Stanford Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (0-0) at #25 Stanford Cardinal (0-0)
Date: Saturday, August 31, 2019, 3:00 pm CDT, Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA
Line: Northwestern (+6.5)
Money line: Northwestern (+195), Stanford (-245)
Welcome back, Lowes Liners! This year’s season opener is eight months
to the day after one of the most exciting games in recent NU history,
as the ‘Cats overcame a 17-point halftime deficit against a solid Utah
team to win their third bowl game in a row, capturing the Holiday Bowl
in San Diego.
The reigning Big Ten West champion Wildcats return to California to
kick off the 2019 season. The venue this time is Palo Alto, as NU
completes its home-and-home with Stanford that started in 2015 with a
game in Evanston.
The schedule this season is a brute, with six of the first seven games
against teams in the AP preseason top 25. In addition to this
week at #25 Stanford, the ‘Cats have #18 Michigan State, #5 Ohio State,
and #20 Iowa at home, while traveling to Camp Randall for #19 Wisconsin
and Lincoln for #24 Nebraska. Add to this the annual September
inability to show up against non-conference opponents at home, which
could make the tilt with UNLV in two weeks more of struggle than it
should be, and NU could be looking up at the rest of the B1G West come
Fitz needs four wins to get to 100 at the helm of NU. This is
truly a remarkable stat, and one never thought achievable. Over
the course of his 13-year tenure in Evanston, Fitz has three 10-win
seasons, four bowl wins (currently three in a row), and has averaged
more than seven wins a year. No other coach in the history of NU
has more than 49 wins. In fact, Fitz has as many wins in his 13
years than the five coaches who led NU in the 28 seasons from 1978-2005.
If you’re like me, you cringe at the times Fitz fails to step on
throats when he has the chance and put a game out of reach, but you
take the good with the bad, and the good has simply outweighed the bad
over the past decade-plus. Fitz has had the uncanny ability to
win close games. Sometimes this is great (see Iowa & Nebraska
last year), and sometimes it’s maddening (Rutgers and Illinois).
After four years with Clayton Thorson at the controls of the offense,
it’s time to turn the page. Thorson left NU as the all-time school
leader in nearly every statistical category for a quarterback and
stands fourth all-time in Big Ten career passing yards. Now the
reins are turned over to Hunter Johnson, the much-heralded transfer
from Clemson we’ve been hearing about for over a year, with three years
of eligibility remaining. Yes, we can all look at the depth chart
and see the familiar “OR” with regard to Johnson or senior TJ Green, as
Fitz again plays the nonsense game of not naming a starter. But
make no mistake, if NU is going to be successful this year, it’s not
with TJ Green under center.
Sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser is looking to build on the
successful first season he had as the feature back, after being thrust
into action due to the injury and subsequent retirement of Jeremy
Larkin. Bowser averaged more than 100 yards per game in his eight
starts last year and will be running behind a line that’s lost a few
starters. A notable returning offensive lineman is junior Rashawn
Slater, who has started 26 straight games at right tackle and now moves
to the left side for 2019.
Senior wideout and co-captain Bennett Skowronek will be the primary
target for Johnson. NCAA rules be damned, Skowronek has surely
still not paid for a drink after his catch-of-the-year worthy TD
against Iowa last year that helped secure the B1G West for NU.
Defensively, it will be the front seven who set the tone. Senior
Joe Gaziano is the man up front, having recorded 16.5 sacks and 25
tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Brothers Alex (senior) and
Samdup (junior) Miller will be anchoring the defensive line alongside
Junior middle linebacker and co-captain Paddy Fisher is the heart and
soul of the defense. A 3rd Team All-America last year as a
sophomore, Fisher has a nose for the ball, having recorded over 100+
tackles in each of his first two seasons as well as four forced fumbles
last year alone. Juniors Blake Gallagher, who led the Big Ten in
tackles last year, and Chris Bergin are the other starting linebackers
The secondary is more of a question mark and will be tested right out
of the gate against Stanford. The starting corners are senior
Trae Williams and sophomore Greg Newsome II and the safeties are
juniors JR Pace and Travis Whillock. This group tends to be
overlooked due to the studs up front who garner the accolades, but
their play will be key to the success of the Wildcats this season.
So, what are we to expect this year? You have to think more of the
same. Chris the Cook changed the Mel-Fry more often than Fitz changes
assistant coaches, so we should go by what we’ve seen, which is simply
this: the defense, especially the line and linebackers, will play
well enough to keep NU in close games, and the offense will find a way
to pull some of them out. Even if Hunter Johnson is the second
coming of Drew Brees, it stands to reason the play calling will
continue to focus on running the ball first, and likely a fairly
conservative ball-control offense.
Stanford is led by senior quarterback KJ Costello, who threw for 29 TDs
and over 3,500 yards last season. His primary targets will be
juniors Connor Wedington and Osirus St. Brown. Christian
McCaffrey and Bryce Love are no longer roaming the backfield in Palo
Alto, which is great news for NU fans, but solid fifth year senior
running back Cameron Scarlett will be the guy in the crosshairs of the
NU defensive front.
It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats come out on
offense. Given the athleticism of the Cardinal secondary, running
the ball might be the best option. Look for Bowser to pick up where he
left off in 2018. Defensively, there’s a fair amount of
confidence in the Wildcat front seven being able to contain the
Cardinal rushing attack, but the effectiveness of the NU pass defense
will determine the outcome of Fitz’s 14th season opener.
In the Fitz era, NU has never lost a season opener on the road, going
6-0 versus Miami (OH) in 2006, Vandy in 2010, BC in 2011, Syracuse in
2012, Cal in 2013, and Purdue last year. This is a somewhat
surprising stat, but one that makes sense when you consider how the
‘Cats tend to play away from home in general. Maybe they should
play every game on the road until October. I think the successful
road season opener trend continues.
Pick: ‘Cats don’t get stuck in a tree. Northwestern 20, Stanford 17. Take the NU and the points.
The Lowes Line is an
e-mailed description of NU's
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat,
GallopingGrapes, P.S. O'Briant, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.
the 2019 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes