Northwestern can look back at one play—the failed fourth-down conversion attempt against Ohio State earlier this month—as the turning point.
College Gameday came to Evanston, Ill., for the Wildcats-Buckeyes showdown, and Northwestern gave the odds-on Big Ten favorites all they could handle. Alas, Pat Fitzgerald’s crew was spent that night.
Once ranked and a legitimate contender for the Big Ten Conference title, the Wildcats are in real danger of missing a bowl game. Today’s 17-10, overtime loss at Iowa was their fourth straight.
Injuries certainly have contributed to Northwestern’s woes. Do-everything running back Venric Mark’s absence is glaring in the last three Wildcat outings.
The once-explosive offense now has consecutive scores of 6, 17 and 10 points. Kain Colter’s continued struggles with various injuries have prevented the Wildcats from establishing any consistency, as last year’s surprise, Trevor Siemian, has been shaky.
The result is a lack of offensive continuity. Last week against Minnesota, for example, Siemian passed nearly 50 times. Saturday in Iowa City, Colter threw all of 14 passes for 104 yards.
The disparity in play-calling is not a surprise. In last year’s 10-win campaign, Siemian was the passing quarterback and Colter the runner.
However, the contrast this year is stark. And neither style is clicking.
Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska are Northwestern’s upcoming opponents. With no offensive rhythm to speak of, the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to steal a win—which they need to keep any bowl aspirations alive.
Since the losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin, the defense has stepped up, allowing a combined 37 points its last two times out. Building off its defense is essential moving forward, and to that end, the run-heavy approach makes sense.
Without Mark though, turning rushes into points is a tall order. Likewise, so will be reaching the postseason.