Northwestern makes their fourth trip to Lincoln, NE, since we decided to flip the bird at Texas and join the B1G and, if history is any indication, this game will be close since those other three have been decided by a total of 8 points.
To get the Wildcat perspective on this matchup, I fired a pile of questions to Inside NU, our Northwestern sister site. (When are we going to start playing for “The REAL NU” Trophy? This needs to happen BTW). We are grateful to Editor-in-Chief Tristan Young who was generous enough to send back some thoughtful responses.
What did we learn from him? Well, he much prefers homemade cookies to Oreos, they may still be a little ticked about the whole Westy-catch thing and his views on Pat Fitzgerald sound eerily similar to some Oregon St. fans’ views about their own coach a few years ago. Read on...
1) What does the name "Westerkamp" mean to you?
Tristan Jung: "He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned" means nothing to me. It doesn't hurt anymore. We're over it. We haven't tried to burn/delete all footage of that. Nope. We're definitely cool with "He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned".
2) Northwestern's rush defense is 17th nationally, while the pass defense is 120th. Is your secondary really that bad, are there mitigating circumstances, or how do you explain the discrepancy between rushing and pass defense? Given those stats, how much does Tanner Lee worry you?
Tristan: Northwestern's secondary has one very good cornerback (Montre Hartage) and two good safeties (Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero). Unfortunately, you cannot build a great secondary with three very good players and your preseason third-stringers. Keith Watkins, a talented cornerback, is out for the season for the second time, leaving Northwestern with an odd mixture of Quiero playing cornerback, redshirt sophomore Alonzo Mayo, and Trae Williams. Trae Williams is probably not 100 percent after returning from a serious leg injury, and he's been burned on numerous occasions. Mayo has been fine. Northwestern's secondary was terrible to start the season, but things have gotten a lot better. Iowa and Michigan State were still able to shred Northwestern on short routes, but at least the Wildcats haven't been beaten deep in a while.
On the other hand, Northwestern was facing Brian Lewerke and Nate Stanley, who aren't exactly downfield passers. Tanner Lee does have that in his arsenal, and more important Nebraska has the necessary wide receivers to make big plays. I'm not thrilled about Northwestern's secondary holding up, but Northwestern's pass rush has good enough to hide any deficiencies. Hopefully Joe Gaziano, Sam Miller and Tyler Lancaster can disrupt Nebraska and make the secondary's life easier.
3) Would you take Trevor Siemian back? Please? (Ed. note: I have a feeling this is more strongly directed at SB Nation’s Denver Broncos page, but feel free to answer)
Tristan: TOUCHDOWN TREVOR FOREVER!
4) The only two losses in conference this season are to Penn State and Wisconsin but with a horrible loss to Duke thrown in (see below). With so many returning starters back from last year, is this acceptable thus far? What exactly are your fans’ expectations for this season?
Tristan: It's acceptable, but not ideal. As with most Northwestern sports, the amount one knows about college football is directly correlated to how angry one is about the team. Many Northwestern grads and students legitimately know nothing about the football team. Many Northwestern fans are casual grads and students who don't expect more than 6-7 wins and a bowl game. The very slim number of fans who are true die-hards and have been paying attention to this team for the entire Fitz era are not as happy. We're happy we beat Michigan State and Iowa, but it's under the shadow of knowing this team blew any chance to compete for a title weeks ago. Given the program's rhetoric and the clear talent of the roster, it's really annoying and concerning that they played so badly against Penn State and Duke. Even more infuriatingly, Northwestern was in that game with Wisconsin at halftime and just completely imploded in the third quarter. These wins are nice. If the team goes 9-3 and makes the Holiday Bowl everyone will be thrilled. However, these wins feel like eating Oreos, you know? You want real cookies, real homemade cookies that your grandmother makes for Christmas, but instead Northwestern football went and bought a pack of Oreos from CVS. I like Oreos a lot, and I am glad I have them, but you are left wanting more sometimes.
5) So….what exactly in the he-double hockey sticks happened against Duke?
Tristan: Northwestern was completely unprepared to play in Durham. Thorson and the receivers had zero chemistry, the offensive line stunk, and the defense completely fell apart after an early targeting penalty. As you may have seen in the last two weeks, Northwestern is way better than how they played against Duke. Duke just clowned Northwestern in every facet of the game, and no one really understand why. The Wildcats were just mentally beaten after about 10 minutes in that game, and it showed in the scoreline.
6) Since 2011, Northwestern has had three seasons where they finished with 6 wins or less under Pat Fitzgerald. Also, there have been two 10 win seasons in that same span. Is there any point where the fan-base would start to lose patience with Fitzgerald and the up and down seasons?
Tristan: Pat Fitzgerald has one of the five safest head coaching jobs in America. An old Inside NU staff joke is that he could go 0-12 and the Athletic Department wouldn't even consider firing him. If the fanbase hasn't lose faith in Fitz after the back-to-back 5-7 seasons in 2013 and 2014 and relative mediocrity in 2016 and early 2017, there's really no situation other than 2-3 years of 2-4 win seasons that would put Fitz on the hot seat. The fanbase has lost faith in offensive coordinator Mick McCall and offensive line coach Adam Cushing, but Fitzgerald, although he'll never do this, could just scapegoat them if something were to go horribly wrong. Pat Fitzgerald is unassailable. He got a 10-year contract extension for a reason.
7) Do you have any tickets to next year’s game for sale? I have about 20,000 friends who are interested.
Tristan: I'm sure you all will find tickets whether I give you a link or not.
8) Prediction time. In the words of the great Dan Jenkins, “Who do ya’ think will take it?”
Tristan: I want to go with Northwestern, but I have several reservations. For one, Northwestern has gotten into an awful habit of starting games slowly. The team hasn't gotten off to a flawless start against an opponent not named Bowling Green. If Northwestern falls behind early, that will play perfectly into Mike Riley and Tanner Lee's hands. Secondly, Northwestern has scored 27 points in regulation over its last two games. The offense still isn't that good, and certainly not reliable enough to fully expect a strong road performance on a given week. Finally, weird stuff always happens when Northwestern plays Nebraska (Newby's goal-line fumbles last year, Nick VanHoose's pick six, He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned, etc.). I think Northwestern will win by a field goal, 27-24.