The Northwestern Wildcats come to town Saturday night and despite being double digit underdogs, history suggests this game will down to the wire. This week, Mac Stone of Northwestern’s Inside NU was kind enough to answer our questions about the upcoming game between a couple of opponents who are spinning their tires a little in 2021.
Many thanks to Mac for his time and without further adieu, let’s get to it:
Like the Huskers, the Huskies were hit hard by the transfer portal. Who are you missing the most out of that group? Which player or players, if any, you grabbed back from the portal are making the biggest impact thus far?
The transfer portal was not kind to the ‘Cats this past offseason. Northwestern lost a variety of guys to other schools, but if I had to pick one guy who the team is missing most, I’d probably go with Eku Leota. Leota was a defensive lineman who transferred to Auburn this past offseason after he had four sacks and one forced fumble last season for the ‘Cats. I could also go with a guy like Kyric McGowan, who’s now at Georgia Tech and is sorely missed in the passing game.
While Porter, Anderson and Bowser split the lion’s share of the carries last season (along with Peyton Ramsey), Evan Hull did make the most of his limited carries -especially against Illinois - averaging over 8 YPC. Did anyone expect him to be close to maintaining that average this season and just what the qualities which make him so effective?
Coming into this season, it was expected that Cam Porter would be the lead back, with Evan Hull getting a decent share of the carries as well. However, just a couple weeks before the season began, it was announced that Porter would miss the year with a lower body injury. Hull quickly broke out as the lead back (he was nursing a lower body injury himself against MSU, which limited him there) and continues to be the lead back four weeks into the season. I don’t think anyone expected him to maintain that absurd average, but he’s a good running back who reads gaps well and has decent speed. He can make defenders miss too, but not quite at a Justin Jackson level.
The Huskers are -11.5 point favorites. That being said, here is your challenge: pretend you are writing a Hollywood college football script which requires you to come up with a emotionally crippling, gut-wrenching ending for Husker fans in which Northwestern snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Be as creative as you can while still obeying NCAA Gameplay rules.
Husker fans - in the comments below rate this scenario from 1 (OMG -that’s TERRIBLE!!) to 5 (Meh, I could totally see that.)
I’ll be honest, I think -11.5 is about right for Nebraska in this game. The ‘Cats are on their third string QB in Ryan Hilinski and I just don’t know if the defense has enough in them to slow the Huskers down. That being said, we know Hilinski has a cannon. It’s not an extremely accurate cannon, but it’s a cannon nonetheless. How about some revenge for the hail mary Nebraska had nine years ago? A 50-yard bomb as regulation expires puts the ‘Cats on top 20-17, sinking the hearts of every Cornhusker fan in attendance and watching on TV.
After a 2-2 start, in your mind, what are attainable goals to shoot for which would have you calling 2021 a successful season once everything plays out?
Like I just said, the fact that Northwestern is now on their third string quarterback with Hunter Johnson benched and Andrew Marty injured is extremely concerning. Hilinski hasn’t really had to throw the ball much thus far, but I’d expect that to change a bit against Nebraska. As for the rest of the season, I’d say 6-6 and bowl eligibility is what Northwestern should be shooting for. I think the ‘Cats can take care of business against teams like Minnesota and Illinois. As for the other two wins, I’m really not sure where they come from. The back half of the schedule is difficult with teams like Michigan and Iowa on tap, so it may be a struggle for them to even reach the six win mark.
Other than Hull, who is a name on offense for Northwestern Husker fans will likely remember after this game? Same question for the defensive side of the ball.
I’ll go with Stephon Robinson Jr. and Bryce Kirtz. While the Wildcats will likely stick to the ground barring a huge deficit early, Robinson Jr. and Kirtz will likely be the two names you see Hilinski throwing to the most. Robinson Jr. is the lead receiver for the ‘Cats and has 15 catches for 193 and one touchdown this season, but he’s a guy who could really make some big plays if needed and is one of the few veterans in the receiving core as a grad transfer from Kansas.
Prediction time. Assuming last year’s 8-point shellacking of the Huskers - a blowout akin to Alabama-Citadel by Northwestern-Nebraska standards - was an outlier and we’re likely headed for another 3-point or less spread or overtime, what will the final score be this year?
As much as I would love to see it, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a hail mary to end this year’s game. Additionally, while I don’t necessarily see the ‘Cats pulling this one out, I can’t just pick against them. Of course, these two teams always play each other close, so I’ll go 23-21 Northwestern, with Evan Hull leading the way for the Wildcats offensively.