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Better Know The Enemy: A Q&A With Northwestern

They gonna win again this year?

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The season’s start is almost upon us and we’re not even halfway through our preseason Q&A’s with our Big Ten opponents.

Last season Nebraska lost to Northwestern 31-24 in overtime in a game played in Lincoln. It was a time at which the two teams were going in completely different directions.

I contacted Davis Rich from our misnamed SBNation Northwestern site InsideNU (should be InsideNW, right?) and he was kind enough to provide some answers to my questions about the 2018 Northwestern Wildcats.

Northwestern has started poorly in the past, especially last year, having a quarterback ready at the beginning is certainly paramount to having a very successful season. Will Clayton Thorson be ready to go?

The million-dollar question. Northwestern fans have been wondering about Thorson’s status ever since he was injured in the Music City Bowl back in December. There’s really no experience behind Thorson, and breaking in a new starter on the road against Purdue probably won’t go well. The program is keeping its card close to the chest with Thorson, but it ~seems~ like he’ll be ready to play Aug. 30. He’s in full pads and we’ve seen him running and jumping around.

What was the primary reason for the slow start last year and what can the Wildcats do this season to avoid it?

It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for why Northwestern started slowly last year. It just didn’t seem like Northwestern was ready to play right away against Nevada and Duke, and then the Wildcats ran into the two best teams on the schedule in Wisconsin and Penn State. Fitz was asked about the team’s slow start recently, and he said he has pushed the team too hard too early in camp the last couple years and plans on taking his foot off the gas this year. Still, the Wildcats can’t afford to start slow this year because they open with a Big Ten road game.

The running game was terribly anemic at the first of the season last year. You have four starters returning on the offensive line. Do you expect the rushing game to carry the offense or will the passing game improve to the point you’ll see balance?

Justin Jackson, the all-time program rushing leader, is gone, but Northwestern returns his backup in Jeremy Larkin, who was excellent last season. Larkin might not be as durable or consistent as Jackson, but he’s plenty explosive, and he’s a good pass-catcher too. The offensive line hasn’t been great statistically and the unit has generated a lot of criticism. If there’s any year for the line to be good, however, it’s this year, with so much returning experience, including two studs in Tommy Doles and Rashawn Slater. I would expect this Northwestern offense to be similar to other iterations -- a rushing attack that carries the offense. Still, offensive coordinator Mick McCall likes to mix things up and pass on first and ten or run on third and four.

What is it going to take for Pat Fitzgerald to finally have a breakthrough season and win the Big Ten West?

Beat Wisconsin. It’s as simple as that. The road to the Big Ten West title seems to hinge on that game every year. Northwestern gets Wisconsin later in the season this year, and they get the Badgers at home. Wisconsin presents Northwestern’s toughest challenge, but if Northwestern gets past the Badgers, they’ll be on the inside track to head to Indianapolis.

Does anyone else take over your stadium like Nebraska? Do you tired of having Nebraska fans filled the stands in Evanston?

It’s very annoying. Honestly, it feels like most conference foes draw more opposing fans to Ryan Field than Northwestern fans. I’m assuming Ryan Field will be overrun with Michigan fans on Sept. 29. Last season, I vividly remember loud “I-O-W-A” chants at crucial moments or the stadium rocking when Michigan State scored a touchdown. Given Northwestern’s recent success on the field, you would think the ‘Cats could draw some more fans, but the football culture around Northwestern just isn’t there yet.

How can I get in and workout in your new football facility? I want to watch the sun come up over the lake while I deadlift. Yes, I wake up that early to lift.

You’ll have to talk to Alex Spanos, one of our strength coaches. He went viral last year as a hype man who wears very tight polos in very cold weather. I’m sure he’d crush weights with you at any hour of the day.

We regard this game as “The Battle For NU”. Nebraska is known as the same initials as Northwestern in the Big Ten. We refer to you guys as “NW”, but historically, you’ve been the “NU” in the Big Ten. . Who owns it better?

Northwestern fans get very irritated when our school is referred to as “NW.” It really doesn’t make any sense to me -- you wouldn’t every abbreviate Alabama to “AB” or Tennessee to “TN.” Maybe the winner of the Nebraska-Northwestern game should earn the “NU” title for the year.

How do you see the game with Nebraska shaping up this season?

I think Scott Frost will be great at Nebraska, but I also think he’s got his work cut out for him this year. Nebraska will start a quarterback who hasn’t taken a college snap, and a defense that was terrible last year doesn’t return many play makers. It seems like Nebraska has a lot of talent in terms of recruiting stars, but I’m expecting it to take a while for that talent to mesh.

I think Northwestern will win comfortably in October.