Northwestern Has Severe Quarterbacking Issues Heading into Bye Week


hunter johnson

Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald is well publicized Chicago White Sox fan. One of the most heralded Sox teams of his youth, the 1983 American League West Division champion edition, went by the slogan and mantra of “Winnin’ Ugly.”

Had NU pulled off the victory today at #25 Stanford (and they came pretty close in the end), the catch-phrase certainly would have applied. It might have even qualified as the ugliest win in history, had it come through. The Wildcats had the ball down just 10-7 (thanks to a couple Stanford fumbled snaps) with half a minute left at The Farm, but then this happened:

And with that play, losing on the scoreboard got paired up with losing against the spread as Northwestern was a 6 to 6.5 underdog at most places. That’s what you call a “bad beat” in the sports book world.

So if you’re a Northwestern fan who bets with your heart, you suffered two losses on Saturday in Palo Alto, California.

While it was just a three point game in the final minute, the overall box score conveys just how much Stanford was the superior side in most critical facets. The home team won time of possession by over 16 minutes, the yardage battle by over 150 and the turnover margin +2.

And Northwestern had nothing but issues at the most important position of all- quarterback. Fitzgerald went with the extremely rare double “OR” on the depth chart at quarterback to open the season. He listed his QB1 and his QB2 with an “OR” in order to keep David Shaw and his staff in the dark.

It didn’t work; not in the slightest.

The starting QB was Hunter Johnson, a former 5-star recruit and Clemson transfer who everyone fully anticipated getting the gig. He looked more like a Rutgers transfer today, and his final box score line read exactly like something you would see from a RU signal caller.

He threw an incompletion on his first pass, an interception on his second (off a richochet) and found himself with a 1 of 5 passing slash line deep into the second half.

He finished 6 of 17 passing for 55 yards, two picks, no TDs. His replacement, T.J. Green (6-10, 62 yards, no TDs or INTs) fared significantly better, but couldn’t muster any points on the board for the Cats.

He also left the game early in the third quarter due to a leg injury. It was reported after the game that Green will require surgery on his foot, and that’s he out indefinitely. In other words, Green’s 2019 is probably already over.

The Cats also lost their feature back, Isaiah Bowser, to a right knee injury. Very little information was disclosed on his status in postgame. Although it was a really ugly game, and Northwestern looked as poor in a season opener as they have in quite some time, it was still tightly contested and went down to the wire.

It’s a shame Stanford Stadium was so overwhelmingly empty most of the second half, and empty seats dominated the landscape in the final minutes. That’s absolutely unacceptable on a perfect weather day when a nationally ranked team is taking on a power conference runner-up from last season.

Of course, those are Stanford’s issues to figure out. For Northwestern, Hunter Johnson and the offensive staff really need to get it together, because right now they are extremely far off from where they need to be. The coaching staff really put the training wheels on Johnson in the game plan and that’s puzzling.


Johnson sat out per transfer rules last season, and although he ran the scout team offense in practice last season he still has had ample time to learn and master the offense, so it’s difficult to understand why NU isn’t just letting him do his thing right now.

The good news is that they have an extremely weak opponent (UNLV) up next and an extra bye week to figure it out.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, 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

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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