Football: Northwestern’s injuries have pushed the team to the bottom of the Big Ten

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Football: Northwestern’s injuries have pushed the team to the bottom of the Big Ten

Hunter Johnson gets tackled on the play. The sophomore quarterback was injured on this play last game.

Hunter Johnson gets tackled on the play. The sophomore quarterback was injured on this play last game.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Hunter Johnson gets tackled on the play. The sophomore quarterback was injured on this play last game.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Hunter Johnson gets tackled on the play. The sophomore quarterback was injured on this play last game.

Andrew Golden, Sports Editor

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Early in the second quarter of Northwestern’s season opener against Stanford, senior cornerback and captain Trae Williams fell to the Stanford Stadium turf with an injury. The next quarter, senior quarterback T.J. Green was carted off the field with a foot injury and sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser didn’t return after a 1-yard run.

Green’s injury ended his season, and Williams has only seen the field sparingly since his injury, though it wasn’t that severe. The cornerback position took another hit when coach Pat Fitzgerald announced sophomore Greg Newsome, arguably NU’s most consistent corner, was out for the season.

“It’s been tough,” Williams said. “In (the cornerbacks) room we’ve always, since January, said everyone has to be ready and everyone has to prepare like they’re the starter, like they’re the No. 1 guy.”

While the next-man-up mentality is important for any team, it’s hard not to recognize just how much talent is missing on both sides of the ball. Injuries have become a common theme for the Wildcats at every position this season.

In almost every game, a key player has been injured.

Think of any game this season.

UNLV? Junior running back Jesse Brown. Michigan State? Senior wide receiver and captain Bennett Skowronek. Wisconsin? Sophomore quarterback Hunter Johnson. Nebraska? Junior left tackle Rashawn Slater. Ohio State? Defensive linemen Earnest Brown IV and Trevor Kent. Iowa? Wide receiver JJ Jefferson. Indiana? Senior defensive lineman Samdup Miller and Newsome.

The list goes on and on. As a result, the team has struggled on both sides of the ball: The offense has failed to rack up yards, and the defense hasn’t found a way to force turnovers.

“These last couple of weeks have been hit after hit after hit, whereas earlier in the season, we were healthier,” Williams said. “But that’s part of the game and that’s part of why you have a full team of 100-something guys. Everybody has to be ready to go.”

By far the biggest injury question coming into Saturday will be status of Johnson, who played in his first game in over a month against Indiana last week. In the third quarter, Johnson was thrown down onto the turf and had to be helped off the field by medical staff.

Quarterback health has been a problem for Purdue as well, and, as a result, the team has also had a slow start to its season. Senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar broke his collarbone in September against Minnesota, and his backup, freshman Jack Plummer, broke his ankle last week.

Now NU will have the luxury of facing the Boilermakers at home against sophomore quarterback Aidan O’Connell, making his first career start. However, there’s a chance he could get back sophomore wide receiver Rondale Moore, who hasn’t played since Sept. 28.

Purdue has four players who have already been declared out by coach Jeff Brohm and five others who are game-time decisions.

Regardless of who plays for the Boilermakers on Sunday, the Cats will have to rely on their backups to finish the season strong. If not, NU could be staring at a 1-8 record.

“The next guy’s gotta step up,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, we’ve failed at that as coaches. We haven’t had the next guy ready.”

Email: andrewgolden2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @andrewcgolden

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