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Interviews with Frenemies: Northwestern

Not much offense, not enough defense, and how are Wildcat fans feeling about Pat Fitzgerald?

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Being a college football fan is funny sometimes. We all have our teams - likely yours wears blue and white since you are here, beginning to read an article about Penn State’s upcoming opponent. College football can grab you at your most passionate even when you did not attend the school that you so ardently support.

But is it possible to be a huge college football fan and attend a school that has a Power Five program and not care at all about that team nor have any knowledge of what’s happening with that team beyond an occassional glance at the schedule? Yes, from personal experience, it absolutely is. Here I am, relatively new BSD Blogger Bennett765, and hanging on my office wall behind me is a graduate degree from Northwestern.

How are the Wildcats doing? I clearly don’t know. But, I was able to enlist the help of Sarah Effress from Inside NU. Here’s what she has to say about Northwestern heading into Saturday’s Big Ten matchup.

Northwestern played in one of the most watched games of the year, the effective end of Nebraska coach Scott Frost’s career. We were all mostly impressed. What’s gone wrong since returning to the continent?

Trust me, I was also impressed with Northwestern’s performance in Dublin, especially the play of Ryan Hilinski. The line gave him enough protection, and he was hitting his targets well. Since then, though, turnovers have been a serious issue on offense. NU has consistently given up 3+ possessions in its last three games, both from fumbles and interceptions. The Wildcat secondary has been beaten down by injuries as well, limiting the defense’s ability to not give up explosive passing plays as it has recently. Hilinski hasn’t been the same QB since Week Zero either, and he’s going to have to tap back into whatever Irish spirit took over him heading into Happy Valley.

Offensively, Penn State coach James Franklin mentioned Evan Hull by name as being a key figure who will get a lot of touches and demand a lot of attention. What makes him special and who are other guys that Northwestern will look to get involved as they try to figure out a way to get their offense going again?

Evan Hull is as dual-threat as it gets. The man can run and he can catch, but he can’t win games all by himself. Tight end Thomas Gordon has been a pleasant surprise on offense so far, providing a solid receiving option up the middle for Hilinski along with his blocking duties. Illinois transfer Donny Navarro has also made an impact as a receiver, and Cam Porter gives NU a bit of depth out of the backfield alongside Hull. Malik Washington has been a bit quiet this season, but he could also emerge at any point as Hilinski’s top target on a good day.

Statistically, Nebraska and SIU threw the ball well against Northwestern, while Duke and Miami (Miami especially with a backup quarterback) had big days running against the Wildcats. Are they struggling because of the offense’s lack of continuity or are there other issues plaguing that unit?

It really doesn’t make sense why any of Northwestern’s last three opponents had the success they did against the ‘Cats. They should have been able to stop Miami’s run and SIU’s passing attack, regardless of injuries and the like. Offensive turnovers don’t put the defense in a great position, but what’s scary is there really isn’t a surefire source for Northwestern’s problems at the moment to point to. Something’s just not clicking, and Fitz is going to need to help his team find answers if he wants to win any more games this season.

Pat Fitzgerald has been around for more than 15 years. Is the fanbase growing antsy at all for a change?

There are certainly rumblings of angry fans wanting to see Fitz gone, and there are even larger rumblings calling for him to fire DC Jim O’Neil and other members of his coaching staff. I think his seat will certainly be slightly warm after this season and will grow warmer if the losing trend continues. But, in my opinion, there are few coaches able to squeeze success out of programs like Northwestern’s, and Fitz is one of them. We’ll see what the future holds, but there’s no doubt the coaching situation is on the fanbase’s radar.

Any thoughts or predictions as Northwestern makes its first trip to State College since 2014 when the Wildcats won in 29-6 blowout fashion against an unbeaten Penn State team?

Look, would I love for this to be a ridiculous upset like in 2014? Of course. Do I think it will happen in 2022? That’s a different story. Penn State will probably win this one by a significant margin, which will depend on how efficiently Sean Clifford can slice through Northwestern’s injury-riddled secondary. I’ll be optimistic and say the ‘Cats get on the board at least once with either a field goal or a quick score, but I can definitely see the Nittany Lions dropping 40-50 points with unfortunately no problem :(.

Thanks for your time Sarah - and be sure to check out Inside NU for more information about the Cats, especially during basketball season when Penn State folk hero Talor Battle is on the sideline as an assistant coach.