Behind Enemy Lines: Northwestern

In week eight of the season, Maryland  hosts the Northwestern Wildcats in their homecoming game. Heading into Saturday, Northwestern is on a five-game losing streak and will be looking to upset the banged up Terps on the road and end their losing streak. This week, we spoke with Sarah Effress of Inside NU who covers the team. Sarah  sheds light on what Maryland fans should look forward to and be on the lookout for this Saturday.

John Gugs: In week one, the Wildcats scored 31 points and won against Nebraska. Since then they haven’t scored more than 24. What is it that you think has caused the offense to not be able to repeat that week one performance?

Sarah Effress: What’s tough is there isn’t necessarily anything that’s changed personnel-wise from that Week Zero win — I mean, we were all pretty convinced this was going to be a good year. Then…well, you know what happened. Number one I think is a lack of confidence coming from starting QB Ryan Hilinski and a general disconnect that’s seemed to foster between him and the majority of skill players, sans Evan Hull. Hull hasn’t been able to get much going lately, probably due to opposing defenses picking up on him as their number-one target. The offense simply can’t run through him anymore, and because of that, there isn’t much going. I don’t know if Mike Bajakian’s play-calling has been the most conducive to success either since Dublin, so to me, that plays a part as well.

JG: On defense, the Wildcats give up 406 yards per game. The Terps for the most part have a balanced offense with lots of weapons they can go to every play. But with Taulia listed as questionable and Billy Edwards possibly starting, how well do you think the Wildcats will be able to slow the Terps offense down if at all and why?

SE: Northwestern does have some weapons on defense, namely LB Bryce Gallagher and DE Adetomiwah Adebawore, but the unit holistically just hasn’t been able to stop much at all. However, the ‘Cats’ best performances so far have been in opposing stadiums, including their five-turnover near-upset of Penn State. There was a lot of good in that matchup, especially coming from younger players who haven’t had as much of a chance to prove themselves like Garnett Hollis Jr. and Xander Mueller. If the defense can erase what happened against Wisconsin and actually make some plays like it did in Happy Valley, slowing own a Billy Edwards Jr. run offense is definitely possible.

JG: Evan Hull leads the team in both rushing and receiving yards. Other than Hull, what two players on offense should have the biggest impact Saturday and why?
SE: Tight end Thomas Gordan has been a pleasant surprise for the Northwestern offense, discounting its evident struggles. He hasn’t had a big game in a few weeks and has great blocking capabilities outside of being a big weapon in the air. When Hilinski’s arm is on, those two are tough to beat. Wide receiver Malik Washington is due for a big game as well, and given the difficulty of NU’s schedule beyond this week, it might be his last chance to really have an impact against the Terps.
JG: The Wildcats offense coughs the ball up on average 2.7 times a game. The Terps defense has caused three turnovers in their last two games. How much of a problem do you expect turnovers to be for the Wildcats on Saturday?

SE: For the ‘Cats, turnovers are the difference between a 1-5 record and a 3-2 or 4-1 record. Nearly every press conference, Coach Fitz mentions something about winning the turnover battle. It’s one of, if not the biggest problem this offense has faced this season, and we haven’t necessarily seen the margin improve much. I can’t say how big of a problem it’ll be on Saturday, but I can say that if it ends up being one, there’s little hope Northwestern comes out with a W.

JG: For the ‘Cats, turnovers are the difference between a 1-5 record and a 3-2 or 4-1 record. Nearly every press conference, Coach Fitz mentions something about winning the turnover battle. It’s one of, if not the biggest problem this offense has faced this season, and we haven’t necessarily seen the margin improve much. I can’t say how big of a problem it’ll be on Saturday, but I can say that if it ends up being one, there’s little hope Northwestern comes out with a W.

SE: It’s no secret Northwestern’s D-line isn’t what it used to be. This year’s runs through Adebawore and Adebawore only, and the other men up front have had a difficult time matching up with opponents’ lines all season. However, Taulia’s absence does make a little room for optimism, because where the ‘Cats’ line struggles a lot is with a mobile quarterback. If players like Devin O’Rourke, Najee Story and Taishan Holmes have good games with Adebawore, they could make life on the secondary a lot easier and give the offense some life.

JG: How do you predict the game to go Saturday and why?

SE: This is the ‘Cats last chance to save their season and I’m not so confident they will. I think it’ll be closer than if Taulia was playing, but I’ll give this one to the Terps 17-7. My pessimism mostly comes from the fact that the offense can’t produce, but there’s always the thought of what it did Week Zero in the back of my mind. Nevertheless, I’m playing it safe, and for now, I can’t see them coming out of College Park with the win.

Saturday’s contest kicks off at 3:30 PM and will air on BTN.

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Locksley says…