Kelly: 2013 losing season not an indication for what’s to come


Zack Laurence/The Daily Northwestern

Fans in the student section cheer on the Wildcats during their Sept. 12 matchup against Eastern Illinois. Northwestern’s 3-0 start has revived optimism about the team.

Stephanie Kelly, Managing Editor

Coach Pat Fitzgerald maybe — just maybe — doesn’t want to talk anymore about NU’s past two 5-7 seasons.

“We’ve flushed what’s happened over the last two years, this is a totally different team and quite frankly I think everybody behind me is tired of talking about it,” he said after Saturday’s game.

But it’s just so fun that we’re going to look at those seasons one more time.

It was 2013. The Cats were 4-0 going into the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The sky was a little bluer (actually, it was pouring that day), Ryan Field was a little fuller and ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast was actually at NU.

Without rehashing the disappointing details of that game, the then-No. 15 Cats lost to the No. 4 Buckeyes 40-30.

All hope was not lost for the season, however. That was a great game. Even coach Pat Fitzgerald afterward called it a “momentary lapse.”

Hope wasn’t even lost after the next game — a horrible 35-6 defeat to Wisconsin. Everyone has an off game, right? We should give them the benefit of the doubt.

Fewer words have never felt so final.

The Cats descended into a downward spiral with a losing streak of seven games in a row — including the ones against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Fans, including myself, were left wondering how this happened after a season-starting winning streak by NU.

I can’t help but look back at that season with the Cats currently 3-0 (and, if all goes as expected, soon to be 4-0 headed into conference play).

But let’s look ahead. What does this Duke win mean for the rest of the season? Why should we be optimistic about upcoming important games? Why shouldn’t we look back at the last two years as an indication for what’s to come?

The simple answer: The Cats have by-and-large proven themselves these last three games more so than in the past. They won in games that others and myself predicted them to lose and had a landslide victory against the easiest team they faced so far.

That was not the case two years ago. We can blame injuries, lost momentum or bad luck, but the truth is the Cats were not a very strong team in 2013.

Just by looking at the games won early in that 2013 season, there was no 41-0 blowout like this season. The Cats only won against the Maine Black Bears by 14. That number should have been much higher to guarantee season success. They also beat up on two teams, California and Western Michigan, that each finished 1-11. Those early four wins — even if they weren’t by a lot — gave us a false sense of security that the Cats would be OK, even after the losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin. We shouldn’t have thought that.

In 2013, the Cats relied on key players like Venric Mark and Kain Colter. Once unlucky injuries ensued, no one was there to pick up the pieces.

This year’s team shows experience and depth. Not only does NU have sophomore running back Justin Jackson, but also they have very capable junior Warren Long and sophomore Solomon Vault.

Depth also lies in the defense. Defensive end starters Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson are backed by the talented sophomore Xavier Washington and junior Ifeadi Odenigbo, respectively.

And while we’re talking about defense, the Cats’ total defense is ranked sixth nationally right now. By the end of the 2013 season, we were ranked 89th. The Cats gave up 5.46 yards per play in 2013, while so far this year it’s been a more respectable 3.81.

This isn’t to say that NU will go through the season with flying colors.

The team so far this year has been buoyed by its defense. The offense still needs to develop a consistent passing game. If the team can quickly develop more chemistry that will yield more yards per play (they’re sitting at 4.55 right now), there would be even more certainty that they won’t suffer the same fate as 2013.

There will be mistakes — as is the case with any team. There will be spotty games — seen by the Duke win. But the Cats’ play these past three games and the domination by some of these players show that this is a team that will do markedly better than the past two years.

And I can only hope this is the case, or else this entire column is for naught. Don’t let us — or my Daily sports career — down, Cats.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @StephanieKellyM