After a slow start last week, Northwestern scored 31 straight points to capture a much-needed home-opening victory against UTEP. Coming into this one, the team was hoping for that momentum to carry over into this week’s matchup against a ranked Duke squad. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and the Wildcats took a hard tumble back to earth. Here’s what we learned from the contest.
Good things happen when Henning touches the ball. Coming into this game, No. 8 was averaging 10 yards per reception on six catches and six yards per carry on six carries with a rushing touchdown. This week, he added a receiving touchdown and 41 total yards to go along with it, and continued to do what he’s done so far this season, which is move the ball downfield with every touch. Unfortunately, the offense as a whole has left a lot to be desired, which has kept Henning from getting as many touches as he probably should (although this week was slightly better in that regard). With that being said, he has done what could with the opportunities he has received and that’s enough for his stock to be going in the right direction.
Gallagher did what Gallagher usually does. After a quiet game last weekend in this department, he was back playing his usual type of game this week, appearing everywhere on the field and collecting tackles at will. He had 13 tackles on the afternoon, 1.5 of which that went for a loss. It didn’t translate to many stops on the field, but it was one bright spot for an otherwise porous defensive effort. Overall, it was a solid performance from the senior linebacker.
Aside from an offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct call early in the third quarter, the Wildcats played a pretty clean game all things considered. They played penalty-free football and they also did a very good job at not giving the ball away (even if it didn’t lead to more scoring opportunities). While it’s disheartening to see this team play so poorly, it is somewhat encouraging to see the team not making a rash of mental errors and to not be allowing them to beat themselves. They do say that football is all about the little things right?
Honorable Mentions: Brendan Sullivan, Cam Johnson, fourth-down defense, good experience against good teams?
Bryant finds himself back on the stock report this week after his appearance last week. Unfortunately, his stock is trending back in the wrong direction this time. He has failed to look comfortable in this offense through the first three games of the season and this week’s stat line ultimately backs up that sentiment. After struggling though most of the game to keep his completion percentage above 50%, he wrapped up his poor performance with an interception after the game had already been decided. He ended the day 17-for-34 for 123 yards through the air with one touchdown and one interception. It’s been an unfortunate start to his Northwestern tenure after proving to be a solid quarterback in both his stops at Eastern Michigan and last year at Cincinnati and the continued struggles land him on the wrong side of the stock report this week.
There’s not much to say here other than to acknowledge how critical it is to have a capable punting unit when you’re stuck playing the field position battle all game long. To Renner’s credit, the second half was much better than the first half, including his ability to execute a perfect 46-yard punt that pinned the Blue Devils inside their own 10-yard line in the third quarter. Unfortunately, a 22-yard punt, followed by a 29-yard punt early in the first half that resulted in excellent field position for the Duke offense more than overshadowed that and proved once more that there is plenty of work to be done to shore up the special teams unit on this team.
Where do you start with this one? Whether it be the poor tackling or the inability to generate push on the defensive line, Northwestern had absolutely no answer for the Duke rushing attack. Aside from an early fourth-down stop on fourth and short early in the first half, there weren’t many positive signs on this front. The Blue Devils ran the ball at will to the tune of 268 yards and five touchdowns. This is perhaps among the most troubling signs as the Wildcats move closer to Big Ten play, as it is very well-known how stout the rushing attacks are within the conference. If this doesn’t get cleaned up, and quick, then this season might feel even longer than the fans previously thought.
Honorable Mentions: First-through-third-down defense, offensive line, running backs