Stock up, stock down since Northwestern’s home opener against Duke
After a thrilling win in Dublin to open the season, North West football failed to replicate that energy or the result against Duke in Evanston. The ‘Cats dropped their home opener in a game that should leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths. Here’s what went right and what went wrong at Ryan Field today:
Charlie Mangieri’s absence from the tight ends corps at the start of this season due to injury went largely unnoticed thanks to Gordon. The junior was able to impact this game, including a dramatic one-handed catch in the first quarter and forced defensive pass interference on a third-and-11 that would ultimately lead to the “Cats” first touchdown. He continued in the second half and remained a constant target for Ryan Hilinski when his wide options weren’t there. Gordon has a role on this team and he showed it today by finishing with five receptions for 78 yards.
The versatility of Evan Hull
The junior running back not only establishes himself as Northwestern’s number one running back, but also becomes one of their best weapons in the passing game. Hull was consistently able to turn small gains into effective ones, adding 167 total yards after catch to move the ‘Cats higher up the field. He was a target for Hilinski in crucial situations, eventually earning a career-high 14 receptions for 213 yards and a touchdown on 17 targets. Duke’s defense struggled to bring him down due to his sneakiness and lateral movement, something they may not have been prepared for in the backfield. Obviously he would have liked that final game, but it’s safe to say that Hull was a big reason Northwestern was in the game until the final whistle.
Garnett Hollis Jr.
Hollis Jr. played the role in Northwestern’s home opener, replacing starting cornerback AJ Hampton Jr. since he fell in the first quarter against Nebraska. Although the Sky team are stoned, with Coco Azema also taking the day off, the junior was able to land some good shots and one of the craziest interceptions you’ll see. Although he sometimes shook with the rest of the group, Hollis Jr. impressed in high school.
Honorable mentions: Midfield Defense, Ryan Hilinski, Jeremiah Lewis, Adetomiwa Adebawore
Defense of Jim O’Neil
From the start of the game, Northwestern’s defense was dominated in the trenches. The ‘Cats’ front four or even seven were outplayed by Duke, as the Blue Devils were consistently able to open holes in the Northwest defense to allow backs such as Jordan Waters and Jaylen Coleman to get in. get by in the racing game. It was the same in the passing game, as Riley Leonard was able to get his way and find open receivers due to how much time he had in his pocket. AJ Hampton and Coco Azema were sorely missed, despite a strong performance from second-string DB Garnett Hollis Jr., as Duke capitalized with 240 yards and a score through the air on the final whistle.
Northwestern’s run game was a huge step back from the one that rushed for over 200 yards against Nebraska, as the ‘Cats rushed for just 76 yards today at Evanston. Although Evan Hull was a weapon in the passing game, he was not well supported by the O line on the floor. Cam Porter had a promising return to Dublin, but his first game at Ryan Field since 2020 saw him constantly tackled at the line of scrimmage. While that’s partly because his line was also far less successful than Week Zero, the junior running back couldn’t establish consistency against the Duke defense, having just 13 yards on 11. races.
Malik Washington (before the fourth quarter)
Washington came into the season as the Cats’ number one receiver, but today he wasn’t able to make much of an impact when he was needed early on. The junior finished with seven catches for 51 yards, and much of that production came from screen passes and late-game receptions. Washington was almost not a factor in the vertical passing game, and for someone who showed he could be a reliable weapon for Northwestern, he was disappointing today. Fortunately, Gordon and Hull were able to pick up much of the slack on the receiving end, but Washington, along with the rest of the WR corps, will have to step up and give Hilinski more options moving forward.
Honorable mentions: Start slow, Mike Bajakian play calls, Fox spread, Northwestern tackles, chunks play defense