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Three reasons Northwestern can be dangerous against Rutgers



Oct 8, 2022; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats defensive lineman Sean McLaughlin (97) chases down the quarterback against the Wisconsin Badgers at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern visits SHI Stadium on Sunday, September 3 to kick off the 2023 season for both Big Ten teams. While Rutgers is a solid favorite according to the oddsmakers, the Wildcats should not be overlooked by fans. Despite going 1-11 last fall and in the midst of a hazing scandal that got head coach Pat Fitzgerald fired, this program has some positives going for it.

Here are three reasons Northwestern is a dangerous opponent for Rutgers.

QB Ben Bryant

The Cincinnati transfer came to Northwestern to start and improve his NFL stock. Last season, Bryant threw for 2,731 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 61.2% of his passes in 2022. He suffered a season-ending foot injury after 11 starts in which he led the Bearcats to a 9-2 record and national ranking. They lost the final two games without him.

Interim head coach David Braun was in veteran form this week by trying to disguise who will line up under center on Sunday for Northwestern.

“We’ve made that decision,” Braun said. “We’re keeping that decision in-house right now.”

He continued, “It was a difficult one. There’s a ton of depth in that room right now,” Braun said. “Ryan Hilinski has a ton of experience at this level, Brendan Sullivan started multiple games for us last year, has performed really well. Ben Bryant as a transfer navigated an interesting circumstance, only arriving here in June.”

Bryant is in his sixth year of college ball, is a traditional pocket passer and can sling it. He’ll certainly provide a legitimate test for the Rutgers defense right off the bat. A key will be the defensive line wrecking havoc for a Northwestern offensive line that returns just one starter from last season who is coming back from an injury.

Unpredictable Edge

The first game is always challenging for every team. A new season brings new personnel, coaching changes along with system changes. Players develop. However, this matchup is a bit different for several reasons.

Braun is not only the new defensive coordinator, but he is now the ultimate decision maker for the first time in his career. How he utilizes new players in his defensive system will be something the RU staff will have to learn on the fly. There are no tendencies to study from a head coaching perspective.

While Rutgers has a new offensive coordinator in Kirk Ciarrocca, Northwestern has some intel from a former insider. Sean Gleeson is an analyst for the Wildcats, his first job since being fired by Greg Schiano midway through last season. He recruited and coached starting quarterback Gavin Wimsatt. Gleeson also had his offense go head to head with defensive coordinator  Joe Harasymiak every day in practice. Perhaps it won’t matter much, but his familiarity with Rutgers gives Northwestern a slight edge with the unpredictable factor.

Northwestern vs. Everybody

The firing of Fitzgerald and hazing allegations from some former players has appeared to galvanize many within the program during the preseason. Players and coaches were seen wearing shirts that said “Cats Against the World” with the number 51. That’s the Jersey number of Fitzgerald, who was a legendary player for Northwestern before becoming head coach. This created a controversy with the athletic director denouncing the shirts worn by his own program.

Ever since, Braun has kept media access to a minimum. This week, he made the unusual move to prevent players from being interviewed during game week.

”My policy is on that is we’re a week away from – less than a week away from our first football game. I’m here to talk about football,” Braun said. “Our players are ready to talk about football. That’s what we’re focused on.”

It’s clear that many players who stayed and coaches, all of whom were retained following Fitzgerald’s dismissal, feel their longtime leader has been wronged. While talent and depth is an issue with Northwestern, their belief and unity makes them dangerous. They’ll come to Piscataway looking to make a big statement.

There are no easy wins in the Big Ten. Rutgers obviously knows that firsthand. Schiano and the coaching staff will have this team as prepared as possible. It will come down to execution but also which team wants it more. Rutgers has plenty to play for. Northwestern has their backs against the wall. It should make for a compelling matchup with the national spotlight shining on this game.

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  1. BataliBoli98

    August 30, 2023 at 10:23 pm

    The first quarter is ALWAYS integral for the home favorite but I think it is even more significant this Sunday. If RU has to play from behind it could lead to a lot of angst in the stands and, more significantly, pressure on Gavin to win the game through the air. However, and we don’t get to say this often, RU’s D-Line should be able to control the line of scrimmage in a B1G game and get to Bryant without needing to blitz. I feel like RU would have to lose the turnover battle to come away in defeat. IF Gavin has under 20 passing attempts it very likely means that RU won the game. Sunday might be boring to watch, but I’ll take boring and a win over being more entertained and losing. Go RU!

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