2. KEYS TO THE SEASON
Biggest Key To The Northwestern Offense
The running game can’t be so miserable, and it starts with improvement on the offensive front. The Wildcats somehow survived in game after game with no ground attack and little in the way of pass protection.
The Wildcats allowed 36 sacks, but that’s not why you called.
Even with a great quarterback prospect in Hunter Johnson leading the way, Northwestern won’t be able to get away with another horrible year running the ball. The touchdown runs were there – the Cats were great around the goal line – but the team only averaged 115 yards per game and averaged fewer than four yards per carry 11 times.
How many times did Northwestern finish with fewer than 100 yards? Seven, including all four losses. After only rushing for more than 200 yards once – in the win over Illinois – Northwestern is now 21-0 over the last five years when hitting the mark.
Biggest Key To The Northwestern Defense
Takeaways, takeaways, takeaways, takeaways, takeaways. Northwestern didn’t have much of an offense, and the defense gave up yards in chunks and was hardly a brick wall.
So how does a team with so many flaws and issues end up winning nine games and get to the Big Ten Championship? The defense managed to come up with massive plays time and again.
Purdue outplayed NU in the opener – but three takeaways turned out to be the difference. Nebraska had the Cats dead to rights – three takeaways, and a whole lot of Husker penalties, helped in he meltdown.
How does Northwestern play just okay and beat Wisconsin? Force three turnovers. How did the Cats managed to get by a Utah program that doesn’t lose bowl games? Six takeaways.
No takeaways against Duke and Michigan and just one against Akron … 0-3. None against Rutgers? Need everything in the bag to survive 18-15.
The D came up with 26 takeaways, and it’ll have to do it again.
Key Player To A Successful Season
PK Charlie Kuhbander, Jr.
The offense should be a wee bit stronger, but it’s still not going to be a machine.
The defense is still going to be great, but it’s asking a lot to get so many big performances in key moments without a little bit of good fortune.
Northwestern needs its kicker to be good.
Drew Luckenbaugh stepped in when Kuhbander got hurt and hit three of his four attempts, and Jake Collins connected on two short tries, but the main man needs to be healthy after fighting through a leg injury early last year. Kuhbander connected on just 5-of-9 field goals including a season-long 45-yarder against Michigan, but he can do a whole lot more.
He’s got a big leg and can be more of a weapon at 100%. If he can get back to his normal self and show off 40+ range, the offense changes.
Key Game To The Northwestern Season
at Wisconsin, Sept. 28
Alex Hornibrook was hurt. The Badger starting quarterback was out with concussion issues, Jonathan Taylor had fumbling problems, and the Wildcats managed to pounce all over every opportunity to take down the Badgers 31-17. It turned out to be the game that took Big Ten West title hopes to a realistic level, and it needs to happen again.
This time around it’s in Madison, and it’s coming off the date against Michigan State and with a trip to Nebraska and the dates with Ohio State and Iowa to follow. Lose, and forget about repeating as the West champion.
– Northwestern Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
2018 Northwestern Fun Stats
– Field Goals: Opponents 20-of-30 – Northwestern 10-of-16
– Penalties: Opponents 99 for 947 yards – Opponents 40 for 363 yards
– Fumbles: Opponents 21 (lost 14) – Northwestern 8 (lost 3)