After a bye week and a quarterback change, last Saturday was an important tone-setting game for the future. The Brendan Sullivan-led Northwestern offense looked much improved against Maryland. However, there were still costly mistakes by the offense as well. On the first possession of the second half with Northwestern in Maryland territory, up 17-10, Sullivan threw an interception. UMD turned that into a touchdown drive to tie the game at 17 and took the lead on its next offensive possession.
If Sullivan had not thrown that interception (and while we’re here, his second pick, which virtually sealed the win for Maryland), there is a good chance that Northwestern would have snapped its losing streak on Saturday. The Terrapins swung the momentum back in their favor with the interception coming out of the half, and Northwestern was never quite able to fully seize momentum back.
The Sullivan-led offense did produce Northwestern’s highest scoring output since the ‘Cats scored 24 points in the painful loss to Southern Illinois. However, the mistakes that can be expected during a quarterback’s first career start also sealed Northwestern’s fate against Maryland.
The turnover issues have plagued Northwestern all season, but this weekend’s matchup with Iowa is where things have to change. Iowa has not scored an offensive touchdown in either of its last two matchups (losses against Illinois and Ohio State), but its defense has been stingy enough all season to keep the team in games. Northwestern is good enough defensively to slow down Iowa’s lackluster offense, but not if the ‘Cats give the Hawkeyes multiple opportunities with good field position.
Although Iowa’s offense may be struggling, its defense will inevitably give Northwestern trouble on Saturday. Regardless, the difficult matchup presents a perfect opportunity for the Wildcats to prove that changing quarterbacks has brightened the outlook of the rest of this season, as well as the next one.
However, if the Northwestern offense of Weeks One to Seven shows up again, be prepared to watch what could be one of the ugliest games of the college football season.