Over the next week or so, the staff here at Inside NU will be counting down our top 10 players from the 2022 football season using a composite ranking system created by polling our own writers. Today we’ll be diving into our No. 9 player of 2022: Brendan Sullivan.
After coming in for an injured and struggling Ryan Hilinski against Wisconsin, Sullivan started the next four games for the ‘Cats, throwing for 589 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 97 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Starting the season on the bench, Sullivan sparked the offense with life, keeping a historically bad Northwestern team competitive against Maryland and Ohio State. Sullivan’s ability to sling the ball downfield and stretch plays with his legs gave Northwestern’s offense rhythm, took some of the work off Evan Hull and allowed the ‘Cats to push the ball downfield.
There were times where Sullivan really shone. In his first career start against Maryland, Sullivan was accurate and not afraid to fling it. Although he ended up throwing two interceptions that proved costly, Sullivan showcased his arm strength on this 46-yard heave to Malik Washington to set the ‘Cats up in the red zone.
And when it comes to creating offense out of nothing, Sullivan used his legs effectively, constantly extending plays to keep the Wildcats dangerous. Just look at this scramble in the fourth quarter against No. 2 Ohio State, as Sullivan escapes an army of defenders before connecting with Cam Porter to keep NU alive down seven.
Even on this touchdown throw to Raymond Niro in garbage time against Iowa, Sullivan flashed his ability to throw on the run, moving left and throwing right to make the score seem a little better for Northwestern.
In a rollercoaster season of quarterback play for Northwestern, Sullivan’s mix of accuracy, athleticism and mobility gave the Wildcats something, even if it didn’t always translate to points.
At the same time, Sullivan was far from perfect, dealing with injuries that saw him miss Northwestern’s final two games while also lacking efficiency during his time on the field. On occasion, every first down, run for three yards or completion over the middle seemed like a mini miracle because of Sullivan’s turbulent play.
Compared to Northwestern’s Week One starter, Ryan Hilinski, Sullivan made it clear he didn’t have the potential to throw for 300-plus yards. However, Sullivan proved his best asset was giving NU its best chance to win football games. With Sullivan in the game, Northwestern’s offense felt like a high school system deciding to throw the athletic lacrosse player in at quarterback to see what he could do. Ultimately, Sullivan dashed and darted his way to first downs, tossed touchdowns and made games interesting.
Even without leading the ‘Cats to a win, Sullivan’s play in 2022 was solid enough for him to be a legitimate competitor for the starting job next season. With that said, he’ll need to work on feeling pressure in the pocket, trusting his instincts and being unafraid to win with his arm if he wants to be at the top of the depth chart next year. As for now, 2022 was a good building block for the sophomore slinger, who’ll look to be at the helm of Northwestern’s offense in 2023.