Remember when people were writing off the Northwestern Wildcats earlier this year because they started 2-3? Oh, how far back that seems now.
On Saturday, Northwestern completely manhandled the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 39-0. The Wildcats gained 21 first downs compared to the Gophers’ seven. They also forced five turnovers, four in which resulted in touchdowns.
Thanks to such a dominant performance, Northwestern’s record is now 8-3 and it just won its sixth straight game. SIXTH STRAIGHT! For reals, who would have saw that coming after the way the Wildcats started their 2017 season?
To begin the year, Northwestern looked like they were going to be one of the bottom feeders of the B1G. It lost 41-17 to a now 4-6, sixth place in the ACC Coastal conference Duke Blue Devils, 33-24 to the Wisconsin Badgers, and got utterly demolished by the Penn State Nittany Lions, 31-7.
Those performances made people think ‘what the hell has happened to Northwestern?’ Plus, some even laughed at the idea that they thought the Wildcats were going to be a nine to 10 win team.
That is six wins in a row for Northwestern. Headed to a 9-3 finish. Didn’t see that coming after the September loss at Duke.
— Tom Dienhart (@BTNTomDienhart) November 18, 2017
lmao I thought Northwestern could have won 10 games this year
— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) September 30, 2017
But oh how have times have changed.
Ever since Northwestern has gone on its six-game win streak, both its offense and defense has come alive.
Wildcat running Justin Jackson finally became the back everyone said he was and on Saturday he carved up the Gophers’ defense left and right to the tune of 31 carries for 166 yards. He also reached two significant milestones: topping 1,000 yards for the fourth consecutive season and surpassing 5,000 for his career. Those are statue worthy statistics right there folks. However, the production extended beyond Jackson though against Minnesota.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson struggled in the first five games this year. The young signal caller threw seven interceptions in those contest. But during this win streak, Thorson has been consistent and has only turned the ball over four times.
While Northwestern’s offense has come alive, so has its defense.
This season, the Wildcats’ possess the No. 7 rushing defense in the nation. They are only allowing an average of 109.6 yards per game and that is thanks to the emergence of freshman Paddy Fisher.
Fisher has become one of the best linebackers in the nation and against Minnesota, the young defender tallied over 100 tackles on the season.
— NorthWWWWWestern Football (@NUFBFamily) November 18, 2017
With this win and with ending the season against the Illinois Fighting Illini, it is safe to assume that the Wildcats are going to finish the season 9-3 with a chance of double-digit wins thanks to a bowl game. But imagine if Northwestern would have had Wisconsin and Penn State later on its schedule. Pat Fitzgerald and company could be in contention for a B1G Championship game.
Over the past few weeks, the Wildcats have been one of the most dominant teams in all of college. Also, during those same weeks, the Badgers and Nittany Lions have struggled against weaker opponents.
Wisconsin had to pull away late against Purdue and Illinois, while Penn State has suffered close defeats to the hands of Ohio State and Michigan State. And as of late, star Nittany Lion back Saquon Barkley has not been his flashy self that Northwestern had to face earlier this season. The Wildcats realistically could have been still in the fight to win the B1G West this year.
With this win, Northwestern is easily having its second best season in school history. The program is seeking its second seven-game win streak, the first coming during Fitzgerald senior season in Evanston (1995) when the Wildcats went to the Rose Bowl.
Now, Northwestern probably won’t be going to the Rose Bowl because whoever loses the B1G Championship (Wisconsin or Ohio State), will probably earn that bid. But one thing is for sure, with the way the Wildcats are rolling, they are due for a high-priority bowl bid this season.