Northwestern football is having a generationally bad season, but at least there’s basketba….oh wait, never mind. Northwestern men’s basketball has already lost two “buy games” this season, to Radford and Merrimack, but hey this is a football school. Well, a football school that’s having a season so down that it has reached depths that haven’t been seen in multiple decades.
This is already the first nine loss season since 2002, and they will be heavy underdogs heading into the final game of the season, at their arch-rival, Illinois. A loss there gives NU their first double digit loss season since 1989, when Francis Peay “led” them to an 0-11 mark. We’ve known what 2019 Northwestern football is for quite some time. As for basketball, it still remains to be seen.
Yes, they lost Merrimack in the season opener by double digits. That’s a team in their first season at the Division I level. They also lost to Radford, on Tuesday night in a game that saw them go 12 whole minutes without even scoring. Had they lost to Norfolk St. last night, one had to wonder how unexpected that would have really been.
Yet at the same time they beat Providence, a team that is expected to be middle of the pack in the Big East and on the fringe of the national rankings, very decisively.
Providence has made the NCAA Tournament five of the last six seasons. Now imagine just how lopsided a Providence-Merrimack game would be!
Actually it happened, and it was a rout, but the other way, with the Friars dominating, 93-56, four days ago. Try to figure that one out. One thing that has been figured it out is Northwestern’s passing “attack.” Opponents are quite adept at stopping it.
Entering today’s very lopsided loss to Minnesota, the Wildcats were dead last in the nation in passing efficiency. They weren’t just last, they were nearly 20 points (sitting at 80.2) behind the next closest team (Vanderbilt 98.3). In yards per attempt they were almost a full yard behind everybody else!
It’s safe to say that the Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator (it’s actually the same person- Mick McCall) should be relieved of his duties at the end of the season. If he’s not, what kind of message would that send about the basic standards for quality in Evanston?
Hunter Johnson, a 5-star recruit and Clemson transfer, has had a nightmarish season. Yes, he’s endured injuries and serious family issues, but one has to wonder, given how poorly this season went, if he’ll look into moving on to another school again next year.
“It’s pretty obvious that some of our guys did not do the things they needed to do to prepare for the season,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said on Monday in regards to the quarterbacks.
“And that manifested itself pretty quickly. The production, or lack thereof, is a statement to preparation.”
“That is the number one room that I will get fixed. Period. End of discussion. It’s not hard, it’s not complicated, it’s painfully obvious. Those are all great kids. But they were not prepared for what it takes to be the starting quarterback, and it shows.”
The disappointment of Johnson’s season is compounded by the complications now surrounding the four star QB prospect that was supposed to be coming next season. Aidan Atkinson, the 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year in Colorado, where he set state career records for passing yards and passing touchdowns, verbally committed to NU, but he was arrested last night on charges that he sexually assaulted multiple girls.
There is really no way that Atkinson, who currently remains in jail, will be coming to the University. So while quarterback is the most important individual position in all of sports, the Cats problems go well beyond just the QB position.
Of course, you must start there, because if you don’t have a QB, you usually don’t have much of anything in college football.
P.J. Fleck, who defeated one of his coaching role models in Fitzgerald for the second time today, was asked how did it all go wrong and what can the Wildcats do to try and get it back next year. He cited another of his coaching role models, former Ohio State mentor Jim Tressel: “you know why I loved coaching college football instead of the pros, because they’re kids and you never know what’s going to happen.
Of course, our jobs are on the line because of these kids, but you have no idea.”
For his full answer, watch the 14:10-16:12 mark in the video below:
At the 10:20-11:50 mark, you can hear Fleck articulate just how much he looks up to Fitzgerald, and what his relationship with the Wildcats coach means to him.
Finally, getting back to hoops, Northwestern really needs to do something again this season. Since the breakthrough season of 2016-17, which ended with a second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the team is 30-38, 10-28 in the league. No one from that roster remains on the current team.
In other words, Chris Collins can’t coast off of that accomplishment forever. He’s 103-98 during his time in Evanston, but just 40-70 in the league.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.Follow paulmbanks