Football: Northwestern falls below .500 after 33-7 loss to No. 6 Michigan


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Ryan Hilinski looks on. The sophomore quarterback threw for 114 yards in a 33-7 loss to No. 6 Michigan.

Drew Schott, Gameday Editor


When graduate linebacker Chris Bergin scooped up the fumble, the pendulum in Michigan Stadium swung towards Northwestern.

With 16 seconds remaining in the first half, sophomore safety Coco Azema forced the ball loose from Michigan wide receiver Mike Sanristil at the Wildcats’ two-yard line. As NU exited the cavernous bowl of the Big House down 10-7, a chance at its biggest upset win since 2011 was still in play.

However, the No. 6 Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) soon took control, rumbling for 294 yards on the ground and allowing just 120 in the final 30 minutes en route to a 33-7 victory over the Cats (3-4, 1-3). NU’s sixth straight loss to Michigan came in the inaugural contest for the George Jewett Trophy, named for the first Black player to suit up for the Cats and the Wolverines.

“I’m really disappointed in the way we performed in the second half,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We made good adjustments. They just made better ones. We got to win in individual plays. We got to win in series. And we didn’t do that consistently enough here today.”

After his best performance for NU last week against Rutgers, sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinski threw for just 114 yards and his first interception of the year. Leading receiver and graduate Stephon Robinson Jr. was ruled out of the game in the third quarter with a lower-body injury, while sophomore running back Evan Hull rushed for 81 yards, but a lion’s share of them came on one play.

Four players finished with more than 10 tackles, including Bergin with 16. However, the Cats gave up 457 yards — a fourth consecutive time the squad has given up more than 400 yards in a loss this season.

“I think there’s a lot of good things that we can take from this game,” Hilinski said. “There’s also a lot of things that we can look at and realize that we just let it get away from us.”

One of NU’s few successes came on the game’s first play from scrimmage when Hilinski rolled out and found junior wide receiver Malik Washington wide open for a 29-yard gain.

Despite punting four plays later, another triumph came when sophomore safety Brandon Joseph stunted the Wolverines’ opening drive with his first career sack.

After a scoreless first quarter with six possession changes, Michigan methodically marched down the field on a 13-play, 79-yard drive punctuated by a touchdown from running back Blake Corum. The Wolverines then traveled 55 yards in nearly nine minutes to take a 10-0 lead courtesy of kicker Jake Moody.

Nearing halftime, the Cats needed a momentum shift. One of their most dynamic players answered the call.

Hull took a handoff right down the middle of the Michigan defense and found an opening to his left, taking off down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. He became the first NU player since Venric Mark with multiple rushes of 70 yards or longer in the same season.

Bergin’s fumble recovery then silenced the crowd of 109, 449.

“I knew our guys would not be intimidated by ranking or name or the stadium,” Fitzgerald said.

Added Hilinski: “Our defense gave us a chance to win the game.”

But as the sun peeked through the Eastern Michigan clouds, the Wolverines’ offensive juggernaut came alive, outscoring the Cats 23-0 in the second half. On Michigan’s first possession, Corum rushed for 45 yards and a score to increase the lead to double digits. He finished with 119 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.

Running back Hassan Haskins soon found paydirt from 13 yards out to make the score 24-7.

In between the scores, Hilinski led NU to just outside the Wolverines’ red zone. However, graduate kicker Charlie Kuhbander’s 39-yard field goal sailed wide for his fifth miss of the season. Two possessions later, graduate punter Derek Adams’ punt was blocked by wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, giving Michigan possession at the Cats’ 24-yard line.

The Wolverines added another field goal from Moody before Hilinski tossed a pick to cornerback D.J. Turner, who bobbled the ball and acrobatically gained control before racing deep into NU’s red zone at the start of the fourth quarter. Haskins — who ran 23 times for 110 yards — then punched in his second touchdown of the day.

“It’s just a lack of physical execution on a number of plays,” Bergin said. “It’s on us as players to physically execute when our time comes and when opportunities present themselves, especially making tackles, running our feet and just overall playing better.”

Reserves including sophomore quarterback Carl Richardson eventually entered into the game, while the signal caller duo of Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy — who combined for 163 yards — helped secure Michigan’s undefeated record ahead of a crucial matchup against No. 9 Michigan State.

As NU returns to Evanston ahead of its matchup against Minnesota, a 26-point loss may seem bleak. However, Fitzgerald was able to find some positives for a team that is just three wins away from bowl contention.

“A lot of young guys out there (are) getting valuable experience and they’ll grow from it,” Fitzgerald said. “They love each other. They care.”

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Twitter: @dschott328 

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