A season that started with such promise for Northwestern has taken an unfortunate turn just two weeks into the season.
No, it's not the out-of-nowhere 0-2 start from 2016, but a miserable afternoon of football Saturday down in North Carolina left Northwestern with a 41-17 loss to Duke, a 1-1 record after two games and a big downgrade in the confidence level surrounding this team's prospects for the rest of the season.
The Wildcats were absolutely dominated in every facet Saturday. Just a sampling of the nasty numbers: just 22 total rushing yards as a team, only 18 yards on a paltry seven carries for Justin Jackson and two interceptions from Clayton Thorson. And while the 1-2 punch that it was believed could potentially lead Northwestern to new heights this season did practically nothing on the offensive side of the ball, a banged-up defense was demolished by Daniel Jones and the Duke offense. The quarterback had 413 total yards and four total touchdowns, leading a Blue Devils offense that racked up 538 yards of offense compared to the Cats' meager 191 yards.
Pat Fitzgerald's team played some ugly football for the second straight week. Northwestern opened the season with a 31-20 win over Nevada, but despite being more than three-touchdown favorites in that one the Cats needed two touchdowns in the final five and a half minutes to flip a three-point deficit to an 11-point margin of victory.
Certainly injuries and other bad breaks are partially to blame for the back-to-back underwhelming performances. But this was a team many preseason prognosticators believed could compete for a Big Ten West title. With the offense struggling to stay on the field and the defense getting plowed over — and with those things happening against Nevada and Duke — one wonders how the Cats will be able to correct all this in time for the upgrade in competition come conference play.
Duke more than doubled Northwestern's time of possession. The Devils had more than two and a half times as much yardage as the Cats.
What are those numbers going to look like against the likes of Wisconsin and Penn State?