Both the Stanford Cardinal and Northwestern Wildcats are changing, recharging after losing significant talent, and in this battle of soul searchers, Stanford has the edge.
The Wildcats lost four-year quarterback Clayton Thorson to the Philadelphia Eagles after contending for the Big Ten title last season, which has taken a massive bite out of the Northwestern offense. They averaged 239.4 passing yards per game with Thorson at the helm, carrying a running game that only offered 114.9 yards and 3.1 yards per attempt. Now, the Wildcats have yet to find a quarterback, putting A.J. Green and Hunter Johnson as QB1 the week of the game.
To compound the issue, the Wildcats lost three offensive linemen in the offseason, giving their shaky running game a new front that has yet to gel.
Even more problematic: The defense will not be able to compensate for any lag from the offense.
Back in 2015, the Wildcats held a prolific Stanford offense to 6 points. But back in 2015, Northwestern’s defense ranked 8th in yards allowed and 7th in points per game allowed.
Last year, the defense was 40th in points allowed and 83rd in yards allowed.
Northwestern has lost their defense over the past three years, while the rushing attack has dovetailed in the same span from 43rd to 110th. Northwestern stabilized a deteriorating defense and inconsistent running attack with quarterback play. Now, they don’t have a quarterback.
The Cardinal too, have gone through change over time. The Stanford defense has definitely lost some of its luster, ranking 75th las year in yards let up, and 41st in points allowed.
As for the Cardinal offense, its change is written about at near nausea levels. But the edge is in California, which is why Stanford will win this game.
Stanford has rebounded, thanks to a few key factors. Their pass rush gave consistent pressure, amassing 36 sacks last season (23rd in the country) while the defense reliably bent more than it broke. On offense, quarterback K.J. Costello is built to handle the new, pass-heavy scheme.
And Stanford the bare bones of the news team is still in place for 2019. The defense returns key defenders (Adebo Paulson, Malik Antoine, Jordan Fox and Casey Toohill to name a few) to pair with the rise of young bucks like Kendall Williamson and Thomas Booker. A healthy mix of the old and the new will give the squad added punch (Curtis Robinson, if there was ever a time to break out finally, this is the year buddy). The Cardinal passing game has leapt from 115th in attempts back in 2016 to 47 last year, completing 63% of those throws.
In a battle of rebuilds, Stanford is already headed towards a new one while Northwestern is trying to recover.