First it was junior safety Godwin Igwebuike, tweeting “Thanks for the int,” before the Duke game in September and following through with an interception.
Then it was sophomore safety Jared McGee, taking to Instagram to call his shot before the Michigan State game and then picking off Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Connor in the fourth quarter.
This week against Indiana, junior Kyle Queiro is trying his luck. Last night, the safety tweeted “Thanks for the INT.” Queiro is wearing a cast on his left hand today, which might make keeping the streak alive more difficult.
UPDATE (2:20 p.m.): Kyle Queiro’s tweet seems to have worked. In the fourth quarter, the safety leapt up with one hand and picked off a pass from Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow. Check out the video below.
On a week-by-week basis, Northwestern and Indiana have been complete opposites this season.
The Wildcats (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) have lost, lost, won, lost, won and won. The Hoosiers (3-3, 1-2) have won, won, lost, won, lost and lost.
But even polar opposite first halves of their respective regular seasons have brought the two Big Ten foes to the same point — 3 wins, 3 losses — with potential to break out as solid teams in the second half.
A mere 1.5-point spread separates the two teams entering this Saturday’s homecoming matchup in Evanston, when Indiana will seek to end a four-game losing streak against NU that dates back to 2009.
Indiana’s biggest strength: Its defense. Under the eye of new defensive coordinator Tom Allen, the Hoosiers’ defense has been one of the biggest surprises of the Big Ten this season, moving from 121st in the nation last season to 49th this season.
Although the team lost its last two games, both against elite opponents — 38-17 vs. No. 2 Ohio State, then 27-22 vs. No. 8 Nebraska this past weekend — its defense recorded arguably its best two performances yet. The unit allowed just 19 completions combined for Heisman Trophy candidates J.T. Barrett (9-for-21 for 93 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception vs. Indiana) and Tommy Armstrong (10-for-26, 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions).
Led by linebacker Tegray Scales, who ranks fifth in the country in solo tackles, and cornerback Rashard Fant, who ranks third in the country with 10 pass breakups, the Indiana defense is improving with each week and will pose a stiff challenge for Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson and Austin Carr.
Indiana’s biggest weakness: The offensive side of the ball, long the staple of Indiana football, has faded almost as quickly as its defense has risen.
The offensive line lost four starters from last season and has struggled in the big, physical trench battles of the Big Ten. That’s hurting the Hoosiers’ run game, as former 1,000-yard running back Devine Redding has begun to slow down (135 yards in the last two games vs. 245 in the first two) and the Hoosiers have sorted through a half-dozen other runners without finding anyone particularly effective.
Meanwhile, first-year starting quarterback Richard Lagow has proven interception-prone: he’s tossed nine picks in his last four games, including five in an ugly 33-28 home loss to Wake Forest on Sept. 24. Lagow does, however, still rank second in the conference in passing yards to date.
Indiana’s biggest question mark: Can the Hoosiers take advantage of their steady improvement and soft second-half schedule to jump into the Big Ten’s upper echelon?
A long, bleak period of Hoosier football — which includes just one winning season (a 7-6 campaign in 2007) in the last 21 years — appears to be on the verge of giving way to a much brighter era.
Indiana stands at .500 with just one more tough game (at Michigan), should-win games against Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue and could-win games against NU and Penn State comprising the rest of its remaining schedule. A strong closing stretch, starting with a win in what should be a well-matched showdown on Saturday against the Cats, could launch the Hoosiers into unprecedented realms of success.
But will Indiana be able to overcome its lack of experience and capitalize on the opportunity to change the reputation of the program moving forward?
When Northwestern last traveled to East Lansing, Michigan — Nov. 17, 2012 — the Wildcats encountered a Michigan State team struggling due to poor play at the quarterback position.
Despite touting future NFL star Le’Veon Bell at running back, the Spartans were hampered by quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who completed just 22-of-46 passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions that day as NU emerged with a 23-20 victory.
Two games later, Michigan State made the bold decision to switch to backup Connor Cook midway through their bowl game. They rallied to beat TCU and then rode Cook to a 13-1 record the following season, including a 30-6 romp over the Cats in Evanston — the two teams’ most recent overall meeting.
Now, with NU returning to East Lansing Saturday, the Spartans (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) find themselves in a similar situation to 2012.
The defending conference champions have lost three consecutive games for the first time since 2009: a 30-6 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin, a 24-21 overtime loss at Indiana and then a demoralizing 31-14 defeat at home against BYU last week. Quarterback Tyler O’Connor has faltered recently, and coach Mark Dantonio has hinted about upcoming personnel changes.
All of that in mind, the Cats will seek to exploit a historically strong program that finds itself at its weakest point in years.
Michigan State’s biggest strengths: In the standard Big Ten mold, Michigan State is effective running the ball and stingy against the run.
The Spartans have allowed just 3.6 yards per carry this season, good for 32nd in the nation — nothing new for a team that has finished each of the past five seasons ranked in the top 25 in the category. They’ve managed only 16 tackles for loss this season, excluding sacks, but have also surrendered few lengthy runs, keeping opponent running backs consistently near the line of scrimmage.
On the offensive side of the ball, running back L.J. Scott proved a reliable, smashmouth runner during his 2015 freshman campaign, which he finished with a career-high 22 carries in the Big Ten Championship Game. Gerald Holmes also had his share of big performances, including a 117-yard explosion against Nebraska.
This fall, Scott racked up 203 total yards in Michigan State’s season-opening wins against Furman and Notre Dame combined, but he has struggled since and was out-touched 15-3 by Holmes against BYU. The Spartans will likely hit NU with a steady dose of the two runners.
Michigan State’s biggest weakness: Michigan State’s vaunted defensive line, featuring projected first-round pick Malik McDowell, has produced a mere five sacks in five games (the Cats, by comparison, have 12) — and zero in the last two games.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill not only avoided sacks but also scrambled for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Third downs have been an issue on both sides of the ball, as well.
Indiana and BYU were both above 50 percent on third-down conversion rate against the Spartans’ defense — 9-for-16 and 10-for-16, respectively. Meanwhile, Michigan State has converted only 33 percent of its own third down situations in the last three games; that would rank 112th in the country on its own and has dropped the team’s season average (38.6 percent) to 73rd.
Michigan State’s biggest question mark: The team’s quarterback controversy has dominated storylines in East Lansing over the past several days.
Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor first showed cracks against Wisconsin, completing only 18-of-38 passes for zero touchdowns and three interceptions, and then was benched in favor of junior Damion Terry during the BYU loss. Freshman and former highly-touted recruit Brian Lewerke — who has only four career pass attempts — is also in the mix.
Dantonio has avoided commenting on the situation and no starter has yet been announced for this coming weekend. Inexperienced NU cornerbacks Trae Williams and Alonzo Mayo could have an easier-than-usual matchup against whichever signal caller they face.
In the press release, coach Chris Collins said he expects a full recovery in four to six months. It is likely that Ivanauskas will be redshirted to preserve his four years of eligibility.
Ranked No. 97 in the nation by Rivals in the 2016 recruiting class, the 6-foot-9 Illinois native was the Wildcats’ top rated recruit and was expected to bring a much-needed scoring presence to NU’s frontcourt. After spending three years at Barrington High School and receiving all-state recognition from several outlets following his junior season, Ivanauskas transferred to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior year.
The loss of the forward depletes NU’s post options as the team looks to replace the production of graduated center Alex Olah. Freshman center Barret Benson is now the only player on roster who stands above 6-foot-8, with sophomore Dererk Pardon, junior Gavin Skelly and senior Nathan Taphorn listed at 6-foot-8.
During Saturday’s game at Iowa, junior linebacker Brett Walsh was carted off the field after an injury suffered during a kickoff return in the third quarter.
Walsh was laying motionless on the field following the play, and trainers removed his jersey and pads before lifting him onto the cart. He gave a thumbs up to the crowd as he was carted off the field following a lengthy delay.
UPDATE (1:36 p.m.): Walsh was taken to a hospital across the street from Kinnick Stadium. He was fully conscious and moving all extremities, according to the team’s official Twitter.
UPDATE (3:00 p.m.): Coach Pat Fitzgerald concluded his post-game press conference saying that all of Walsh’s tests were negative and he will likely be returning to Evanston tonight, though not with the team.
Northwestern will hit the road on Saturday for the first time this season against an Iowa team that hammered the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) each of the last two meetings.
The Hawkeyes throttled NU 48-7 in Iowa City in 2014 before spoiling Evanston’s 2015 homecoming with a 40-10 win last year en route to an undefeated regular season.
Iowa (3-1, 1-0) has shown more signs of weakness this fall, however, falling to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State 23-21 two weeks ago — the Hawkeyes’ first home loss since November 2014 — before narrowly edging Big Ten bottom-dweller Rutgers 14-7 last week.
The running game on both sides of the ball generally tends to determine the course of Iowa’s games, and this week’s matchup against the Cats — despite offensive coordinator Mick McCall’s newfound affinity for passing plays — is likely to be more of the game.
Iowa’s biggest strength: Iowa running back Akrum Wadley always comes to play against Northwestern.
Wadley rumbled for 106 yards and a touchdown in his first 15 career touches against NU in 2014, then replaced star rusher Jordan Canzeri, who was injured early on in the 2015 meeting, and ripped off 26 carries for 204 yards and four touchdowns.
Wadley is still working in a time-share with fellow running back LeShun Daniels this season — Daniels has 52 carries to Wadley’s 37 to date — but Wadley is more involved in the passing game, has been more efficient with his touches (7.4 vs. 5.8 yards per carry) and was the team’s leading rusher on Saturday against Rutgers.
If history is any indication, the junior from New Jersey could pose a massive threat to the Cats this weekend.
Iowa’s biggest weakness: The rushing defense has struggled almost as much as the rushing offense has excelled for the Hawkeyes.
North Dakota State relied almost exclusively on the run in their upset win, rushing 49 times to 19 pass attempts and racking up 239 yards on the ground, before Rutgers pounded out an additional 193 yards on the ground the following week. Iowa now ranks 86th in the nation in rush defense.
The onus to fix those problems falls most squarely on star linebacker Josey Jewell, whose tackling production has stayed about even with last year, and defensive end Parker Hesse, who has been very quiet. Keeping Jewell and Hesse blocked consistently will be crucial for NU.
Biggest question: Which team will have more success on critical third downs?
Neither the Cats nor the Hawkeyes have done well in third-down situations this season: Iowa ranks 83rd with a 37.2 percent efficiency rate, while NU is just behind in 89th at 36.1 percent.
The two foes’ similar struggles in that regard have led, as would be expected, to issues in controlling the ball: both teams have recorded over 30 minutes of possession just once in four games each.
Whichever offense can keep drives moving and control the clock seems likely to prevail come Saturday.
Junior forward Pascale Massey was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and freshman midfielder Saar de Breij was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, the conference announced Tuesday. Separately, Northwestern moved to No. 6 in the NFHCA rankings, also released Tuesday.
Massey led the Wildcats with 3 total goals last weekend, helping NU beat both then-No. 4 Penn State and then-No. 6 Maryland. She scored the eventual game-winning goal in Friday’s 5-3 win over the Nittany Lions, then added both the opening goal and the winning score in Sunday’s 3-2 victory against the Terrapins.
It was a breakout weekend for Massey, who, despite starting every game this season on the forward line, had scored only 1 goal entering Friday. She had tallied just 3 goals in her first two seasons in Evanston, one of which was cut short by an injury.
de Breij, meanwhile, scored a goal in each game off the bench. Her Friday tally completed a 2-minute stretch in which the Cats scored 3 goals. On Sunday, she gave NU a brief 2-1 lead with an early second half score.
The Cats, who moved up five spots from No. 11 in the coaches poll, rose more than any other team this week. Penn State, now No. 5, remains ahead of NU despite the Cats’ head-to-head victory, though NU is now ranked above No. 8 Maryland. No. 9 Michigan is the fourth Big Ten team in the top 10.
One Northwestern team has found a home during renovations to Welsh-Ryan Arena, as the athletic department announced in a release Tuesday that the men’s basketball team will play its home games in the 2017-2018 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.
The arena, which is a half-hour or more drive from the Wildcats’ Evanston campus, is the current host of DePaul’s basketball teams. With the Blue Demons planning to move into a new downtown arena in the fall of 2017, NU will temporarily take their place as Allstate Arena’s college basketball tenant.
Athletic department spokesman Paul Kennedy said venue size and proximity to Evanston were major factors in the decision to move 2017-2018 home games to Allstate Arena, which seats roughly 18,500. Additionally, he said that the arena’s past experience hosting college basketball games and its ability to commit to a number of necessary open dates played a part in the decision.
Tuesday’s announcement did not discuss arrangements for game-day transportation for students to the arena. Kennedy said providing transportation from Evanston for students is a priority, but a plan to do so isn’t in place yet.
Additionally, Kennedy said that details about plans for the other teams displaced by the renovations, the women’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams, will be made public soon.
In June, the athletic department announced plans for a “complete renovation” of Welsh-Ryan Arena, slated to cost roughly $110 million and take place from the end of the 2016-2017 basketball season until the fall of 2018.
This post has been updated with comment from Paul Kennedy.
Underneath the American flag and flag with the club’s logo, a purple-and-white Northwestern “N” flew over North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois as the 20th annual Windon Memorial Classic began Sunday.
After completing two rounds on the first day of action, the Wildcats are in fourth place with a score of 2-over as a team and are lead by junior Dylan Wu, who finished the day tied for fifth, shooting 3-under in 36 holes.
The course at the North Shore Country Club hosted one U.S. Open in 1933, as well as the Western Open and the U.S. Amateur twice.
The tournament, which is free and open to the public, had an informal feel to it. There were no rope lines, meaning spectators were free to get close to the action — as long as they watch out for any stray balls. With sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s and 80s for much of the day, numerous purple-clad spectators came out to the course.
Players are responsible for carrying their own bags and report their scores to volunteers every three holes. The only people responsible for enforcing the rules are a few rules officials roving in golf carts spread over the 7,103 yard course.
On the manicured course, the primary sounds are of the thwack of drivers hitting golf balls, the slightly quieter sound of iron shots and the faint roar of occasional airplanes flying overhead.
The players are primarily competing against the course and not each other, meaning there is little antagonism shown to the other competitors in the three-person pairings. When Purdue’s Austin Eoff sunk a long iron shot for a birdie on the 10th hole of the first round, junior Dylan Wu acknowledged, “that was a sick shot.” Graduate transfer Conor Richardson was oddly paired with his former roommate from Florida, and the two were chatting throughout the round.
But just because the players are not in direct competition with one another does not mean passions could not be inflamed, as many players became visibly frustrated after bad shots or near misses. With one round remaining in the tournament, those feelings could be magnified tomorrow.
The third and final round of the tournament begins Monday morning.