The Daily Northwestern

Rapid Recap: Michigan 20, Northwestern 17

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Rapid Recap: Michigan 20, Northwestern 17

Clayton Thorson tries in vain to escape a tackler. The Wildcats blew a 17-0 lead in Saturday's 20-17 loss to Michigan.

Clayton Thorson tries in vain to escape a tackler. The Wildcats blew a 17-0 lead in Saturday's 20-17 loss to Michigan.

Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Clayton Thorson tries in vain to escape a tackler. The Wildcats blew a 17-0 lead in Saturday's 20-17 loss to Michigan.

Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Clayton Thorson tries in vain to escape a tackler. The Wildcats blew a 17-0 lead in Saturday's 20-17 loss to Michigan.

Ella Brockway, Reporter

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Football


Northwestern was, again, going to win. Until it wasn’t.

What began as a hopeful opportunity to turn the season around and upset one of the top teams in the nation — and what, as the Wildcats took a 10-point lead on No. 14 Michigan in the first quarter, looked quite possible — quickly turned into a nightmare. NU (1-3, 1-1 Big Ten) failed to score in the second half and fell 20-17 to the Wolverines (4-1, 2-0) in its Big Ten home opener.

The Cats came firing out of the gates, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive and forcing consecutive three-and-outs. Sophomore kicker Charlie Kuhbander increased that lead with a career-long 45-yard field goal and NU’s defense kept steady on the other end, holding Michigan to just one first down and 21 total yards in the first quarter.

The Wolverines fought back after another Cats touchdown, scoring themselves to cut the lead to 17-7 and out-gaining the hosts 133-41 in the second quarter. Michigan got to NU’s 10-yard line to start the second half but was made to settle for a field goal. The Cats’ defense held solid again late in the quarter, stopping another Michigan drive and forcing another field goal to keep a 17-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

While the offense stayed stagnant in the fourth, the defense continued to keep the game close. But the Cats couldn’t muster up anything on the offensive end, and the Wolverines kept knocking on the door before finally scoring on a 5-yard Karan Higdon run with 4:06 left to take a 20-17 lead that they never relinquished.

Takeaways

1. Northwestern’s second-half struggles continued. When the Wildcats took a 17-7 lead into halftime, this season’s history didn’t foreshadow well: the Cats had allowed Purdue to attempt a comeback late in the season opener, didn’t score any points in the second half against Duke and blew an 18-point lead after leading 21-3 at the break against Akron. After finding the end zone twice and totaling 146 yards in the first half, NU never made it into Michigan territory in the second and couldn’t create any substantial offensive opportunities.

2. The offense misses Jeremy Larkin. The Cats finished the game with only 33 yards on 33 carries, including sacks. John Moten, who stepped into the starting role in the wake of Jeremy Larkin’s medical retirement, finished with a paltry 36 yards and a touchdown, while Solomon Vault — back at his one-time spot in the backfield — showed an occasional flash of explosiveness but averaged fewer than three yards per carry. Thorson started off strong, but threw only three completions in the second half, and it’s evident the Cats are still trying to figure out what their offense will be in the post-Larkin era.

3. The injury bug may have hit again. The Cats went virtually the entire afternoon without offensive linemen Tommy Doles and Blake Hance, who have been battling injuries since the Duke game, and lost left guard J.B. Butler briefly late in the fourth quarter. With those losses, NU’s line wasn’t able to protect Thorson and allow any long passing plays. On the other end, senior linebacker Nate Hall and true freshman cornerback Greg Newsome both left the game with undisclosed injuries, and Patterson found the space to throw five of his eight second-half completions for more than 10 yards.

Email: ellabrockway2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ellabrockway

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