By Ryan Wangman
All summer long (once a week), we’ll be previewing either a Northwestern fall sport or one of Northwestern football’s twelve regular season matchups. This week, we take a look at the Wildcats’ first football game on the schedule.
Northwestern will kick off the 2017 football season against a revamped Nevada Wolf Pack team that looks to rebound after a disappointing 2016 season.
The Wildcats will look to build off of their limited success last year, in which they capped off a middling 6-6 season with an upset victory over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. Northwestern returns key players in quarterback Clayton Thorson and running back Justin Jackson, but loses major contributors in former wide receiver Austin Carr and former linebacker Anthony Walker.
Northwestern will look to avoid the early non-conference jitters it saw last season with losses to teams such as Illinois State and Western Michigan. The team will hope to build on the offensive success it saw last season, scoring at least 20 points in nine out of 13 games.
Looking toward the future, Northwestern boasts the 44th ranked recruiting class for 2017, according to ESPN.
On the other side of the gridiron, the Wolf Pack take on a completely new look from their 2016 iteration. The team has a new head coach, Jay Norvell, taking over for Brian Polian, who was fired after a disappointing 5-7 record which dropped the team’s overall mark in his four year tenure to 23-27.
Nevada, which ran the ball nearly 60 percent of the time during Polian’s time as head coach, will take new direction with Norvell, who will run an Air Raid offensive scheme that emphasizes passing first. The system usually operates out of the shotgun formation with four wide receivers and a running back, and a majority play calls over the course of the season are passes.
The Wolf Pack will look to spark that passing game with new quarterback David Cornwell, a graduate transfer from Alabama playing his first season with Nevada. He served as a backup for the Crimson Tide the last three seasons after being unable to win the starting job.
Another key player to watch is running back James Butler, who has 3,316 career rushing yards for the team. Butler has had back to back seasons with at least 1,300 rushing yards.
An advantage the Wildcats could capitalize on in the matchup are Nevada’s road woes — last year the Wolf Pack finished the season with a dismal 1-5 record away from Mackay Stadium.
Northwestern will face off against Nevada at 2:30 p.m. on September 2 in the season opener. We’ll have the call for you on WNUR Sports, with our own Austin Miller and Sam Brief.