After falling to Purdue in West Lafayette, the ‘Cats hosted the Fighting Illini with the chance to bring the HAT back to Evanston, but Northwestern did just about the opposite of playing spoiler. The ‘Cats lost 41-3 and were dominated in every phase of a game that consisted of yet another quarterback benching. Here’s whose stock went up and down from the ‘Cats’ season-ending defeat:
In his final time at Ryan Field, Washington had himself quite the game considering the quarterback play. With seven receptions for 56 yards, it was a productive senior day for the Georgia native. Closing out his season with a career high 694 receiving yards and 65 receptions in 2022, Washington proved once again why he is the WR1 in this offense.
Outside of receiving, Washington had 19 rushing yards and even threw and completed a pass for six yards. It was an all-around performance in Evanston for Washington, as he did whatever he could for the ‘Cats on Saturday afternoon.
Bend, Don’t Break
Despite the fact that the Northwestern defense allowed 293 yards, the defense was able to get off the field and keep the game within striking distance throughout the majority of the first half. This was especially impressive after Freeman’s first interception, when the Illini had a first and goal from the Northwestern three-yard line and the ‘Cats held them to a field goal.
With Freeman and Co. putting the defense in difficult spots for much of the afternoon, this game could’ve gotten out of hand a lot earlier than it did, as NU held Illinois to 1-for-5 on third down in the first half. Considering the offense gave up two touchdowns on their own, the ‘Cats had a much better game defensively than the final score suggests.
This has nothing to do with Northwestern, but it was already going to be nearly impossible to find three real stock ups considering the score of this game, so Purdue keeping the Illini out of the Big Ten Championship game with its win over Indiana was about the only positive some particularly HAT-craven Northwestern fans could take from Saturday.
Honorable Mention: Evan Hull, Greyson Metz
Headlined by the unforced fumble for a 63-yard Illini touchdown, the ‘Cats turned it over six times. Five of those six turnovers occurred on Illinois’ side of the field, and four were interceptions thrown by Cole Freeman. The 6-1 turnover margin enabled the ‘Cats to lose by 38 despite having more yards from scrimmage than their opponent.
When the visiting team is able to score 14 points in five minutes, without its offense having to step on the field, it’s tough to be competitive in any game.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties
When hoping to win your first game since week 0, committing five penalties for 43 yards in the first half is not the recipe to do so. Although it was far from the main reason for their demise, the ‘Cats hurt themselves far too many times in the opening half of play.
Whether it was putting Freeman and the offense behind the chains, or extending Illini drives, Northwestern did not play as clean of a game as many would’ve hoped for in late November.
After a mediocre game in his opening start against the Boilermakers, the sophomore had a tough day in the passing game. Although he did have seven carries for 32 yards, headlined by a 21-yard run to begin the second quarter, Freeman struggled mightily when having to put the ball in the air.
With only eight completions out of 16 passes in the first half, Freeman had many overthrown balls and didn’t complete a pass over 20 yards. The lack of a downfield passing game might be expected given this is a former fourth-string walk-on we’re talking about, but his ill-advised decisions leading to three interceptions on the three most promising drives in the second quarter were less excusable. This coupled with a fumble and a pick-six in the third led to his being benched for Jack Lausch late in the game and could quite possibly the last we see of Freeman under center in any “meaningful” snaps.
Honorable mentions: Running into your own players, Life