured in the process. The senior would return four games later against Minnesota, but he wasn’t able to find his footing in any game and would even be benched in the final contest at Illinois after an... um... questionable fumble on Northwestern’s second drive of the game.
Marty has never been known for his arm, but his inability to make longer throws exposed him at pivotal moments throughout the season and resulted in a number of costly turnovers. He did not find much success as rusher either, further limiting what he could do as the presumed leader of the offense.
Carl Richardson: Incomplete
Stats: Two completions on four attempts for 19 passing yards, two rushing attempts for zero yards
The sophomore known by fans as “Shirtless Carl” did not see much of the field this year despite the rotating roster of quarterbacks. Richardson saw garbage time minutes in four games this season, and he completed a pass in just one game (NU’s blowout loss to Michigan). Considering his lack of playing time and the struggles at quarterback, it seems that Richardson has a long way to go before he becomes a legitimate competitor for a starting role.