Northwestern hopes to start turnaround against Bowling Green
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Just like last year, Northwestern is struggling in the early going. Don’t think coach Pat Fitzgerald is buying the comparisons, though.
The Wildcats come into Saturday’s game against Bowling Green trying to shake off a blowout loss and find their footing.
“I get it,” Fitzgerald said. “But there’s way too much stock put in what happened last year. This is a totally different team.”
With running back Justin Jackson and quarterback Clayton Thorson, the Wildcats (1-1) were looking for bigger things in the early going. They instead find themselves in a familiar spot, trying to steady themselves after getting knocked down in the early stages.
A 41-17 pounding at Duke last week was a big hit for a team coming off a less-than-impressive win over Nevada.
The Wildcats got trampled by the Blue Devils’ Daniel Jones, who threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 108 and two scores. A week earlier, they were trailing by three in the final minutes before two late 1-yard touchdown plunges by Thorson lifted them to a 31-20 victory.
If fans are having flashbacks to last year, it’s not hard to see why.
Coming off a 10-win season, the Wildcats nearly buried themselves in the early going in 2016. They started with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. They dropped their Big Ten opener against Nebraska, and just like that, Northwestern was 1-3.
The Wildcats regrouped to go 7-6 with a victory over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. They were hoping a strong finish would lead to a better start. But so far, it’s not happening.
Northwestern will be the second Big Ten opponent for Bowling Green (0-2). The Falcons opened with a 35-10 loss to Michigan State before falling to South Dakota 35-27.
Here are some things to know as the Wildcats try to rebound from a lopsided loss and Bowling Green goes for its first win:
THE HALF OF IT
Slow starts have hounded Northwestern in both games, with opponents outscoring them 38-17 in the first half.
“We’ve got to do a better job as coaches, we’ve got to get those guys to play more fundamentally sound and consistent,” Fitzgerald said. “And they will.”
How bad was it for Northwestern last week? The Wildcats were outgained 538-191 yards. They collected more than 15 yards on just three of their 13 drives and were an abysmal 1 of 10 on third downs. Duke, on the other hand, converted 15 of 22.
Northwestern will need more from Jackson and Thorson this week. The Wildcats managed just 22 yards rushing against Duke, an astounding total for a team with one of the Big Ten’s best running backs. Jackson — second among active FBS running backs with 4,256 yards — ran for a career-low 18 on seven attempts. Thorson had a difficult time, too, completing 11 of 29 passes for 120 yards. He threw two interceptions without a touchdown and was sacked four times.
ABOUT BOWLING GREEN
Falcons quarterback James Morgan is off to a shaky start. Though he threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns last week, he completed just 20 of 49 passes. He is 30 of 80 for 456 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Morgan passed for 2,082 yards as a freshman last season but had almost as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns (16).
The schedule is about to take a tough turn for Northwestern. The Wildcats at least have extra time to prepare. They’re off next week, then open conference play at Wisconsin. After that, they get Penn State at home.
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