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When: Sat. Sept. 16, 2017; 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT
Where: Evanston, Ill.; Ryan Field (47,130)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Bowling Green leads 2-0
Last Meeting: Bowling Green won 28-24 (Dec. 26, 2003)
Line: Northwestern (-21.5)

The Northwestern Wildcats almost certainly spent their week looking at themselves and trying to do some soul-searching. Yet again, a Week Two disappointment has Northwestern evaluating everything about itself and coming to the reality that expectations are illusory without action to meet them.

For sure, like last year’s loss to Illinois State, Saturday’s loss to Duke does not matter as much in the long run as it might seem today. The team is still 0-0 in Big Ten play and can still win the Big Ten West title. Nobody was about to pick the Wildcats to make the College Football Playoffs. A loss does not harm as much at this point of the season.

But the loss to Duke exposed some deep rifts. It created uncertainty. And while Pat Fitzgerald surely is working to minimize that and put the blame on himself, the reality is there are legitimate questions that sprung up.

The offensive line again struggled to create much running room for Justin Jackson or give Clayton Thorson time to throw. The defensive line struggled to create pressure and get to quarterback Daniel Jones. A depleted secondary, that will once again be without Marcus McShephard although Brian Bullock was not listed on Northwestern’s injury report, struggled to hold steady. And Clayton Thorson fell into bad habits again, missing throws and throwing interceptions.

It was a confluence of everything that could go wrong for Northwestern. It is still early enough in the season to give believe they can fix all those things. And early enough in the season to conclude Duke was better than everyone anticipated — the Blue Devils should certainly believe so.

The question Northwestern has to ask itself this week as it prepares to play in front of the full student body for the first time under the lights at Ryan Field is just who are they? And what kind of team they want to be.

The Wildcats are still figuring that out at this point. They know where their strengths are, but there are undeniably weaknesses they have to plan around. This is the veteran team everyone believed could compete for a Big Ten title. They just have to go out and show it.

Of course, they have only one more opportunity to do so before the games really start to count in a few weeks. The Wildcats will want to have a good showing against a struggling 0-2 Bowling Green team to prove they have put that loss to the Blue Devils behind them.

A win — and a blowout win — would ease some nerves and show the team is moving in the right direction. But it may not completely erase the doubt the devastating 41-17 road loss caused in Durham.

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1 Burning Question: Does talent matter if the offensive line cannot block?

Northwestern is undoubtedly the talented, better team up and down the roster. Sorry, to offend Bowling Green.

The Wildcats are 21.5-point favorites and should expect to win this game comfortably. Of course, nothing is ever easy with Northwestern. And the first two weeks of the season have not exactly inspired confidence.

In both games, the same fundamental problem popped up. And popped up in a way that seems worse than anticipated.

Northwestern’s offensive line was a point of concern before the season. It is a veteran group but one that largely unimpressed last year. The Wildcats added more questions as they are starting freshman tackle Rashawn Slater. He is performing admirably, but it is clear he is still young.

The work elsewhere on the line has been concerning. Against both Nevada and Duke, the offensive line struggled to communicate and struggled to open up run holes. There were at least one or two plays in both games where a defensive lineman came through the line unblocked to gobble up Justin Jackson or Clayton Thorson.

It is still a major concern. And one that does not have much time for resolution before that murderer’s row of Wisconsin and Penn State to open Big Ten play.

The Wildcats should be able to get some confidence and beat Bowling Green in all phases. But, as the team learned last year against Illinois State, if the team cannot protect Thorson or give Jackson room to run, the gameplan devolves quickly and it does not how much talent you have in the skill positions.

Northwestern’s whole season rests on the offensive line finding some measure of consistency — and Mick McCall scheming around it. It has to start this week. Because without the offensive line as a foundation, what Northwestern does elsewhere will not matter.

2 Key Stats

217.0: If there is a measure of good news, it is that Bowling Green is not a very strong defensive team. The Falcons have given up 217.0 rushing yards per game so far this year, including 214 rushing yards to FCS South Dakota. They nearly gave up two 100 yard rushers. That should be a good sign for Northwestern to clear some lanes for Justin Jackson, John Moten IV and Cameron Green to run. The Wildcats will want to see their offensive line create the push to get these three going. It will help them control the game.

1: Like the offensive line, the defensive line could use some work too. They have to do a better job creating pressure and forcing opposing quarterbacks to hurry in the pocket. That has not been the case for either Nevada or Duke. And the defense got torched for it. The big sign of this lack of pressure is that Northwestern has just one sack in two games — veteran defensive end Joe Gaziano is the only to record a sack. The Wildcats like what they have seen from freshman end Samdup Miller and Tyler Lancaster has made his presence felt too. But this is a group that needs to do a better job creating pressure for the linebackers to clean up and putting the quarterback on the ground.

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3 Key Players

Kyle Queiro, Northwestern Safety/Cornerback: Bowling Green’s offense has been . . . it has not been good this season. Quarterback James Morgan has completed just 37.5 percent of his passes this year for 456 yards and two touchdowns against two interceptions. Last week against South Dakota he was 20 for 49 for 311 yards. That certainly suggests the secondary can lock down his receivers and force him into poor throws. Queiro will be all over the field. He started last week at cornerback with the team carrying only two full-time cornerbacks on the roster. If Bowling Green comes out passing, the Wildcats may need Queiro to fill in again.

Brandon Harris, Bowling Green Linebacker: The Falcons have struggled to start the year. Michigan State ran all over Bowling Green and then South Dakota hung 34 points on the team. The defense is a little wounded right now. But it still has its playmakers and athletes. So far this year, linebacker Brandon Harris has stepped up and stood out. He has 16 tackles, including two for a loss. He has shown versatility in the pass game too with three breakups and three passes defended. Not to mention a fumble recovery he took for 30 yards.

Lisa Byington, Big Ten Network: For those watching the game on TV, they will hear a familiar and pleasant voice. Lisa Byington will become the first woman to do play-by-play for the Big Ten Network. It has become very commonplace to hear women calling men’s games — from Doris Burke in the NBA on ESPN to Beth Mowins taking a turn as play-by-play for ESPN’s Big Ten coverage and on Monday for Monday Night Football. Still, it is worth recognizing the first when it happens and getting excited to hear these voices and this expertise added to the broadcast. Byington will do her best not to let her inner Wildcat out. The former Northwestern women’s basketball and soccer player attended the school during the Rose Bowl run. But she has been a professional in all her other endeavors and this is an honor well deserved.

Prediction: Northwestern 34, Bowling Green 17

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

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Buckeyes Football

2018 Big Ten Championship Game Preview: 5 Things to Know

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What some may argue was one of the most intriguing and surprising seasons in recent Big Ten football history comes to a close on Saturday as the expected meets the unexpected. 

It’ll be the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Northwestern Wildcats for all the Big Ten marbles. For Ohio State it also means a potential berth in the College Football Playoffs are on the line. 

All week long we will take an in-depth look at this unexpected matchup. It starts today with a look at the 5 things to know about these two teams. 

5: Northwestern’s 5th in scoring defense in the Big Ten

That may not be a mind-blowing stat, but believe it or not the Wildcats have the better defense going in to this game and that can matter a lot when the nerves and dust settles on this game. 

Northwestern is allowing an average of just 21.7 points per game this season. Only three teams scored 30 points or more on the Wildcats — Akron, Nebraska and Notre Dame. 

Conversely, six of the last eight opponents have failed to score 20 or more points and only Michigan (20) and Nebraska (31) scored more than 20 points on Northwestern in Big Ten play. 

On the flip side, Ohio State’s defense comes in 7th in the Big Ten — giving up 25.8 points per game and allowing 40 touchdowns to opponents.

4: This is Ohio State’s 4th Big Ten championship game appearance

It seems like old hat at this point, but the Buckeyes aren’t the record holders for most appearances in the title game just yet. That honor belongs to the Wisconsin Badgers with five appearances. 

Still, no other team knows the ins and outs of Lucas Oil Stadium as well as the Buckeyes or Badgers do. That experience inside the stadium and with all the things happening around the game will matter a bit, especially early on in this game. 

OSU holds a 2-1 record in the three previous games, beating Wisconsin twice and losing a 34-24 decision to Michigan State in 2013. 

A win in this game would break a three-way tie for most title game wins with MSU and Wisconsin — all of which have won twice in Indy. 

3: OSU QB Dwayne Haskins is averaging just over 3 TD passes per game

The record books have loved putting Dwayne Haskins’ name in them in 2018. I mean, he broke a record I thought never would be broken — Drew Brees’ single-season touchdown record — by throwing 42 touchdowns and counting. 

Doing the mental math there, that means he is averaging 3.5 passing touchdowns per game. It also means he leads the country in passing touchdowns this season. Will Greir is next on the list, but he’s five touchdown passes behind Haskins. That’s how good of a season he’s having. 

It’s led to a record-breaking six Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards this year. Oh, and his 4,081 yards already this year make him one of only two quarterbacks to do that in the 2018 regular season. 

As for Northwestern? This could all be dangerous news, especially considering the fact that the Wildcats are 11th in the Big Ten in passing defense (238.0 yards per game). The good news is NU’s pass defense has bent, but not broken a lot — giving up just nine passing touchdowns to opponents this year. 

Which will win out? The Buckeyes pass attack that gets yards and scores or the NU defense that allows yards, but not touchdowns through the air…

2: Northwestern has fumbled the ball just twice all season

One way to win close games is by not making big mistakes. Northwestern has been pretty good about that, fumbling the ball just twice this season. It’s the lowest total in the Big Ten and tied for fewest in the country with Mississippi State. 

Unfortunately, the Wildcats also had 13 interceptions on the year. Only Rutgers (22), Minnesota (14) and Illinois (14) had more interceptions thrown on the year. 

Ohio State’s defense has been one of the best in forcing fumbles this season. It’s 11 fumbles gained are second in the Big Ten to Indiana’s 13. 

Which one will give on Saturday in Indianapolis? 

1: It’s Northwestern’s first appearance in the Big Ten championship game

A lot of the talk this week will not only center on Ohio State’s CFB Playoff hopes, but also on the fact that Northwestern is making the trip to Indianapolis for the first time. 

There have been seven Big Ten championship games and excluding the first ever edition of it, only one team making its first appearance in the title game has won. That was Penn State beating Wisconsin in the title game back in 2016. 

In total teams are 1-3 in their first appearance in the game. It’ll be a major talking point and rightfully so, as the hoopla and extra stuff around the game make this very different than any bowl game other than the Rose Bowl for a Big Ten team. 

How Fitzgerald and the Wildcats coaches handle figuring out how to handle all the extra stuff will be vital. Some will try to embrace everything that happens, others will insulate their kids. It really depends on the personality of the team and getting it right can mean as much as getting the game plan right on game day. 

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Widcats Basketball

WATCH: Northwestern unveils inside look at Welsh-Ryan Arena

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After a year spent at the strange confines of Allstate Arena out in Rosemont, the Northwestern Wildcats basketball teams will return home to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the 2018-19 season. 

On Friday, the Wildcats released a video look at what the new-look arena actually looks like ahead of the opener. 

Take a look at this state-of-the-art arena built around the old school appearance on the outside. 

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Football

Northwestern finally solves Ryan Field riddle in OT win

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Northwestern had three tries to win at home and lost all three so far this season. It was almost four, but the Wildcats found a way to prevail 34-31 in overtime over Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. 

The win was the Wildcats third in the last four meetings and second-straight in the series between these West division foes.

It also meant Nebraska was sent to an 0-6 start to the season, something that has never happened in the history of the Huskers program. 

It was an interesting way to win the game for Northwestern, as walk-on kicker Drew Luckenbaugh went from a goat to hero in less than 30 minutes of football. 

The back-up kicker missed an opening kick from 42 yards out in the third quarter, but would hit an important field goal with his team down 10 points late in the fourth quarter and drill the game-winner from 37 yards out in overtime.

Northwestern also got a big day from quarterback Clayton Thorson. He completed 41 of 61 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns. Only a pair of interceptions put a blemish on his day, as did the fact that the Wildcats only got 32 yards on the ground on 23 attempts. 

Husker quarterback Adrian Martinez wasn’t as good, throwing for 251 yards but only one score and two interceptions on the day. 

But, the dueling pair of interceptions were a wash, as both teams got 10 points off turnovers. 

The win for Northwestern seemed to be slipping from its grasp much as it did against Michigan a few weeks ago. As time wore on, momentum swung heavily towards the visiting Huskers. 

Nebraska appeared to take control of this game in the second half. A trio of unanswered touchdowns took a 14-7 Northwestern lead to a 28-14 advantage with just 13:40 to play in the game. 

But, unlike previous home contests, Thorson and the Wildcats had an answer or two in them. It was a quick answer to bring the game within a score, as the Wildcats got a 61-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Thorson to Flynn Nagel.

But, Barrett Pickering made it a 10-point game with a 34-yard field goal with 5:41 to play. 

Lukenbaugh answered back with a key field goal to make it 31-24 with 2:27 to go. His 31-yard field goal capped off a 15-play drive that went 62 yards in just 3:14 of time. 

Nebraska was held to a three-and-out on the ensuing drive and Northwestern capitalized on the momentum swing of its own. 

It would take a full 99 yards though, as the Huskers pinned Northwestern back on its own 1-yard line with the punt. 

This time it took just eight plays and the Wildcats hit pay dirt on a 5-yard pass from Thorson to JJ Jefferson with just 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. 

Nebraska looked like it was going to have an easy time of it in overtime, getting to third and one thanks to Devin Ozigbo’s nine total yards. However, a false start backed them up to third and six. 

Martinez would complete a 5-yard pass and instead of kicking the field goal, head coach Scott Frost rolled the dice on fourth and one. It came up snake eyes, as Martinez’s pass was intercepted by Northwestern. 

The Wildcats didn’t get much going on its possession and instead, went for the game winning field goal attempt which was knocked in by Luckenbaugh. 

For his late-game heroics, the former walk-on was carried off the field on the shoulders of his fellow players. 

The win improves Northwestern to 3-3 on the season and given the punishing schedule it faces, winning this game was a must to even dream of getting to bowl eligibility. 

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Football

Thorson dials up best against MSU once again

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As much as you can never seemingly trust the Northwestern Wildcats football program, it appears you can trust one thing. 

That one thing is that Clayton Thorson will find a way to dial up his best against the Michigan State Spartans. 

Coming in to Saturday’s contest with Michigan State, Thorson had put up 637 yards and seven total touchdowns while completing 72 percent of his passes in just two games. 

History repeated itself on Saturday, despite the Spartans holding Northwestern to 10 total yards on the ground. Instead, Thorson ripped apart the MSU secondary for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed 31 of 47 passes. 

It all added up to a 29-19 victory and proof positive that Thorson is MSU’s Kryptonite. 

At least this time around it wasn’t all on Thorson’s shoulders though, as he got a ton of help from his defense. 

Michigan State’s rushing game woes continued as Northwestern held the Spartans to just 96 yards on the ground. The Wildcats defense also forced 11 stops on third downs, meaning MSU would go just 4 of 15 on third downs in the game. 

Spartans signal caller Brian Lewerke gave his best effort, but having to attempt 51 passes (and completing just 31 of them) is not what MSU’s offense is built for. 

Wide receiver Felton Davis III did everything in his power too. He had seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, while adding another touchdown on the ground too. 

But, he was the only one that really showed up and MSU seemed unable to get out of its own way for large parts of the game. 

Meanwhile, Thorson made the most of his opportunities. That included catching MSU peaking in to the backfield early on in this game and connecting with a wide open Kyric McGowan for a 77-yard touchdown to make it 7-3 Northwestern with just 18 seconds to go in the first quarter. 

It quickly became 14-3 on another Thorson touchdowns pass and his third touchdown of the game gave the Wildcats the final go-ahead score of the game. 

He hit Cameron Green on a 21-yard pass with 15 seconds left to go in the third quarter to make it 22-19. 

The final dagger came on Northwestern’s final drive of the game. After a quarter of nothing, Thorson put one in on the ground from two yards out to make it the final 29-19 margin with 2:51 to play. 

Thus continued the yo-yo season for the Wildcats and the head-scratching start to the Spartans season as well. 

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