The Wildcats surprised the college football world by starting 1-3 but turning it around and winning the B1G West. Then reality struck as they were utterly demolished by the Ohio State Buckeyes in the B1G championship 45-24. However, Northwestern rebounded and beat Utah in the Holiday Bowl and ended the season ranked #21 in the nation. But with star QB Clayton Thorson goraduated, head coach Pat Fitzgerald will have a tougher time heading back to the B1G championship.
By The Numbers
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald – Year: 14, Record: 96-70, Bowl Wins: 4
2018 Record: 9-5 (8-1 Big Ten)
Key Player: QB Hunter Johnson
2018 Offensive Production: Rushing Offense – 120th, Passing Offense – 59th, 24.2 ppg – 100th
2018 Defensive Production: Rushing Defense – 26th, Passing Defense – 109th, 23.2 ppg allowed – 41st
Turnover Margin: .5, 29 Gained, 19 Lost
Sacks: 1.71 Sacks per game
Long Scrimmage Plays >20 yards: 48, 105th
Opponent Long Scrimmage Plays >20 yards: 61, 70th
As you can see above, Northwestern wasn’t the best statistical offense, in fact, they were in the bottom 25% of all FBS teams. The only thing that kept Northwestern in games was controlling the clock and their methodical offense. Clayton Thorson was never much of a passer, but managed the game well in 2018.
But in 2019 arrives 5-star Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, who Fitz will look to utilize to the maximum to get a bid to the Rose Bowl in 2018. Johnson will be throwing to a core of receivers that all had more than 10 catches and 180 yards a piece. Those numbers should be elevated since Johnson is a passing upgrade to Clayton Thorson. Behind Johnson will be Isaiah Bowser, the lead running back in 2018.
The offense will however be limited by a young offensive line that has 45 combined starts and 3 brand new full time starters.
The youth on Northwestern’s team continues on defense. Yes they have All-B1G lineman Joe Gaziano and LB Paddy Fisher, but they have RS freshmen and true sophomores littering the rest of the line up. A lot of the bruising Wildcat defense will be tested early with 6 of the first 7 teams being ranked in the AP-Top 25.
Northwestern does not replace talent like Ohio State or Penn State. They should have an upgrade at passer in Hunter Johnson and new talent spread across the rest of the team, but they have one of the hardest schedules in the league. Those two factors will not play well for the Wildcats. By November, the Wildcats will be beat down and will really need to grind out the second half of the season. I’m sure Fitzgerald has some tricks up his sleeve and Johnson will have a stellar first season, but don’t put your money on the Wildcats repeating as B1G champs in a stacked B1G West.