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

The Daily Northwestern

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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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Rapid Recap: Northwestern 33, Maryland 27

Senior+linebacker+Bryce+Gallagher+celebrates+with+his+teammates+after+recovering+a+first-quarter+fumble+on+Saturday.
Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
Senior linebacker Bryce Gallagher celebrates with his teammates after recovering a first-quarter fumble on Saturday.

A week removed from an offensive lull in Lincoln, Northwestern returned to Ryan Field for a Saturday morning matchup with Maryland, looking to evade its first two-game losing skid of the season.

With spectators sparsely spanning the stadium, the Wildcats (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) outgunned the visiting Terrapins (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) in a 33-27 victory.

“Today was a perfect reflection of what this group is aiming for — and what they hope to embody,” interim head coach David Braun said.

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa led a five-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to kick off the contest, connecting with wide receiver Tai Felton for an 8-yard score. But after NU’s opening drive stalled out, Tagovailoa fumbled deep in his own territory, leading to senior running back Cam Porter punching in the tying score.

While the Terrapins running back Roman Hemby took a 24-yard screen in for a score later on in the first quarter, the ‘Cats responded to knot the game at 14-14 on the following drive.

Junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan and NU commanded the bulk of the second quarter, building a 24-17 lead by halftime.

Entering the second half, senior safety Coco Azema broke loose on a 61-yard kickoff return to set up the ‘Cats in enemy territory, but they’d merely manage a field goal. After the Terrapins answered with a field goal of their own, NU entered the final 15 minutes with a 27-20 lead.

After senior kicker Jack Olsen converted a pair of field goals to kickstart the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa connected with Maryland wideout Jeshaun Jones to cut the lead to 33-27 just under four minutes remaining.

Although the Terrapins looked to pull off a late siege, the ‘Cats clinched the win courtesy of an Azema interception.

Here’s five takeaways from NU’s upset victory over Maryland.

Takeaways:

1. Defensive takeaways continue to put the offense in scoring position

The ‘Cats’ offense appeared stuck in quicksand early on, as Sullivan struggled to avoid the Terrapin rush.On consecutive plays, Maryland sacked the junior, ending the drive before he could muster any semblance of momentum.

For all the talk of complimentary football, neither unit came out churning once the tilt began.

However, much like last week’s effort at Nebraska, the NU defense secured a first-quarter takeaway to hand the offense a short field.

As Tagovailoa lined up for his second drive of the day, Maryland seemed to carry momentum in its back pocket. But after dropping back for what looked like a routine pass, the ball slipped out of the signal caller’s hand and into redshirt senior linebacker Bryce Gallagher’s grasp.

After the captain’s fumble recovery, the ‘Cats one-upped their zero-touchdown effort in Lincoln, getting across the pylon on a one-yard Porter rush.

2. Bryce Kirtz flashes playmaking prowess

Before NU took on Minnesota just over a month ago, redshirt senior wide receiver Bryce Kirtz had never tallied a collegiate touchdown, nor exceeded the 100-yard mark.

But on that fateful night, the Indiana native broke out for a 10-catch, 215-yard and two touchdown day that placed him fourth on the program’s all time single-game receiving yardage list.

“We’ve got weapons everywhere,” senior wide receiver A.J. Henning said. “Guys in the slot, out wide, in three-point and tight end, so it just makes us way more dynamic.”

This Saturday, with the ‘Cats down 14-7 in the first frame, Kirtz hauled in three catches for 51 yards, carving through coverage on a post pattern to even the score on a 23-yard touchdown.

However, the playmaker’s impact through the air would flame out as quickly as it emerged, with the redshirt senior going silent on the statsheet for the rest of the game.

3. Have a day, Brendan Sullivan

Ever since his inaugural start against then-No. 6 Penn State, Sullivan has struggled to generate any semblance of consistency under center. Even against an FCS opponent in Howard, Sullivan seldom found his footing in the pocket — throwing for only 131 yards.

Taking seven sacks against the Cornhuskers last Saturday, the junior was lucky to board the plane back relatively unscathed. With Sullivan surrendering two sacks on NU’s opening possession, more of the same appeared in store for the scrambling quarterback.

Despite his stumble out of the gates, the Davison, Michigan, native swiftly shifted course, completing his first seven passes of the day.

“Finally, our offense was playing the way we practiced,” Sullivan said.

He accounted for 265 yards through the air, two passing touchdowns and another 56 yards rushing in the win.

4. ‘Cats have a third quarter to forget offensively

After all the offensive firepower Sullivan and company displayed in the first half, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian’s unit fell off a cliff in the third quarter.

Without Azema’s special teams’ spark, NU recorded just three total yards on nine plays.

The running game went nowhere, notching negative two yards on six carries. Sullivan’s display through the air didn’t fare much better, with the quarterback going 1-of-3 for five yards.

However, NU’s defense kept Maryland in check, surrendering a lone field goal to maintain the team’s advantage as the fourth quarter began.

5. Bowl eligibility becoming more of a possibility

With NU back to .500, Braun’s group now sits just two wins away from bowl eligibility — the ‘Cats will need to split their remaining four games to make their first bowl game since the Citrus Bowl in January 2021.

“Watch out — this team has everything we want ahead of us,” Henning said.

Every victory counts for a team hovering around that six-win mark, and NU has its share of winnable matchups ahead.

NU will face Iowa at Wrigley Field next Saturday, and with Hawkeye starting quarterback Cade McNamara out for the season, the ‘Cats will likely enter a rock fight against one of the nation’s top defenses.

“Let’s get back to work, let’s put our focus on Iowa and see if we can get (win) number five,” Braun said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jakeepste1n

Related Stories:
Football: What To Watch For: Northwestern welcomes in Maryland and top passing attack in search of bounce back win
Football: Northwestern’s defensive performance versus Nebraska provides positive outlook for a challenging battle against Maryland
Football: ‘Our best football is still ahead of us’: Braun, players believe in team’s ability to bounce back versus Maryland

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