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Interview With the Enemy: Northwestern Wildcats

Gavin from our “friends” at Inside NU stopped by.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

With Purdue returning to Ross-Ade Stadium this Saturday in a game that they desperately need to win if they hope of playing in Indy for the Big Ten Title game I reached out to the folks at Inside NU to talk about Northwestern’s season and this Purdue game more specifically. I thought the answers I received were honest and frank about their situation. Honestly, I see a lot of echoes of the complaints we as Purdue fans have about this season. Take a look below and make sure to head over to Inside NU to check them out. Plus, as a bonus you can read my answers to their questions posted later today.

After a season opening win in Ireland over Nebraska the Wildcats haven’t won another game. Northwestern is notoriously better in even numbered years so I’ve gotta ask, what happened here?

What happened to the Wildcats over the span of the last two years can be called nothing short of a collapse. The easiest answer is to point out the retirement of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who retired in 2020 after leading one of the best units in the country. Since then, the defense has been a mess, consistently allowing long play after long play (although it hasn’t happened in the recent few weeks) and allowing even the worst offenses, like Iowa, to put up big numbers. Last weekend, Northwestern knew Minnesota was going to run the ball 50-60 times, but still couldn’t stop them. Granted, Northwestern was missing its starting and backup linebacker for most of the game, but even healthy, the defense has struggled.

To put all the problems on the defense, however, would be unfair. The offense has been largely dormant since the first three weeks of the season, scoring more than two touchdowns just once in that time frame. A major issue has been the playcalling, as offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian hasn’t entirely called a game that compliments quarterback Brendan Sullivan’s game plan well, and it’s evident by the plays that he doesn’t quite trust Sullivan with the offense yet. Ultimately, on both sides of the ball, it’s a combination of poor coaching and poor execution.

The Wildcats put up one heck of a fight against Ohio State recently. What did the team do in that game that allowed them to hang with one of the best teams in the country?

The best thing Northwestern did that game was call upon Mother Nature to unleash 70+ mph wind gusts. If Fitzgerald could do that every week, the ‘Cats might have more wins!

In all seriousness, the secondary had the games of their lives, and the defensive line was consistently able to put pressure on CJ Stroud to make him throw mediocre passes that got carried by the wind to become bad passes. Cam Mitchell had an insane game at corner, essentially shutting down several of the top wideouts for much of the game. Northwestern got up early by running the ball, and a combination of trick plays and Wildcat formation runs caught OSU’s defense off guard. However, there’s only so many times you can use trick plays before the defense starts to expect them. Bajakian called countless Wildcat formation plays, and nearly every single run went up the middle, so all the Buckeyes needed to do was stack the box. There was no creativity in the play calling, no sense of aggression or urgency and Northwestern ran the ball a whopping 60 times. The ‘Cats may have been able to upset Ohio State if they had mixed up play calling or thrown some passes with Sullivan, who played well, but ultimately the game was lost on the play sheet. It’s a shame too, because the defense managed to play phenomenally.

Looking at just the Big Ten season the Wildcats have only been averaging just over 13 points per game. The change over to Brendan Sullivan at QB doesn’t seem to have jump started the offense either. What does this offense do well, what’s their bread and butter?

The highlight of the offense is definitely Evan Hull. Everything runs through him - the run game, the pass game, everything. He is the offense. However, Bajakian has struggled to get him the ball on plays that aren’t runs right up the middle. Sullivan has played well, and the offense would certainly play better if there was more urgency to get Hull the ball in passing situations or outside runs. The offensive line has definitely had some games where it can dominate on the ground and the team rushes for 150 or so, but it has also had some games where it struggles to block anyone. The unit has struggled with injuries, so you really don’t know what you’re going to get on any given Saturday.

On the defensive side of the ball looking at just Big Ten play they’ve allowed an average of 29 points per game. Who are the key players on this defense and what is perhaps the top unit that Purdue fans should be aware of?

Mitchell is certainly the star of the secondary; he has great body positioning and could play his way into a draft spot next season with the way he’s improving. He struggled with penalties in the past, but has overall become a well-rounded corner capable of handling most No. 1 receivers. On the defensive line, Adetomiwa Adebawore is a force. He’s a stuffer in the run game and creates tons of pressure in the pass game, and stands out among a struggling defensive line this season.

This obviously hasn’t been the season that Northwestern fans were hoping for and with two games left on the season they’ve got to win both of them to avoid a 10 loss season. What do you think happens in this game against Purdue and can you give me a score prediction?

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, a 10-loss season seems imminent, as nothing lately has shown me that this is a team capable of turning the season around for a win or two at the end of the year. The top two quarterbacks getting injured against Minnesota will likely mean we’ll see either Carl Richardson or Cole Freeman under center, so I can’t say I’m expecting much from Northwestern, and I’ll go Purdue 38 Northwestern 6.