Lowes Line 2021
Lowes Line 2021 Previews
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 Lone Star Cat,
GallopingGrapes, P.S. O'Briant, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.
the 2021 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes
MSU Preview and Prediction
By Lone Star Cat
Matchup: Michigan State Spartans (0-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-0)
Date: Friday, September 3, 2021, 8:00 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (-3), o/u (45.5)
Welcome back to college football, Wildcat fans! Today we embark on a
23rd season of paying tribute to our friend and brother Marcus by
continuing his NU football game previews. They’ve been fun to do
over the years, a fond remembrance of Marcus, and we hope you enjoy
reading them as much as we do writing them.
After the Covid-shortened season of 2020 that had Northwestern in the
Big Ten Championship game for the second time in three seasons, the
‘Cats finished the year by topping Auburn in the Citrus Bowl for their
fourth consecutive bowl victory. They finished at 7-2 and with a
top-10 ranking, the first time inside the top-10 at the end of the year
since the magical season of 1995.
Following this week’s opener against the Spartans, NU has
non-conference matchups with Indiana State and Ohio University in
Evanston, sandwiched with a trip to Duke in between. The Big Ten
slate has trips to Lincoln, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Champaign, while
the ‘Cats welcome Rutgers, Minnesota, and Iowa to Evanston, with a home
game against Purdue at Wrigley Field in late November.
The offseason saw plenty of action surrounding the NU program.
First, and perhaps most important, was the retirement of long-time
defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, after having been calling the
defense for NU since 2008. Hankwitz was replaced by Jim O’Neil,
who had stints as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns
and San Francisco 49ers, and most recently as the defensive backs coach
for the Las Vegas Raiders. O’Neil will be hard pressed to match
what NU’s defense brought to the field last year. The defense was
incredibly stingy, especially in the second half of games, as NU
opponents averaged less than a TD after halftime.
Another milestone for the NU program in the offseason was that two
Wildcats were taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
Offensive lineman Rashawn Slater was taken 13th by the Chargers and
defensive back Greg Newsome II was taken 26th by the
Browns. Both are projected to be starters for their
respective teams. Finally, the transfer market for NU
remained active in the offseason, as the ‘Cats pulled in six transfers,
five of whom are on the two-deep in Week 1.
Although there’s a new defensive coordinator leading the pack, coupled
with the loss of several key personnel, the defensive play is likely
going to be the key factor in NU’s success this season. Returning
is sophomore Brandon Joseph, only the second NU defensive player in
program history to be named a consensus All-American, after Coach
Fitz. Joseph had a great year and his highlight reel interception
in the end zone during the Big Ten Championship game will likely
accompany every big play he makes this year. Defensive lineman
Samdup Miller returns after opting out of the 2020 season. Miller
is a force up front, and has started 35 games in his career
already. He’ll be joined by seniors Joe Spivak and Trevor Kent to
apply pressure on opposing QBs.
On the offensive side of the ball, senior QB Hunter Johnson was named
the starter over sophomore transfer Ryan Hilinski, who came from the
University of South Carolina. This was a little bit of a
surprise, but the bigger surprise was Fitz naming Johnson the starter a
full two weeks before the season opener. It almost makes you
think Hunter Johnson has either really progressed since his rough go as
the starter in 2019 after arriving from Clemson, or that Hilinski may
not be as advertised just yet. Time will tell, but if Johnson
lives up to half the hype surrounding him upon his arrival in Evanston
a couple years ago, NU should be in good hands. The bigger
question is not who the signal caller will be, it’s to whom the ball
will be thrown. Grad transfer Stephon Robinson is likely to be
the main target. Robinson comes to Evanston from Kansas, where he
had a solid year in 2019 before getting injured in 2020. NU
doesn’t seem to again have much size at receiver, so it will be
interesting to see how the offense shapes up.
The running back situation is a bit cloudy. Sophomore Cam Porter
was thought to be the feature back, but he was lost for the season with
the incredibly specific “lower body injury,” which is either a
fractured femur or a sprained pinkie toe. Picking up Porter’s
duties running the ball will be Evan Hull, who showed some sparks in
the win over Illinois last season. Grad transfer Andrew Clair
from Bowling Green is also likely to get time carrying the ball.
NU again starts the season with a conference game, having emerged
victorious in 2018 at Purdue and last year vs Maryland when starting
the season against a conference opponent. It’s not lost on most
NU fans that getting off on the right foot in conference play has led
to a division title in each of those seasons.
I could break down the Michigan State offense and defense and get into
how NU should have the advantage if they can stop the run, given their
strong secondary, but let’s face it… you don’t care. What we do
care about is that these little buggers in green were the only ones to
topple the ‘Cats in the regular season in 2020, all but eliminating the
dream of a playoff spot for NU. The revenge factor has to be
high. NU wasted a great opportunity last season in East Lansing,
and while the personnel has changed a fair amount, you can bet Fitz
will not have forgotten what happened last time out against Sparty.
The so-called and often self-proclaimed experts say to look for a low
scoring game, but what do they know? We’ve been doing this stuff
for more than 20 years! NU’s second-year offensive coordinator
Mike Bajakian gets the ‘Cats moving early, and we get more scoring in
the opener than expected out of NU, as they avenge 2020’s lone regular
Pick: Northwestern 30, Michigan State 20. Take the ‘Cats and lay the points.
Indiana State Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Matchup: Indiana State Sycamores (1-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-1)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 11, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Line: Northwestern (-28!)
Northwestern's return to the gridiron in 2021 was underwhelming to say
the least. No one quite knew what to expect from the 2021
Wildcats as they lost the majority of their offensive weapons and
defensive standouts from 2020. There were the optimistic thoughts
that with the great offseason of recruiting that NU had made it to the
big time and could simply Expect Victory. As any team not coached
by Nick Saban eventually finds out, you can't just walk out onto the
field and be handed the win. You have to earn it. And in
the opener for both teams, Michigan State did earn the victory.
They were the aggressor. They attacked. NU tried to react
but was left looking flat footed.
The offense was OKish. Hunter Johnson looked fine. He was
sharp with his passes but he was falling back on many of them as the
O-line was over matched. The receivers are nothing to be afraid
of at this point so the opposing Defense can key on the running
game. The loss of Cam Porter was also evident. The trio of
runners that replaced him were acceptable but not spectacular.
Some group on the offense needs to be better than average for NU to be
successful. Right now no group is.
The defense was the bigger concern. NU simply made way too many
mistakes. There were way too many missed tackles and missed
assignments. If theses problems aren't corrected soon, it could
be a long season.
Luckily Indiana State comes to Evanston tomorrow. NU should be
bigger and stronger and in general should have their way against the
FCS foe. It will be a good week to correct the mistakes on
defense and give the offense more time to find its identity.
I expect the trees to stay close for the first half but NU will pull
away. It should be a beautiful day for a game and there will be
special tributes as this is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Get out
and enjoy the game and life.
Just don't expect NU to cover 28 points...
Pick: Northwestern 30, Indiana State 13. Take the Trees and the points.
Season to date: Straight Up (0-1), Against the Spread (0-1)
Duke Preview and Prediction
Matchup: your Northwestern Wildcats (1-1) at Duke Blue Devils (1-1)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 18th at 3:00 pm CDT
TV: ACC Network (what seriously, come on!)
Line: Northwestern (-2.5)
Outlook: Alright folks, the negativity
surrounding this team continues despite a convincing win against the
Sycamores last week 24-6. Duke also got off the schnide
winning 45-17 over North Carolina A&T. The ‘Cats and Devils
are meeting for the 21st time with the series evenly split 10-10
(although our alma mater has won 7 of the past 10). The first
week of the season each team struggled as NU lost to Michigan St., a
team this writer believes is WAY better than people are giving them
credit (see bonus picks), while Duke lost a thriller to Charlotte
31-28. First game jitters, loss of experience, say what you
will, but each team lost their opener and did not look good doing
Let’s talk about this Duke team. They are led by senior RB Mataeo
Durant. All he has done the first two games is put up 255 yards
to break Duke’s single season record and then 41 yards and 3 scores
against A&T. He’s a preseason All-ACC 2nd team
selection and at 6’1, 195 lbs, will need to be contained for this game
to turn NU’s way. Grad Student Gunnar Holmberg helms the
offense at the QB position and although not flashy, holds down the
position admirably. The defense is led by Shaka Heyward who
leads the team in tackles. This defense is a bend don’t break
style but one key stat, they do not force turnovers.
NU made quick work of Indiana St with a bland playbook and a solid
running game. Evan Hull was healthier than in week 1,
responding with 126 yards rushing with most in the first
half. Hunter Johnson leads the offense with a new WR corps
and only had 66 yards passing last week. The D needs to step up
and wash the taste of week 1 out of every NU fan’s mouth.
Bergin has publicly said, week 1 was an aberration.
Alright, prediction time. Hunter only had 66 yards last week, but
hold your hats, Hunter has the ability to make throws at the QB
position unseen since Kafka. This is his coming out party
in my opinion. Hull controls the ground. On the
defensive side, this unit is coachable. I have to believe
McCarigle and Fitz will get this unit up to speed (please don’t ask
about O’Neill, I just don’t know yet). B Joseph gets a key
turnover late and the ‘Cats take command after being down 14-10 at
Pick: Northwestern 27, Duke 21. Fitz gets the win and the hate this season starts dissolving. Give the points.
Season to date: Straight Up (1-1), Against the Spread (1-1)
Bonus Picks -
Maryland (-8) at Illinois - take the Turps; Cincinnati (-3.5) at IU -
take the Bearcats. Spartans (+6) at Canes - take MSU with an
outright win. NIU (+27.5) at Michigan - UofM wins but a late
score allows the Huskies to cover. Nebraska (+22.5) at Oklahoma -
Nebraska covers but just barely. Minnesota (+3) at Colorado
- for the B1G sake, lets say Minny wins outright. Purdue
(+7) at ND - Purdue is very very angry that the Drum is not being
allowed. Revenge, with the points but ND wins. Kent State
at Iowa (-23) - Iowa cruises. Tulsa at tOSU (-25) - ummm, I don’t
think I would want to be in Tulsa’s shoes this week. Delaware at
Rutgers - Rutgers wins outright. Auburn at Penn St (-5) -
white out game rocks the Tigers, take the Lions
Ohio Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Matchup: #8 (Bottom 10) Ohio Bobcats (0-3, 0-0 MAC) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-2, 0-1)
Date: Saturday, September 25, 2021. Kickoff: 11:00 a.m. CDT
Line: Northwestern (-14.5); Over/Under 48.0
Outlook: We're three games into the season, and it has the Staff
here at the Lowes Line twitching involuntarily like Chief Inspector
play on the field reminds us of the Francis Peay/Len Williams era of
ineptitude (memories we had hoped were long buried). Seriously,
we've been favored 3 games in a row, and lost twice in ugly fashion and
failed to cover against an FCS team. The Line can neither confirm
or deny that all future 2021 road opponents are hurriedly reconfiguring
their fall calendars so that homecoming coincides with NU's impending
According to Northwestern's coaching staff, Hunter Johnson "won the
job." After watching his performance in the first half against
Duke, I have to wonder how the hell that happened? Were the
others forced to practice in body casts? Johnson threw three
interceptions in 28 minutes of action against Duke. These weren't
lucky tip drill sorts of picks, or highlight reel interceptions where a
defensive back made an unbelievable play. No, these were three
interceptions that should never have been thrown. Two of them
made me wonder if Hunter realized he was playing against the blue team
rather than for it. My guess is that when Johnson announced to
Clemson he intended to transfer, Dabo Swinney was only too happy to
rent him a U-Haul and fill out Hunter's change-of-address forms.
I really have little to say about the second half comeback, because
that first half made me fondly recall my undergraduate days of heading
to the parking lot before half time to do keg stands instead of going
back in to Dyche Stadium for a second half that would amount to a
victory lap for the visitors. However, since Evanston 1st doesn't
deliver to my neck of the woods, that idea was out the window.
But I still paid as much attention to the game as I did in 1989 after
about 3 stands...
Andrew Marty did come in and have a nice day throwing the football, but
it was too little, too late for NU. Spotting Duke a 3-touchdown
lead after one quarter, and a 30-7 lead at half was far too much to
overcome. Hard for a defense to overcome an offense that gives the ball
to the other team 5 times, but early on they certainly didn't do well
in keeping Duke away from the end zone, or at least making them kick
field goals. If NU is going to avoid joining its next opponent in
the Bottom 10, its offense has to hold onto the ball. Generosity
has its place, but that place is not on the football field.
Into Evanston come the Ohio Bobcats, hopefully an elixir for all that
ails the Purple. The Bobcats are led by new head coach Tim Albin,
who was appointed when Frank Solich stepped down in June to focus on
some health issues. It has been a rough start for Coach Albin, as
his Bobcats are the only winless MAC team at 0-3. Included in
that total is a drubbing (49-14) at the hands of the Louisiana Cajuns
(apparently bobcat makes a tasty gumbo) and a heartbreaker of a loss to
the FCS Duquesne Dukes, secured when the Dukes foiled a 2-point
conversion with 10 seconds remaining. Truly, it has been a long
season in Athens. After 3 games. Just like Evanston.
The Bobcats are led by sophomore quarterback Kurtis Roarke, and his
season statistics are much the same as Hunter Johnson's, though Hunter
is probably envious of Roarke's 3-TD-to-1-int ratio (much better than
Johnson's 4/4). In terms of yards gained and yards surrendered,
NU's and Ohio's offense and defense are pretty statistically
similar. NU's defense is stingier when it comes to surrendering
points and, ultimately, I guess that's what matters.
I tried...really tried...not to get too salty with this Line, but one
quarter of the season is gone and there's precious little about NU's
team that inspires a lot of optimism. Our appearance in the Big
Ten Championship game and Citrus Bowl victory against Auburn seem much
more distant than just a season ago. Maybe getting everything
going against Ohio will be just the kickstart the 2021 season needs for
NU to challenge again for the Big Ten West. Maybe. Given
what I've seen thus far, though, that seems too much to hope for.
Pick: NU 30, Ohio 17. NU controls the game and
is a little stingier with the ball, but again fails to cover against a
lesser opponent. Pick Ohio to cover.
Season To Date: Straight up, 1-2; Against the Spread, 1-2.
Nebraska Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2)
Date: Saturday, October 2, 2021. Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. CDT (because, you know…NU is in CDT)
Line: Northwestern (+11.5); Over/Under 51.5
Outlook: Now four weeks into the season and it’s
shaping up to be a repeat of 2019-2020 season. The parallels are
frightening: Loss to MSU to start the conference season (wait, that’s
every season), a major dumpster fire at QB, and a rebuilding year on
the defensive side of the ball.
Let’s start at the quarterback parallel. NU names Hunter Johnson
as the starting QB weeks before the season starts (going against years
of running the QB competition, at least officially, right up to the
first game). At some point in the first few games, pull the
starter to replace them with the assumed third string QB, who performs
admirably only to get injured and unable to continue in subsequent
games. Somewhat concerning that Hunter Johnson was the starter in
both years we’re considering.
On the defensive side, it's apparent that tackling has been a problem
throughout the team. That's been a issue at the beginning of
seasons in the past, but not to the extent it has been this year.
Plus, without getting overly critical, I think it can be agreed that
the linebackers are not yet to the same level as last year and could do
with a year of improvement.
So with that backdrop, let’s recap last Saturday’s game against the
Ohio University Bobcats. On the surface there’s a lot to
like. NU easily pasted their opponent 35-6, covering the
spread. However, considering the Bobcat’s quality (or lack
thereof), there were many concerning aspects of the game.
First, while “bend, don’t break” is a fine defensive philosophy, NU
should be bending against high quality opponents, looking for
turnovers, and using the compressed field in the red zone to keep them
out of the end zone. Against the Ohio Effing Bobcats, NU should
not be bending! They gave up almost 6 yards per rush (see
"tackling"). The only bright spot was the pass defense, but if
you give up over 5 yards per rush to the Ohio Effing Bobcats, the rest
of the Big Ten is not going to need to throw the ball.
Second, the 'Cats disappeared in the third quarter. Two drives to
start that quarter, two punts. The first drive featured 2 for 5
passing by Hilinski (we’ll get back to that). The second was a
three and out. Against the Ohio Effing Bobcats.
Third, let’s consider the general coaching strategy against the Effing
Bobcats. Let’s imagine you are a college football coach.
Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume you’re a pretty
good judge of performance and your starting QB is highly athletic,
looks great in practice, but is literally wetting the bed in actual
games and frankly looks panicky. You tried infusing some
confidence, but that didn't work (as it didn't two years ago) You
finally bench him (probably for good) and put in your third string QB
(loved by his teammates) whose profile is way too risk/reward for you,
but was fine for a game that required that anyway. He gets hurt
(which, you hate to say it, gives you the out so you don’t have to go
with him again and his risky decision making), so you move on to your
second string QB, another transfer that couldn’t stay on the field for
his former team. Choice A: Use a game plan that gives this
obviously repeat second choice QB some valuable experience reading
defenses and throwing against an inferior team to develop confidence,
with the side benefit of giving future opponents something new to
consider. Choice B: Have this QB throw on 20 of 71 plays
(12 completions for 88 yds), 5 of which came on a single drive?
I’m sure I could come up with some reasonable explanation to support
Choice B, but it wouldn’t address the most glaring problem on
offense. This becomes more relevant regarding the next game.
Next up are the Nebraska Cornhuskers, whose fanbase appears apoplectic
regarding the team’s perceived underperformance. They’re 2-3, but
are better than their record suggests. The opening loss to
Illinois was bad, but since then, they have rolled two weak
non-conference opponents, lost a well-fought game against #3 Oklahoma,
then lost a close one against a good MSU team. Are they going to finish
first in the West? Not likely, but could easily finish middle of
the pack, which is probably about where they should be without the loss
to Illinois (their schedule includes Michigan, OSU, Wisconsin, and
Iowa, all potential stretches for a W). As I said, this is a good
team who has improved since last year, but they’re not quite there to
be competing for a top spot.
As has been the case for several years, Adrian Martinez leads the
Huskers in both passing and rushing, combining a 60+ pass completion
percentage with 72 rushing attempts in four games. The rest of
the running attack is generally effective and spread between multiple
running backs. This is particularly concerning considering that NU is
poor in defending mobile quarterbacks. I have no magic stats to
back this up, but over the past few years my perception is that NU will
often give up big plays to a scrambling QB, particularly on third
down. I suspect we will see more of the same this Saturday (no
great prognostication there).
On defense, Nebraska is improved over the past few years.
Specifically (with acknowledgement to several other pundits including
West Lot Pirates), they have developed a game plan of stacking the box
to stop the run while daring the opponent to beat them in the air. It
has worked well so far this season with the exception of Oklahoma, who
ran over them anyway. Importantly, it worked very well against
MSU, who NU was unable to stop.
Are you noticing a problem for Northwestern fans in the previous two
paragraphs? A Nebraska offense that features an aspect that the
Wildcats are weak at, and a defense that seems tailor made to stifle a
team with a suspect quarterback. Relying on Hilinski to beat that
defense with conservative playcalling is a recipe for more 3 and outs
than you can shake a stick at. Not looking good folks.
I don’t see a reliable path to victory for our 'Cats. They’ll
have to rely on turnovers and some scoring help from the defense to
pull out a win here. I hope that happens, but I'm betting it
Looking ahead, it’s going to be a long season. Without a major
change immediately, NU is likely to be underdogs in every game except
(maybe) the last game against Illinois. I’m going to be somewhat
optimistic that they pick off a home upset against Minnesota or Purdue
and beat Illinois to end up 4-8.
Pick: UN 34, NU 17. Nebraska is set up to
prove a point against a reeling Wildcat team playing on the road. Take
the Huskers and lay the points.
Season To Date: Straight up, 2-2; Against the Spread, 1-3.
Rutgers Preview and Prediction
By Lone Star Cat
Matchup: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3, 0-3 B1G) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Date: Saturday, October 16, 2021, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (+2), o/u 45
It’s been almost two weeks, and it’s still hard to comprehend.
Yes, we all know this Wildcat team is not the same as last year’s, but
what in the name of Mustard’s Last Stand went on in Lincoln a couple
weeks ago? Arguably the worst loss in the Fitz era, the ‘Cats
were drubbed 56-7 in a game one could easily say wasn’t even that
Flush it, they say. “We’re on to Rutgers,” would be the
Belichick-ian response. I can’t. I’m not. That
display gave me visions of marshmallows being tossed about in the
stands, harkening back to a time when a return to the east lot at
halftime for another round of kegstands was the norm, without a need to
return for the second half. In Hayden Fry form, it wouldn’t have
been surprising for Scott Frost to say to Fitz at the post-game
handshake, “I hope we didn’t hurt any of your boys.”
Let’s face it… our ‘Cats ain’t very good. The defense is just
hard to watch, and I watched the Huskers torch NU for 427(!) yards on
the ground. It’s clear we now have a sufficient sample size of
four FBS games where the rush defense has proven they can’t get out of
their own way.
If there was any positive, it was that Hilinski threw some good balls
and looked as good as anyone else we’ve trotted out there behind center
so far this season. Not exactly high praise, but that’s about as
good as it gets.
Never in my life did I think I’d see the day when Northwestern is an
underdog at home to Rutgers. Having lived the vast majority of my
life in NJ, and having a degree from Rutgers, I have a soft spot for
the Scarlet Knights and root for them to do well, but for one week
every so many years. Rutgers comes into Evanston riding a
three-game losing streak. Doesn’t sound great, but those three
teams are now squarely in the top 10: Michigan, Ohio State, and
Michigan State. In each of those three games, Rutgers didn’t manage to
score more than 13 points, but don’t let that fool you. They’ve
got a decent run game and can sling it when they have to, with senior
QB Noah Vedral leading the way.
With Wisconsin and Penn State still on the schedule, this game is
likely one the Knights will be up for, as it represents a great chance
at a conference win. Coach Greg Schiano is looking to keep
Rutgers improving and on the way to bowl eligibility. This game
is key to making that happen.
After that mess for NU in Lincoln, the ‘Cats had a bye last week.
Hopefully it gave them an opportunity to refocus and get their house in
order. History is not on their side, as NU is 3-9 in weeks after
the bye during the Fitz era. Perhaps Fitz spent the off week
recruiting. Based on what we’ve seen to date, I surely hope so, but the
sell might be getting tougher:
“Look at our practice facility! Look at the huge commitment to a stadium renovation!”
“That’s great, Coach, but I can’t help but also look at the shite you’ve been trotting out on the field this year.”
After the lousy 2019 season, Fitz declared, “This will never happen
again.” Well, it’s happening. Fitz has earned the benefit
of the doubt for recovering from slow starts before, but put me in the
doubting Thomas camp this season.
Good news for the ‘Cats is that Rutgers is not as good at running the
ball as Nebraska or Michigan State, or even Duke. Bad news
is that hope is not a strategy. It’s gonna take some real work on
defense to get the job done for NU. Offensively, slow and steady
could win the race. Rutgers is far from a world beater, and
methodically moving the chains either on the ground or in the air could
be enough to get NU their first conference win. Just having a
hard time seeing it.
Pick: Do the ‘Cats play the underdog role to their advantage vs the boys from Jersey? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Take the Scarlet Knights and lay the points. Rutgers 24, Northwestern 21.
Season to date: Straight up: 3-2; Against the Spread: 2-3
Michigan Preview and Prediction
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 1-2 B1G) at #6 Michigan Wolverines (6-0, 3-0 B1G)
Date: Saturday, October 23, 2021, B1G NOON ON FOX (11:00 a.m. CDT)
TV: I SAID, B1G NOON ON FOX
Line: Michigan (-23.5), o/u 51
Outlook: Do you think that a win over Rutgers
makes everything alright? Heck no. Does that mean this
Lowes Line author is still primed to burn it all down? You’re
G-D- right I am. So buckle up. Here’s your warning:
put the kids to bed early, because you might get Triggered worse than
Northwestern, as a home underdog on Homecoming Weekend, beat Rutgers
21-7. Faint praise is due, but it is weak balm on the blistered
ass-cheeks left over from the Nebraska debacle. Too much
ebullience in beating Rutgers would be akin to congratulating a
hair-sniffing moron for barely scraping out a win in a
phone-and-fax-based popularity contest against the most reviled reality
television personality in the western hemisphere, although to be fair
that’s arguably still an improvement over the anthropomorphic
incarnation of a drunken half-melted candle who previously lost a
similar popularity contest to said reviled brand-in-a-hat. But
you are not here for my insightful commentary on Season 30 of Dancing
With The Stars even though, fyi, I got The Miz at +1600 before the
season premiere, and I am holding onto that ticket with the death grip
of a CNN legal analyst trying to keep his webcam steady.
Watching the NU-Rutgers game was sorta like watching your dog scootch
his butt across the already-stained rug in your converted garage/tv
lounge, then patting his head and telling him he’s a good boy.
Now we pack the good boy into the car for a fun drive to get neutered
in Ann Arbor. Do you folks realize that when I picked this game
back in August to preview, there was talk that NU could conceivably be
6-0 and heading into The Big House for a nationally televised showdown
of top-10 teams? Well, unfortunately for America, it’s still a
nationally televised game, but the rest of that turned out to be the
biggest pile of fraudulent bullcrap since “two weeks to flatten the
Speaking of which, here’s the extremely minimal football analysis that
you’ve come to barely expect from me in these previews. Think of
this matchup as the fight at the beginning of Rocky IV. NU, like
Apollo Creed, will try to box Ivan Drago, get some chunk yards here and
there, get a few first downs, maybe a TD or two, keep it within a score
(ha!), and hope to eke out a win, or at least a cover, at the end (ha
ha!). And what happens? Apollo enters the ring against
Drago and his only strategy, to which he clings with mindless and
overbearing devotion, is to jab. Keep jabbing. Jab. Jab
jab. Jab jab jab. Jab!! Jab!! Jab!! That’s all he’s
got! Trust the jab! Jab! Jab Jab Jab Jab! JAB,
dammit, JAB!!! Even as the audience starts to think maybe they
shouldn’t be forced to endure this debacle any longer and “just jab
more” is not the winning strategy they thought it was gonna be, Apollo
insistently keeps on jab-jab-jabbing well beyond the point of any
reasoned strategy in this kind of a fight, and eff the fans if they,
like the ever-competent Duke, are thinking maybe this is a bad
idea. Meanwhile, Rocky is completely unprepared to run Apollo’s
corner, he’s definitely brain-damaged from 36 years as a bottom-card
tomato can in Delaware Valley dive bars and two prior wars with Apollo,
not to mention the beatings he took from Clubber Lang and Thunderlips,
plus he’s too mush-mouthed to articulate a coherent strategy, and on
top of everything else that tall nurse in a pantsuit with the hee-haw
laugh doesn’t seem to do anything around here at all, and he can’t even
remember her name but he thinks it rhymes with oatmeal, because he
likes oatmeal but not as much as ice cream, oh, man, does he like ice
cream. Instead, the pudding-brained dipsh*t from (south of)
Philly just holds that towel in his hand and lets Apollo jab jab jab
jab jab jab jab jab jab until he gets his face caved in by the mutant
with the spiked bleached blond hairdo. So, yeah, we’re apparently
going to just jab and dodge, jab and duck, jab and get laid the F out
until we realize that maybe we hired the wrong freaking defensive
coordinator and are running the wrong freaking plays to win otherwise
winnable games. I forgot what I was talking about.
Let me close this out with some positive commentary about our beloved,
but overmatched, Wildcats. Our disappointment this season lies at
the feet of the coaches, who are definitely getting their butts
whipped. Let’s not forget, however, that the ‘Cats have got some
dang fine players who deserve cheers, not jeers. One highlight
for me this season has been watching ALL-AMERICAN Brandon Joseph taking
ownership of the secondary once again. I’m no coach, or
commentator, but it seems to me No. 16 is at his best in center field,
patrolling the sky, and not overburdened as a quasi-5th linebacker
trying to paper over the cracks in the defense in front of him.
Let’s just say it this way. I. Love. Brandon. Joseph.
Favorite player on this team. Even if this version of the
Wildcats collectively stinks, he will always be awesome. With
every big hit or pass defended, I am on my feet screaming, Let’s F’ing
Go, One Six!!! And, of course, I have been inspired…
Let’s Go Brandon!
(with apologies to Brian May and Queen)
Willie, won the West, made a big noise
Beating Auburn, gonna beat Michigan State today.
You got trucked in your place, a first play disgrace
Kenneth Walker kicked your can all over the place, but we’re singin'
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon!
Willie, you're a young ‘Cat, tough game
Coming in the South, gonna try to beat Duke today.
You fell on your face, can’t tackle in space
Throwing INTs all over the place.
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon! Sing it!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon! Yeah!
Willie, made me an old man, poor ‘Cats
Gouging out our eyes, gotta watch you in Lincoln today.
You got kicked in the taint, big disgrace!
Somebody better start coaching or you’ll be in last place!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon! Yeah, yeah, come on!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon! Alright, louder!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon!!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon!!! One Six, Everybody!
Let’s go, let’s go, Brandon!!!!
Pick: Six games into 2021, if you’re not
longing for 2020, or 2018 or 2017 (but maybe not 2019), then you’re
just not paying attention. To football, I mean. Wolverines
42, Wildcats 19. Harbaugh steps on his own weiner to hit the over
and allow the ‘Cats a disappointingly flaccid cover, but Michigan still
adds another verse to the song. On the bright side, for the next
couple of years we can all sing the catchiest refrain ever
composed. Let’s Go Brandon!
Season to date: Straight up: 3-3; Against the Spread: 2-4
Minnesota Preview and Prediction
Matchup: Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-2, 3-1) visits Ryan Field and Your Northwestern Wildcats (3-4, 1-3)
Date: Saturday, October 30, 2021, 2:30 p.m. CDT
Line: Minnesota (-7.5) o/u 43.5
Outlook: Alright, seriously, why do I
seemingly follow the mastermind of GallopingGrapes every
year. He’ll write a poem, sing a song, reference a movie
and most of the time, do all three. Meanwhile, as I take over the
reins, you slog through a boring statistical breakdown of NU’s chances
in a football game. Well, time to proceed.
This season has been a struggle. NU has beaten Ohio, Rutgers and
Indiana State but looked very, very bad against Nebraska, Sparty and
the Wolverines. Fitz started the season eyeing Hunter
Johnson the same way Jimmy McGinty looked at Shane Falco “I look at you
and see two men; the man you are, and the man you ought to be.”
Fitz has always believed in his players and coaches (sometimes to a
fault) and thought Hunter was his man this year. The Duke
game took care of that notion and NU handed the team over to Hillinski
(I read we got a QB commitment from the state of Alabama). The
score was 10-7 at half as Evan Hull rumbled to a 75 yard touchdown and
the defense was holding. The second half started and on
Michigan’s first possession, the D seemingly held. Wait, a yellow
hankie was on the field. Holding, Defense. C’mon man.
Michigan takes advantage and Hassan rumbles in for the score.
17-7. Wait, NU is responding. The ‘Cats drive
right back and get to the 19 of Michigan. 3 plays later,
Kuhbander on for the 39 yarder. No good. Fitz needs to find
the next Nigel “The Leg” Gruff (as long as he hasn't bet 50k quid on a
soccer game). Seriously, NU cannot find a kicker! The D
holds again amazingly. NU takes over but cannot convert a first
down. Punt team!! It’s blocked. And lets just
say, the rest played out just like Shane Falco said, “One thing goes
wrong. And then another. And another. Until you can’t move… you
can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like
quicksand.” TD Michigan, punt, FG, INT, TD. It’s 33-7 and
we all flipped over to the Oklahoma-KU game or the PSU-Illini game.
The Gophers impressed the opening weekend as they nearly pulled the
upset over the Buckeyes. However, losing their top player Mo
Ibrahim essentially saved the Buckeyes that day as the Gophers were in
charge the whole game. Convincing wins over Miami, Colorado
ensued but, somehow a loss to Bowling Green followed. They
then traveled to West Lafayette and bested Purdue. Nebraska
came to town and lost 30-23 and then Minny pounded the Terrapins
34-16. All in all, PJ Fleck is seemingly pushing all the right
buttons. Last week, Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving became the 4th and
5th different 100 yard rushers for the Gophers this season.
The credit has to go to the scheme and the OL. This could be a
problem for our beloved Wildcats.
So what’s it going to be this week, who is going to step up and want
the ball. Can Fitz convince Bergin to go all Danny Bateman and
get Fitz the ball (without killing anyone)? Does this team have
the heart to rebound? Will there be a Shane Falco that shows up
to give this team the boost it needs? Will someone lead the
huddle and say “pain heals, chicks dig scars, but glory lasts forever”?
Pick: Not this week. Uggh, that OL for the
Gophers is too much. 28-13. Take the Gophers and give
the points as the under pays.
Season to date: Straight up: 4-3; Against the Spread: 2-5. Not good
Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Matchup: Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (3-5, 1-4)
Date: Saturday, November 6, 2021 6:00 p.m. CDT
TV: B1G Network, maybe
Line: Iowa minus 12
This year has been a rough one for the Wildcats and us their
fans. There was hope that NU had turned a corner and that NU
would be able to “reload and not rebuild,” but 2021 has shown that this
is not the case. NU has just enough flashes of greatness each
game to get one excited about what could be but more often than not the
opposing team just wears down NU like it was 1992.
As I watched NU march to the Big Ten West title last year, I noticed
there were several times each game where NU had to make a play to keep
the ball or stop the opposing team from scoring. With the
exceptions of the MSU and OSU games they did just that; make a play
when they had to. They would convert the big third down in the
fourth quarter or hold the other team to a FG, or take the ball
away. If NU only makes half of those plays last year maybe they
are 5-4 instead of 7-2.
This year they are not making the plays as their 3-5 record
shows. Mostly, the defense is able to bend and not break in the
first half but then they do break after repeatedly having to go back
out after 3 plays and a punt. The offense is sad. It is
amazing the difference a good quarterback makes. This year NU has
several QBs but none are performing well. Hopefully Andrew Marty
gives them a chance today. He is more high risk / high reward but
what do the ‘Cats have to lose?
I feel for Fitz right now. As much joy as it is to win and to see
young men develop in front of you, the frustration of watching as
teenagers don’t do what you have taught them, must be immense.
There is only so much you can do. Eventually the kids must decide
for themselves how much they will listen, how hard they will work, and
how much they will sacrifice today for their future tomorrows.
They say failure is the greatest teacher. If so, NU is learning
lots of lessons for next year. It is just hard to watch as a
parent, I mean, fan.
Usually the Iowa game is a close one but that is also what was said
about the Nebraska game, and we see how that turned out. Iowa is
trying to find its footing after starting 6-0, they have lost two
straight games. For Iowa it is all about the turnovers.
During their 6-0 streak they were plus 3 turnovers per game. For
their two losses they were minus 3 turnovers per game. I think
they hold onto the ball and just wait for NU to make the mistakes that
they have been making all year.
I sure hope it is different but nothing points to the ‘Cats growing up in time to win today.
Take Iowa minus 12.
Pick: Iowa 34, NU 20
Season to date
Straight up: 5-3; Against the Spread: 3-5.
Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) at #18 Wisconsin Badgers (6-3, 4-2)
Date: Saturday, November 13, 2021 11:00 a.m. CST
Location: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
Line: Wisconsin (-24.5)
Outlook: Oh, what could have been. Iowa
stumbled into Evanston after 2 straight losses, tarnishing what had
been a giddy season for Hawkeyes fans. Their weaknesses had been
exposed, such as their need for lopsided numbers of turnovers to fuel
their victories. They were definitely beatable that night in
Evanston. Unfortunately, the Northwestern offense fed the beast
again, with Marty throwing 3 passes to the Iowa defense, including the
game-clinching interception after a NU defensive stand gave the ball
back to the offense with a chance to rally for a win, down only 5
points. A heartbreaking mistake.
In general, the NU defense stood up to the Iowa offense, limiting them
to 17 points and even shutting them out in the 4th quarter, giving the
'Cats a chance to rally for a pretty nice upset. Wouldn't have
salvaged the season by any means, but it would have been a diamond in
an otherwise pretty rough season. True, Iowa back Tylor Goodson
had a strong game, going for 141 yards on 21 carries, but he scored
only 1 touchdown. The NU style of defense - bend, but don't break
- clearly in evidence. How impressive was the NU defense?
They held Iowa to even fewer total yards than the anemic NU offense
gained. Which goes to prove, once again: lies, damn lies,
and statistics indeed. It took a quarterback switch from usual
starter Spencer Petras, who proved ineffective early on, to Alex
Padilla to spark the Hawkeyes and roll up just enough points to emerge
The NU offense, however, continues to underwhelm with no running game
to speak of. Evan Hull was held to 41 yards on the ground and he
led all NU receivers with 6 grabs for 89 yards and NU's lone
touchdown. The NU offense just looks overmatched whenever it
lines up against true Division I-A competition. Unless there's a
bottom quartile defense on the other side of the ball (I'm looking at
you, Ohio), NU just doesn't seem to be able to put together a reliable
offensive game plan. True, the defense is permitting over 25 a
game, but frequently it's being stranded in really bad positions by an
overly generous (or utterly ineffective) offense.
Timing, they say, is everything. That axiom will be very well
illustrated by the match-up this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in
Madison. The Badgers come in riding high on a 5-game winning
streak and fresh off a 52-3 pounding of Rutgers in Piscataway.
Truly, the game wasn't really that close, as the Badgers amassed all 52
points in 3 quarters and gave their entire depth chart significant
playing time throughout the 4th quarter (no truth to the rumors that 2
managers and a Wisconsin band trombone player played multiple
snaps). Even so, Rutgers never sniffed the end zone against the
3rd- and 4th-stringers.
Had NU gotten Wisconsin earlier in the season, the outlook for this
game might be vastly different. Wisconsin started out the season
in very rough fashion, losing 3 of their first 4 games to Penn State
(at home), Notre Dame (neutral site), and Michigan (at home).
Yes, all three losses were to ranked teams. But in going 1-3, the
Badgers turned the ball over repeatedly. Starting quarterback
Graham Mertz, in his second season, was especially guilty, fumbling and
throwing picks with alarming frequency. Add to that generosity
the fact that the Badgers offense was distinctly, well, un-Badger-like
in that it was held below 100 rushing yards total for half of their
first four games, and the Badgers as a team were very gettable early in
the season. The offensive line, renowned for consistency and
effectiveness, and having double-digit alumni starting for NFL teams,
seemed unable to open running lanes for Wisconsin's backfield, even as
games progressed past halftime. The contrast between this
campaign and offensive lines in years past was striking.
The Badger defense has been the one constant in Madison this
season. The defense is again playing at an elite level, and
statistically speaking is the #1 defense in FBS. The Notre Dame
and Michigan scores (41 and 38, respectively) don't establish a defense
playing poorly; those scores tell the story of an offense stranding its
defense in unwinnable situations through turnovers and systemic
ineptitude (sound familiar, Purple Patriots?). Against Iowa the
prior week, the Badgers held them to 156 total yards and a measly 7
points. The same Tyler Goodson that rolled up 141 yards against
NU? He managed just 27 against the Badger defense. At half,
Iowa had the sum total of 17 yards of total offense. Throw in 3
turnovers by Iowa, and you begin to understand just how dominant the
Badgers were against our most recent common opponent.
Over the years, the Badgers have had a seemingly endless supply of
elite tailbacks. Ron Dayne. Melvin Gordon. Most
recently, Jonathan Taylor. Now, a new threat has emerged in the
person of freshman Braelon Allen. He has quickly moved up the
depth chart to be 1A to Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi's 1. All at
the tender age of 17. Mellusi was banged up during the Rutgers
game, and as of press time for this Line his status has not been
determined. Allen is likewise slightly injured, but should be in
the backfield for Saturday's game. His burst and his patience
present an unwelcome challenge to the NU defense. If he's 90% or
better, he might spend a lot of time in NU's defensive backfield.
If he's not, then Wisconsin will likely play 2-3 other backs, each of
which saw the field for meaningful touches against Rutgers. And
Mertz seems to be finding his receivers a little more efficiently (3 TD
passes last Saturday), but he still can suffer some errors in judgment
and hand the ball to the other team. If NU is to have any chance
whatsoever, Mertz needs to be more, well, Marty-like in his approach to
So what does that translate into for this Saturday at Camp
Randall? Surely the fan base has been re-energized and will be
rooting at maximum volume. As much as I'd like to give Coach Fitz
and his staff something to show the players that the Line is behind
them and believes in them (and risk a little bulletin board material
for Chryst & Co.), I just don't see it happening this week.
The Badgers are putting it all together as the season progresses, and
the Cats seem like they can't get out of their own way. Add to
that the fact that NU's defense is 125th (out of 130) against the run,
and they're traveling to play a team whose entire identity revolves
around the run, and you have a recipe for a purple disaster.
About the only thing in the Cats' favor is that they seem to relish
being a persistent thorn in the Badgers' side whenever they play them,
keeping games that should be blowouts much closer than the experts
think, and stealing some unlikely, borderline miraculous (see fumble:
Dayne, Ron), upsets along the way. The betting public seems to think
any repeat of those shenanigans is unlikely, given that the spread,
initially at (-22), moved 2.5 points higher less than 24 hours after
being set. Sadly, this Liner sees no reason to disagree with all
of the money moving the line. A re-energized Badger running game
against a porous at best run defense is not a recipe for success for
Wildcats fans. The Purple Faithful will be praying for lots of
generosity from Graham Mertz, or this game won't be close after the
first quarter. It will look something like this:
It's up to you to decide whether that's the Badger backfield running
amok or the NU fans headed for the parking lot and keg stands.
Pick: Wisconsin 35, NU 10. NU defense keeps it close-ish before half, but the Badgers pull away in the second half and cover.
Season to date
Straight up: 6-3; Against the Spread: 3-6.
Purdue Preview and Prediction
Matchup: Purdue Boilermakers (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten)
Date: Saturday, November 20, 2021 11:00 a.m. CST (like, 20 minute ago)
Location: Wrigley Field
Line: Purdue (-11)
Outlook: A screaming came across the sky in
Camp Randall last week, then an explosion that left only the most
degenerate characters still wagering on NU football, and nobody but the
truly insane actually watching the games anymore, even when they are at
the cramped and somewhat hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field, and so it
is not hard to discern that the three or four of the most masochistic
of all even bother to read and/or write these previews of Wildcat
football, and really if one is going to be a masochist then one ought
to simply bite the bullet and do something more spiritually
enlightening with their Saturday, perhaps something that you were
supposed to do while still blissfully and ignorantly enrolled in
college but instead you skipped the reading and bought the Cliff Notes,
which today’s students probably don’t bother with because they have
Wikipedia and their brains are already pudding making them eligible for
national elective office, but my point here is that if you are waiting
for me to get to the football then you should know right now that this
middle finger of a Northwestern football season deserves a middle
finger of a Lowes Line right now, and so instead of analysis, which
nobody really expects from me anyway, you are getting a James Joyce
run-on sentence filled with profane drunken ranting about exhibitionist
sexual encounters at various Chicago landmarks, which may or may not be
interspersed with a “where’s Waldo” sub-theme where our narrator
repeatedly spots Henry James getting pegged by a one-legged
gender-fluid prostitute atop random L-stops, although technically our
literary journey begins a short walk from the Purple Line and ends only
a few stops and one line transfer later at the Addison station where
Mr. James is nowhere to be seen, since of course he is chasing the
dragon on the Brown Line and can’t figure out how he got there because,
after all, eff Henry James. Yes, I took pity on you, dear reader, with
the insertion of a rare period, but don’t get used to it because this
is a journey, and not a good journey, but rather something more akin to
the sensate navel-gazing exploration of déjà vu that we
all can thank and hate Marcel Proust for spending 14,000 pages, at
least it seems like that many pages, traveling up his own butthole to
explain the profundity of dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea,
although every literature student who ever pulled a B in whatever
tortuous class included that appalling doorstop of a novel can at least
thank Marcel for putting that scene in the first 50 pages so they can
say they read it and draw facile conclusions about how Pixar actually
did that entire scene and concept better with Ego biting and actually
swallowing rat-cooked vegetable stew, but my point about
déjà vu is that this particular madeleine of a
Northwestern team dipped into this particular cup of Wrigley Field does
not transport us back to an earlier time of love and understanding, but
rather a nightmarish surreal return to the horrors of 2019 that we all
thought and hoped were behind us but it isn’t it’s here and its in our
faces and it sucks it sucks it sucks it sucks it sucks. I suspect that
wasting bastard Kafka (Franz, not Mike) was the one who wrote the
script for this abortion of a season, where we awoke in September
thinking all was well only to be informed that instead we were facing a
trial of 12 games, none of which would fit into the opening narrative,
and with no idea where we might end up other than that our conviction
and execution for the crime of being Wildcats fans was inevitable, and
surely enough not even our home, good old Ryan Field or Dyche Stadium
or whatever it used to be called would even be there anymore once the
trial is over, instead we wander to Wrigley, to Ireland, probably to
New Trier for a season, or Soldier Field since the Bears aren’t even
there anymore, a football team led by a cursed Willie who just wants to
get home from Troy but first has to endure the illicit temptations and
distractions of witches and sea monsters and giants and Io_a and,
probably, finally arrive home only to realize that every other Power
Five school with a head coach opening still wants to bed Fitz even if
he alternates 3-win seasons with 10-win season like some insane
Austrian philosopher turned Subway sandwich artist, ok honestly I’m not
sure about that simile at all, but nobody is reading this anymore at
this point anyway, and if you are it’s only because the game just
kicked off, NU is already down by 10 points and you’re just praying
that they can hold the under to salvage the last six dollars in your
betting account so you can enjoy that swelling feeling that only the
truly despicable character, the Humbert Humbert perverts of the world,
feel as they get dirtier and dirtier, but now it’s time for Wildcats
football fans to take our medicine, it’s time to recognize that our
fandom is subject to the twisted and bloody whims of a Cormac McCarthy
novel and we’ve already been torn and ripped and violated and, oh dear
heavens there are still how many games left in this damnable season,
can we turn to basketball instead? This season is lost, like
paradise to Lucifer, it is interminable, like Spencer drawing a poem
about faeries out for 30,000 lines, it is abject, like pretty much
anything by Dostoevsky that sick and spiteful and unattractive man, it
is ineffable, like Moby Dick itself, which by the way is the greatest
American novel and not just because it has a good fart joke and
speaking of good fart jokes, it remains Northwestern football, and it
wouldn’t be my kind of preview without at least one final hopeful note,
if I may paraphrase the original bard of fart jokes, meaning Jeff
Chaucer, who once (sorta) wrote about the beauty of stupid frustrating
love, like stupid frustrating Northwestern football:
The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th’assay so hard, so sharp the conquering,
The dredful Joy, that alwey slit so yerne,
Al this mene I by love.
By the way, had this preview been written by a Purdue grad, it would
probably be a series of sentences with no more than 10 words each,
avoiding all unnecessary adverbs, and would read like particularly
boring stereo instructions. Enjoy your cheap-ass win today, you
Pick: Purdue 30, NU 17. Sit in a quiet, well-lit
room with a glass of something nice and read a classic, then watch
basketball instead. Northwestern hoops makes the Tournament this
season. Book it.
Season to date
Straight up: 7-3; Against the Spread: 4-6.
Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) at University of Illinois Illini (4-7, 3-5 Big Ten)
Date: Saturday, November 27, 2021 2:30 p.m. CST
Location: Memorial Stadium (Champaign, IL)
Line: Illinois (-6.5) – 44.5 O/U
“By the way, had this preview been written by a Purdue
grad, it would probably be a series of sentences with no more than 10
words each, avoiding all unnecessary adverbs, and would read like
particularly boring stereo instructions.” -- Almost like he knew who was next up on the Lowes Line beat.
Recap: If you saw any of the previous games
against Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, then you know
exactly how the Purdue game played out. Ineffective offense, QB
revolving door, missed field goal, poor tackling, negative turnover
ratio…rinse and repeat. Nothing further to say.
Season Commentary: It’s been a carbon copy of
2019-20, which was promised to be a one of a kind, never to be repeated
phenomenon of the Fitz era, and here we are again. The team
philosophy is well-established, but, to review, Fitzgerald’s Wildcats
intend to be based on a solid foundation of defense and mistake free
offense that controls the turnover battle. The offense would like
to run effectively, with low risk passing mixed in, leaving low
probability for turnovers, but very little margin for error to keep the
chains moving. The team is perfectly happy giving up possession
without appreciable gains as long as it’s a punt, not a turnover.
They’re historically happy to give up yards on defense and wait for the
turnover. Make less mistakes than the other team and let their
probability edge take its course. This is supposed to be a
professional style program. When it works, you get multiple years
of bowl eligibility. When it doesn’t, it’s SUPPOSED to be 5-7
having barely missed out. It’s NOT supposed to be 1-7 (8?) in the
2019 and 2021 have shown a few disturbing and predictable problems with
the philosophy. First and foremost, the program appears unable to
recruit or develop at the quarterback position to their own
satisfaction. I’m not really sure what the coaches are looking
for, but when the cast of QBs have effectively the same stats (~6ypa,
50/50 TD/INT, 55-60% comp), whatever it is, they’re not finding
it. Maybe it’s not even the QBs. If three different QBs
have the same result, the logical conclusion is that there’s a
Second, the defensive unit is having a down year overall. There
clearly were some major growing pains at the beginning of the season
related to scheme, and whether the players picked up the system over
time, or the system was simplified (some argue the latter), things have
improved, but fundamental problems remain with team speed and
tackling. This has resulted in NU being dead last in rushing
defense in the Big Ten. It goes without saying that inability to
stop the run is incompatible with the team’s core philosophy.
Third, the coaching staff appears unable to make any changes, either
over the course of the season or within games that have any impact on
results. Frankly, I haven’t noticed any change of approach at all
from the Nebraska game through last week. Week after week, it’s
watching a train wreck on a continuous loop. Do something.
If you want to be considered professional, then identify problems, make
a change, assess results, and repeat. Six Sigma, MFers!
I still have a lot of faith in Fitzgerald to guide a successful program
long-term, but I’d like to see a better response from him when the team
Outlook: This week, we’ll be giving thanks
that the end of the season is finally upon us. The Cats play the
Illini for the Land of Lincoln Hat Trophy in Champaign.
Illinois has been on the losing end of this contest for the last six
years, but that streak may end this year. Two things are certain
this time, Illinois is a bad team, but NU is worse.
The Illini have been wildly inconsistent this year, but enter the final
week with three Big Ten wins, including Nebraska, Penn State (the
bizarre OT game), and Minnesota. Their losses have been
predictable, but none have been the outright beat downs that the
Wildcats have suffered (though their non-conference losses to Charlotte
and UT-San Antonio were certainly embarrassing from an expectation
Make no mistake, statistically, the teams are similarly poor on both
offense and defense. The major differences are that Illinois will rely
even more heavily on the run to power their offense and they have a
better pass rush.
This game should be a close one and the difference could very well be
those things Fitzgerald values…winning the risk management contest and
making fewer mistakes in the fourth quarter. Call me crazy, but I
think he’ll have the team ready to recover some dignity in this one.
Pick: NU 21 - 17 Illinois. Illinois
continues to lose focus and underachieve during the winnable
games. Pick NU, and take the under.
Season to date
Straight up: 8-3; Against the Spread: 5-6.