The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Can the Wildcats make a sequel?

Peter Kim
Perdue quarterback Austin Apple attempts to throw the ball at the Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. The Hawkeyes defeated Purdue, 40-20. (The Daily Iowan/Peter Kim)

By Jordan Hansen

[email protected]

Part 4 of the Daily Iowan’s summer preview of Big Ten football.

Setting up a sequel to a movie is an art.

There have to be enough subtle hints something more is happening, but they also can’t drag at the plot too much. It’s a hard line to maneuver and some (looking at you, Transformers franchise) fail miserably.

However, there’s a really easy way in sports movies to make happen — simply have the main character lose.

One of my favorite movies — Creed — follows the same type of storylines and provides a great comparison with head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s 2015 season at the helm of Northwestern football.

Before we get started though, here’s a great fight scene from the end of the movie:

So well shot. Love it.

Anyways, Northwestern entered their sixth game of the season against Michigan last year with high hopes. The team was 5-0, with a win over eventual Rose Bowl champion Stanford to its credit.

There had to have been at least a little bit of hope in the hearts of the Northwestern faithful that this team would be able to finally get back to the Rose Bowl days of 1995.

But, those dreams were dashed in back-to-back losses, the first 38-0 to the Wolverines and a second 40-10 beat down delivered by Iowa. The entire season began to look bleak.

Then came a five-game win streak and Fitzgerald tied a career-high mark in the number of victories he had in a single season (10). However, unlike Rocky and Donnie, Northwestern did not lose gracefully and set things up well for a sequel.

Tennessee beat the Wildcats 45-6 in the Outback Bowl and Fitzgerald didn’t come through in one of the biggest moments of his career. That’s not to say he’s a bad coach — he should be commended for pulling his team out of a bad midseason rut— or that he is on the hot seat, but merely that it was a major missed opportunity.

With a win, Northwestern would have finished 11-2, a mark Fitzgerald has never reached during his now-eleven year tenure. Instead, he now has to make sure his team doesn’t revert back to the 2013 and 2014 iterations of the Wildcats. Both of those teams finished 5-7.

The coaching staff has to figure out how to bounce back from the bowl letdown, but the tools for resurgence exist. Running back Justin Jackson was tremendous last season, tallying 1418 yards and five touchdowns.

He’ll need to increase that type of production this year, but there’s also time for him to grow. Jackson is only a junior this year and if he sticks around, there’s a chance for him to truly star for the Wildcats.

Another major piece for Northwestern will be replacing defensive linemen Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson. The pair combined for 12 sacks and 26 tackles for loss and became a presence that will be missed by the coaching staff.

However, Fitzgerald is a good defensive coach and he normally puts together a strong crew. In fact, Northwestern’s defense was only allowing seven points per game until Michigan came and rocked their world.

It seemed like a bit of a knock to their pride and took them several games to find their identity once again.

But they did. They got back up before the referee counted to ten.

The real question, however, is this:

Was 2015 a sign of things to come for Northwestern, or will the team slide back into losing seasons and general mediocrity?

Follow @JordyHansen for Iowa and Big Ten news, updates and analysis this summer.

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