What began as a lumbering tale of two flat offenses ended in an implosion of Northwestern’s defensive line in the Wildcats’ and Northern Illinois’ first meeting since 2005.
NU’s clunky 23-15 loss in front of more than 41,000 at Ryan Field kept fans waiting until the second half to see a score. After a 0-0 first half, NU’s defense self-destructed late in the third quarter and allowed three touchdowns over the final 16 minutes.
Junior backup quarterback Zack Oliver connected with junior receiver Pierre Youngblood-Ary for a 54-yard touchdown pass with 2:34 to play to make the score 23-15, but the Cats couldn’t complete the comeback.
NU showed a clear lack of discipline throughout the game; the Cats were assessed nine penalties in 93 yards. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said holding calls were what stunted offensive movement most.
NU’s on-field frustration culminated in junior lineman C.J. Robbins being ejected with 4:30 left for throwing a punch, just before NIU scored its third touchdown. Robbins’ ejection was one of four personal fouls from NU.
“I thought we lost our poise, which then obviously led to us allowing Northern to do the things they wanted to do,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot to fix there, but from the penalty standpoint, from the poise standpoint, obviously we beat ourselves by doing those types of things. Every time it seemed like we made a play we did something penalty-wise offensively, which obviously kills any sort of momentum.”
Early on, a slow game begged for some gutsy plays from Fitzgerald and senior quarterback Trevor Siemian, but a scoreless first half instead revealed an insecure quarterback and an atrocious offensive line.
Siemian’s confidence wasn’t the only flailing aspect of the Cats game, as the team’s inexperienced receiving core was also unable to make up for the temporary loss of injured senior wide receiver Tony Jones and dropped several passed.
Siemian finished his ninth loss in the past ten games 27-41 with 268, one interception and a touchdown before leaving with a lower-leg injury in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the quarterback’s most impressive attempt was a gorgeous pass that fell through junior receiver Miles Shuler’s hands early in the first quarter.
Senior receiver Kyle Prater had a breakout game for NU with seven catches for 87 yards and the team’s first touchdown. Freshman running back Justin Jackson contributed a team-best 52 yards rushing as well.
This post was updated at 8:51 p.m. on Sept. 6.
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