With the dumpster fire that was Northwestern’s 2021 season now in the rear view mirror, we’re taking a look at how each of the position groups performed in the 3-9 season. Next up: the tight ends.
Overall Grade: C-
Following John Raine’s solid season under then-new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian in 2020, expectations were relatively high for the tight ends, a group that returned with more experience than most position groups on the team. Those expectations were dashed just a few games in.
Much like this season’s situation at quarterback, no tight end in the position group was able to step up to replace last year’s transfer starter this season. The group, which included two seniors who had seen plenty of action in blocking roles for the offense, underwhelmed as pass catchers. This gave opportunities to underclassmen, namely sophomore Marshall Lang, to see more of the field, but not much could be done considering the erratic quarterback play.
The group now heads into the offseason without tight ends coach Bob Heffner, who announced his retirement at the end of November. Jeff Genyk, the current special teams coordinator, has been named as his replacement and he will look to return relevance to the positional group, one that has a lot of work to do in the offseason.
Marshall Lang: B
Stats: 11 receptions, 68 yards, three touchdowns
After starting the season as the third-string tight end and not making an appearance in the first two games of the year, Lang managed to climb his way up the depth chart and earn the starting role by the end of the season. The sophomore finished 2021 with the most catches and touchdowns in the positional group and was tied with Charlie Mangieri for the most receiving yards in the group.
At just 68 receiving yards for the year, Lang’s numbers certainly don’t jump off of the page, but his emergence to the first team as a sophomore was promising and he did show flashes as a red zone threat — his three touchdowns were the most on the team. The rangy tight end will likely need to put on some muscle in the offseason to become more effective as a blocker, but with two years of eligibility remaining and no competition in sight (save for the transfer portal), Lang could serve a big role next year.
Charlie Mangieri: D
Stats: Nine receptions, 68 yards
During the preseason, Mangieri made the Mackey Award Watch List, the award given out annually to the nation’s best tight end. Unfortunately for him and the Wildcats, Mangieri did not come close to living up to the hype. The senior began the season as the first-string tight end, but an inability to get involved as a pass-catcher opened the door for playing time to Trey Pugh and Marshall Lang. He failed to catch more than two passes in any game and did not record a touchdown after finding pay dirt twice in 2020.
While this season’s poor quarterback play probably hindered how effective the Mangieri could be for the offense, his performance on the field was largely disappointing, especially when considering his extensive experience, having appeared in 33 games prior to 2021.
Trey Pugh: D
Stats: Seven receptions, 34 yards, two touchdowns
Pugh started the year off on a high note, catching four passes for 18 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Michigan State. From there, however, things went downhill as the Ohio native would appear in just five more games and record offensive stats in only two of them. It’s hard to say what happened to Pugh following that first game of the season, as he was on the inactive list for just one game, but the fifth-year senior did not play to expectations in an all around underwhelming season.
Thomas Gordon: Incomplete
Stats: Two receptions, three yards
Coming out of high school, Gordon was one of the more highly-touted prospects in his class with offers from a number of Power Five programs like Baylor, LSU and Iowa State. However, after three years in Evanston, the 6-foot-5 tight end does not have much to show for it. He appeared in seven games this season but recorded stats in just two of them in garbage time. With the departure of Mangieri and Pugh, Gordon has an opportunity to carve out a more significant role for himself within the passing game come this offseason.