Northwestern sputtered to a 1-3 start a year ago en route to a disappointing 7-6 record that was capped off with a Pinstripe Bowl win over Pitt. And the Wildcats, who open their season on Saturday afternoon with a home game against Nevada, are determined not to let another slow start happen again this season.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson said the Wildcats used their poor beginning in 2016 as motivation heading into 2017. “We used it throughout workouts, throughout practice, pretty much everything,” Thorson said. “That really put us in a hole. We did a great job responding to it. But we started 1-3, and that didn’t set us up for the season we wanted to have.” First up this season is a Nevada team from the Mountain West Conference that will be playing its first game for new head coach Jay Norvell, who is installing a fast-paced Air Raid passing attack. “This group has shown a lot of focus,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of his team. “I’ve liked their discipline in practice. ... I‘m really looking forward to seeing how things unfold.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Northwestern -24
ABOUT NEVADA (5-7 in 2016): Norvell is being tight-lipped about who his starting quarterback will be with juniors Ty Gangi and David Cornwell, who transferred in from Alabama, listed as co-starters on the depth chart. “I‘m not trying to be coy,” Norvell told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I‘m trying to be honest. We think they’ll both play.” It won’t matter who starts at quarterback if Norvell can’t tighten up a defense that finished dead last nationally against the run last season, allowing 297.6 yards per game.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (7-6 in 2016): Senior running back Justin Jackson has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his three previous seasons and has to be licking his chops at getting a chance to go against a Wolf Pack defense that allowed almost 300 yards per game on the ground last season. He teams with Thorson, who passed for 3,182 yards and 22 touchdowns, to give the Wildcats a potent and balanced offensive attack. Safety Godwin Igwebuike, who had a team-leading 108 tackles and is considered a potential first-round pick, anchors a secondary that could have its hands full against Nevada’s passing game.
1. Northwestern WR/KR Solomon Vault, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, will miss the entire 2017 season due to off-season surgery.
2. The 5-11, 205-pound Jackson has rushed for 100 yards in a game 20 times in his career, with the Wildcats posting a 16-4 mark in those contests.
3. Fitzgerald is 9-2 in season openers and has compiled a 20-7 record in the month of September over the last five years.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 42, Nevada 14