With NU ranked 18th in the nation, analysts might have actually looked to realize this: For now, the Wildcats are overhyped, until they can prove otherwise.
After flashing their collective potential against Syracuse two weekends ago, they regressed in games against Western Michigan and Maine. The former lost to lowly Iowa by 56 today; the latter is ranked, but in the FCS.
All we're talking about–and understandably so–is the imminent arrival of College GameDay to Evanston. After the hype, NU will need to, you know, compete on the national stage.
If today or last Saturday provided any indication…
Maine controlled the ball for 63 percent of the first half and gained more yards of offense, with NU's 14-0 lead reflecting a lucky pick-six from Damien Proby.
Against Maine, a far inferior team, NU could overcome its many failures. For example, Jeff Budzien missed a 47-yard field goal near the beginning of the second half, effectively killing another Northwestern promotional campaign before October. On the next drive, Maine QB Marcus Wasilewski (who, let's be real, thought he was Taylor Martinez) lofted one up for Dean Lowry, who continued his Defensive MVP campaign with another touchdown return.
Three-score lead, game on ice, everyone still cooling when it comes to NU's prospects this season. It got much worse: Colter was blown up on a fourth-down try two possessions later, and Maine then raced down the field against a lethargic ‘Cats defense.
Dwight White was torched, again, and should lose his starting position—even when considering the Jerry Brown loyalty system. True freshman Warren Long had an inexcusable late-game fumble. Final total yardage: Maine 379, NU 373.
So Northwestern held on, 35-21. Now for the scary part.
Everything that gave us confidence in the first two weeks was taken away.
The quarterbacks dominated against Syracuse. They were terrible on Saturday. Kain Colter took many more pointless hits, overthrew receivers and showed little-to-no awareness in the pocket. Trevor Siemian seemed content with mediocrity against an FCS opponent, posting a feeble five-for-eight, 37-yard stat line.
(Also, why did the offense try handfuls of read option plays with Mike Trumpy in the backfield? Nothing made sense.)
What about that offensive line, so superior in weeks one and two? Lazy. Jack Konopka had his poorest game of the season, with the others doing precious little to establish him as the outlier.
There were some nice things, like Lowry, Dave Eanet's interception calls and Real Urban Barbecue. But for the most part, "playing down to the competition" did not suffice as description. Northwestern was simply bad.
They need a solid complete game in all three phases to beat Ohio State, and the words "beat Ohio State" seem laughable at this point.
We can bemoan the lack of secondary depth (Dwight White, just, no), the inconsistent playcalling or the strangely absent defensive tackles.
On another note, we could watch the team in practice, point to the strong road win at California and enter Oct. 5 with optimism.
I'll stick to judging the on-field product.
It was the worst two-touchdown win you'll ever see.
And if they play like this again, expect consequences on the scoreboard. Expect much, much worse.