Final: Tennessee 45, Northwestern 6
Key play: Alvin Kamara scores TD late in first half
Northwestern absolutely had to get a stop. The Wildcats had to hold the Volunteers to a field goal down 10-6 at the end of the first half. Instead, the Volunteers marched down the field and Kamara capped off the drive with a touchdown run. A two-score deficit going into the half was a nightmare scenario for Northwestern. The Wildcats aren’t built to come back on a team. That, ultimately, was the back-breaker play.
Telling stat: Tennessee wins time of possession 35-25
After the first quarter, the Vols dominated the time of possession. Simply put, the Vols controlled the line of scrimmage and the Wildcats did not. Northwestern’s calling card all year was the fact that it got off the field on third down and it wore teams down with its ground game. With the exception of the one scoring drive, that didn’t happen. Actually, Tennessee flipped the script. Jalen Hurd was as good as advertised and Joshua Dobbs made key throws out of the pocket to extend drives. A defense can only do so much when it’s forced to stay on the field for that long.
-Northwestern is still too one-dimensional
As I mentioned earlier, the Wildcats are not built to come back from a two-score deficit. That’s because they have no passing identity. Against an SEC defense with four- and five-star recruits, jet sweeps to Solomon Vault aren’t going to work. Clayton Thorson made some nice plays with his legs, but he still has a long way to go with his arm. He still makes very freshman-like throws at crucial points of the game. Northwestern has consistently had issues in the last few years establishing the pass, which lends you to believe that it’s more than the personnel. Improving that passing game has to be a major point of emphasis for the Wildcats, otherwise this will be the height of the program.
–Traveon Henry, Godwin Igwebuike had big days…but that’s not a good thing
Ok, so your two starting safeties are not supposed to combine for 30 tackles. Credit Igwebuike and Henry for preventing the monster plays, but this was a sign that Northwestern’s front seven was absolutely gassed. Hurd wore the unit down to the point where normally sure-tacklers were missing tackles left and right. It was an ugly, ugly second half for Northwestern, and unfortunately their secondary had to absorb the punishment.
What it means: Northwestern was good, not great
Ten wins is nothing to pout about. Sure, Friday was ugly. I mean, it was really ugly. But unfortunately for the B1G, it was another SEC drubbing. That might be the more broad takeaway point. Does it hurt the conference’s reputation when the 13th-ranked team — and an 8.5-point underdog — gets destroyed by an SEC team barely in the top 25? Like it or not, it does. For Northwestern, though, this is still an extremely young team that’s going to be one of the preseason favorites in the B1G West this year. That’s what Northwestern fans have to remember in the wake of Friday’s meltdown.