Football: 1-8 Northwestern heads into matchup with UMass as 40-point favorite

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Football: 1-8 Northwestern heads into matchup with UMass as 40-point favorite

Northwestern’s offensive line readies for a play. Both NU and UMass — this week’s opponent — have struggled this season.

Northwestern’s offensive line readies for a play. Both NU and UMass — this week’s opponent — have struggled this season.

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern’s offensive line readies for a play. Both NU and UMass — this week’s opponent — have struggled this season.

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern’s offensive line readies for a play. Both NU and UMass — this week’s opponent — have struggled this season.

Jonah Dylan, Gameday Editor

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To borrow one from the great Matthew Berry: consider ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B.’

By all accounts, Team A has had an awful season. Its offense has been dreadful, near the bottom of the board in every meaningful category. Its defense has stagnated, and it can’t even catch a break on special teams anymore. It’s 1-8, in the midst of one of its most disappointing seasons in years.

Team B is favored to win its next game by 41 points.

You guessed it! Team A and Team B are both Northwestern.

Such will be the backdrop as the Wildcats (1-8, 0-7 Big Ten) prepare to host UMass (1-9) on Saturday at Ryan Field in a one-game break from what’s been a disastrous Big Ten gauntlet for NU. And they’ll do it as a massive 41-point favorite, a fact that’s left fans and bettors extremely confused over the last week.

“I just want to win by one, man,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Thanks for the heads up, but we just want to win by one. And that’s the bottom line. We’ve got to get a win, we’ve got to get some positive momentum.”

Since 1970, the Wildcats have only won by 41 or more points twice — a 49-7 win over Bowling Green in 2017 and a 41-0 win over Eastern Illinois in 2015.

The Minutemen, meanwhile, have lost by 41 or more points in three of the last four weeks. The other game in that stretch was a 21-point home loss to UConn in a game that likely would’ve decided the title of “worst FBS team” had UMass not beaten Akron earlier this season.

UMass has been historically awful across the board this season. SP+? Last. Total defense? Last, and it’s not even close. The Minutemen allow 567 yards per game, eons behind the next worst team at 499.

In an ironic twist of fate, UMass actually has a better offense than NU. The Cats average only 277 yards per game, nearly a 300-yard gap from UMass’ average defensive output. So something has to give, in the weirdest way possible.

In what might be a lone bright spot, Isaiah Rodgers is leading the country in kick return yards. But that stat can’t be properly presented without noting that he has 12 more kickoff returns than anyone else because UMass gives up so many points and fields so many kickoffs on the other end.

For defensive end Joe Gaziano, the game will serve as a bit of a reverse homecoming. The Scituate, Mass. native’s first college offer came from UMass, and he knows a few of their players. He’ll also have several high school teammates in attendance at Saturday’s game. But like Fitzgerald, he’s not focused on the point spread.

“I don’t really look at the line anyways. I’m just going out and trying to make plays and help us win,” he said. “We’re looking forward to executing on the field and doing what we need to do to win and we’re not really looking at who’s favored, by how many points, the spread, whatever. That’s up for gamblers to decide. I’m the guy on the field who’s trying to just win.”

It’s been an incredibly tough season for both these teams, but someone will walk out of Ryan Field with their second win on Saturday afternoon.

“This team will be hungry coming in here,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m sure our tape will not intimidate them.”

Email: jonahdylan2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thejonahdylan

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