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Five things we learned from Northwestern’s close loss to Purdue

Hello, 1-11?!

Syndication: Journal-Courier Noe Padilla / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Northwestern Wildcats still haven’t won in the United States during this calendar year, and that’s saying something. With a myriad of issues offensively, the Wildcats have struggled to score points, maintain a healthy quarterback and capitalize on forced turnovers. More of those same struggles continued Saturday in West Lafayette, as the Wildcats lost to Purdue 17-9.

Northwestern is one loss away from being 1-11

What was almost unimaginable just three months ago is 60 minutes away from being true next Saturday. The Wildcats had looked to rebound after missing a bowl game in 2021 and felt they had an answer at quarterback in Ryan Hilinski. Unfortunately, nothing went according to plan, as the Wildcats stumbled out of the gate with close home losses to Duke, Miami (OH) and Southern Illinois. Northwestern never recovered in time to steer the ship in the right direction, as fans were fed up after a homecoming disaster against Wisconsin in which the Wildcats gave up 42 points. Ever since then, the downward spiral has gotten worse and it could end in an 11th consecutive loss on Thanksgiving weekend.

The quarterback saga can’t end fast enough

Saturday’s loss to Purdue brought a new signal-caller to the controls, as Northwestern has seen Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan sit under center at various points during the season. With the team’s fate sealed and injuries piling up, the team turned to its third-string quarterback, a sophomore named Cole Freeman, who produced under 100 passing yards on the day and failed to find the end zone throughout. It’s hard to judge a player based on his first game, but it’s clear that the coaching staff didn’t put him in the best position to win his first start. Short passes, scrambles for little yardage and throw-aways were just a few of the consistent themes presented in the game.

By the time 2023 rolls around, the Wildcats will need an answer at the sport’s most important position or next season will be virtually identical.

Evan Hull continues to do his thing

Though the record doesn’t indicate it, Evan Hull has continued to showcase himself as the Wildcats’ best player offensively. For the fifth game this season, Hull rushed for over 100 yards and gave the offense hope that maybe it could give the Boilermakers a scare to their Big Ten West title hopes. Nonetheless, the Minnesota native has been an intricate part of the program for the last three seasons and can always usher in a good performance, even if it means that his team might not always win week in and week out.

It’s time for a regime change

Every week, head coach Pat Fitzgerald continues to praise his players for how good of a job they do in practice or what glimpses of hope the team has during games. The fact of the matter is that it is a collective effort amongst every person on the team. It ultimately falls on the coaching staff, especially defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. It’s time for O’Neil to see the door, if you will.

There’s always next season

Even though it’s Senior Day for the ‘Cats and Illinois is in town, it is unlikely that a 12.5-point underdog would give its in-state rival a game for the ages. Therefore, Northwestern should treat this game to see where it’s at holistically and what changes will need to be made in the off-season, so that come Aug. 2023, things will steadily improve. For now, though, all Northwestern fans can do is hope.