Season Report Card: Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern (5-7, 1-7) made me look like I had never watched it play before, completely falling apart during a dismal seven-game losing streak that started with a heartbreaking loss at home to Ohio State with College GameDay on campus.
There were plenty of opportunities to reach the postseason, but the Wildcats were never able to put the pieces back together and were one of the biggest disappointments of the season.
Here are their grades from 2013, as I cringe and eat crow:
A unit that had been so dangerous and explosive as of late ended up being the Achilles’ heel in 2013. There was a drop off for the ages following the Ohio State collapse, as Northwestern scored 16.0 points per game during its never-ending losing streak. Quarterback Trevor Siemian wasn’t nearly as efficient as he had been the previous year, dual-threat Kain Colter was on and off the field with injury, All-Big Ten do-it-all running back Venric Mark was sidelined for the majority of the season, and the offensive line was never on the same page. Given a longer offseason to let things sink in and some extra time to heal, I expect the Wildcats’ offense to be back to finding the red zone regularly in 2014.
Other than this disheartening play that ultimately played a huge role in its bowl absence, the defense played well enough to allow Northwestern to win games. While it struggled to slow down the league’s top running backs, the front seven contributed 27 sacks, and the secondary was solid, but could have benefited from cornerback Daniel Jones, who missed the season following an injury during the opener. The Wildcats’ defense was not bad, but not great, either.
Northwestern could have—and probably should have—beaten Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan. It lost all five of these games by an average of 6.2 points—one possession—meaning despite massive injuries that could have dismantled just about any other program, coach Pat Fitzgerald was able to keep his team competitive. Of course it would have been nice to turn those close losses into victories, but that’s not how it worked out. He’ll have health and weapons to work with in what could be a successful rebound come this fall.
Northwestern returned most of its starters from a roster that won 10 games in 2012 and despite an overwhelming consensus that it would be right in the thick of things in the Big Ten Legends, it fell far from expectations and couldn’t make a bowl game.
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