Football: Northwestern looks to play to its standards against Indiana State


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern fans rooting for the team during the season-opener at Ryan Field. Last Friday’s game was the first time since 2019 that fans were allowed into the stadium.

Lawrence Price, Reporter


Northwestern’s performance last Friday was a surprising start to its season.  

Playing in front of fans for the first time since 2019, a 38-21 loss to Michigan State raised early concerns for the Wildcats (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten). NU couldn’t stop Michigan State’s rushing attack, allowing 326 yards on the ground — nearly 200 yards more than the Cats’ total rushing yards (117) and average rush yards allowed (145.9) last year.

“You can’t give up that type of yard total and point total,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s not up to our standard by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes you get humbled and when you do, it is your task to get your mind right and get those things fixed, and I have great confidence that they will.”

On Monday, Fitzgerald presented the Offensive Player of the Week to sophomore offensive lineman Peter Skoronski and Playmaker of the Week to fifth-year tight end Trey Pugh, who finished with four catches for 18 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans. 

But there was no Defensive Player of the Week.

“If the coaches would have put up anybody for player of the game, I think that player probably would have said, ‘No thank you, I don’t deserve it,’” Fitzgerald said. “They understand the championship standard that we have here.”

This Saturday against Indiana State (1-0, 1-0), the Wildcats will look to fix the miscommunication and incorrect fits Fitzgerald said plagued NU in its season opening loss.

With new defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, the Cats are looking to repeat last year’s success, like allowing the fifth-fewest points per game in the country (15.9). To get back to that mark, changes will need to be made — and the team is well aware of them. 

“Going back to our fundamentals, tackling, using our hands, getting out blocks, just the simple stuff,” junior defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore said.

Despite extensive discussions about defensive struggles, the team faced issues on both sides of the ball. Fitzgerald pinpointed the offense’s lack of first-down efficiency as a reason behind NU’s misfortunes. Michigan State scored on its first two drives of the game, led 21-0 early in the second quarter and put points on the board on each trip into the red zone.

The Cats’ offense did have some bright spots. Senior Hunter Johnson cemented his starting quarterback role with a 283-yard and three touchdown performance. He also built a good rapport with two of his wideouts: graduate transfer Stephon Robinson Jr. and sophomore Bryce Kirtz. Both picked up 40-plus yard receptions and finished with over 75 receiving yards.

“Overall, I felt like we played good,” Kirtz said. “Obviously, there’s things we need to clean up, and I think that once we clean those things up we can be an even more explosive offense.” 

When the Cats welcome the Sycamores — who are coming off a bye week following a win over Eastern Illinois — adjustments will need to be made. If done successfully, it could help create momentum for the remainder of NU’s season.   

“We got 11 more opportunities and none more important than this weekend,” Fitzgerald said. “You put that in the rearview mirror, you flush it, you move forward, and you learn from it and you grow.

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