Location: Evanston, Illinois
2017 Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
2018 record: 1-2 (1-0 Big Ten)
All time record vs. OSU: 14-61-1
What has happened thus far in 2018:
The Northwestern Wildcats began the season with a roar at Purdue, winning 31-27 in the college football season’s Thursday night opening game. In Week 2, Duke came to Ryan Field and at first, the Wildcats seemed to be rolling with a quick touchdown, but then Duke went on a 21-0 run to end the first half. With two turnovers in the game, Northwestern failed to come back in the second half, losing 21-7. Northwestern got some MACtion in Week 3 with Akron visiting Evanston. With three turnovers in the game, two of which were returned for touchdowns, Northwestern could not hold onto the football. The Zips stunned Northwestern in their first ever meeting by beating the Wildcats at home 39-34.
Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson may not be having the best season so far at the helm of the Wildcat offense, but now more than ever, with the loss of starting running back Jeremy Larkin, his presence is crucial. With 753 passing yards and 71 completions on 116 attempts, Thorson has a 61.2 completion percentage in the first three games. The Northwestern passing game will likely be called on a lot for the rest of the season, so Thorson’s performance will be a good indication of how Northwestern’s offense will fare. If Thorson can get rid of his turnover bug from the first three games, he should have a pretty good season overall.
Northwestern’s offensive line and front seven on defense are its biggest strengths. The offensive line is returning four starters from last year’s team and has allowed Thorson to throw the ball and open up the run game. The Wildcat front seven, led by star linebacker Nate Hall, is the core of the No. 29 defense, allowing only 1,140 yards throughout three games.
Northwestern’s biggest weakness is turnovers. It has had five turnovers in three games, and they are a major cause of its losses. The two interceptions against Duke stalled the offense, leaving a scoreless second half for both teams and a Wildcat loss. The two interceptions and a fumble against Akron led to two scores for the Zips and was a huge momentum boost for Akron that led to the upset. If Northwestern does not fix the turnover issues soon, it is going to be a long season for Thorson and the offense.