It’s okay to be excited. Really. The expectation for this season was not to be on top of the conference, so before we get into the fact that, yes, the fourth quarter came a little too close to a disappointing loss, enjoy having an even record. Enjoy that it was worth watching through the fourth quarter. Enjoy that the past few weeks have had positive takeaways: being able to hang with Penn State for a half, being able to launch a second-half comeback against Minnesota, being able to actually win. Most importantly, enjoy the fact that this is a bye week, and a recharge is what the Wildcats need.
Northwestern was the favorite headed into the game, and that seemed apparent as Brendan Sullivan led the ‘Cats to a touchdown on the opening drive. For the most part, Northwestern didn’t have trouble putting up points, but at the same time, the second half was vastly different than the first.
It was 16-0 NU through the first two quarters, but Howard went on a 20-7 run in the final two periods. The ‘Cats struggled to keep up their momentum and play with dominance in each quarter. A game that seemed like it would be a blowout came a little too close to being blown up by a last-minute surge from the Bison.
Granted, it was Sullivan filling in for an injured Ben Bryant. Granted, the offensive line has been holding the Wildcats back — Sullivan was sacked three times.
But, even so, a football team that had no expectations at the start of the season deserves a little bit more than scrutiny at this point. Northwestern football is far from perfect, but it’s not as if the ‘Cats aren’t contending. At .500 and third in the Big Ten West, why not rally around a win? Why not get excited to watch some key members of the offense? Why not take this bye week with grace?
On Saturday, Cam Johnson and Bryce Kirtz picked up 55 and 41 yards through the air, respectively. Kirtz is a player who lacked touches in his first three seasons in Evanston, and now he’s amassed 327 yards, a career-high.
Maybe the ‘Cats are still waiting for an explosive performance from Cam Porter, but he was the go-to for Sullivan against Howard in the first half, with 12 carries for 58 yards. He’s solid, and he deserves support.
In the big picture, it’s worth being excited for this second half of the season. That’s a rare occurrence for Northwestern football. Given that this bye week allows Bryant and A.J. Henning some time to get healthy and hopefully return for a slate of Big Ten matchups, Braun and Co. have to feel good about what lies ahead. And what lies ahead could spell a .500 record for the next half of the season.
Iowa, Wisconsin and Maryland will be difficult — no question there. But, against Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois — wins are attainable. Both the Huskers and the ‘Cats have the same exact record, but Nebraska didn’t beat Minnesota.
Who knows how the rest of the season will go, but for a team that had virtually zero expectations, it’s difficult to be disappointed by what the ‘Cats have done so far.