Rapid Reaction: It all falls apart for Northwestern in 38-0 loss to Michigan

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — No. 13 Northwestern (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) lost 38-0 to No. 18 Michigan (5-1, 2-0) on Saturday, ending the team’s five-game winning streak.

In a game that was disappointing in just about every way, let’s start with what went wrong for the Wildcats.

What went wrong: From the first play of the game — a Michigan kickoff return for a touchdown — to the fourth quarter, this game was a disaster for NU.

The Cats were outgained 380 yards to 168. They converted two of their 13 third-down opportunities. They allowed the Wolverines to gash them on the ground and struggled mightily with their own running game.

Sophomore running back Justin Jackson, usually NU’s offensive star, gained only 25 yards on 12 carries. Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, meanwhile, completed 13 of 27 passes for 106 yards and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

The Cats’ typically stout defense ceded two touchdowns in the first quarter (not counting the kickoff return), missing tackles and allowing receivers space to an extent it hadn’t over the first five weeks of the season.

The coaches committed gaffes as well. Pat Fitzgerald and company chose to attempt a 42-yard field goal on fourth-and-one in the first quarter, and when the kick missed, the Cats came away scoreless. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall called a series of speed option plays in the first half that consistently resulted in losses or short gains.

Junior cornerback Matthew Harris was carted off with what appeared to be a serious injury after being kneed in the head by a ball carrier toward the end of the third quarter.

What went right: Very little.

NU’s defense settled down after the first quarter and looked more or less like itself during the second half. That’s about it.

What it means: After last week’s 27-0 win over Minnesota, NU appeared to be a legitimate top-20 team. Now, we have to wonder which was the aberration: Saturday or the whole first five games?

This was the Cats’ first conference loss, which knocks them out of first place in the Big Ten West. They will need to bounce back in time for next week’s game against Iowa to have any hope of winning the division.

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