Playing before a full house under the lights against a proud and powerful Michigan side, Northwestern took a ten point lead into halftime but allowed 28 second-half points without scoring themselves. The result was a resounding 42-24 defeat that drops the ‘Cats to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference.
The crowd filled Evanston beginning midafternoon and lingered well into the night thanks to a six p.m. kickoff. Smoke from tailgate parties filled the skies around Ryan Field on a stunning early fall afternoon. The balmy temperatures, prime-time kickoff, and full house all contributed to an air of excitement on Central Street and downtown.
A crowd of 47,330 crammed into a facility that lists its official capacity at 47,130. Many arrived late due to a delay on the CTA’s Red Line trains that resolved in time to drop fans at the Central Street stop just minutes before kickoff. Lines snaked around the entry gates as Michigan scored its first touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
Most fans, basically evenly divided between Michigan and Northwestern supporters, were at their seats in time to see Northwestern answer on a 15-yard Kain Colter run. Colter, who filled in for quarterback Dan Persa when Persa missed the first three games recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered last season, has returned to a wide receiver-rushing quarterback role that expands Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s playbook.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was generous to the ‘Cats in the first half throwing three interceptions. His first lead to a second touchdown as Treyvon Green ran it in from 7 yards out. After Michigan tied the score on a 25 yard pass from Robinson to Jeremy Gallon, a short Adonis Smith run and Jeff Budzien field goal closed out the first half scoring.
Northwestern honored its national champion women’s lacrosse team at half time. President Morty Shapiro handed out championship rings to the team, which captured the title back in June. An antsy Wildcat marching band looked on, and as soon as the team left the field launched in to its medley of lesser-known Led Zeppelin gems such as “Immigrant’s Song” and “Kashmir.”
The second half was all Michigan. Gone were the gift interceptions Robinson delivered in the first half, replaced by Northwestern turnovers and mistakes. A Jeremy Ebert fumble, a dropped pass that resulted in an interception, a bizarre 4th-down play in which a Michigan defender ripped quarterback Persa’s helmet off his head without penalty, added to the downhill plummet.
Even President Shapiro leading the iconic “hands in the air” cheer that starts every fourth quarter could not rally the troops. But as the crowd left, many stayed in Evanston, spent money in Evanston, and enjoyed a beautiful evening in Evanston.
Now mired in a big hole, Northwestern will try to right the ship next week against a 3-2 (0-1) Iowa in another night game at Iowa City. Northwestern returns to Ryan Field for what is expected to be another sell out game against Penn State, again at night, on Oct. 22.