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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Football: Bryant buckles under pressure from dominant Rutgers defense

Micah Sandy / The Daily Northwestern
Ben Bryant attempts a pass in last Sunday’s matchup versus Rutgers. Bryant turned it around in Northwestern’s 38-7 win over UTEP, going 11-for-16 and passing for 116 yards and a touchdown.

In what could’ve been a new dawn for Northwestern’s offense with Cincinnati quarterback transfer Ben Bryant under center, Wildcat fans were instead met with a day of deficits in Piscataway.

Sunday held zero touchdowns, two interceptions, a 57.1% completion percentage and -15 rushing yards for Bryant. Although an inexperienced offensive line left him unprotected in the pocket for much of the contest, the NU quarterback faced accuracy and mobility issues. 

“I’m definitely not happy with my performance,” Bryant said post-game. “We left a lot of plays out there on the field. Just gotta sharpen up a little bit, hit those big plays when they’re there and they were there today.”

This marked Bryant’s first time on the field since a right foot injury ended his 9-2 tenure as Cincinnati’s starter last season. Sacked five times by a dominant Rutgers defense during the game, the veteran said he was “definitely feeling it” after. 

“Last time I got hit, I broke my foot,” Bryant said. “It was kind of a weird feeling being out there but that’s just the way the football season is, you gotta fight through stuff.”

Announced as the starter just hours before the game, Bryant beat out 2022 latter-half starter junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan. Sullivan saw the field on Sunday, but it was during garbage time.

Interim head coach David Braun attributed the offense’s struggles, in part, to an inability to continue the drive on third downs. The Cats converted only four of 18 third downs, whereas Rutgers finished with almost 40 minutes of possession.

“It’s really tough to find a rhythm offensively when you simply are not on the field,” Braun said.

Bryant found some success with senior wideout A.J. Henning and sixth-year wide receiver Cam Johnson, who caught 26 and 17-yard passes, respectively, and finished with 169 passing yards. But the seasoned starter’s strong arm continued to miscalculate, resulting in his two interceptions and a 20-35 performance. 

Bryant talked through the second interception that was underthrown and intended for Johnson. The starter said that he tried to take a holeshot against Rutgers’ Cover-2 scheme, a pass thrown along the sideline and past the cornerback in coverage.

“I just didn’t put enough on it,” Bryant said. “I was trying to aim it and when you aim it and try to be too perfect, that’s when you’re going to not throw (it) away, you just got to throw it.”

Though Bryant struggled in the run game, outside of a 15-yard scramble at the beginning of the 4th quarter, Sullivan erased his rushing deficit in two minutes. The running quarterback denied the Scarlet Knights a shutout as he rushed to convert multiple third downs that led to first-year running back Caleb Komolafe’s touchdown.

Currently serving as both head coach and defensive coordinator, Braun said he’s listening to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian for “what he needs from me.”

“I fully trust that those guys (offensive coaches) are doing everything in their power to make sure that we make adjustments and do what we need to do to move the ball and score points,” Braun said.

After the Cats used two starting quarterbacks last season, Braun has expressed a desire to sustain one man in the position. Whether Sullivan was brought in to relieve a sack-ridden Bryant or as a potential new starter, Braun said Bryant “really impressed us the way that he battled.”

“I think Ben will be the first to tell you that he expects to play better than he played today,” Braun said. “(He) took some hits, scrambled the football, competed. I’m really proud of the way that he carried himself.”

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