After a week in which only one Inside NU staffer picked correctly, some writers are beginning to slip into post-FCS loss depression, and some still see light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s what they had to say before the ‘Cats take on Miami (OH) later tonight:
Sarah Effress: Northwestern 20, Miami 17
I honestly think this game could go either way, but I’m already 0-3 with my past predictions so what’s the harm in picking the ‘Cats to win again? As many of my peers will note below, Miami’s run defense is solid which will limit Evan Hull and Cam Porter’s usage out of the backfield. However, Hull is a dual-threat and can make an impact as a receiver, but he will need help from Malik Washington and the receiving corps. Northwestern’s secondary has to avoid giving up too much through the air, and if they can do that then I think the ‘Cats come out of this victorious in a close one.
Bradley Locker: Miami 24, Northwestern 20
Having watched the last two games Northwestern has played, against a non-conference opponent and an FCS team no less, has indicated that this year’s ‘Cats are really no better than last year’s. While NU will be compelled to right the ship — which Pat Fitzgerald has said is in perfectly stable condition — at home under the lights, the RedHawks are no slouch of a team, having shown their mettle against Cincinnati last week. Miami’s stout run defense (under 76 rushing yards allowed per game) could frustrate the Wildcats’ running tandem, which very well may create offensive problems. Defensively, new starting quarterback Aveon Smith is a dual threat, while receiver Mac Hippenhammer could give an inexperienced secondary fits. It’s hard to express much belief in Northwestern (or FPI predicting its games) at this juncture.
Iggy Dowling: Northwestern 17, Miami 10
The last time Northwestern went an entire season without beating a non-conference opponent was 1992. That being said, it sure seems like this team is bad enough to at least keep this one interesting. Miami matches up especially well with NU’s rushing attack, and the ‘Cats haven’t proven themselves enough through the air thus far for me to trust them to fully exploit the RedHawks’ biggest weakness. Nevertheless, I’m going to go against that logic and trust the defense (?!) to win this one. Without Brett Gabbert, Miami shouldn’t be able to tear apart Northwestern’s secondary after some scheme adjustments from Jim O’Neil in response to last week’s debacle. NU is weird enough for that to happen, but not enough to end that three-decade run. Deep breaths, deep breaths...
Gavin Dorsey: Northwestern 17, Miami 13
If Northwestern loses this game, its season is effectively over. The defense is horrendous. There’s no doubt about that. The offense needs to get something going early, otherwise their MAC foes could build a lead that NU just can’t come back from. The difference maker here I think is the night game and students back on campus, which should be sure to bring some electricity to Ryan Field.
Ben Chasen: Northwestern 27, Miami 17
For the last two weeks, I’ve optimistically held onto hope that this Northwestern team is as legitimate as it looked against Nebraska in Week Zero. For the last two weeks, I’ve been bitterly disappointed. But here’s the thing: I still do believe that the ‘Cats are better than they’ve shown themselves to be in the last two contests, if not still slightly worse than they looked against the now-Frostless Huskers. If ever there were a time for NU to prove it may actually be competitive in Big Ten play, it is now, in its final non-conference game of the season. I think a fired-up NU roster should be motivated enough to overcome a tough Miami unit that gave both Kentucky and Cincinnati some early trouble before ceding much ground in the second half. Look for a big game from Malik Washington.
John Olsen: Miami 45, Northwestern 14
After three games, it should be pretty clear what my opinions on this football team are, so instead of rephrasing them in another creative way, I’ll just take this opportunity to shout myself out as the only person to pick Southern Illinois in last week’s roundtable. Yay, me!
John Ferrara: Northwestern 29, Miami 19
Northwestern can’t keep losing like they have been, right? Right? Right? I’m choosing to partake in self-care and stay optimistic. Their 2018 campaign featured two consecutive losses to Duke and Akron early on before Pat Fitzgerald and Co. were able to right the ship and finish the season ranked 21st in the nation. Miami is better than Southern Illinois, so I’m not necessarily confident, but I do think this is an opponent the ‘Cats can use to get back on track (easter egg: my score prediction mirrors the outcome of NU’s win against Michigan State four years ago, the win that revived their season).
Sam Richardson: Northwestern 28, Miami 24
Fool me twice, shame on me. What if they fool me three times though? After two straight games where Northwestern was the clear favorite, all the Wildcats have to show is two straight heartwrenching losses. But now, even after two incorrect predictions, I am once again predicting Northwestern to win, even after they lost to a Southern Illinois team that is certainly weaker than the Redhawks.
Against SIU, Northwestern just could not get a bounce to go their way. The Wildcats made four turnovers, and against Miami, that unsustainable rate simply can not continue. Ryan Hilinski was missing easy passes last week, but if he gets back to his Dublin form, he should be able to hit those short checkdowns with ease. In terms of long passes, Hilinski’s pass to Malik Washington in the third conjures up some hope. And Evan Hull’s two weeks streak of fumbling surely can’t continue, right? Under the lights for the first time since Week Zero, this win should set Northwestern up nice for a rebound. If not, a one-win season is not out of the picture.
Jake Mozarsky: Miami 28, Northwestern 21
Two things make me think this is going to happen: the fact that Miami starts games fast, even against premier competition, and the fact that I am getting to know Northwestern football too well.
While the Redhawks are 1-2, both of their losses have come against two top 30 teams in Kentucky and Cincinnati. Furthermore, in both of these games, Miami jumped out to early leads. Combine this with the fact that Northwestern has started games slowly, and the Redhawks can have a formula to victory.
Now the ladder: Northwestern just lost to an FCS team that was 0-2. Do I have the confidence to pick them against an FBS team that has given teams better than the ‘Cats some competition? No. Until Northwestern proves me wrong, and I hope they do, I just cannot pick them.
Sophia Vlahakis: Miami 24, Northwestern 21
I don’t want to watch Northwestern lose a third straight game that it was favored to win, but unwavering optimism does not seem reasonable right now. Northwestern is 1-2 with losses against two teams it should have beat. Miami is 1-2 with losses against Kentucky and Cincinnati—two formidable opponents. I want to see the ‘Cats win their first home game of the season, but recent performances are making it hard to believe in them. NU has started off slow, and Miami is just as eager for a win.
Justin Dunbar: Northwestern 27, Miami 24
Coming off of multiple disappointing losses, including one to Southern Illinois, it’s quite easy to lose faith in Northwestern in their last game before conference play, but this is a strong bounce-back spot for them. After losing starting quarterback Brett Gabbert due to injury, Miami’s offense has reeled with backup Aveon Smith taking over; his 48.5 PFF passing grade, 65.1% adjusted completion rate, and 6.7% turnover-worthy play rate all rank amongst the worst 20 quarterbacks in college football. As a quarterback who is looking to push the ball down the field, Northwestern’s propensity to play soft coverage actually could look quite well; we’ll see if Smith is willing to take what is given to him.
Meanwhile, Miami currently has the sixth-worst PFF coverage grade in all of college football, with their linebackers and safeties being the main culprits. That’s great news for an offense that wants to win in the short passing game over the middle of the field, and sets up running back Evan Hull for a notable game as a receiver; there are many ways to leverage Malik Washington in the slot here as well. It’s been ugly as of late, but with some turnover regression and merely taking advantage of a depleted opponent, here’s hoping the ‘Cats can pull out a win here.
Brendan Preisman: Miami 31, Northwestern 24
I’d really like to believe in this team. I’d like to believe that they can bounce back from their early-season struggles. However, I've also watched nearly all of all three of their games so far this season, and one thing has stood out: the Wildcats absolutely cannot get a stop when it matters. Against Duke, the defense gave up a 51-yard pass on third and four that resulted in a touchdown that pushed the Blue Devils’ lead to 28-16. After clawing all the way back to 28-23, the defense allowed two straight carries to go for first downs on the way to a Duke field goal that put the score at 31-23, where it would remain. Against Southern Illinois, the defense gave up a 74-yard drive that included a 20-yard run on fourth-and-2 giving the Salukis the lead. And when you consider that the offense has put together a measly 17 fourth-quarter points on the season, it’s easiest to believe in a scenario where Wildcat fans are again walking out of Ryan Field after another disappointing loss.
Zain Bando: Northwestern 24, Miami 21
Like many have already stated, it goes without saying that this game is do or die for Northwestern’s bowl chances. Miraculously, despite all the pain that fans have had to endure over the last two weeks, the Wildcats could have a chance to wake up Sunday morning sitting at first in the Big Ten West. Mental errors and costly turnovers late in games have plagued Northwestern during this homestand, especially in the final minutes of the Southern Illinois loss. Was it a bad loss? Sure. Can things get corrected? Yes.
Northwestern has defied the odds before. Six wins are all it takes. Beating a MAC school that has had its own success in years past and nearly beat a College Football Playoff participant (Cincinnati) should serve as all the motivation in the world, especially with the home-field advantage and a night tilt on its side.
Taking care of the football is paramount for Ryan Hilinski and company, and maybe, just maybe, a turnover at the end will seal a big win and an even mark at 2-2 before it’s on to Penn State to start the month of October.
3-0: No one!
2-1: John Olsen
1-2: Ben Chasen, Gavin Dorsey, Jake Mozarsky, Sam Richardson, Jason Boué,
0-3: Sarah Effress, Bradley Locker, Iggy Dowling, Sophia Vlahakis, Mac Stone, Brendan Preisman, Zain Bando
1-1: Emma Manley, Myles Gilbert
0-2: John Ferrara, Dan Olinger, Andrew Katz
0-1: Didi Jin, Justin Dunbar