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

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

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern uses valiant second half to snap 12-game losing streak in 38-7 win over UTEP

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.

It has finally happened.

Northwestern has snapped its 12-game losing streak. The Cats won on U.S. soil for the first time since 2021, beating UTEP 38-7 in NU’s home opener.

The contest appeared to be nearing an offensive showdown, with both teams scoring on their first drives. The Cats matched the Miners’ eight-play scoring drive with a eight-play 71-yard scoring drive of their own, tying it back up about eight minutes into the contest.

However, both offenses settled down for the remainder of the first half, failing to put any more points on the board

Coming out of the locker rooms, though, NU took the lead and didn’t look back. The Cats immediately strung together multiple first downs, capped off by senior tight end Thomas Gordon’s 18-yard touchdown reception. A couple minutes later, NU extended their lead to 14 with another touchdown.

By the end of the third quarter, NU held a 28-7 lead.

Eventually scoring 38 unanswered points sparked by a successful third quarter, the Cats were able to get their first win of the season on Saturday.

Here’s five takeaways from the big win.


1. Northwestern’s defense shines after battling back from UTEP’s opening scoring drive

Once again, NU’s defense struggled to limit the damage early on.

As a result of an eight-play, 70-yard Miners drive, the Cats surrendered their second consecutive opening drive touchdown. Unlike its week one matchup versus Rutgers, though, NU didn’t force any third downs. That made matters fairly easy for UTEP in the contest’s first three minutes.

NU’s defense was unable to stay off the field last week to prevent third down opportunities. And, during UTEP’s second offensive possession, it looked like it would happen again; the Cats were unable to stop the Miners on two consecutive third down opportunities.

But, as a result of a Miners illegal touching penalty, NU struck gold on its third third-down opportunity and got off the field. In the subsequent drive, the Cats got another stop on third down, despite surrendering an 18-yard pass and a 12-yard rush.

The Cats also forced turnovers when they needed them most. Senior linebacker Bryce Gallagher intercepted UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison halfway through the second quarter, while senior linebacker Xander Mueller picked off Hardison again in the third. Mueller’s interception led to a touchdown.

Likewise, sophomore defensive lineman Anto Saka’s sack with two minutes remaining in the first half allowed the Cats to get off the field quick again. In the third quarter, junior Aidan Hubbard’s four yard sack forced another Miners punt.

In the victory, NU recorded a total of 4 sacks.

“Nothing changed,” Braun said regarding any defensive adjustments from last week. “It comes down to our (defensive line) play. As we continued to get into the second half, it was all about complementary back seven and front four play. It’s no coincidence that those sacks and those intercepts showed up today, and that is certainly something we need to make sure continues.”

2. Cats’ run game bounces back mightily

After only a total of 12 yards on the ground last week, the Cats’ run game looked much more promising from the get go Saturday. In its opening drive, NU rushed for 44 yards highlighted by transfer wide receiver A.J. Henning’s 17-yard rush and capped off by first-year quarterback Jack Lausch’s six-yard rushing touchdown. Senior running back Cam Porter added a seven and nine yard rush, which helped the Cats generate early offensive momentum as well.

As a result of the consistent rushing performance, NU was able to quickly match UTEP’s opening touchdown just minutes later.

Using rushing attempts by Porter, Bryant, and Henning, the Cats extended their lead by multiple touchdowns in the third quarter.

With 8 minutes remaining, Lausch’s 46-yard keep and Porter’s 16-yard rush propelled the Cats to the redzone. Afterwards, Henning secured the Cats third rushing touchdown of the day with a four-yard rush.

“(Today) was a commitment to staying with (the run game) and utilizing all of our guys — you saw Jack Lausch out there” Braun said. “We’re here to win games with our fundamentals, with our technique. The way Cam Porter ran the ball today embodied what a Big Ten back should look like. The commitment to the run game (today) was key.”

3. Despite early struggles, NU’s offensive line gives Bryant and Co. opportunities to shine

A major reason for NU’s offensive success Saturday was the offensive line’s ability to give transfer quarterback Ben Bryant time to make the right play. While Bryant was sacked five times in last week’s loss to Rutgers, he was not hit once in the first quarter.

Bryant was therefore able to move the chains at the start of the second quarter with ease. He connected with graduate student wide receiver Cam Johnson on a 43-yard pass, taking NU to midfield.

In the second half, the offensive line continued its strong play, giving NU’s running backs opportunities to create separation from the Miners. Senior quarterback Ryan Hillinski took advantage of the strong offensive line play, with time to find sophomore Joseph Himon II for an explosive 85-yard touchdown.

“(Having) over five yards a carry is a credit to (the offensive line),” Braun said. “It embodies the resiliency of this group. (The offensive line) could have been easily frustrated with the outcome from last week. They came back to work and played with (a lot) effort and energy. We need that out of that group every week.”

4. Northwestern’s special teams keeps NU in the game in the first half

As a result of the low-scoring first half, NU needed a strong performance on special teams to win the field position battle. Following consecutive incomplete passes by Bryant, senior punter Hunter Renner booted a 54-yard punt that set up NU’s defense at the 16-yard line. This made it difficult for the Miners’ offense to march down the field, leading to NU winning the special teams battle in that drive.

In a later drive, after Bryant was sacked at the Cats own 36-yard line, Renner set up NU’s defense at UTEP’s 25-yard line. A few drives later when NU was forced to punt once again, Renner booted a 39-yard punt, ensuring the Miners started at their own 25-yard line with a minute left in the first half.

The Cats special teams also applied pressure on the defensive side, nearly blocking the Miners’ first punt attempt. On top of that, NU also forced a missed field goal, ensuring the game remained tied at seven entering halftime.

5. Looking ahead, Northwestern looks to keep momentum rolling

With only one non-conference game left on the schedule after next Saturday’s matchup against No. 21 Duke, the Cats will look to continue their winning ways before resuming Big Ten play.

The Blue Devils, who are coming off an upset victory over Clemson last Monday, will be playing with a lot of momentum in their contest versus NU.

The Cats will look to snap another losing streak next week as well. NU has dropped its last four meetings versus Duke, most recently in the past two seasons. Both matchups were one score losses, meaning the Cats will not have much room for error next weekend.

“24 hour mode,” Porter said in regards to when the team will set its sights on preparing for Duke. “Enjoy the game and enjoy the win because we worked for it but then we’re shifting our focus. Duke is a great opponent, and we’re excited to go down there and try to get a win.”

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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