Northwestern entered their week three game with some momentum after their first win of the season against Indiana State last week. That momentum was interrupted (at least in the first half) in their 30-20 loss to Duke. There was so much more to this game than the end result, so here are five takeaways from losing the Wildcats.
1. A QB change had to be made
Senior quarterback Hunter Johnson was really good against Michigan State in Game 1 of the season and it looked like Pat Fitzgerald had made the right choice in his starter. Two weeks later, and I’m not so convinced. Johnson had a disappointing game last week against Indiana State, throwing for just 66 yards, one touchdown and one interception. And in Saturday’s game against the Blue Devils, he looked downright terrible, returning the ball four times, three of four were steals and one was a fumble, and completing just six of 16 passes for 75 yards. The offense was completely at a standstill with Johnson as QB. On most practices they only got three games on the field before sending the punter off so the change had to be made and when it did it was a game-changer.
2. Andrew Marty won the opportunity to start
The way senior quarterback Andrew Marty stepped into the game in the last practice of the first half and immediately made an impact should have made a lasting impression on the coaching staff at NU. The guy was just on fire. He scored three touchdowns in little or no time to bring Northwestern back to under 10 points after dropping 30 points. Marty might have brought the Wildcats back to the end if he hadn’t suffered an injury in a run that ended in a groping of the ball (and the Wildcats fumbling for any hope of a comeback). But despite the loss, Marty showed he deserved the opportunity to start. The injury will obviously affect that decision, but barring a serious injury he should be QB1 when he returns.
3. The racing game needs to be better and more consistent
After a big game against Indiana State, I expected second-year runningback Evan Hull and the rest of the running back hall to do the same against the Blue Devils, but Hull’s trio, the student graduate Andrew Clair and freshman Anthony Tyus III combined for just 123 yards. Hull himself ran for 126 against the Sycamores and on nights like this, when the quarterback situation is constantly changing, the Wildcats will need the RBs to help stabilize the offense.
4. The Wildcat defense must be ready to go from the start of the match.
Duke graduate student quarterback Gunnar Holmberg looked like an absolute stallion in the first half. He read the Northwest Defense perfectly and found the man open time and time again. Senior running back Mataeo Durant was also coping with the defense, scoring the first two touchdowns in the first five minutes of play. The Wildcats’ pass and run defense just didn’t have it in the first half. and they dug a hole too big to overcome.
5. That being said, when the defense is locked, it can be special.
The defense we saw in the second half was on a different level than what we’ve seen all season. There’s an argument to be made that they were just as good against the State of Indiana, but that was less competition. Against Duke, they went from three touchdowns in one quarter to not allowing the Blue Devils to score a single point in the last two quarters. They did this by putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the pocket and getting quick with their hands when defending the race. This increase in activity led the Wildcat defense to force turnovers in the second half. If they could put that type of performance together for four quarters, it would give them a much better chance of winning games despite their inconsistent attack.
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