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Brett Walsh carted off after injury during kick return, all tests negative

by Max Schuman 0 Comments

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.

Updates to come.

Advance Scouting: Iowa

by Ben Pope 0 Comments
Advance Scouting: Iowa
(Daily file photo by Daniel Tian)

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.

2016 Football Preview: Breaking down Northwestern’s schedule, Part 1

2016 Football Preview: Breaking down Northwestern’s schedule, Part 1
(Daily file photo by Sophie Mann)

After a record-setting season, the Wildcats come into 2016 with high expectations for themselves. Despite a blowout loss in the Outback Bowl, their 10 regular-season wins arguably helped them achieve their second-best season ever. But expectations from the outside are not as optimistic. In the season’s first AP Poll, Northwestern went unranked and received just five votes even though the team spent most of 2015 in the Top 25 and finished at No. 23. So what’s really in store for the Cats in 2016? Here we take a look at their schedule, starting with the first six games.

Sept. 3: vs. Western Michigan. Last year — 8-5 (6-2 MAC), won Bahamas Bowl. Coach — P.J. Fleck (fourth year) 

Fleck has earned a reputation as one of the best recruiters outside of the non-Power conferences and has led the Broncos to back-to-back 8-5 seasons after going 1-11 his first year. In 2016 they return almost all of their starters on offense, including senior quarterback Zach Terrell who threw for over 3,500 yards last season and 29 touchdowns against nine interceptions. This is a team that NU should not underestimate, as starting off the season on the wrong foot will be detrimental in trying to forget about the blowout at the end of last season.

Best case scenario: Justin Jackson takes advantage of Western Michigan’s seeming inability to stop the big run play and rushes for two scores. Clayton Thorson also gets in on the running game, using his legs to keep the opposing defense off-balance. NU’s defense confuses Terrell and the Cats win by 17.

Worst case scenario: The absence of Keith Watkins II immediately burns NU and the experienced Terrell takes advantage of the non-Matthew Harris side of the field. Jack Mitchell misses a field goal, and Thorson throws at least two interceptions as the Cats look woefully unprepared to start the season and fall to the up-and-coming Broncos.

Sept. 10: vs. Illinois State. Last year — 10-3 (7-1 MVFC), reached FCS quarterfinals. Coach — Brock Spack (eighth year) 

As the only FCS opponent on the schedule, Illinois State is by far NU’s easiest game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a complete cakewalk. The Redbirds were consistently ranked in the Top 6 of the FCS throughout 2015, even reaching as high as No. 2 and drawing a few first-place votes away from consensus favorite and champion North Dakota State. Illinois State lost its quarterback and running back from last season, but the rest of its starters return looking to steal a win in Evanston.

Best case scenario: This won’t be as big a win as last year’s early-season victory over Eastern Illinois, but the Cats will easily handle their FCS opponent. NU gets a big enough lead where they can rest their starters and Matt Alviti actually throws a touchdown pass.

Worst case scenario: The Redbirds keep the game close to the end, but NU manages to pull out a win at the last second. It’s a startlingly close game where Jackson leaves with an injury in the second quarter, knocking him out for a couple of weeks.

Sept. 17: vs. Duke. Last year  — 8-5 (4-4 ACC), won Pinstripe Bowl. Coach — David Cutcliffe (ninth year) 

NU faced the Blue Devils a year ago in Durham and won by 9 in a game that was the perfect embodiment of Pat Fitzgerald football — dominant defense, field possession and working the clock. This year the programs face off under the lights in Evanston and Duke is looking to establish some form of consistency. After starting the year 6-1 the Blue Devils lost four of their final five games but salvaged the season with an overtime win over Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl. Their up-tempo offense sputtered against the Cats last year, and this matchup could determine whether last year’s close win was a fluke.

Best case scenario: NU again holds Duke’s offense to just one touchdown and Solomon Vault returns another kickoff for a touchdown. Thorson is responsible for three Cat touchdowns using his legs and arm and doesn’t turn the ball over, while Anthony Walker forces two fumbles.

Worst case scenario: The game is scoreless going into halftime. NU muffs a punt early in the third quarter and Duke takes advantage, but Thorson nearly saves the day by throwing a touchdown pass with three seconds left in the game. Fitzgerald opts to go for two instead of kicking the extra point to tie and the Cats fail to convert, losing the game.

Update: This post was written before it was announced Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk will miss the season with an injury. Without Sirk’s two-dimensional style of play, NU will have a much easier shot at winning.

Sept. 24: vs. Nebraska. Last year — 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten), won Foster Farms Bowl. Coach — Mike Riley (second year) 

The battle for “The Real NU” could end up as the Cats’ toughest home game on the schedule. Nebraska struggled mightily last year after firing Bo Pelini, failing to reach nine wins for the first time since before the Pelini era, and Northwestern barely came away with a win in Lincoln last season. The Cornhuskers have already won the battle of the uniforms for this game (those shiny red N’s are superb work) and you can bet Ryan Field will be stocked with opposing fans. Heading into this year, Nebraska’s biggest question mark is its secondary, and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Cats decide to let Thorson air it out to take advantage.

Best case scenario: The Cats appear much more comfortable on their home turf as Nebraska struggles to put together anything that resembles an offense. A team rated highly by many “experts” in the preseason, the Cornhuskers are unable to put together more than 200 yards on offense.

Worst case scenario: Nebraska brings back the memories of the 2013 Hail Mary and 2014 Homecoming games and takes advantage of the Wildcats in prime time. The Cornhuskers move to 4-0 on the season and first place in the Big Ten West in a loss that will burn the Cats for the rest of the season.

Oct. 1: at Iowa. Last year — 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten), won Big Ten West, lost Rose Bowl. Coach — Kirk Ferentz (18th year) 

NU’s loss to Iowa in 2015 was deflating for multiple reasons. First, the Cats got destroyed in the trenches, something Fitzgerald lamented following the loss and believes his team needs to be successful at in order to have a chance to defeat top-tier teams. Second, it proved the blowout loss to Michigan the week before was not a fluke and suggested the Cats were not as good as their record. Finally, it eliminated almost any chance NU had to win the Big Ten West, which had been one of the team’s goals from the beginning of the season and seemed within reach after knocking off a ranked Stanford team to open the season. The Cats need this win in order to have a shot at the Big Ten West again, but it’s unlikely they’ll get it.

Best case scenario: The Hawkeyes are not going to go 12-0 again in the regular season, but last year they managed to win a lot of close games (40-10 blowout over NU aside). That kind of run is unsustainable in any sport, and, with Iowa losing two elite offensive linemen, the Cats somehow, some way, eke out a win before their bye week.

Worst case scenario: NU limps out of Kinnick Stadium after another drubbing. The Cats are manhandled at the line of scrimmage. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Oct. 15: at Michigan State. Last year — 12-2 (7-1 Big Ten), Big Ten champion, reached College Football Playoff quarterfinals/lost Cotton Bowl. Coach — Mark Dantonio (10th year) 

The Spartans were a strange team last season. They won 11 games in the regular season, but some very unconvincingly. There was the last-second field goal against Ohio State and the ridiculous punt-return touchdown against Michigan last season. Michigan State comes into the season at No. 12 in the nation, and it is still a very good team that could win double-digit games again. A blowout loss to eventual-champion Alabama burst the Spartan’s bubble at the end of last year and the team comes into 2016 without a definitive answer at quarterback after Connor Cook was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. However, Mark Dantonio’s squad has a legitimate shot at being the best defense in the country.

Best case scenario: Fitzgerald has discussed ad nauseum in the past about October slumps, and if it starts against Iowa it won’t get any better against the Spartans. This game is one Michigan State should absolutely win, but, if the Cats can keep it close like the Hawkeyes did in the Big Ten Championship Game last year, they may have a shot. NU would have to play perfectly though.

Worst case scenario: Two weeks after being blown out in Iowa, the Cats are shut out in East Lansing. NU heads into its first game against Ohio State since ESPN came to Evanston, having been outscored by 70+ points in its previous two games.

Northwestern football ranked No. 50 in all-time AP Top 100

by Tim Balk 0 Comments

In the first ever AP ranking of the top 100 all-time college football programs, Northwestern came in at No. 50.

Big Ten peer Ohio State topped the list, and Nebraska and Michigan clocked in at No. 6 and No. 7 respectively. Seven Big Ten programs made the list’s top 25, including Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa. Rutgers was the lowest ranked program from the conference at No. 86.

The ranking is based on a formula taking into account the AP’s rankings going back to the poll’s creation in 1936. Ohio State has appeared in more than 77 percent of all AP polls since the ranking’s inception and has topped the ranking 105 times. The Wildcats hold an all-time record of 14-60-1 against the Buckeyes. 

NU finished last year ranked No. 23 in the AP poll having peaked at No. 12 before its bowl loss to Tennessee. The Cats landed ahead of academic peers such as Duke (No. 53), Boston College (No. 57) and Vanderbilt (No. 89) in the all-time ranking. They also finished one spot ahead of in-state rival Illinois.

NU kicks off its season Sep. 3 against against Western Michigan. The AP will release its preseason rankings on Aug. 21.

Northwestern set to face Indiana for Homecoming game

Northwestern set to face Indiana for Homecoming game
(Daily file photo by Daniel Tian)

Northwestern fans can begin making Homecoming plans, as the Wildcats announced Wednesday the date and time of next season’s Homecoming game.

NU will take on Indiana on Saturday, Oct. 22, with the Homecoming game’s kickoff set for 11 a.m . It’ll be the first time the Cats have faced the Hoosiers since 2012.

Other Big Ten teams have announced their Homecoming game dates and times as well, bringing more clarity to NU’s schedule next season. The Cats are slated to face Iowa on Oct. 1 at 11 a.m. and Michigan State on Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m. for both schools’ respective Homecomings.

NU supporters will hope for a better outcome than last season’s Homecoming game. That day, the Cats were run over by then-No. 17 Iowa, 40-10.