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5 Key Takeaways From the First Half of Northwestern vs. Rutgers

It is halftime at Ryan Field on Homecoming Weekend, and here's what we've seen so far from the Wildcats and Scarlet Knights and what to look for going forward.

Get ahead and stay ahead

In all of their contests in the 2021 season, Northwestern has won when they have scored first; while the quality of competition does definitely come into play here, as the two victories came against non-Power 5 schools, it is clear that the Wildcats look much more comfortable and in control when they have a lead to work with. The 64-yard connection from quarterback Ryan Hilinski to junior receiver Malik Washington not only gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game but also showed how the offense came ready to play today. This now begs the question if the Wildcats can also bring that energy after the intermission as well. 

Defense makes a difference

Compared to the 427 yards allowed by the Wildcats defense in Lincoln last week, the Northwestern defensive line displayed much more of a dominant presence on their home turf in the first half. In just the first quarter, the Scarlet Knights collected a mere 24 rushing yards, and only 40 yards total on the offensive side of the ball. Even when Rutgers weapons such as junior Isaih Pachecho were able to find an initial hole, the Wildcats coverage did not allow for much else as the Scarlet Knights averaged just 4.5 yards per play in the half. 

Hilinski is a playmaker 

Hilinski is making his presence known under center for the Wildcats, as he is responsible for much of the Northwestern offense thus far; Hilinski's 15-24 completions in the first 30 minutes of action comprise 231 of the Wildcats' 288 yards on the half. Consistent connections with receivers Stephon Robinson Jr., Malik Washington and JJ Jefferson have shown that Hilinski is getting even more comfortable in the pocket, especially thanks to the space provided by the offensive line so far this morning. 

Who can gain some ground? 

On the other hand, the rushing game has been almost nonexistent for either team so far at Ryan Field, as the Wildcats have tallied up just 57 yards while the Scarlet Knights have only racked up 42. Since scores from either team have only come in the air, whoever can figure out how to break open the run offense may have an advantage in the second half. 

Kicking is going to be crucial

The challenges for kickers across College Football and the NFL alike continue, as the only field attempt of the game so far–for either team–was a 44-yard try from Northwestern's graduate kicker Charlie Kuhbander that was no good. If the game is going to remain this tight throughout the second half, it may end up coming down to a key kick that could be the difference-maker in the contest. Nobody needs a situation such as last Sunday's Bengals-Packers struggle in the NFL. 

Keep it here with Wildcats Daily for more takeaways and second half coverage to see how this Homecoming matchup against the Scarlet Knights turns out. 

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