The 'Cats Celebrate in Dublin
[AP Photo]


An Irish Celebration!

Before Northwestern's season opener in Dublin, there had not been a lot for Wildcat fans to celebrate recently.

NU finished its 2021 campaign a dismal 3-9, with just one conference win. The team had lost the Land of Lincoln Trophy, it had been dismantled 56-7 by Nebraska (another 3-9 team), and it was mired in a six game losing streak at the end of the season. Within a month, we learned that the team's All-American safety, Brandon Joseph, was jumping ship to join hated Notre Dame. And the team would open 2022 by facing off against Nebraska and its sea of red in Ireland.

What a difference three hours makes.

It turns out that NU's offseason has been more productive than many fans could have imagined. Let's list just a few of the upgrades:

  • Ryan Hilinski has not only secured the QB1 spot, he is worlds better than where he left off in 2021. Hilinski showed poise in the pocket and cool under fire, rifling off two TDs and 314 passing yards, without being picked off once. Of course, some of his improvement is due to. . .
  • The offensive line! Yes, the team has its pre-season All-American, Peter Skoronski, and we knew he would hit the Emerald Isle in beast mode, but the rest of the line has stepped up and become a force of nature. How much? Check out this photo, which is from a play that was [checks notes] NU's tenth running play in a row. Nebraska had a pretty clear idea what was coming, but was utterly powerless to stop it:

See that hole for Cam Porter? How could you not?
It was literally big enough to drive a--

  • The offensive line's performance let Porter and Evan Hull shine, and did they ever, grinding through the Blackshirts like they were paper mâché. Porter and Hull have developed into a terrifying force in the backfield.
  • Not to be outdone, the defensive line also showed remarkable progress, troubling the Nebraska pocket and allowing linebackers Xander Mueller and Greyson Metz to create absolute chaos in Nebraska's backfield.
  • The kickers are [chef's kiss] so promising this year! Yes, grad school kicker Adam Stage missed a late field goal attempt, but he did put NU on the board in the first quarter with a clutch 35-yarder that split the uprights. Junior punter Luke Akers kept the 'Cats in this game, averaging nearly 41 yards on six punts, including a breathtaking  49-yarder. Two thirds of his punts pinned Nebraska deep.

This win not only avenged NU's humiliation against Nebraska last year, it gave the Wildcats a rare weekend in the national spotlight, with most sports media focused on the game (one of only a handful of Power 5 games in Week Zero), which was coverage the program desperately needed. And, most importantly, it points to a program that seems to be headed in the right direction, a sign that its nervous fans might be advised to relax a bit and enjoy some Wildcat football and good, clean American fun this fall.