Golden: NU has nothing to lose, throw the freshmen into the fire


Andrew Golden, Sports Editor


Let’s face it, Northwestern fans: The season is over. As if it wasn’t already certain, last Saturday’s loss to Purdue made it official. The team would’ve had a slim chance to make a bowl game as a 5-7 team due to the team’s high APR.

But with three games left, the Wildcats are just playing to improve and get quality game experience. Coach Pat Fitzgerald should give his young players from the Class of 2019 a chance in these essentially meaningless games.

NU has a knack for taking recruiting classes that are typically below the norm and getting the most out of its prospects. In the past five years, the Cats have had classes that were ranked at least 50 or lower. But those classes’ production still led to a trip to the Big Ten Championship.

This season has been the first time the team hasn’t lived up to expectations despite the lower recruiting rankings. It’s not time to panic; this is just an off year. But now that it’s over, give the most recent recruiting class a chance to get real playing time.

Playing college football is a major adjustment in terms of speed and pace of the games, so playing freshmen will bode well for next season.

Some of NU’s freshmen have already seen playing time this season; on offense, running back Evan Hull and wide receiver Malik Washington have played sparingly. Defensively, defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore has moved his way up the depth chart and been this class’ most productive player.

But we should see more freshmen on the field, especially because they are still eligible to redshirt if they play in four games or less. Let’s be real about Saturday’s game: It doesn’t mean anything for NU, and, barring a Merrimack-level upset, the Cats will probably blow the Minutemen off the field.

NU has nothing to lose by getting an early lead and turning to its freshmen to see what they’ve got. The Cats could benefit from a boost on offense and fortunately, NU’s top two recruits from last season are skill position players.

Wide receivers Bryce Kirtz and Genson Hooper-Price could make an impact immediately. Throw them into the fire. Aside from senior wide receiver Riley Lees, who has 36 catches on the season, no one on the team has more than 15 catches. If the Cats don’t have a standout wide receiver right now, they need to see who they can trust moving forward.

The same goes for superback. Thomas Gordon was NU’s fourth-best recruit, according to 24/7Sports. Throw him into the fire too. What have the Cats’ veteran superbacks done? Virtually nothing. Sophomore Charlie Mangieri and junior Trey Pugh have combined for six catches for 22 yards.

Even moving past the UMass game, NU should play its young players against No. 8 Minnesota and Illinois. The only team with something to lose eight days from now will be the Gophers. Of course, the Cats will want to play spoiler, but why not let the freshmen play a part in it? A combination of a veteran defense and the young skill position players could give the team a chance.

There’s not a lot to look forward to in NU’s final three games. But there is a future to look ahead to, headlined by this 2019 class. So let’s get a glimpse at the future right now, starting with Saturday.

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.