As the cool kids say, “This was real ball.” Tons of punts, wild special teams play and almost no points. Northwestern ultimately lost the war of attrition 17-14; here’s the positives and negatives from another tough defeat.
Outside of the running backs, if there’s one position the ‘Cats have a solid number of options to call upon, it’s the receiving room. After playing minimal roles in the first three games, Bryce Kirtz, Jacob Gill and Genson Hooper Price all stepped up, combining for six catches for 84 yards. Additionally, Marshall Lang, who so far has played second fiddle to Thomas Gordon’s breakout as a major threat in the air attack, caught three passes, picking up 39 yards. Hilinski has a variety of weapons to throw to — it just comes down to him getting the ball to them accurately and on time.
Defense doing its job
Following a week of heavy criticism, Jim O’Neil’s unit quietly had a very good game in the midst of some prime Big Ten-MAC football. It surrendered just 17 points and held RedHawk QB Aveon Smith to 7-19 passing for 57 yards, due in large part to its ability to break up Miami’s offensive flow. Coco Azema and Cam Mitchell recreated their own version of the Legion of Boom with the hits they laid on RedHawk wideouts, and the front seven actually looked decent against the opponent’s rushing attack by winning in the trenches routinely. The defense also kept the big plays allowed to a minimum, with Keyon Mozee’s 66-yard rush in the fourth the exception proving the rule.
Adetomiwa Adebawore: one-man wrecking crew
The senior showed once again why he is the leader of the defensive line, making the RedHawk backfield his second home for the night. He was constantly disruptive in both the passing and rushing games, batting down passes, making good decisions against zone reads and getting home on Smith. The Missouri native’s strong performance, with three tackles, a sack, a TFL, a PBU and a forced fumble, also helped bring his teammates in the trenches into the game, with the defensive line as a whole having a better game than what they’ve displayed in prior weeks.
Honorable Mentions: Student attendance (1H), all-black uniforms, NUMB’s song selection, Northwestern benefitting from officiating, press box chocolate chip cookies
After averaging six penalties per game coming into tonight’s contest with Miami, a tally which would be their highest over the course of a season since 2010, the ‘Cats once again struggled to play a clean football game. The referees called six infractions against Northwestern, a figure which could have been even worse had a targeting call against Coco Azema late in the first half not been overturned. Moreover, NU turned the ball over three times, featuring two fumbles from Malik Washington along with multiple Luke Akers punts being blocked, both putting the RedHawks in prime field position. Fitz and Co. are yet to have a turnover-free game a third of the way through the year, and their inability to cut out the mistakes has been a major reason behind the poor start to the season.
Ability to take control of the game
This follows from the prior point, but Northwestern had a number of opportunities to knock Miami out of the game, but just failed to do so. Mistakes played a big role, but the RedHawks’ drive to tie the game up at 14-14 midway through the fourth best exemplifies this. The ‘Cats had just put together a 12-play, 58-yard TD drive to take the lead, and the defense, having completely shut down the opposing offense up to that point, responded by letting Miami score on three plays. Northwestern allowing Miami to hang around for far too long ended up costing them the game, as the RedHawks took their chance to grab the lead late.
Evan Hull and Cam Porter had been so good to start the season that the first game they didn’t completely dominate would feel like a disappointment. The running backs struggled mightily for long periods of the game, with the offensive line failing to open up holes. While the ‘Cats finished with 31 yards on 107 carries for two scores, it wasn’t anywhere near the performance over 60 minutes we’ve come to expect from them. However, neither of the RBs fumbled, which would qualify for a mini-stock up within this stock down.
Honorable Mentions: Student attendance (2H), understanding the referee over the public address system, quality of play, StatBroadcast working correctly, Evanston weather, optimism surrounding the team