Golden: Northwestern miscues make team extremely difficult to watch


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

J.R. Pace pleads with the referee. The junior safety was called for pass interference in the endzone, one of four times that would happen during the game.

Andrew Golden, Sports Editor


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — So far this season, Northwestern just hasn’t caught a break. Sometimes, it was a result of facing better teams. Sometimes, it was a result of missed penalties or bad calls. But, on Saturday, whether you want to argue that Indiana is a better team or not, the Wildcats miscues were inexcusable for a program that puts so much emphasis on not beating itself.

It’s hard enough to come into an opposing stadium and face a competitor who is on a three-game winning streak and is on the verge of cracking the top 25. And it’s even harder in the midst of the program’s worst start since 1989.

To give themselves a chance, all the Cats had to do was slow the game down by controlling the possession battle and limit the mistakes — but they couldn’t even do that.

Even when they did something right, it was still wrong. Junior quarterback Aidan Smith ran for 22 yards on NU’s first play from scrimmage, which would’ve been impressive had he not fumbled the ball. To put the run into perspective, he accounted for more yards on his scramble then the Cats offense had on three of their four first-quarter possessions against Iowa last week.

But none of the little victories matter when you push yourself further out of the game with miscues and repeatedly give your opponents chances to score.

The team turned the ball over three times in the first 30 minutes, with one coming on an inconsequential play to end the first half.

When asked to make up for the offense’s blunders, the defense made it worse for themselves. In the endzone, NU had four pass interference calls that set the Hoosiers at their own two-yard line, including two in one possession.

Indiana is a good team. Good teams capitalize on turnovers and penalties. That’s what Indiana did, and that’s why they won.

Those pass interference calls were four of nine penalties the Cats accumulated over the course of the game, totaling 97 yards. Even Coach Pat Fitzgerald got called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

That’s not good by any measure, but definitely not by NU’s standard.

In all but one of the Cats’ games this season, they have lost the turnover battle, with the exception coming in their win against UNLV. Their turnover differential was +7 last year, which looks as incredible compared to this year’s number: -10.

Last season, the Cats lead the country by having the least number of penalties per game (2.9) and the least number of penalty yards per game (25.9).

That’s right. Not the leader of the Big Ten West. Not the leader of the Big Ten. The leader of the country. Where is that discipline this season? This year’s team already has eclipsed their total amount of penalties from last season in a little over half the time.

NU has to be better. They may not have the talent. They may not have the consistent quarterback play that they have been accustomed to in the past. They may not have the experience in the secondary.

But you don’t need any of those things to have discipline. Fitzgerald has consistently proven this by taking teams with less skill than bigger programs and winning.

At this point in the season, wins don’t matter. Bowls don’t matter. But when you sit at the bottom of the Big Ten, playing clean football does matter.

Andrew Golden is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.