Streak over, Northwestern looks to bounce back against Akron
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — After winning nine in a row, Northwestern hopes to avoid a different kind of run.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald sees potential trouble against Akron.
“They’re fundamentally outstanding,” he said. “They have great schemes. They adjust well in games. They have playmakers across the board. It’s gonna be a huge challenge for us, there’s no doubt.”
Akron opened its seventh season under Terry Bowden a week later than expected with a 41-7 romp over Morgan State. The Zips were scheduled to visit Nebraska the previous week but eh game was called off because of lightning.
Northwestern (1-1) simply needs to start finishing drives and find the end zone after managing just seven points in the past six quarters. The Wildcats got shut out in the second half of their season-opening 31-27 victory over Purdue and did not score against Duke after a touchdown on the game’s first possession.
Jeremy Larkin broke off a 40-yard run to the 4 and ran it in from the 2 to give Northwestern a quick 7-0 lead. But that was it for the Wildcats, who finished the game with big advantages in plays (88-63), total yards (381-301), yards passing (282-204) and first downs (24-15). Duke got three touchdowns in the second quarter and stuffed Northwestern the rest of the way.
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson continues to share time with TJ Green. That figures to end once the medical staff determines the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in his right knee during the Music City Bowl has healed enough. And the Wildcats clearly need a healthier Thorson. The school’s career wins leader, he is 38 of 64 for 370 yards through two games. Thorson threw for 198 yards with an interception that led to a touchdown last week. He and Green could be setting up behind a short-handed line. Starting tackles Blake Hance and Rashawn Slater left last week’s game because of injuries.
Coming off a 7-7 season that included an appearance in the Mid-American Conference championship game and 50-3 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton Bowl, Akron looked good last week against an FCS team. Kato Nelson passed for three touchdowns and Van Edwards ran for two. The Zips rang up 437 yards while holding Morgan State to 192.
AGAINST BIG TEN
A win by Akron would give the MAC a victory over a Big Ten team for the second week in a row. Eastern Michigan beat Purdue 20-19 on a last-second field goal.
“A MAC school has beaten a Power Five school,” Bowden said. “And it’s happened a couple of times.”
The last time Akron knocked off a Big Ten team, the Zips’ coach was John W. Heisman and Grover Cleveland was in his second term as president: They beat Ohio State 12-6 in Columbus on Sept. 5, 1894, in their lone game that year. They’re 0-4 against the Big Ten under Bowden, losing to Michigan (2013), Penn State (2014 and 2017) and Wisconsin (2016).
Larkin is off to a good start in his first season as Northwestern’s featured running back. The sophomore followed up a career-high 143-yard performance in the opener by running for 121 last week, giving him three straight 100-yard games. With 264 yards, he ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing — not bad considering he had some big cleats to fill. Larkin replaced Northwestern career rushing leader Justin Jackson as the No. 1 running back.
Northwestern senior receiver Flynn Nagel went off against Duke, setting career highs with 12 catches for 133 yards. He leads the Big Ten with 17 receptions and ranks second to Wisconsin’s A.J. Taylor with 191 yards.