Edgy Tim's Northwestern in-state recruiting class recap


Edgy Tim's Northwestern in-state recruiting class recap

Edgy's Northwestern Wildcats grade: B-

Northwestern and head coach Pat Fitzgerald wound up signing 18 names to the Wildcats Class of 2018 and that included six in-state names (including former Glenbard North and IMG Academy grad Greg Newsome). According to the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings the Northwestern recruiting class is ranked as the 59th best class in the nation and is also ranked last in the Big Ten conference. However, the various recruiting services take the overall number of recruits into account when generating it's team rankings and Northwestern limited size class impacts it's overall ranking. Instead think quality over quantity when looking at the Wildcats recruiting class. 

Headliner of the in-state class?

Lincoln-Way East four-star ranked Devin O'Rourke (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) was simply one of the most dominant players I saw live in 2018 if not over the past handful of seasons. O'Rourke, who was a consensus all-state player for the Griffins over the past two seasons and has the size/frame/length and reach in demand at the high Power 5 level. O'Rourke, who also runs exceptionally well for his size was able to show his ability to be an impact player over his senior season. 

Northwestern also did well signing former Glenbard North and IMG Academy grad three-star ranked Greg Newsome (6-foot-2, 170 pounds). Newsome has good length, speed and ball awareness and is also a physical defender who can play either corner or safety if required. Newsome also brings a toughness and street fighter mentality to the field. 

The one who got away?

Northwestern at least early on had a nice rapport with Warren Township four-star ranked wide receiver Micah Jones (6-foot-5, 205 pounds). Jones, who made an overnight unofficial visit to Northwestern early in his recruiting process had the Wildcats on his short list for quite some time. In the end Jones wound up committing early to Notre Dame, but Northwestern was in the thick of things for a while with Jones.

Final thoughts on the Wildcats recruiting efforts:

Northwestern has been on a nice roll over the past handful of years and the in-state Class of 2018 was a good group for the Wildcats. The in-state class offered a good amount of higher level kids who also could academically qualify. Northwestern does a very good job of identifying younger recruits very early in the process, recruiting them hard and being able to build up a strong bond and eventual commitments.

From the football program consistently winning games and getting to bowl games, to the ongoing major renovations and upgrades to it's facilities to the overall strong academics, Northwestern no question remains an attractive place for potential recruits. 

While the in-state recruiting class overall numbers varies from year to year, the Class of 2018 has is a strong overall group that the Wildcats will be able to add immediate depth and raise the overall talent level.

Well, we're waiting: Northwestern team that sparked preseason expectations missing through two weeks

Well, we're waiting: Northwestern team that sparked preseason expectations missing through two weeks

The pieces seemed to be in place.

Sure, there were questions, as there are with any team. But with Justin Jackson in his fourth season and Clayton Thorson in his third, this was perhaps Pat Fitzgerald’s program’s best shot yet at reaching the Big Ten title game.

But two games in, and Northwestern is looking far from a contender of any kind. The first two contests of the 2017 campaign have featured two ugly performances from the Wildcats. They averted disaster against Nevada, scoring twice in the final five and a half minutes to go from down three to up 11, but the Cats didn’t look good through the majority of a game they were projected to win by more than three touchdowns. Then came Week 2’s horrendous loss to Duke, a 41-17 blowout loss in which Northwestern looked bad in every facet.

Fitzgerald’s reaction to being asked to talk about the Duke game two days later summed it up pretty well.

“Do I have to?”

The numbers were tragic. Northwestern rushed for a jaw-droppingly low 22 yards, with Jackson getting just seven carries for 18 yards. Thorson threw a pair of interceptions. The Cats mustered 191 total yards and converted just once on third down. They had the ball for fewer than 19 minutes. And there’s the damage Daniel Jones and the Duke offense did to the defense, gaining a total of 538 yards, scoring 41 points. Jones had 413 total yards and four total touchdowns by himself.

Jackson was supposedly a little banged up. One of the interceptions was certainly not Thorson’s fault. The defensive secondary was thin. But this was a complete failure all around.

“Any time you get your fanny whipped, you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror first,” Fitzgerald said Monday. “It starts and ends with me. … There were ample opportunities in that game for us to win the game on Saturday. It got away from us a little bit at the end as our defense ran out of gas, and credit Duke for that. But at the end of the day, there are areas there for us to make, we’ve got to go make them happen. All three phases.

“What’s the mood? The mood is let’s work hard to get better. Let’s improve. Let’s get back on the practice field and get things going.”

The natural reaction is to think back to last season, when the campaign’s start was also an issue. The Cats lost their first two games of the season to Western Michigan and Illinois State, embarrassing losses that derailed any shot the team might have had at competing for a division title before things even really got going.

That’s a somewhat flawed comparison, as that was different team with different personnel and different challenges at that time of year. But does it somehow make this year’s edition look a little worse? Things were supposed to be better this time around, and yet that same season-beginning disappointment exists.

“I get it, but there’s way too much stock put into what happened last year. This is a totally different team,” Fitzgerald said. “This is the 12th team I’ve had the privilege to be the head coach for, every team is different. … We’ve got to do a better job as coaches, we’ve got to get those guys to play more fundamentally sound and consistent, and they will. I wish it was Saturday, but it wasn’t.”

The best way to go about that Duke game could very well be to flush it from memory, a favorite coachism in the world of sports. So many things went wrong that just forgetting about it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all for the players.

But for those observing the team, it’s fair to wonder if it will be more of the same as the calendar advances.

Last season’s start was eventually overcome, and the Cats strung together some great performances in the middle of the season. But still the best that could be achieved was a .500 finish to the regular season and a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl. It was a great win in that game for Northwestern, but no one would consider it one of college football’s more illustrious postseason destinations.

Does this year’s slow start signal that a similar fate awaits the 2017 unit? That would be a pretty large disappointment in a season in which preseason expectations were relatively high.

Of course, these Cats still have just one non-conference loss in September. There’s no reason to declare that the season — and everything expected from it before it began — is over. Regardless of what happened before conference play rolled around, the Big Ten slate was always going to start with highly challenging games against Wisconsin and Penn State, games Northwestern would not have been favored in even had these first two weeks featured blowout wins. The final seven games of the schedule — against Maryland, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois — were where the Cats were supposed to amass the wins necessary to stage a run at a division championship. And of course that can still happen.

But the optics have not been good in the season’s first two weeks. Where’s that Cats team folks were expecting to see?

Well, we’re waiting.

No 2016 repeat: Two late Clayton Thorson QB sneaks give Northwestern season-opening comeback win


No 2016 repeat: Two late Clayton Thorson QB sneaks give Northwestern season-opening comeback win

There was no repeat of 2016 for Northwestern on Saturday — though you wouldn't have been blamed if you were worried about that sort of thing happening.

With the Wildcats down 10 to visiting Nevada at halftime in the season-opener, there were flashes of last season's nightmarish start, the back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State in the campaign's first two games.

Though it surely took long enough, Northwestern showed up late against Nevada, Clayton Thorson scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns on quarterback sneaks to send the Cats to a 31-20 win in the opener at Ryan Field.

Thorson had himself a day, passing for a career-high 352 yards and tossing two touchdown passes. He also rushed in for the go-ahead score in the final five and a half minutes, adding a second touchdown carry a few minutes later to seal the win.

Northwestern had some glaring miscues in the first half, missing a field goal and fumbling in the red zone. In the third quarter, a drive that reached inside the 10-yard line ended only in a field goal. The inability to finish off drives kept Nevada in front. Thorson's second touchdown pass of the day tied the game at 17 in the third quarter, but after the Cats' defense came away with a goal-line interception, Thorson pitched an ugly pick of his own, setting up a field goal that put Nevada back in front 20-17.

But Thorson and the Cats followed with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that went all the way to fourth and goal on the 1-yard line, where Pat Fitzgerald elected to go for it instead of tying the game with a field goal. Thorson kept it and plunged in to give the Cats their first lead since the first quarter.

The Northwestern defense — which allowed only three points after halftime — forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing possession, stonewalling the Nevada quarterback on fourth down. A bold Thorson deep ball on third down set the Cats up on the doorstep again, and Thorson capped the scoring with his fourth total touchdown of the game.

It certainly wasn't a pretty win, as the folks in the desert projected Northwestern to win by more than three touchdowns. But avoiding a start like last year's wil go a long way in a season of high hopes for the Cats.