It is rare when Northwestern can truly assert its dominance and ease to a laugher in a football game. Even in non-conference games, the Wildcats find a way to make things more complicated than they need to be. At least, for their fans.
In a 14-7, game, Northwestern got gashed on a third-and-long pass to Datrin Guyton and he was running free down the middle of the field. Northwestern’s secondary was scrambling to catch up. That is when Montre Hartage got a hand on the ball and stripped Guyton. Godwin Igwebuike picked it up and returned it 45 yards to the Bowling Green 18.
A close game, all of a sudden, got blown wide open.
On the following drive, Clayton Thorson threw an 18-yard strike to Bennet Skowronek down the sideline for a touchdown. The Wildcats would score on their next three drives following that fumble recovery, coasting to a 49-7 victory over Bowling Green at Ryan Field on Saturday.
Everything that seemingly went wrong in the previous week’s game against Duke was corrected. Bowling Green may not be as strong as Duke, much less the challenges ahead in the Big Ten portion of the schedule, but it at least restored the confidence NU will need for those difficult challenges ahead.
There was Clayton Thorson throwing dimes for a career-high 370 yards, completing 23 of 30 passes with two touchdown throws to Skowronek, including a 58-yard strike over the top. He threw the ball into tight corners and dumped it off to Garrett Dickerson.
This was the confident, composed Thorson that dominated Nevada. Not the one running for his life and trying to force the game at Duke the week before.
Justin Jackson returned to form too. The Ball Carrier rushed for 121 yards on 18 carries, scoring a trio of touchdowns. He looked healthy and active after supposedly being slowed up with a nagging injury last week against Duke.
The defense did not record the sacks that everyone would like to see, but the team held its own, dominating the line of scrimmaging and putting a general level of pressure on Falcons quarterback James Morgan.
In all, Bowling Green gained just 352 total yards and 96 total rushing yards. It was a dominant performance for Northwestern. Exactly what the doctor ordered in many ways.
All of Northwestern’s key players got their reps in and got their chance to make plays.
It was the rare blowout for Northwestern and there was very little to complain about for the Wildcats.
Not that there was not.
Bowling Green got itself going before that critical fumble with Josh Cleveland spearheading a rushing attack of sorts. It was momentary, but it put Northwestern a bit on its heels.
The pressure was solid all game but had moments where it struggled to put pressure on Bowling Green. The Falcons were able to pick apart the secondary some and move the ball down the field. Northwestern’s defense made the stops when it needed and Bowling Green’s offense never truly recovered.
This was a case of Northwestern being the far more talented and focused team. The Wildcats just poured it on from there.
Of course, the challenge is going to get greater moving forward. That Wisconsin-Penn State back to back looms after the bye week this week. And sloppy play will lead to certain doom those games.
That means Jeremy Larkin cannot fumble the ball into the end zone after a big pass catch. That means the Wildcats will have to do more than get pressure, they will have to get sacks. It means NU will need to avoid missing tackles and wrap up quickly to prevent big plays.
The Wildcats have a lot to work on in the bye week ahead of the trip to Camp Randall Stadium.
But it is better to work on all those after a confidence-inspiring win. Northwestern needed to prove it could respond from the disappointing loss to Duke.
The Wildcats responded and took out some frustration on the Falcons as they welcomed the students back to campus.
Now the games count for real. Northwestern’s Big Ten goals are still achievable. The team will have to prove itself all over again.