Northwestern Football Winning Ugly, Like Much of B1G Right Now

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Northwestern football won a game that was gritty, grind-y, old school, throwback, black & blue and any other euphemism you can think of to describe an ugly game. Usually, the additional football you get in an overtime game is a fun and pleasant surprise. In this contest though, it kind of felt like a tie.  

They all count the same though, and this win puts the Northwestern football team in great position to go back to a bowl game.

They’re 4-3 now with four games remaining against teams that you usually see in the #10-#14 portion of almost every B1G power rankings: Illinois, Nebraska, Purdue and Minnesota. Right now NU is in good position to finish the year with 7-8 wins.

pat fitzgerald

Finding a way to grind out points, wherever you can, will make all the difference.

“It’s a defensive league, it’s what it is,” Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “You’re fighting for every millimeter out there. Our offensive line has really stepped up the past 2 weeks.”

“That’s just the way the league is right now, everyone is playing well on defense. If you’re a B1G fan you had to enjoy today, I think.”

Not sure many B1G fans will actually agree with what he said there, but if you’re somebody in his position, what else are you supposed to say? Besides, winning ugly is always >>>>>> losing with a ton of style points. Also, Fitzgerald is right in that much of the league is playing this way. After this game was over, if you watched Michigan State beat Indiana 17-9 and Minnesota thwart Illinois 24-17, you saw further validation of Fitz’s idea that it’s a defensive league.

The first half felt very much like a goalless draw in soccer.

laura vandeberg

We didn’t see any scoring until 40 seconds left in the first half, via a Noah Fant seven yard TD reception from quarterback Nathan Stanley. It was set up by a 61-yard reception from Matt VandeBerg, which was not more than all of the total offense combined by both sides up to that point; it just felt like it.

For NU, their first truly big play didn’t come until early in the third quarter, when Hunter Niswander executed an 81 yard punt that pinned Iowa down at the 3.

This was a game NU really had to have, as it was right there for the taking. NU-Iowa is usually anybody’s ballgame anyway, but with the Hawkeyes missing their best player, and another notable defender, the Cats had them right where they wanted them. 

The line actually shifted 3.5 points the night before, as Northwestern football went from 1.5 point underdogs to 2 point favorites. 

Why the sudden shift? Word came out that Iowa’s All-American linebacker Josey Jewell was ruled out due to the shoulder injury that he suffered against Illinois two weeks ago.

The Hawkeyes were also to be without safety Brandon Snyder, who made his return from a torn ACL just two weeks ago in that same Illini win and came up with a pick-6. However, this return was short-lived as he sustained another knee injury.

The Wildcats had numerous chances to salt it away today, but just couldn’t close the deal until overtime.

On 4th and 5 from  the Iowa 30 on their penultimate possession in regulation, Macan Wilson dropped a Clayton Thorson pass; which would have been negated by a defensive pass interference (declined) penalty anyway.

northwestern football hutcheson field

The drive was set up by the first turnover of the game, an interception by JR Pace that gave NU the ball at Iowa’s 35. The Cats couldn’t get any points, disappointing the purple sections of the 40,046 in attendance.

Iowa tied it up on a 48-yard field goal, giving Northwestern 1:30 and two timeouts to play for the win. Instead Fitzgerald elected to play for overtime, which elicited a lot of boos from the crowd.

Fitzgerald explained the decision thusly:

“Going into the wind. I felt our D was playing well. Didn’t want to punt into the wind. Wanted to play a 25-yard game.”

“It was just about us getting the last punch,” NU running back Justin Jackson added.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now and Minute Media. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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