Thus far in his Northwestern career, Northwestern’s backup-turned-starter at running back has now rushed for over 100 yards four times. NU’s opponents in those games? UMass (2019), Illinois (2020), Indiana State earlier this season and Ohio today.
Evan Hull against lower tier college football teams is the greatest running back ever.— Inside NU (@insidenu) September 25, 2021
Is Hull the type of player who will single-handedly take down tougher Big Ten foes? Probably not, but he takes what he’s given against inferior competition with the best of ‘em, and today, he was given quite a lot. In the first half alone, Hull rushed for 161 yards and both of NU’s two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes on 13 carries, one of which was a 90-yard house call.
It’s still early in the year, and the Wildcats’ toughest opponents are largely still ahead of them, but after a near-career-best day, it's safe to say that Hull has been an admirable fill-in for the injured Cam Porter.
Jim O’Neil’s defense
After getting trampled for 420 yards and 30 points in the first half of last week’s Duke game, Northwestern’s defense finally embodied the “bend, don’t break” motto that had become its identity under Mike Hankwitz. Despite letting the Bobcats across the 50-yard line five times in the first half, NU’s D kept the game scoreless at the break. After giving up conversions on their first three defensive tries, the Wildcats went 10-for-10 stopping OU from advancing on third down. They forced three turnovers, including the secondary’s first two interceptions of the year. And, if not for a last-second 55-yard touchdown run allowed by the second-team, they would have recorded NU’s first shutout since 2017.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, however. Pat Fitzgerald noted in his postgame presser that the ‘Cats had trouble tackling after the first few series of the game, and in addition they let QB Kurtis Rourke complete 20 of his 29 passing attempts. But when all was said and done, it was impossible not to see today as an improvement upon the defense’s embarrassing showing in Durham.
The ‘Cats led 17-0 at half, a sizable enough margin for them to focus on salting away the clock in the remaining 30 minutes of play. But a closer look at a few key plays reveals that it could’ve been a much, much closer affair if Ohio hadn’t blown a variety of opportunities.
On the first drive of the game, the Bobcats drove the ball nearly all the way down the field and were set up with an easy field goal try, but kicker Tristan Vandenberg pushed the kick wide and the Wildcats escaped without allowing any points. Then, after a quick three-and-out from NU’s offense, Ohio got the ball back with good field position, only for Rourke to cough up the ball on the first play of the drive. Later on in the half, a putrid throw from Ryan Hilinski should’ve resulted in an easy pick-six, but Bobcats defensive back Jett Elad dropped the ball. When you take these early breaks into account alongside the multiple tipped interceptions the Wildcats benefitted from in the second half, NU seems rather fortunate to have won as dominantly as it did.
Honorable Mentions: student attendance, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Coco Azema, the almighty reign of the purple-black-black uniforms
Ahead of the season, Peter McIntyre was hyped up to be the next great Northwestern linebacker, following in the shoes of high-level performers like Paddy Fisher and Anthony Walker Jr. After a few games starting, it’s become clear that he doesn’t have that high of a ceiling.
Set aside his lackluster three tackle stat line and the fact of the matter still remains that McIntyre looked lost at various points in the game. He was turned around more than once in the first quarter alone, and his lack of speed was evident on numerous occasions throughout the game. If the Wildcats’ defense is going to continue its growth throughout the Big Ten season, McIntyre’s play will have to improve more significantly than most, as he currently exists as a weak link at a position that is typically one of NU’s biggest strengths.
Sure, Kuhbander knocked through the majority of his kicks today. But a 24-yard miss?!?! You mean to tell me that it’s possible for a kicker in his fifth season of play at the Power Five level to miss from 24 measly yards out?
Kuhbander’s botched chip shot — his shortest shank since he missed a 21-yarder in the very first game of his career way back in September of 2017 — didn’t cost NU anything today. But the longtime Wildcat is now 4-of-7 on the season, and only one of his three failed attempts came from 40 yards or longer. At this pace, Kuhbander is on track to close his career with his worst season ever, and his inability to produce when needed could prove costly in close Big Ten contests.
While that win may have been fun, did we learn anything new about Northwestern today? Was the result ever really in doubt? Did the ‘Cats have the opportunity to face a team that would’ve truly prepared them for the bulk of Big Ten play that they're about to enter into?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, I’d ask you to re-evaluate. The Wildcats already had one far inferior opponent on their schedule in Indiana State, and the need for a second game against an aggressively mediocre non-conference foe seems pretty minimal in hindsight. Yes, scheduling contracts are written and signed years ahead of time. Yes, it’s not easy to load your slate with Power Five opponents. But if Northwestern wants to solidify a future in which it is taken seriously as a big-time program, they need to start playing some big-time teams outside of the Big Ten more frequently.
Honorable Mentions: Offensive play-calling with any inspiration whatsoever, Passing the ball