The Northwestern Wildcats needed to bounce back in the biggest way following a defeat at Duke. The team looked lost and struggled to build any type of offensive cohesion and ultimately got worn down and beaten by a decent Duke team.
The Wildcats had a lot of questions to answer about themselves. Not to mention their play failed to inspire much confidence for the Big Ten play to come.
Northwestern was never going to get that back in one outing against a team like Bowling Green. The Falcons were 0-2 and coming off a defeat to FCS South Dakota. The Falcons were not exactly a challenge. But the Wildcats had to do something they so rarely do — absolutely dominate a team.
If there was some hope to cling to, Northwestern did that in more in dismantling Bowling Green 49-7 at Ryan Field on Saturday. It was a win in all three phases, a rarity for Northwestern.
No one was going to overreact to this victory. Bowling Green is a struggling team. But it was the kind of victory the Wildcats needed. The kind that restored some confidence and was just the team taking care of its business.
Clayton Thorson passed for a career-high 370 yards, throwing dimes to receivers to renew that NFL interest. Justin Jackson got himself going, rushing for 121 yards and three touchdowns. The defense put enough pressure on the quarterback to force him into a bad day.
There was still plenty for the Wildcats to improve on. But it is hard not to come away happy with Northwestern. This was the largest margin of victory for Northwestern since a 1970 48-0 win over Illinois. The Cats beat Eastern Illinois 41-0 in 2015, Thorson’s freshman year, and beat Illinois 61-23 in the Big Ten championship 2000 season.
This kind of scoreboard dominance is rare in Northwestern history. The Wildcats do not beat teams like this.
It made for a fairly enjoyable evening for the freshman attending their first Northwestern home game. And an unusually boring and pro forma second half. Northwestern took care of its work early going up 35-7 at halftime.
It was exactly what Northwestern needed.
Still, it is just one game. Northwestern is 0-0 now with the nine Big Ten games ahead of it. And the Wildcats have a lot of work to do.
Give Clayton Thorson time and he is marvelous
Clayton Thorson had a bad day in Durham a week ago. Everyone does. It just looks that much worse when it comes from the quarterback. Even with two years under his belt, Thorson still has a tendency to try to force things. Maybe it was an overconfidence in his ability.
That ability is what has NFL scouts buzzing and it was that ability on display for Northwestern throughout Saturday’s win. His 370 yards and 23-for-30 completion really says it all. He took over the game, throwing into tight windows and finding receivers. He had a masterful control over the offense at all times. When he threw it deep to Bennet Skowronek and Macan Wilson or dumped it off underneath to Garrett Dickerson, it was always on the money.
A big reason for that was the offensive line gave him the time to throw it. The team did a much better job maintaining a pocket for him and giving him the time he needs. This is where Thorson was brilliant in the first game against Nevada.
Thorson can make all the throws his team needs him to make. And he makes them accurately. He just needs the time to throw it. And not much time. If his receivers get open, Thorson will get it to them. And even make them open. He just needs the time and the confidence he will have that time.
Defense still has its holes
The Northwestern defense stood tall for most of the evening. The Wildcats gave up just 352 yards of total offense and seven points. But that 352 yards certainly would suggest Bowling Green moved the ball a decent amount.
Even early in the game, the Wildcats gave up some big plays, only to take them back with some big plays in return. The Wildcats did not break ever and kept the Falcons from getting into good scoring position. But they made some big gashes.
The game turned with Northwestern up 14-7. Bowling Green drove to the Northwestern 37-yard line when Montre Hartage caught up to Detrin Guyton and ripped the ball out for Godwin Igwebuike to scoop and return back into Bowling Green territory. That set up a NU touchdown a play later and the rout was one.
The Wildcats had plenty of moments in the first half where they missed tackles and gave up big passing plays. The team’s lack of depth in the secondary shows — both Brian Bullock and Marcus McShephard missed Saturday’s game once again.
It was never enough to put Bowling Green in a scoring position. The defensive line got its most consistent push and pressure of the season. But there were still concerns about how the team stayed discipline and got Bowling Green off the field quicker. The Big Ten is going to be much better.
Not in Kansas Anymore…
Northwestern figured it would learn a lot about its team through the first three games. After all, the real goal lay in the nine games that make up Big Ten season. These first three games were just the appetizer. It is hard to have watched those three games and said Northwestern is a true Big Ten contender — especially with Wisconsin and Penn State, the two toughest teams, on the schedule first.
The time to make simple and basic mistakes is over now.
Northwestern showed in its three non-conference games that it can have a truly dynamic offense. The skill players who projected as the top players can take over games. But they are bolstered by the bedrocks of any football team and program. And those are maybe not as strong as Northwestern would like. They showed plenty of cracks through the first three games.
The offensive line struggled early in the season keeping Clayton Thorson in the pocket and giving him time to throw. When he was, he could dominate. The same for Justin Jackson.
The defense still has struggled to get consistent pressure and has only three sacks through three games. The Wildcats will have to do a better job getting after the quarterback in Big Ten play. That pressure will be everything for the defense.
The Wildcats are known for playing their game close to the vest at this point in the season. They likely did not unleash all their wrinkles to the offense or many of their blitz packages — you could probably count their blitzes in all three games on two hands. Northwestern will likely add more to their offense and defense by the time they take the field next.
But the team still has a lot to work on and improve on before they play at Camp Randall Stadium in two weeks. Northwestern did plenty to get by in non-conference play. The real season starts now.
2018 Big Ten Championship Game Preview: 5 Things to Know
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.
WATCH: Northwestern unveils inside look at Welsh-Ryan Arena
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.
Northwestern finally solves Ryan Field riddle in OT win
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.
Thorson dials up best against MSU once again
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.