Halftime Reaction: Northwestern 14, Western Illinois 7

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Northwestern showed many signs of progress in the first half.

Save for one very ugly red zone drive that resulted in a fumble by senior quarterback Trevor Siemian, the offense was very competent. The play calling was actually pretty creative, highlighted by a double-reverse for junior receiver Miles Shuler, and the offensive line generated great push up front for the running backs, perhaps lending credibility to coach Pat Fitzgerald’s new strategy of up-downs during practice.

Freshman running back Solomon Vault had a coming-out party, scoring both first half touchdowns for the Wildcats. In light of sophomore Stephen Buckley’s move to receiver, he and fellow freshman Justin Jackson are sure to see more of the future workload. It’s nice to see that Vault will have the coaching staff’s vote of confidence going forward.

But despite Vault’s standout performance, it wasn’t all fun and games for NU. The aforementioned fumble drive was especially bad, characterized by all-too-familiar poor short yardage plays and a Siemian turnover. Worse still, that drive was set up by a blocked punt that would have been returned for a score had freshman Keith Watkins II not stumbled on the three yard line.

The defense also struggled against what isn’t a well-regarded offense. Sophomore cornerback Matthew Harris was again picked on, and senior safety Ibraheim Campbell left with a lower-body injury and was replaced by redshirt freshman Godwin Igwebuike. The pass defense will have to perform better with a matchup against pass-happy Penn State looming.

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