Northwestern came into their week three matchup with a little momentum after their first win of the season against Indiana State last week. That momentum was halted (in the first half at least) in their 30-20 loss against Duke. There was so much more to this game than the final outcome though, so here are five takeaways from the Wildcats’ loss.
Senior quarterback Hunter Johnson was really good against Michigan State in the season opener and it looked like Pat Fitzgerald made the right choice in his starter. Two weeks later, and I’m not so convinced. Johnson had an underwhelming game last week against Indiana State, throwing for only 66 yards, a touchdown and an interception. And in Saturday's matchup against the Blue Devils he looked downright terrible, turning the ball over four times, three of the four were interceptions and one was a fumble, and completing only six of 16 passes for 75 yards. The offense had completely stalled with Johnson in as QB. On most drives they were only getting three plays on the field before sending out the punter so the switch needed to be made and when it was, it changed the game.
The way senior quarterback Andrew Marty entered the game on the last drive of the first half and immediately had an impact should have made a lasting impression on the NU coaching staff. The guy was just on fire. He scored three touchdowns in little to no time to bring Northwestern back within 10 points after being down 30. Marty might have brought the Wildcats all the way back if he didn’t suffer an injury on a run that ended with him fumbling the ball (and the Wildcats fumbling any hope of a comeback). But despite the loss, Marty showed that he deserves the opportunity to start. The injury will obviously affect this decision, but barring a serious injury he should be QB1 when he returns.
Coming off a big game against Indiana State, I expected sophomore running back Evan Hull and the rest of the running back room to do more of the same against the Blue Devils, but the trio of Hull, graduate student Andrew Clair and freshman Anthony Tyus III combined for only 123 yards. Hull himself ran for 126 against the Sycamores and on nights like this when the quarterback situation is in flux, the Wildcats are going to need the RBs to help stabilize the offense.
Duke graduate student quarterback Gunnar Holmberg looked like an absolute stud in the first half. He was perfectly reading the Northwestern defense and finding the open man time and time again. Senior running back Mataeo Durant was also having his way with the defense as he scored the first two touchdowns within the first five minutes of play. The Wildcats pass-rush and run defense just didn’t have it in the first half and they dug themselves a hole way to big to overcome.
The defense we saw in the second half was on another level than what we’ve seen all season. There's an argument to be made that they were just as good against Indiana State, but that was lesser competition. Against Duke they went from allowing three touchdowns in one quarter to not allowing the Blue Devils to score a single point in the final two quarters. They did that by putting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks in the pocket and getting quick with their hands when defending the run. That uptick in activity led to the Wildcat defense forcing turnovers in the second half. If they could put this type of performance together for four quarters it would give them a much better chance to win games in spite of their inconsistent offense.