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Stock Up, Stock Down following a truly disappointing season opener

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Oof.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

My word, that was beatdown. You could have told me that Michigan State would beat Northwestern on Friday night and I would have believed you. You could have told me they won by multiple scores and the ‘Cats looked objectively bad and I wouldn’t have said you were crazy. But to get mollywhopped on national television largely due to DEFENSIVE incompetence was so far off the reservation deck one could have not spotted it off the coast of Lake Michigan.

Let’s get it over with already.

Stock Up

Hunter Johnson

He was far from perfect, double-pumping a few too many throws while also harming the offense with some untimely lapses of ball security, but Johnson looked better against Michigan State than he has against any opponent he’s faced while wearing a Northwestern uniform.

The deep passes to both Bryce Kirtz and Stephon Robinson Jr. were absolute beauties, his intermediate and short throws were on point in the second half and overall he looked like a signal caller worthy of a starting spot at a power conference school. 275 yards and three touchdowns on 30-for-43 passing is nothing to sneeze at, even if there are still improvements that need to be made on the margins. Johnson is safe and secure as the first-string quarterback for the time being, a statement that seemed impossible just over a month ago. Stock up, baby.

The wide receiver room

Considering that the team returned approximately 0.01% of its receiving production from 2020, questions about that position group were rightfully raised during the preseason. At least a few of those inquiries were satisfied on Friday night following some spectacular catches from both Kirtz and Robinson.

The big-play bomb Kirtz hauled in was highlight reel worthy, and for the game, the sophomore finished with seven receptions for 80 yards, coming through whenever Johnson needed him to. Meanwhile, Robinson, despite being small in stature, stood tall in comparison to his Northwestern counterparts. His deep catch in the first quarter came after he didn’t even run a route, but simply dusted his man with pure speed up the sideline. The Kansas transfer continued to get open all game, turning on dimes and shaking defenders left and right on his way to five catches for 79 yards and touchdown.

Most (including myself), would have ranked the wideouts as the worst of all the Northwestern position groups entering the season, yet, at the moment, they stand as one of the best.

You, the loyal viewer/fan who endured that entire game

Definitely a cop out of sorts, but true in spirit. There were very few things to view in a higher light following a game that took all but 13 seconds to project toward a gloomy end, yet check the inter webs all around and you’d find Northwestern fans still chirping about every second. The team might not be good, and not everyone who has crossed paths with the school ends up investing emotional energy in this football team, but it can at times be admirable how much some care about a team where, again, outcomes and seasons can feel illogical one way or another. Go ‘Cats.

Honorable Mention: Trey Pugh, Evan Hull, Mike Hankwitz

Stock Down

The Defense (and stock down is being generous)

Everyone knew some Hankwitz tweets would be flying from the NU faithful should there be any defensive struggles, but few predicted they would be needed so early. Kenneth Walker III was not only breaking tackles all night on his road to a 264-yard performance, but he was hardly encountering any Gothic-clad defenders by the time he had reached the second level. So many gaps incorrectly filled by the fledgling linebackers, so many poor angles taken by defenders in the secondary not named Brandon Joseph.

Really, is there anything positive to take away from a defensive showing as poor as that? Michigan State has been an objectively bad offense under Mel Tucker, and in their last six games vs non-Northwestern opponents, they’ve averaged only 16.2 points per game. That figure more than doubles to 33.5 points per game in matchups against Northwestern during the last two seasons. They failed to balance out the porous ground defense with stingy secondary play, as the young Payton Thorne was able to find his receivers in the middle of the field with ease, never forced into a panic-worthy situation.

Without question the worst defensive performance the ‘Cats have had in quite some time.

Charlie Kuhbander

You never want to kill a college athlete for something that none of us watching at home could do, but man oh man was the kicking game a fiasco for the ‘Cats. Kuhbander pushed a 44-yarder on the first drive of the game, killing any chance Northwestern had to stomach the early blows they were being dealt, and then hooked a 28-yard chip shot in the second half, cementing the night as one to forget.

For his career, the sixth-year kicker is now 37-for-53 on field goal attempts, good for a paltry 69.8%. NU probably would have fallen in defeat anyways, losing by 17 and not the six that Kuhbander surrendered, but the kicks were so deflating and untimely in their manner that one can’t help but think how the script of the game might have changed should the ‘Cats have converted and trailed 28-20 early in the fourth quarter rather by two whole touchdowns.

With Michigan State transfer kicker (go figure) Jack Olsen waiting in the wings as a ballyhooed kicking recruit, it’s quite possible that the long-time starting placekicker at Northwestern is on thin ice and is just a few more hooked 40-yarders away from reserve status.

Gothic Uniforms on Friday nights

Just going to leave this here:

First the 52-3 massacre of 2019, now this. I’m not superstitious, but I’d at least be “stitious” enough to never try this accursed cross-section of uniforms and a primetime showing ever again.

Honorable Mention: Wildcat formations (always), The quarters academic schedule, Jokes about other bad Big Ten teams