After losing three straight games at home, Northwestern returned to Big Ten play Saturday in Happey Valley. In an all-around sloppy game, Northwestern was able to give No. 11 Penn State some competition, but in the end, Northwestern’s offense could not pick up their end of the bargain in the loss. Here are five things we learned from the ‘Cats’ first conference loss of the year:
You can win the turnover battle ... and still lose
Throughout the week, Pat Fitzgerald mentioned that his team needs to win the turnover battle to beat not only Penn State but any team. Furthermore, Northwestern was able to force five (five!) turnovers against Penn State on the road, and they only gave up three. But they still lost! Why? Go to the next point.
Northwestern’s offense has gone backward
This offense looks completely different than the one ‘Cats fans saw in Dublin a little over a month ago. Yes, Saturday in Happy Valley was rainy, and yes, Penn State has one of the best defenses in the country, but Northwestern’s offense did not play the part. The defense forced five turnovers, and the ‘Cats did not score a single point off them. Between Mike Bajakian’s bad playcalling and a lack of performance from skill players, it was a bad day on this side of the ball.
The secondary has a future
While they have been dealing with injuries, specifically to A.J. Hampton and Coco Azema (and Cam Mitchell for one game), the Northwestern secondary looked better than it had in past games against the Nittany Lions. A bunch of younger players, such as Garnet Hollis Jr. and Rod Heard II, contributed, and Mitchell also played well to go with alright safety play. Some of these young players will hopefully continue to develop throughout the year.
Northwestern has yet to play a balanced game
In all five games that the Wildcats have played, they have either had poor games from the offense or the defense. Yes, the win in Dublin was the best they have looked this year, but still, the defense was getting carved up for most of the game. Then, on Saturday, the defense played arguably their best game of the year, and the offense then played their worst. Just no balance for Fitzgerald and co.
Can the ‘Cats steal a Big Ten game?
Northwestern will presumably be an underdog in the rest of the games they play, all against Big Ten competition, but yesterday could be slightly encouraging that they can pull off an upset. The defense has looked consistent in the past two weeks, playing arguably their best two games of the season, and maybe (just maybe) their offense will be better in the next few weeks. Northwestern might have the potential to steal a Big Ten game: they play lowly Wisconsin next week, Iowa can’t score on some days, and you just never know in conference play. Don’t bank on Northwestern winning a game, but it’s possible.