Nebraska’s pass defense will be tested this week, as NW really struggles to run the ball.
Northwestern impressed many by opening the season 31-27 victory at Purdue, but then stumbled by losing at home to 4-1 Duke and 2-2 Akron. The last two weeks, though, the Wildcats scared Michigan 20-17 in a game that NW led most of the day and then upset Michigan State 29-19 last Saturday.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson has started all five games for Northwestern, completing over 62% of his passes, averaging 260 yards per game with six touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. Thorson’s top receiving targets are receivers Flynn Nagel (36 catches, 402 yards) and Bennett Skowronek (22 catches, 257 yards, one touchdown) and “superback” Cameron Green (26 catches, 259 yards, three touchdowns).
It’s a good thing that Northwestern’s passing attack has worked, because the ground game has completely stalled. Each week, Northwestern has rushed for fewer yards than the week before: 166 yards against Purdue, 99 against Duke, 86 against Akron, only 28 against Michigan, and just eight yards (on 20 carries) against Michigan State. Two weeks ago, starting running back Jeremy Larkin had to give up football after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis, and the Wildcats haven’t figure out a replacement between John Moten IV (57 yards this season), Solomon Vault (24 yards), Drake Anderson (12 yards) and Isaiah Bowser (2 yards). Earlier this week, head coach Pat Fitzgerald said “It’s amazing when you go from the all-time leading rusher (Justin Jackson) to yuck.” Not sure I’d go as far as “yuck”, but it’s clear that Northwestern is struggling to run the ball.