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Has Northwestern Dug Itself A Hole Too Big To Crawl Out Of?

This is what the Wildcats are working on during their bye week.

Northwestern (2-3) is struggling to make things work on both sides of the ball. Here's a breakdown of what's going on with the 'Cats as they try to turn things around during their bye week. 

Defense:

In its first year under new defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, the young Wildcats defense is struggling to find its groove.

Northwestern falls dead last in the Big Ten and at No. 114 out of 130 FBS teams in total defense, giving up 448.6 yards per game (6.32 yards/play). The 'Cats are also ranked No. 123 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 234 rushing yards per game.

"Ultimately, I'm the guy who's responsible for the way we play," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said following the team's 56-7 loss to Nebraska. "I've got great confidence in our defensive staff and our defensive players. We just got to get them going."

Despite its struggle defending against the run, Northwestern boasts a top linebacker in Christ Bergin. Bergin stands at No. 5 and No. 7 in tackles per game and total tackles, respectively, and leads the Big Ten in both categories.

All-American safety Brandon Joseph trails Bergin falling at No. 7 in the Big Ten, registering 7.2 tackles per game.

Offense:

Northwestern's offense has not been able to make up for its lack of defense. The Wildcats stand at No. 87 in the nation and 8th in the Big Ten in total offense, gaining just under 369.2 yards per game.

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It took a trio of tries for the Wildcats to land on a starting quarterback. Senior Hunter Johnson got the teams first three starts which culminated in four turnovers in the first half at Duke. Fitzgerald turned to senior Andrew Marty, who brought Northwestern's offense to life. Marty went down with an upper body injury early in the fourth quarter, leaving sophomore transfer Ryan Hilinski as the next man up.

Hilinski, who has solidified his place as the Wildcats' QB1, is completing just over 59% of his passes. Hilinski has thrown for a single touchdown in his three appearances, including the final minutes against Duke and two starts against Ohio and Nebraska.

Viewed in isolation, Hilinski is doing a solid job. However, the quarterback is working with little help from his offensive line. Northwestern comes in at No. 12 in the conference, allowing just under 3 sacks per game.

Running back Evan Hull leads the 'Cats on the ground, averaging 101.8 yards per game and notching 4 touchdowns. Wide receivers Stephon Robinson, Jr. (61.8 yards/game, 2 touchdowns), Bryce Kirtz (40.6 yards/game, no touchdowns), and Malik Washington (34.2 yards/game, 1 touchdown).

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