After back-to-back seasons of nine wins or better, Northwestern will be looking to contend for the Big Ten West title yet again this season. With former five-star recruit Hunter Johnson taking over under center, the Wildcats could be set for another successful season. Northwestern has won 19 games over the last couple seasons despite having an offense that is statistically one of the least efficient in the entire country. In order for the Wildcats to see a similar level of of success in 2019, Johnson, along with an inconsistent offensive line, will need to bring much-needed excitement to the Northwestern offense.
What to expect from the Wildcats
Last season, Northwestern won most if its games on the back of a solid defense that held opponents to less the 20 points six times over the course of the season. While the offense may still struggle with efficiency issues, the defense will be good enough to keep the Wildcats in most of their games. Northwestern will have plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball, and should be set for another strong season. Offensively, Hunter Johnson might provide an upgrade at quarterback after the departure of Clayton Thorson, but there are plenty of other questions on offense for the Wildcats. Receiver may be a position of weakness, as Northwestern may be pretty thin behind Bennett Skowronek in that department.
Players to Watch
Hunter Johnson, QB: I’ve mentioned him previously, and you’ll be hearing a lot about the Clemson transfer over the course of the year. Johnson is the best recruit to come to Evanston during Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, and will bring his playmaking ability to an offense that needs to increase its big-play capability. Johnson has barely taken a snap at the college level, but he did complete nearly 78% of his passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns over seven games during his freshman season at Clemson. Johnson is still largely an unknown in college football, but the former Indiana Mr. Football will certainly have his fair share of chances for the Wildcats.
Paddy Fisher, LB: Fisher returns for his junior season after an outstanding sophomore campaign that saw him rack up 116 total tackles, including five for a loss. He’s recorded over 100 tackles in both of his seasons with the Wildcats, and has played in every game during the course of his Northwestern career. Fisher, along with fellow junior Blake Gallagher, will be the main standouts on defense. After being named first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American, Fisher is poised to break out on a national scale.
JR Pace, S: A year after leading the Wildcats in interceptions, Pace returns for his junior season in a deep Northwestern secondary. Although Montre Hartage is gone and Northwestern will lack some depth on the back end, Pace should be able to lead the Wildcat pass defense along with senior corner Trae Williams. In addition to leading the team in interceptions, Pace also led Northwestern’s defensive backs in tackles with 82. 4.5 of those were for losses, so Pace will also provide support in stopping the run game.
How IU Can Win
In order to knock off the Wildcats, IU will need to take advantage of Northwestern’s inefficient offense. With plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball, the Hoosiers should be able to keep Northwestern off the scoreboard enough to make this game winnable. This one could turn into a defensive slog, but IU will need the passing offense to step up and make enough big plays to make the difference. This could be a big game for Nick Westbrook to step up, among other pass-catchers.
Though this will be a struggle on offense, IU’s defense will do enough to keep it close. The Hoosiers will need to find enough firepower on offense, and I think the playmakers IU has at receiver can really make a big difference.
Indiana 20, Northwestern 13