Football: Price: Despite close loss against Maryland, Northwestern flashes bright spots on both sides of the ball


Joshua Sukoff/Daily Northwestern

Northwestern runs out onto the field awaiting their matchup, and loss, to Miami (Ohio). Nearly a month later and the Cats were still unable to snap their losing streak, dropping their contest against Maryland, 31-24.

Lawrence Price, Audio Editor

As Northwestern and Maryland prepared to square off Saturday in College Park, the two teams did not appear to be an even matchup.

Winning their last contest against Indiana, the Terrapins (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) flex the third-most total yards per game in the conference, powered by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, with the third-most passing yards per game in the Big Ten, and Roman Hemby, who has the sixth-most total rushing yards. Not to mention, Maryland’s anticipated bolster of fans in attendance, as it is homecoming weekend.

NU (1-6, 1-3 Big Ten) hasn’t had the same luck of the draw. The Cats’ crushing defeat in their homecoming contest versus Wisconsin two weeks ago, 42-7, summed up their 2022 season, which included on a five-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s matchup. And unlike Maryland, they were unable to crack the top-five in most conference categories, such as rushing and passing leaders, nor points per game.

Even with the announcement of Tagovailoa being sideline and unable to compete — leaving backup Billy Edwards Jr. to make his first career start — many still believed in the Terrapins’ odds. Additionally, NU tweeted early in the day that sophomore quarterback Brendan Sullivan would be given the keys out the gate forhis second game under center and first start.

However, these considerations were thrown out the window as both teams jogged to their respective corridors at halftime, as the Cats led 17-10. A large part was due to their offensive and defensive cohesion and execution. 

Sullivan and junior running back Evan Hull ran for 84 of the Cats’ 90 rushing yards in a prolific second quarter effort for NU. This success brought a new dynamic to the offense, one we haven’t seen all season with a mobile quarterback in Sullivan and making it difficult for the defense to know who to focus on.

Defensively, the Cats forced three punts to start the contest, two being three-and-outs, allowing the offense to settle in and find their groove.

Even with this early success, though, Maryland found its rhythm as well. The Terrapins put up 24 points on four consecutive drives, and a fourth quarter 75-yard touchdown by Hemby and a crucial interception by Sullivan nearly three minutes left in the contest put the nail in coffin for the Cats.

Although the disappointment ensues for NU, the day’s contest revealed the potential bright spots as well.

Sullivan’s athleticism brought an x-factor to the offense that lacked juice in earlier games this month. Although his two interceptions proved costly, the sophomore rushed for 53 yards, whether it during a quarterback scramble or recognition that the pocket was collapsing — he showed the ability to make something out of nothing.

These runs opened up alleys for Hull, who picked up 119 yards on the ground, tying his second-highest in a game this season. This proved to be essential in third down situations, as the Cats converted on nine of their fourteen opportunities, seven of them on the ground.

Even though the effort wasn’t enough to defeat the Terrapins, the run game’s performance on Saturday provides promise that coach Mike Bajakian’s offense will come with a different type of juice when Sullivan is under center.

Additionally, senior defensive back A.J. Hampton Jr returned to his starting role for the Cats in the contest, after his first quarter exit versus Nebraska in the first game of the season. Alongside his other Sky Room teammates and duo starting partner in junior defensive back Cam Mitchell, the group gave up one receiving touchdown on the day, despite being tested repeatedly by Maryland’s passing attack. To add, they only allowed two plays over 16 yards. 

With much of the Big Ten schedule still to tackle, returning Hampton, one of the most experienced defenders in the secondary room, restores a measure of order to the madness. The Cats lost both junior safeties Coco Azema and Jaheem Joseph for the rest of the season due to injuries.

There were multiple aspects to pick apart in NU’s game today, such as allowing 24 straight points and giving up big plays when the game was on the line. However, with the losing streak rising to six now, and ranked heavy hitters still on the schedule like No. 2 Ohio State and No. 18 Illinois, positivity will be harder to come by.

And with the reality of a season-crushing skid beginning to set in, the likelihood of the Cats turning the season around is looking slimmer and slimmer. 

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