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
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 TV: FOX 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.
UNLV Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes
Matchup: University of Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels (1-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-1) Date: Saturday, September 14, 2019, 2:30 p.m. CDT Place: Ryan Field, Evanston, IL TV: BTN Line: Northwestern (-19.5) [o/u: 54, money line: NU (-1115), UNLV (+750)]
Let’s get right into it. Stanford QB K.J. Costello took one to
the chin, the Wildcats took one to the gut, and the Lowes Line bettors
took it in the tailpipe. It was a true shocker in the end.
I’ve spent the last 12 days with a 1-song playlist on an endless loop
pounding in the back of my head, and you all know that this time of
year my blood runs Deep Purple…
COVER THROUGH YOUR BACK DOOR
(with really big apologies to Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover)
Sweet Willie was a dancer
That the Lowes Line took a chance at
Because he was a Wildcat
He made electric shadows
Based on our betting tips
But none of us would beat that Line.
We even bet the teaser
Thought the ‘Cats would win a squeezer
Enjoy a little paradise
The lock was in our pocket
Then Hunter met the rocket
We never knew the reason why.
I can't deny it
When the point spread was blown
Oh, it's not the cover
But that we all should have known…
Feel it coming
It's knocking at the door
You know it's no good betting
Fitz doesn’t know the odds
The parlay doesn‘t pay
And now you see the score
And now you're learning
What's knockin' at your back door!
The 2-deep looked so fancy
The money line was chancy
‘Cats were B1G West aristocracy
The bloggers that Fitz toyed with
At closed practice in poor diplomacy.
Stanford’s QB got the quiver
Of a massive forearm shiver
Lost TJ to an injury
So no easing Hunter gently
Thrown in the deep end consequently
Suddenly he looks so young.
I can't deny it
When the point spread was blown
Oh, it's not the cover
It’s that we all should have known…
Feel it coming
It's knocking at the door
You know it's no good betting
Fitz doesn’t know the odds
The parlay doesn‘t pay
And now you see the score
And now you're learning
What's knockin' at your back door!
I can't deny it
With that scowl on my face
Oh oh, that f*ing cover
It was the hard coup de grace.
Feel it coming
Knocking at your door
You know we’re gonna bet the under
Now it's knocking at your door
Ah ha, knockin' at your back door.
ON TO UNLV
Until I started working on this, I had no idea that the Runnin’ Rebels
moniker refers to just the UNLV men’s basketball team. Football
and other sports are just known as the Rebels. Who knew?
Ironic too, as it appears that runnin’ is one of the few things this
Vegas team can do well. The Rebs were a top-20 team last season
in rushing, although their star RB graduated. Still, that dude
has been replaced by another good one, junior RB Charles
Williams. He set a school record for rushing yards by a freshman
3 years ago, then sat for a year with an injury. In two games so
far this year, Williams has logged 155 yards/game, for a 9 yards per
carry average, and 4 TDs. He’s got wheels, just the kind of fast
and elusive back we hate to see in the open field cutting through the
NU defense. Similarly, the Rebel QB, Armani Rogers, is the kind
of run-pass-option guy that we hate to see lining up across from the
‘Cats. Rogers actually might be a better runner than
Williams--but to be fair, for all we know Williams could be the better
passer. Rogers probably isn’t nearly as inept as he showed last
week, when UNLV got crushed by Arkansas State. But if he does get
a pass off, his main receiving weapon is a transfer from the USC
Trojans, WR Randal “Grimey” Grimes. He’s not just another runner;
he’s a big, tall, strong runner. You know, the kind we hate to
see matching up against the NU secondary. So, yeah, those are
three guys who could hurt the Wildcats pretty badly, and I expect to be
shouting “Get that guy!!!” at my television a lot on Saturday. On
the bright side, if the ‘Cats do get those guys, there is not a lot
else to worry about. All NU needs to do is make open field
tackles. Uh, which they seemed to have a hard time doing against
Stanford. Maybe it will settle our raw nerves to look at the
other side of the ball…
Unfortunately, that last paragraph might have exhausted my limited
football knowledge and insight into the UNLV Rebels for the week.
Or, it’s possible that there just isn’t much to say about the Rebel
defense. That’s good, right? I guess so, except apparently
the big secret Fitz was hiding during spring practice and summer camp
was that he and his coaches were farting around with two starting QBs
(again), rather than just picking a winner and getting that guy
ready. I will freely admit that Fitz knows more about football
than I do about anything, and he’s already earned his on-campus statue,
but these mind games aren’t fooling anybody, as demonstrated by the
now-annual pooping of the bed in early season non-conference games
against opponents who frankly do not give a tinker’s dam about Fitz’s
secret strategy. Hey coach, from the cheap seats behind an
anonymous Twitter account it doesn’t seem like coaching genius, it’s
looks like onanism. Maybe it’s not a mortal coaching sin, but
it’s become a venial pain in our collective asses. (Zing!!)
Anyway, UNLV’s defense might suck, but the Lowes Line lacks faith that
the Wildcats will take full advantage of that to tune Hunter Johnson up
for what promises to be a rough ride once they enter the B1GTen
slate. Much more likely, and frustrating, is that Fitz gives
Hunter and the offense just enough reps to start hitting his receivers
in the numbers rather than the antlers, then close up the playbook and
let the backups smash into the Rebel lines until the clock winds
down. Fitz will be perfectly happy with an ugly and unsatisfying
win (see, Rutgers 2018), and will believe (wrongly) that by slowly
driving the Porsche with the hazard lights flashing, like Joel Goodson
on the way home from the shop after dunking it into Lake Michigan, he’s
pulling one over on next week’s opponent from East Lansing. Of
course, Guido the killer pimp still stole all of Joel’s sh*t, sold it
back to him and cracked his mom’s egg, and I expect Mark Dantonio and
the Spartans to be similarly unimpressed. Whether that’s all
worth it to end up in a tenuous “relationship” with a hot blonde hooker
with a train fetish is a philosophical question that exceeds the scope
of this now totally off-the-rails preview, but may be revisited if the
Wildcats back-door their way into another trip to Indianapolis in
December. Bottom line--sometimes Fitz needs to say what the
f*** and see what the Porsche can do. But I can’t help but worry
that we’re going to be screaming WHAT THE F***?!??!?!? more than once
Pick: NU-31, UNLV-17. Wildcats win, but they drop the soap and fail to cover.
Season to Date: 0-1 ATS (ouch), 0-1 Straight up
MSU Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Matchup: Michigan State University Spartans (2-1, 0-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-1, 0-0) Date: Saturday, September 21, 2019, 11:00 a.m. (CDT) Place: Ryan Field, Evanston, IL TV: ABC Line: MSU (-8.5) [o/u: 36, money line: MSU (-370), NU (+300)]
I apologize for the late Lowes Line. I only just returned from
the land of lingonberries, reindeer, and tall, blond white people and
am still catching up.
Recap: Northwestern captured its first win of
the season last week 30-14 over the UNLV Rebels. The game was
close through the first half with the Cats pulling away in the
second. There were several bright spots during the game,
including two important ones. First, two running backs showed
promise of depth: Drake Anderson (146 yard on 28 carries) and
Jesse Brown (8.8 ypg). Second, and most surprising, at appears
that Fitz now trusts an actual, real live kicker. Charlie
Kuhbander is building confidence with three field goals, with a long of
44 y. The not-so bright spots mostly involved a continuing
mediocre performance by Hunter Johnson despite a poor opponent.
He did run 10 times for 50 yards plus a touchdown. Outlook:
This week, NU plays its first conference opponent in Michigan
State. The Spartans lost a close game last week to ASU after
previously winning easily against Western Michigan and Tulsa. The
end of the Arizona State game was marred by poor officiating in both
directions. Not much was learned from the first three games,
except Sparty is capable of rolling over poorer opponents and played
ASU (undefeated) close with a chance to tie as time expired. That
said, ASU is not ranked, nor is MSU.
So far, the Spartans have produced a balanced offense and a stout
defense. Quarterback Brian Lewerke, running back Elijah Collins,
and wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr are the leaders on offense.
After gaining a lot of momentum versus their first two cupcake
opponents, their offense suddenly ground to a sputtering crawl last
week. Frankly, the Arizona State game is likely more indicative
of their future performances than the first two games.
Defensively, they are getting contributions across the board, with
defensive end Kenny Willekes leading the way with 4 sacks in the first
three games. Without a doubt the defense may cause problems for
Meanwhile, in two contests, the Cats have shown that they too have a
stout defense, but the offense has not been impressive so far.
The pessimistic view point is that Hunter Johnson simply looks below
average with poor accuracy and decision-making. However, an
optimist would say if the problem is a single player, there could be
marked improvement on the agenda for the whole offense as that player
improves, plus it looks like Fitz has given Johnson the green light to
run more if in trouble, one of his relative strengths.
Prediction: Expect another grinder in this one as two good
defenses muck up the works for both teams. This game practically
screams out for one of Fitz's patented super conservative game
plans. NU is looking ahead to four tough opponents (Wisconsin,
Nebraska, Ohio State, and Iowa), so this game should be considered
within reach and critical for a successful overall season.
Meanwhile, MSU’s been dealing with some recent bad press, which has
their Coach Dantonio’s “Mr. Frowny-Face” visage more grumpy than
The safe bet is a Spartan win, but with a close game anything could
happen. To expect victory, the Cats will need to win the turnover
battle and Johnson will need to use his legs to keep the chains moving
in critical situations instead of throwing the ball away. While I
think we’ll see overall improvement from the Cat’s offense (which may
be tough to see in a low scoring game), unfortunately, I think they
fall just short.
Pick: MSU-20, NU-17 Sparty pulls out a big play or two to win, but can’t cover the spread.
Season to Date: 1-1 ATS, 1-1 Straight up
Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) at #16 Wisconsin Badgers (3-0, 1-0) Date: Saturday, September 28, 2019, 11:00 a.m. CDT, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI TV: ABC
Gambler's Anonymous Line: Wisconsin (-24) Over/Under: 45.5 Money Line: NU +1,100; WI -2,500
Last Week, Today:
The cycle keeps on turning, Northwestern fans. While top programs
in the country are able to reload and avoid ups and downs, Northwestern
seems unable to find that magic formula for sustained excellence.
Given what the Lowes Line staff experienced as undergraduates (no more
than 3 wins in any season, and one 0-11 campaign), we probably should
be positively giddy with what has happened starting with the magical
1995 season. But, success breeds expectations (as do pithy
slogans like "Expect Victory"). Looking back over the Fitzgerald
era, NU has had 8 winning seasons, 1 6-6, and 5 losing. Compared
to teams all the way back to Ara Parseghian, that's a pretty impressive
run. Inevitably, though, we cycle to a down year. That has
been true since Barnett. Most don't realize his first three
seasons produced little change from the mythical Francis Peay teams
until we snuck up on everybody except USC in '95. Another good
season in '96, but then two losing seasons and Barnett was off to coach
in Colorado. Walker took over, got us back to respectable, but
had only 2 winning seasons out of 7 before his untimely death.
Perhaps the good news for Purple Patriots is that our ups are becoming
longer, and the lows shallower. Before this season, Fitz had the
Cats bring back 4 winning seasons in a row, and 3 bowl victories in a
row. Our losing seasons have gone from 2-9/3-8 to 5-7. Not
great to end up with a losing record, but at least we are competitive
and aren't the doormat of the Big Ten. Perhaps sustained
excellence is just around the corner. Or, a little less rosy,
maybe this is what sustained excellence will look like for
Northwestern. While we won't challenge the 6 rings Nick Saban
wears in his extremely creepy Aflac commercial, it beats the hell out
of leaving before halftime because the game is already well over, and
at least there are tequila shots in the parking lot. But I
That said, this season has all the markings of a return to the Dark Ages of the Francis Peay era.
Over the last few seasons, we at the Lowes Line have remarked how bland
and conservative the Cats' offensive scheme is. I'm not even sure
that "scheme" is the right word here, as it I think its use oversells
Northwestern's offensive game plan. The fact is, Mick McCall's
offensive is about as imaginative as a "Three's Company" script.
You know there's going to be some misunderstanding, some slapstick
physical comedy by the late John Ritter, and by the end the
misunderstanding will get worked out. At least Randy Walker's
offense scared the crap out of DCs around the Big Ten; McCall's...not
so much. In the last 5 years, have you seen a "snap clock" on any
NU offensive series? Perhaps Fitz and Co. aren't recruiting the
types of players that can run such a manic offense. But what is
becoming clearer and clearer is that the offensive scheme doesn't put
the playmakers we do have in a position to succeed.
Enter Michigan State. A look at the game statistics paints it to
be a far more even contest than the score might lead you to
believe. NU was only outgained by about 70 total yards. NU
actually lead in time of possession. NU out-rushed MSU. But
Sparty led in one critical stat (besides the score):
turnovers. NU's quarterbacks threw 3 picks. As good as a
turnover, NU also whiffed on 2nd and goal at the 1, turning it over on
downs after 3 attempts to jam the ball in failed. Good for Fitz
for going for it on 4th and 1, but maybe call something that has a
chance to succeed against a team known for their physical
defense? Overall, NU ran the ball reasonably well, with Anderson
rolling up 91 yards and over 5 ypc, and Bowser contributing 39
more. Passing...that's where the NU offense struggles. All
eyes are on Hunter Johnson the heralded transfer from Clemson.
But watching closely, Johnson seems to be severely hampered by a
receiver corps that cannot get separation from defensive backs.
No matter how good a quarterback you have, if your receivers can't get
a step, the quarterback will have impossibly tight windows into which
to fit the football. That's a recipe for incompletions or, worse,
interceptions. And disaster. 31-10.
Despite the statistical parity, the score was another matter and shows
just how punchless the NU offense is. The one touchdown was
scored in garbage time late in the 4th, when the outcome was all but
written in stone. Positively, the NU defense kept the Spartans
somewhat contained on the ground, allowing 109 yards total to Michigan
Our Next Opponent:
That one small bright spot on defense becomes pretty important this
week, as Northwestern heads north to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to
take on the Badgers. The Badgers and their faithful are riding
high, fresh off dominating the Michigan Wolverines, 35-14. This
Lowes Line staffer was there and, believe me, the game wasn't that
close. Michigan scored its points after the game was essentially
over. Wisconsin built up a 28-0 halftime lead, stretched it to
35-0 in the third before the Wolverines managed any points. It
took Michigan until the 2 minute mark in the 3rd quarter to get their
first touchdown, and until under 5 in the 4th to get their next
one. Shea Weber, the transfer on whom Michigan was basing their
lofty aspirations (including a national championship) was benched at
the end of the second quarter, only to return late in the 3rd when his
substitute suffered a concussion on a vicious hit by the Wisconsin
secondary. The Wolverines offense had 3 turnovers, including a
deflating fumble in at the Wisconsin 3 as the Wolverines were on the
verge of answering the Badgers' opening, smashmouth drive.
By now, we are used to the concept that Wisconsin wants to run the
football. Ever since Barry Alvarez took over the program, they
have placed a high priority on having a skilled, big offensive line and
gifted running backs carrying the ball through the holes punched the
line; that formula even resulted in a Heisman for Ron Dayne. But,
if possible, Jonathan Taylor is even better. Taylor has over
4,000 yards his first two seasons, and he may be on the way to a third
straight 2,000 yard campaign. Against Michigan, Taylor had 143
yards rushing. With 2:43 remaining. In the first
quarter. Whether pounding through the line on the first drive, or
running away from the Michigan defense on the third, the Wolverines had
no answer for Taylor. Taylor ended with over 200 yards rushing
(he left the game in the first with cramps, and played sparingly
afterwards). The rest of the Badgers picked up the slack, rolling
up almost 360 yards on the ground. When needed, Jack Coan threw
accurate passes, finishing 13/16 for 128 (a Wolverine fan behind me
remarked to his friend earlier in the game, "Why are they even throwing
the ball? It's not like they need to. We can't stop
them."). Cats fans might remember Mr. Coan from last year's game,
which which his mediocre play helped the Cats to beat the Badgers in
Evanston. This year, the Badgers won't have to rely on Coan as
much, it appears. In goal-to-go situations, look for the Badgers
to line up 7 (!) offensive linemen PLUS two tight ends...talk about
your jumbo package.
The Wisconsin defense was stout against the Wolverines, too.
Michigan gained a paltry 40 yards on the ground, and its leading rusher
was the backup quarterback. Shea Weber posted a subpar stat line
of 14 for 32 for 219, with two touchdowns and one pick. Neither
he nor Dylan McCaffrey could keep the Wolverines' offense on the field,
as Michigan held the ball for less than 20 minutes. After the
game, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh admitted, "We were outplayed,
out-coached, out-prepared." He's right. They were.
The result has led to many thinking the Badgers are the best in the Big
Ten. Despite the result Saturday, I think that's a bit of a
stretch. I think that road still goes through Columbus.
So, what to make of this week's game in Madison? The key will be
Northwestern's offense. If NU can sustain drives against a
resurgent Badger defense, it might hang around enough so it could steal
one. For whatever reason, NU always seems to play Wisconsin
tougher than people expect, and NU does have a history of stealing
games in Madison. Drake Anderson and/or Isaiah Bowser need to
find creases and pick up yards. The weak link for the Badgers
defense is their secondary, so maybe this is the week that NU receivers
finally get some separation and give Hunter Johnson a target he can
hit. Counterbalance that with the fact that the Badgers defense
did not give up a point in 2019 until 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter
against Michigan (the scoreless streak actually went back to a field
goal given up in the 1st quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl following last
If NU can keep its defense off the field by sustaining drives, its
defense might hold up for 60 minutes against the monster UW offensive
line. Despite having lost 4 starters from a year ago, the line is
still blocking with road-grader efficiency. And if the Cats can
play solid defense and contain Jonathan Taylor, including avoiding one
of his 80-yard sprints to the end zone, they might hang around enough
to make the Badger fans sweat at the end.
But those are big "ifs". Too big, I'm afraid. While I think
there will be a letdown after the massive victory over Michigan last
Saturday, I don't think this is a trap game for UW (the Badgers line up
against Kent State next), so their attention will be fully focused on
Northwestern. NU will put up a valiant effort against the
Badgers, but I think the Badgers just have too much power for the Cats
to overcome. Contrary to what Bucky did to the Wolverines, I see
this less as a game where Wisconsin jumps out to a big lead and takes
its foot off the gas, and more as a game in which the relentless
pounding of the Badger offensive line wears down an NU defense that's
been stranded on the field too long, and the Badgers pull away in the
Oh, and Fitz, here's some bulletin board material for you: ESPN's
Football Power Index gives Northwestern a minuscule 5% chance of
victory. Cue Lloyd Christmas.
Pick: Wisconsin 35, Northwestern
15. Wisconsin has a bit of a lull after its emotional victory,
and the Cats play them tough like they usually do, so Wisconsin won't
Season to Date: Straight up (2-1); Against the Spread (1-2)
Nebraska Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (1-3, 0-2 Big Ten) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-2, 1-1) Date: Saturday, October 5, 2019, 3:00 p.m. CDT, Lincoln Nebraska TV: Fox Line: Nebraska -7
Last week the Wildcats traveled to Wisconsin to face the #16 ranked
Badgers as a 27 point underdog. As Joel predicted the 'Cats hung
tough and kept it close until the second half when strip sacks and
interceptions provided the Badgers with 2 touchdowns that NU could not
over come. NU's offense was offensive until it was too
late. NU ran 82 plays but only totaled 250 yards for the
day. Many in the NU media have started again calling for
Offensive Coordinator Mick McCall to be fired. Granted the
offense is not imaginative and just barely does enough when they do win
(and many times not enough when they don't), but that is what Fitz
wants. He wants his defense to win the game. If he wanted
more from the offense don't you think they would be doing that?
He and McCall have been together now for numerous years. Firing
McCall won't change anything. And don't even talk about firing
Fitz. As Joel also pointed out last week in this space, Fitz has
done at NU what no other coach has ever been able to do. That is
win consistently. Fitz might not be the best coach but expecting
him to outsmart the opposing coaches every week is too much to
ask. Take a look at the coaches in the Big Ten. Tell me
where the weak links are? Fitz is good and he is the best we
could ever hope for. If you want to see what it looks like when a
fan base gets greedy and is not happy with consistent winning take a
look at the dumpster fire that is the University of Tennessee in 2019.
After the game and at his weekly press conference Fitz was asked how
the defensive players felt since the offense was not doing their
part. He replied that they are pissed about it. When
several defensive players were all asked the same question they had a
much more mellow response and said that they just were concentrating on
their jobs. I take this to mean Fitz is pissed. He knows
the offense needs to do better to give the team a chance to win.
I think he will get that message across in practice this week and we
will see a much better performance against Nebraska.
Nebraska was throttled last week by Ohio State on national TV.
They will still be thinking about that game this week. The 'Cats
and the Huskers are similar in talent level so it should be a close
game but I think the 'Cats figure out a way to win.
Yes this is a year of rebuilding. We can't all be Alabama but
would we really want to be? You can't take the National
Championships without taking ownership for living in Alabama...
Northwestern 27, Nebraska 24 'Cats win it outright.
Season to Date:
Straight up (3-1); Against the Spread (2-2)
OSU Preview and Prediction
Matchup: THE Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-4, 0-3 Big Ten) Date: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, October 18th, 2019, 7:30 pm CDT, Evanston, Illinois TV: BTN (this is utter garbage, the game was moved
to Friday night completely for the purpose to fulfill agreement with
Fox. However, given the rainout in NY last night, FS1 will be
televising the Yankees final game of the season against the Astros,
Line: Northwestern +28
Well, we have had nearly two weeks to digest the inedible. The
UNL-NU game was awful to watch and ended with a walk on kicking a field
goal to end the game giving the Conhuskers a 13-10 win. It was
ugly and not worth much of a recap. Smith started at QB (Hunter
is a better quarterback with more athletic ability and more skills, do
not argue this point. You are wrong if you think Smith should
start). Bowser is hurt. The offensive line is bad and our
defense is good but not great. Uggh
This week, Ohio State comes to town. Yes I purposely left the the
off just to annoy my dad and brother. Ohio State is 6-0 and have
humiliated teams like Nebraska, Michigan State, and Cincinnati (who is
currently ranked). They have yet to play a close game winning by
24, 42, 41, 71, 41 and 24. They score points in bunches and
Justin Fields may be the best quarterback to wear the Scarlet and Grey
since Art Schlichter. Their running backs include JK Dobbins
(will play on Sundays), Master Teague III (seriously, not only is his
first name Master but his father and grandfather also carried the same
name) and a freshman named Steele Chambers (wow!). The WR corps
is fast and will be a huge problem for the Wildcat secondary.
Now, we get to the defense. Chase Young is NOT NORMAL. The
guy is 6’5” and 265 pounds. He has 8.5 sacks already and this
number will go up. The rest of the DL and linebackers are all
supremely talented. The secondary will again have a 1st round
pick this year with Jeff Okudah who will be blanketing Riley Lees all
Ok enough of the Ohio State bragging. This team is great.
The Silver Bullets are back and the offense is awesome.
Northwestern is going to do the best they can to make this a
game. The grounds crew sent a picture measuring the grass at 9
inches in height. A former player for the Buckeyes who is
currently a BTN commentary mentioned that NU has used this ploy in the
past and it was the highest grass he had played on in his entire
career. Can Northwestern slow down the Buckeyes to make this a
game, that's the question. Emotions will run high given the
Friday night atmosphere. The ‘Cats are wearing the grey, black,
purple and yellow highlights with gothic letters in hopes of throwing
off the Buckeyes (maybe Fields will get confused). The completely
new basketball team will be announced before the game and undergrads
attending the game will receive an awesome looking sweatshirt.
All of this in hopes of outnumbering the Buckeye fans in the
stands. Well, the scarlet will be plentiful and points will be
Pick: Let’s just hope Hunter does not die
Ohio State 41, Northwestern 10 Uggh, give the points if you are a Buckeye fan (you know if gambling were legal)
Season to Date:
Straight up (3-2); Against the Spread (2-3)
Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Matchup: Iowa Hawkeyes at Northwestern Wildcats (1-5, 0-4 Big Ten) Date: Saturday, Oct. 26 11:00 a.m. CDT, Evanston, Illinois TV: The Deuce Line: Northwestern +8.5 (really only 8.5?!?!)
So this is what rebuilding and some bad luck looks like for NU in
2019. Due to graduation the 'Cats lost their 4 year starting
quarterback, their leading receiver, and several multi year starters on
the offensive line. Then their returning superback retired due
injuries. Replacing all those players on offense would be
difficult and that is why many at the Lowes Line were just hoping for a
6-6 season. That is not to be. The last few years NU has
been fortunate to win some of the games it has. Two great long TD
passes are all that allowed NU to beat MSU last year. NU had to
convert several 4th downs to beat Nebraska last year. Skowronek
made a miracle one handed diving catch to beat Iowa (plus Iowa fumbles
twice in the last 10 minutes). This year the luck has
turned. Not during the game but in the injury department.
NU has lost 2 quarterbacks, their leading running back for most of the
season, their leading receiver (Skowronek), and two tackles. NU
is just not strong enough to recover from that. Name another team
Many are critical of the play calling and yes it is very very
conservative, but it is not radically different than the past.
The difference is lack of execution and NU just simply has less talent
right now than the teams they are lining up against. The O-line
does not give whoever is the QB time to make any reads other than the
first option before he is under pressure. The receivers cannot
get any separation. The running backs are decent but they are
undersized and simply running into linebackers bigger than they are.
In last week's game versus OSU the only question was whether OSU would
cover, by Halftime. The answer was yes with a 55 yard field goal
right before the half. Final score 52-3.
The Iowa game is usually a close match between two teams that play
similar ball. Rely on your defense, run the ball, throw to the
tight end. This year it will not be close. Enjoy
Homecoming. Relieve your glory days as a NU student. Stay
in the Parking lot and tailgate.
Look at it this way. The young guys are getting experience for next year...
Have a good one and do a keg stand for me.
Pick: Iowa 34, NU 10
Season to Date:
Straight up (4-2); Against the Spread (3-3)
Enjoy a cold beverage at the Huddle.
Dance the night away at 1999.
Order a gyro with extra meat, cheese fries, and a Doctor at Jim’s Char-broil.
What do these things have in common? You could do all of them since the
last time Northwestern scored a touchdown. Not really, but it
kinda feels like it though, right?
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. The Lowes Line from Week 1 gave a
glimpse at how tough the first half of the schedule was:
“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 late October.”
NU is indeed looking up at the rest of the B1G West at the end of
October. But losing games to tough opponents is one thing.
Not even competing and absolute ineptitude is another. In the
month of October, Northwestern has scored one touchdown, and even that
came against a Nebraska team who has surrendered 38 points to both
Illinois and Indiana.
The crack Lowes Line staff has managed to get some footage of Fitz, on
the left below, speaking with offensive coordinator Mick McCall, after
the two reviewed the Iowa game film:
Fitz likes to say, stats are for losers. As such, we should talk
about a few: Pass efficiency, the college equivalent of passer
rating in the NFL. NU’s team pass efficiency is more than 20
points worse than ANY other FBS team right now. DFL, as they like
to say in golf terms. Worse than Rutgers last year. On pace
to be the worst of the last ten years in all of college football except
for Army in 2017, a team that attempted 65 throws in an entire season.
realize Hunter Johnson has been out following a minor knee injury and
due to a serious health concern for his mother, which is understood to
be trending positive. Best wishes to his mother for a speedy
recovery, and props to Fitz for running the team in a way that allows a
player to focus on his family at a difficult time.
said, is it unrealistic to think third string QB Aidan Smith could be
somewhat capable? Yes, Sparty, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are
likely the three best defenses on NU’s schedule, but 1 TD against 6
INTs with a 48% completion percentage? Not winning too many games
with those numbers.
mean, seriously, do other schools ever truly have capable third string
QBs? Sorry, that’s my trick ear, what’s that you say?
Cardale Jones, is it? What’d he ever do besides step in and win
the Big Ten Championship 59-0, then beat top-ranked Alabama in the
national semi, and then go on to top Oregon for the national
championship? An unfair and exaggerated comparison, I get
it. But we’re not asking for a national championship. We’re
asking for a touchdown against Iowa.
talk Hunter Johnson might be back for Indy this week, which is nice,
but as long as Mick McCall is calling the offense, it may as well be Al
Czervik. Add to this that wide receiver JJ Jefferson and running
back Isaiah Bowser are out for the game and it doesn’t bode
is on a three-game winning streak and already bowl-eligible. For
a team that’s had one winning season in 25 years, they have a solid
chance at getting to 8 wins and the potential to put up some serious
points on NU, even though we know it’ll only take about 7.
love to be proven wrong, but there’s nothing that leads me to be
remotely optimistic. NU needs to run the table to avoid a losing
season. Throw that in the category of possible, not
Pick: Indiana 20, Northwestern 6.
Season to Date: Straight up: (5-2); Against the spread: (4-3)
Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Patrick O'Briant
Matchup: Purdue Boilermakers Purdue (3-6, 2-4 B1G), at Northwestern Wildcats (1-7, 0-6 B1G) Date: Saturday, November 9, 2019,11:00 AM CST TV: Big Ten Network (Does it matter? Do you really want to watch?) Line: Northwestern (-2) (wow, this is surprising)
I don’t know where to begin. In these days of fever pitched social
media, I have decided to take page from the Trump era playbook. I am
writing this Lowes Line using actual Tweets – throwing “virtual
marshmallows” at our beloved Wildcats. #sad
Our offense is _________________ .
When it comes to the general concept of an offense, let’s just state
for the record that Northwestern has not accomplished much success in
2019. It is not exactly the days of “Expect Victory” under Coach Gary
Barnett or the complex offenses of Coach Walker. Just based on the
abysmal performance over the past month, this may be one of the WORST
POWER 5 OFFENSES OF ALL TIME.
Smaller story, but Northwestern has gone from reaching the Big Ten
championship game last year to fielding possibly its worst team in 20
years. Now 1-6. Scored a combined 13 points in three October games.
How bad is Northwestern’s offense? The Wildcats have 8 touchdowns this season.
Rutgers has 15.
Northwestern will go at least 34 days — and 44 offensive drives — without a touchdown (four games and counting).
The Wildcats remain squarely at 4.1 yards per pass attempt after
Saturday, which, as a reminder, would make them not only by far the
worst passing attack of 2019 by that metric, but the second-worst since
2003 behind only 2008 Army, a triple-option team
Northwestern last 3 games combined score: 106-6
This is the lowest scoring three game stretch for Northwestern Football
since 10/17 - 10/31 1981. Historically bad season continues... #B1GCats
#GoCats #IDontCare @WildcatReport @insidenu @ellabrockway
good job @NUFBFamily. Very modern offense you are running here in the 1949 season. #FireMcCall #NOW
Let’s look at the Indiana game.
Northwestern's drives tonight:
Here is your Northwestern game summary: 6 penalties (some questionable), 0 TDs (indisputable
This reminder the only B1G team not to score at least 28 on IU so far this season is Rutgers.
So what is Northwestern doing to address the offensive [sic] gap?
On what he [Coach Fitz] told the team after six straight losses: "Can't
lose the turnover ratio. I thought we had a pretty good offensive
gameplan that we failed to execute. It starts and ends with me and I
have to take responsibility for that."
That Fitz thought that they had a good offensive game plan is proof
that he should be no where near the offensive game planning. He needs
to get a new offensive coordinator and get out of the way. #FireMcCall
There’s one easy way to respond to this pathetic season. #FireMccall.
It’s not the 1940s anymore. Teams are allowed to score points. Having
the worst offense out of 130 FBS teams is inexcusable. Make it happen
or there will be a lot more games I just won’t watch.
So how is Coach Fitzgerald addressing the problem? And more importantly, so address the coaching staff?
“I understand there are 40,000 experts on Twitter that can call plays
for me. My email address is hashtag I don’t care.” - Pat Fitzgerald
Yeah, Control-Alt-Delete just ain't cutting it.
If anyone is listening please #FireMcCall
who do I email with complaints again?
Will Coach Fitzgerald take some personal responsibility and make some
major coaching changes after this season? Yes, firing people is hard –
one of the most difficult things one can do in a career – but he is
also one of the HIGHEST paid “teachers” at any private university in
the United States. Suck it up, buttercup.
Mick McCall makes $600k a year. That’s the most atrocious thing I’ve
heard in my lifetime. Lock his ass up for robbery. #FireMcCall #Felon
Not so much a question for Fitz, as for Dr. Phillips: we know that Fitz
will never willingly #FireMcCall, but is a 2-10 season enough for the
AD to intervene, or should I keep hoping that we go 1-11 this year, so
that you’ll force him to make that move?
And my personal favorite (I didn’t even initially realize this was written by the Lowes Line's own Kevin Vedder:
Take responsibility by getting a new offensive coordinator
The Purdue Boilermakers are in a similar pickle. Head coach Jeff Brohm
has to turn to third string to Aidan O'Connell (sound familiar,
anyone?). He's completed 15 of 22 passes (68.2 percent) for 133 yards
and a touchdown (6.0 yards per attempt). Wide receiver Rondale Moore
(29 receptions, 387 yards, 2 TDs) injured his hamstring and has yet to
return. Fellow receiver David Bell (51, 676, 4) and tight end Brycen
Hopkins (42, 538, 3) have carried Purdue's passing game in Moore's
Despite their injuries, the Boilermakers have proven one thing that the
Wildcats have not: the ability to play despite injuries. Purdue will
capitalize on Northwestern's lack of depth. Jeff Brohm will look to
exploit Pat Fitzgerald's defense, which is also starting to reveal
weakness, surrendering 106 points in their last three games alone.
Given that Northwestern has only scored six points TOTAL in in the same
timeframe, it literally takes only ONE TD to win.
Both offenses STINK. Purdue is better than the Cats, but the
Boilermakers are now down to their third string QB. The Wildcats have a
sizeable edge on defense, and that is where this game could be won for
them. Northwestern is ranked 36th in total points allowed. However,
despite being much more consistent on the defensive end, the Wildcats
have been a bit soft up front, giving up close to 160 on the ground to
opponents as well.
Northwestern has an opportunity to get back on track versus the
Boilermakers. However, as we pointed out via “the 40,000 experts on
Twitter,” the Wildcats have not been able to move the ball all season –
they are ranked the worst in almost all major offensive categories. And
OC McCall seems hell bent to play football like it is 1940.
Change their name to Northworstern.
The Mildcats may not score another TD all season.
Ugly, ugly, ugly game. Aiden vs. Aiden. The Cardiac Cats return (as in
the 1940s Wildcats who also suffer from a heart condition), but they
will finally score ONE touchdown.
Purdue 21, Northwestern 10. Take the Boilermakers and the points.
Season to Date: Straight up (6-2); Against the spread (4-4)
- Patrick O'Briant
UMass Preview and Prediction
By Chris Torkelson
Matchup: University of Massachusetts Minutemen (1-9) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-8, 0-7) Date: Saturday, November 16, 2019, 12:00 p.m. (ET) TV: BTN Line: Northwestern (-40)
Outlook: Be honest. You aren’t reading this. It
showed up in your email, you saw 1-9 v. 1-8, and you immediately
checked out and are now sitting there taking a Buzzfeed quiz to see
which Fat Albert character fits your personality (spoiler, it’s
Mushmouth, it’s always Mushmouth). Nobody is going to actually go to
this game, where it’s going to be minus-eleventy degrees. There
might be more people on the sidelines than in the stands. And
sure as heck nobody is going to soil their television screens with this
garbage. The only clown show getting worse ratings this week is
on all the cable news networks. You know, that thing where all
the hashtag warriors are taking alternating bites out of a giant
turdburger in a desperate attempt to … #ImpeachMcCall.
In fact, let’s go live to non-HD BTN, where we join the low drama
proceedings in progress. Currently vamping at the podium is lead
hobbit, Rep. Odo Cornbottom, in the midst of questioning his star
“witness” [Name Redacted]:
Rep. Cornbottom: So, NU’s offense sucks, amiright?
[Redacted]: OHMYGAWD YES A MILLION TIMES YES!! THE OFFENSE SUCKS SO MUCH!!
Hobbit Mob: Impeach McCall, Impeach McCall!!
Rep. Cornbottom: Mr. [Redacted}, please tell this august body how many NU games McCall’s sucky offense has ruined for you.
[Redacted]: All of them. Of course, I don’t actually watch
football games, due to the violence and the CTE and it’s not as elegant
as a real game, like quidditch, but McCall still has totally ruined the
Northwestern football experience for me.
Hobbit Mob: Impeach McCall, Impeach McCall!!
Rep. Marmaduc Fuzzyhead: Mr. Cornbottom, on behalf of the opposition
party, may I butt in on your grandstanding for a grandstanding question
of my own? Mr. [Redacted}, if you don’t even watch the games, how do
you know that McCall’s offense sucks?
[Redacted]: Well, they are literally the worst offense, statistically,
in all the FIve Realms, and they’ve scored 3, 0, 3 and negative-8
points in their last 4 games. Not counting the 22 points they
scored last week. Ignore that last thing, it denies my own
personal truth. Purdue sucks, anyway. As I said before, I
prefer quidditch, to be honest. I’m in a league.
Rep. Fuzzyhead: A-HA!! You are just another biased Ent, with no direct football knowledge and an impure motive!
[Redacted]: That seems kinda racist. Quidditch is awesome, unless
you trip and your broomstick gets shoved up your spine. Which
seems to happen a lot. Seriously, it is a VERY FREQUENT
Hobbit Mob: Impeach McCall, Impeach McCall!! Look, a squirrel! Get the squirrel! Get the squirrel!
Rep. Cornbottom: Can we please keep the focus on what’s important,
which is me? As I was saying, Mr. [Redacted], do you agree
that the squirrel sucks, too?
[Redacted]: Yes, obviously the squirrel sucks.
Hobbit Mob: Impeach the squirrel, Impeach the squirrel!!
Rep. Cornbottom: Attention all ridiculous fantasy creatures! I
see that Coach McCall is tweeting at this very moment, and it’s an
outrage! He dares, DARES I say, to defend his indefensible
offense--actually it has been laughably defensible all year, in fact,
it is a downright offensive offense! What an outrage! Coach
McCall is claiming that his offense helped the WIldcats to a B1G West
title last year, a berth in the B1G Championship game, and a decisive
bowl win over a ranked team! What a buffoon! I am
outraged! Where is my hobbit mob?
Hobbit Mob: What squirrel, what squirrel?? Impeach McCall, Impeach McCall!!
Rep. Abracadabria Orcbutt-O’Cortez: Excuse me, I just want to say, you
know, that Coach McCall is, like, totally from Mordor, and all those
icky fumes from the pits of Mt. Doom are, like, super bumming me out
with how they’re killing Middle Earth, to the max. We should,
like, totally impeach McCall so that we can put old saggy hobbit in
charge of the offense so, like, he can burn all the money, and stuff,
and then we can be mega happy if the team scores a figure eight.
Can I borrow your glitter?
Butthead: Come to Butthead, my dream woman…
Hobbit Mob: Impeach the fumes, Impeach the fumes!!
Rep. Cornbottom: Order! OK, next we have a real witness,
who will give us all the evidence we need to force McCall out of the
coaches box, and restore Northwestern football to the glorious
mediocrity-plus to which our fans, such as they are, have grown
accustomed. Mr. Willie, thank you for joining us today.
Air Willie: I’m not comfortable with any of this.
Rep Cornbottom: Sorry, Willie, the hobbit mob will not be denied.
Hobbit Mob: Impeach McCall, Impeach McCall!!
Rep. Cornbottom: Mr. Willie, do you care to share your thoughts on
whether the players themselves share any of the blame for Coach
McCall’s horrible, terrible, disgusting, boring, predictable,
fattening, stinky, slow, climate changing, toilet clogging offense?
Air Willie: Well, it seems pretty obvious that the offensive game plan doesn’t execute itself.
Rep. Cornbottom: What an outrageous conspiracy theory! I am
outraged anew! What proof have you that would support such an
outlandish theory? Have you seen the game tape?
Air Willie: Weirdly, both video recorders were broken and the graduate
assistants who were responsible for taking and breaking down the game
film had fallen asleep.
Former Sen. Hilberry Flintbum: Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!
Pick: Barf. Barf everywhere. A 40-point spread in
this crapfest of a game is so ridiculous that it might get itself
elected President in 12 months. NU wins a pillow fight,
35-13. Take UMass and the points.
Season to Date: 6-3 ATS, 7-2 Straight up
Minnesota Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
ROSEMONT, Ill. - Big
Ten Commissioner James Delaney announced that the Northwestern
University football team has been relegated down from the Big Ten,
effective with the 2020 football season. Mr. Delaney remarked,
"We have a tremendous respect for Northwestern University and its
football program, and have enjoyed Northwestern's membership in the Big
Ten since the inception of the conference in 1895. However, based
on the results from the 2019 football season, particularly
Northwestern's results during Big Ten conference play, and the fact
that Northwestern trailed the University of Massachusetts for the first
quarter during their recent intercollegiate contest, we determined that
it was best for the Big Ten and for Northwestern to relegate
Northwestern to a lower league until they can raise their level of play
to what we would consider to be Big Ten standards." Mr. Delaney
went on to comment that he wished Northwestern the best of luck as it
played in its new conference, the Central Suburban (South) conference
of the Illinois High School Association.
"Obviously, we're tremendously disappointed as a program," responded
head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "We really killed it on the practice
field this season, but our execution was lacking on Saturdays. I
feel badly for our young men, especially the season after winning the
Big Ten West. We are currently working to line up games with our
new conference rivals, like New Trier, Glenbrook South, and Evanston
Township. I'm excited to see how Mick McCall's offense will match
up against less-then-Big-Ten caliber defenses. Our goal will be
to approach every week and try to go 1-0."
Mr. Delaney further remarked that this was the first time that the Big
Ten had considered a team for relegation in its 120+ year
history. "Certainly the Northwestern teams of the late 70s and
early 80s, which set a then-NCAA record for consecutive losses, and the
pathetic Francis Peay-era teams might have been considered at the time,
but it wasn't until we were forced to watch the touchdown-less month of
October and the first quarter last Saturday that we realized how
desperately Northwestern needed to be relegated in order to preserve
the Big Ten's reputation for superior intercollegiate football
About the Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities
whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate,
professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in
1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices
and policies that enforce the priority of academics in the lives of
students competing in intercollegiate athletics and emphasize the
values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based
programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions will provide over $200 million
in direct financial support to more than 9,800 students for more than
11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports.
The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14
for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and
women’s lacrosse since 2013. For more information, visit www.bigten.org
Matchup: #10 Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-1, 6-1), at Northwestern Wildcats (2-8, 0-7) Date: Saturday, November 23, 2019,11:00 AM CST TV: ABC Line: Minnesota (-13.5)
The crazy thing is that press release is believable, even if for just a
second. Yes, we are coming off a game in which we routed UMass
45-6 but, by any reasonable standard, Northwestern has grossly
underperformed this season. And I'm not talking about
undercutting our expectations elevated by a Big Ten West crown or 3
straight bowl wins. I'm talking about fielding a team that's at
least competitive with Big Ten competition. A review of this
season's results depicts a completely lost season. The lone two
victories are non-conference, against a team that is now 2-8 (UNLV) and
one that is 1-10 (UMass); and neither of those two team play in a Power
5 conference. For a scary 15 minutes Saturday, Northwestern
played so poorly that it surrendered 2 interceptions to the worst
defense in Division I-A, and trailed 3-0. 2019 has been a giant
step off a cliff for the NU football program.
As demonstrated in a Line earlier this season, Northwestern
historically has experienced ebbs and flows in program success.
Even as the program ascended to greater heights, once again making the
Rose Bowl under Gary Barnett, and 9 bowls in the last 10 years under
Fitz, the team would regress for one sub-.500 rebuilding year.
But as noted in that previous Line, those lows have been higher than
ever before, almost convincing the casual observer that Fitz and
Northwestern had built a consistent, winning program. And then
2019 happened. Good team, good programs, may stumble for a
season, but they do not suffer a complete collapse of the type the
Purple Faithful have witnessed this season.
Yes, we've gone through some changes. We've played 5 quarterbacks
during the course of the season, losing 2 to injuries and/or family
matters (we also might have lost a third, as Aidan Smith is doubtful to
play Saturday, meaning Andrew Marty will be NU's 4th starting
quarterback for 2019). We've lost our best running back at times,
as well as our best receiver. And we lost a lot to
graduation. But other teams, other successful programs, find a
way to restock every season and to overcome injuries, and keep
winning. Look at Clemson. Alabama. Or, closer to
home, Ohio State. I think a lot of Northwestern fans thought we
were well on our way to joining those teams, not in terms of perennial
invitations to the college football playoff, but at least in terms of
consistently competitive football teams. And 2019 has smashed the
Purple back to reality in the most painful way possible. We
aren't a great program. We might not even be a good program, yet.
This season, it has become almost trite to complain about the poor
offensive playcalling and scheming that characterizes the Northwestern
offense. McCall's offense is unimaginative and ineffective.
It is clear that whatever McCall is doing is not putting the Wildcat
offense in a position to succeed. An entire month without scoring
a touchdown is proof of that.
But it's important to note that McCall is also the quarterbacks coach,
and the following stats make the case for his departure extremely
compelling: in the 10 games (before UMass), NU has not had a
passer exceed 200 yards in a game, and in 5 of those games, i.e., HALF,
the NU quarterback threw for less than 100 yards! Against UMass,
the worst defense in Division I-A, we threw for a whopping 76
yards! Granted, Evan Hull ripped off 220 on the ground, but we
couldn't even manage 100 yards passing?! And, get this:
Aidan Smith completed all 7 of his passes (in 13 attempts...BARELY over
50%) to ONE receiver! Clearly the quarterbacks aren't ready to
play, week in and week out, and that responsibility rests solely at
While Fitz might acknowledge that there are 40,000 people out there
that can call plays, it's time he acknowledge that one of those 40,000
isn't sitting in the coaching booth. Quite simply, it's time for
Fitz to man up and act like a head coach, and gently nudge Mr. McCall
out the door. Thank him for his years at Northwestern, give him a
gold watch, whatever. But any offensive success Northwestern has
had this season really has been in spite of McCall, not because of
him. We need imagination behind our offense, like when Randy
Walker helped invent an offense that promptly scared the crap out of
any time coming to Evanston. And, I might add, inspired A LOT of
copycats and disciples. Sad that Northwestern chose to abandon it.
If Fitz doesn't do what a head coach is supposed to do, those 40,000
people won't be calling plays, they'll switch to every variation of
#FireMcCall. We'll be subjected to more McCall impeachment
hearings led to Rep. Cornbottom with special guest appearances by
Butt-head. While Fitz may not care about or read social media,
more than likely his players do. With so much negative noise
about McCall and the NU offense every week, isn't it possible that his
players, especially those on offense, are bringing all of that
negativity with them to work every film session, practice, and
game? Time to change the narrative, Fitz. For the good of
the program. Your responsibility to your players trumps any
friendship or kinship you might feel for Mr. McCall.
A final word about the UMass game. Yes, it was fun to watch
Northwestern be as successful as they were on both sides of the ball,
assuming you were doing something else for the first 15 minutes.
Freshman Evan Hull had a great day running with the ball, gaining 220
yards on 24 carries (9.2/carry) and scoring 4 touchdowns. The NU
defense held the lowly Minutemen to but 2 field goals. But the
offense looked terrible in the first quarter particularly, with Aidan
Smith managing to complete 5 passes, but two of them were to
UMass. NU did regroup and outplayed UMass the rest of the way,
outscoring UMass 45-3. It's nothing to be proud of, however, as
UMass has been a season-long denizen of ESPN's "Bottom 10" list, where
it's known as "UMess". Before we get to feeling too happy, we
need to remember NU has appeared on that list, too.
The reality is that the results against UMass are stats similar to what
the NU squad would have put up had they really been relegated to the
Central Suburban (North) conference. In other words, not really
anything to crow about. About the best we can hope for, my gentle
Purple Patriots, is that it creates some momentum which our warriors in
purple...or grey...or black...are able to carry into this week's game
Minnesota. In past Lines written about the Minnesota Golden
Gophers game, I used every synonym I could think of for "golden" and
"gopher." Another Line staffer, who has far better writing chops
than I, artfully wove in about every great Caddyshack quote there is; a
true literary classic. Last year, I managed to compare Minnesota
head coach P.J. Fleck's "row the boat" philosophy to the Edmund
Fitzgerald. But, dear readers, here's where past art and current
disaster cross over. For this year's game between Northwestern
and Minnesota is going to look a lot more like this:
think you know who is who, but just in case, P.J. is Al Czervik and
he's rowing his yacht right over our little dinghy. Problem is,
unlike the fisherman with the dinner plate-sized eyes, we aren't going
to be able to swim out of the way.
is for real this season. They come into Ryan Field licking their
wounds a bit from suffering their first defeat of the season at the
hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Their season started off slowly against
what now seem like inferior opponents but, in contract to years past,
they actually found a way to win those games (clearly, these are not
Glen Mason's Gophers). When they got into the Big Ten season, their
momentum seemed to snowball, and they started beating the teams they
should beat, but also beating them handily (and not barely, like NU is
wont to do). They faced up to a #4 ranked Penn State team and
held their own, forcing Penn State into numerous mistakes before
salting away the victory with an interception in the end zone.
Iowa City is a tough place to play, and maybe the Gophers were starting
to believe the hype, resulting in their first loss against an inspired
Iowa team. But we know Iowa is a quality program; that same
Hawkeye team that came into Evanston and shut out the Wildcats,
he clears the concussion protocol by game time, Minnesota will be led
by sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan (if he doesn't, then Minnesota
will line up one of two true freshman under center). Morgan
completes more than 2/3 of his passes and, against Penn State, he was
an astonishing 18 for 20. On the season, he has 21 touchdown
passes against only 4 interceptions. What has made the biggest
difference in Minnesota's success has been its running game.
Rodney Smith leads Minnesota's rushing attack, accumulating 940 yards
this season at a 5.5 yard-per-carry clip, and he has found the end zone
7 times. Spelling him is Mohammed Ibrahim, and Ibrahim has struck
paydirt another 6 times. Minnesota features 3 excellent
receivers, each with more than 20 catches on the season. Look for
Rashod Batemen to get loose in the Wildcat secondary, with his gaudy
22.6 yard-per-catch average. It could get ugly, often. The
only Achilles heel for the Minnesota passing offense is that it is
prone to give up sacks.
defense, the Gophers are led by Antoine Winfield, Jr. Junior's
dad had a long and successful NFL career as a defensive back, with many
of his best years playing down the street at the (now demolished, thank
God) Metrodome. And Junior is proving himself to be a chip off
the old block, having snagged a nation-leading 7 interceptions so far
in 2019. Given NU's quarterbacks' propensity for throwing to the
team in the wrong jerseys, this does not bode well.
this point in the season, Minnesota is doing too many things right, and
NU too many wrong, for this Line staffer to think there's any hope that
NU will be able to torpedo the Gophers' season. The most
interesting matchup will be NU's run defense, arguably the best phase
of NU's game, against the Gophers' potent rushing attack.
However, Morgan should be able to find holes in the NU secondary, and
that will spell trouble for NU's changes at keeping the game
close. Once the Gophers start stretching the field with passes,
NU's rushing defense will weaken as well. On the other side of
the ball, every time an NU quarterback drops back, we'll have to hold
our collective breath that the ball won't end up in Winfield's
hands. Unless somehow Evan Hull manages a repeat performance, but
this time against a real defense (and all signs point to that not
happening), we'll be forced to throw the ball with a quarterback who
completes 50% of his passes, and another 7 to the other team.
factor that NU does have in its favor is that this game amounts to
something of a "trap" game for Minnesota. As far as the Big Ten
West is concerned, this game is meaningless to them. The Big Ten
West will be decided November 30 in Minneapolis, when the Wisconsin
Badgers travel to TCF Bank Stadium. If Minnesota is 7-1 or 6-2,
that doesn't affect the importance of that game. So Minnesota's
focus may slip past what is likely to be an easy game against paper
Wildcats to the looming battle royale against their biggest rivals, the
Badgers, for Paul Bunyan's Axe and the Big Ten West title. That
is about the only glimmer of hope NU has come Saturday.
if Morgan is ruled out due to continuing concussion symptoms, facing a
Gopher quarterback that is a true freshman and has not started a game
would help the Cats keep the game close and possibly steal a
victory. On the flipside, if Smith can't go for the Cats, Marti
might get his first start. Keep in mind, Marti has thrown exactly
one pass in his collegiate career (and completed none). So his
first completion Saturday will be his first completion.
Ever. Not exactly a harbinger of victory.
signs point to this being a comfortable win for the Gophers, but maybe
NU keeps it a little closer than it might otherwise be. In a
perfect set of circumstances, Morgan doesn't play and Smith does, and
the NU defense preys on the mistakes of a true freshmen
quarterback. But, in the other 99.9% of scenarios, Minnesota
leans on their robust ground game and puts up more points than the
anemic Northwestern offense can match. In any but the most
perfect scenario, Minnesota covers the spread of 13.5, with it being
closer to the spread if Morgan doesn't play and Smith does, and a
veritable chasm if Morgan faces off against Marty.
31, NU 17. We score a touchdown in a third straight game, but it
matters little. The Gophers cover the spread without breaking a
sweat. Minnesota sets up a battle for the Big Ten West on their
home turf in Minneapolis.
Season to Date: Straight up (8-2); Against the spread (6-4)
Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-9, 0-8) at Illinois Illini (6-5, 4-4) Date: Saturday, November 30, 2019, 11:00 AM CST TV: FS1 Line: Illinois (-8)
Oh, for F***’s sake…we’re going to lose to Illinois. A whole year
of listening to co-workers talk like Illinois hasn’t been a laughing
stock for almost a decade.
This will be Lovie Smith’s 4th game against NU with no previous wins or ties.
Illinois is 3-7 versus NU in their last 10 meetings.
Illinois is only 4-4 in the Big Ten this year, but still favored to win by more than a touchdown.
Illinois hasn’t had an overall winning record since 2011, or a conference winning record since 2007.
In the last decade, Northwestern Bowl Appearances – 8, Illinois – 3
the team we’re about to lose to. Now, all that being said, we
also have to give credit where it’s due. Head Coach Lovie Smith
can produce one helluva beard.
That is impressive.
Last week: NU lost 38-22 to Minnesota.
The game was effectively over after the first quarter as Minnesota
scored on its first three possessions. Hunter Johnson started for
the Wildcats, but left with an apparent injury after going 0-2 and
taking three sacks. How much of that change was performance
versus an injury is anyone’s guess, though he was certainly hurt at
that point. Sophomore Andrew Marty came in as the only QB
standing at that point and did a serviceable job as NU stayed with the
Gophers the rest of the game.
Cause for continued concern (Item 1) was the passing game. Marty
went 8-10, which appears excellent on a percentage basis until you
realize the Cat ran 49 times to a total of 12 passing attempts.
No wonder his completion percentage was high…the defenders were shocked
when he actually threw the ball. The Cats' passing game has been
bad and is getting worse. Frankly, overall we can be happy
Rutgers takes the last place in the conference in most categories,
except for passing. WE’RE #14 IN PASSING! No surprise
really. No vertical stretching with the passing game, receivers
that can’t get separation on short routes, uninspired play design and
playcalling, poor pass protection at the line, and indecisive QB
play. You can pick your reason but none of it is working.
Cause for continued concern (Item 2) was turnovers. After getting
an interception against no turnovers themselves, NU “improved” to a -1
turnover per game average. Fitz’s argument number one for
conservative strategies has been to win the turnover battle, but it’s
just not working. Fans might assume the offense is to blame for
this one, and while they have in fact tied for most turnovers lost
(with Rutgers, of course), the defense is also second to last with
turnovers gained. I consider this Exhibit A for the case that
it’s not just the offense leaving the defense on the field too
long. The defense is also vastly under performing compared to
Let’s take a deeper dive in to the offense/defense/turnover
discussion. Here’s a chart of Fitzgerald’s time at
Northwestern. It shows relative rank of NU in the Big Ten.
Highlighted years were bowl invite years, as an indicator of a
“successful” year. Remember that the Big Ten was 11 members until
2011 when it grew to 12, and then grew again to 14 in 2014, so the
“bottom” gets lower across the chart.
A couple of interesting observations:
While the defense is generally good, recently it certainly hasn’t been
ranking far and away better than teams earlier in Fitz’s time at NU.
We can see the precipitous drop in offensive ranking from 2011 to
2015. Through 2011, NU was running (with McCall as OC) a version
of the uptempo spread offense installed by Randy Walker. In 2012
and 2013, NU used the two QB experiment with Siemian and Colter still
based on the spread, with Colter in to play a version of the run option
and Siemian playing on obvious passing downs, though that split morphed
over the two years, somewhat due to injuries to Colter. 2014
began, IMHO, the start of a more pro-style, ball control offense
leaning heavily on Clayton Thorson to distribute the ball. 2018
was a down year overall offensively due to the loss of Justin Jackson
and no effective replacement, but the team very well with what they had.
Turnover ranking has been better than average more often than not, but
is not necessarily a guarantee of success. A deeper dive, which I
won’t go into, suggests there are nuances related to a) the importance
of turnovers created by the defense and b) a tradeoff between turnovers
lost compared to yards gained.
Conclusion: The NU offense has been getting progressively worse
over the Fitzgerald/McCall tenure, with some recent good years likely
sparked by excellent players (the combo of Thorson/Jackson) rather than
any offensive strategy. Certainly we can say that the coaches
have been effectively squeezing successful years out of teams that
don’t necessarily excel in any one area, but it doesn’t bode well that
this staff has any obvious answers to get better offensive performance
out of the current group of players.
NU heads to Illinois for the last game of the season. This is
Lovie Smith’s fourth year leading the Illini and he seems to have
pulled a rabbit out of the hat. At one point midway through their
7th game against Wisconsin, the Illini were down 10-0, had a record of
2-4 with a loss to Eastern Michigan and were looking toward who the
next coach might be. They ended up winning that game 24-23 on a
last second field goal and really haven’t looked back since. They
reeled off four straight wins before losing to No 19 Iowa in a
relatively close game last weekend.
The book on Illinois is effectively the book on Lovie Smith’s
teams. A relatively mundane offense that is balanced between
run/pass and a defense that worries more about taking the ball away
then giving up yards. QB Brandon Peters is unlikely to play due
to a second head injury this year, but backup Matt Robinson has seen
playing time and is serviceable. Multiple running backs are
likely to see playing time and all are decent, if unexciting.
On defense, watch Jamal Milan who is considered one of the best lineman
in the Big Ten despite the lack of gaudy tackle or sack numbers.
As already discussed, Illinois isn’t particularly good at preventing
either yards or points, but is good at creating easy points through
Northwestern will have to rely on Andrew Marty and Drake Anderson to
lead the way with their legs. Don’t expect to see any sudden or
drastic changes in the offensive game plan from last week, which means
a lot of running. On paper, this would appear to work in NU’s
favor as Illinois hasn’t been great against the run. However,
that’s been against teams that have some threat of a passing game to
keep the safeties and linebackers at least thinking about a pass.
Against the Cats, that threat is really not there, so look for some
tough running with big plays only coming from Marty running when he’s
not expected to.
Considering NU is playing in a meaningless game away with the fourth
string quarterback, and against an Illini team that is headed to a bowl
game with players who have never beaten their in-state rival, I do not
expect Northwestern to surprise anyone here. We may be seeing
some rarely used seniors playing their last game alongside younger
players gaining experience before the day is out.
Illinois 28, NU 17. Take the over and the Illini.
Season to Date: Straight up (9-2); Against the spread (7-4)