Staff Predictions: Week 2 vs UNLV

After a weeklong hiatus, the ‘Cats are back!

Northwestern football looks to rebound from a disappointing start to the season at Stanford as they host UNLV in their home opener Saturday at Ryan Field. The Running Rebels are 1-1 after a loss last week at the hands of Arkansas State. Check out our staff’s picks for this one:

Eric Rynston-Lobel (@ericr_l): Northwestern 24 UNLV 10

Who really knows what to expect this week.  But following a bye, I think the ‘Cats will be ready to go for this one against the Rebels.  Hunter Johnson will look noticeably more confident in the offense, the defense will pick up where it left off in Palo Alto, and Northwestern will get back to .500.

Player to watch: Charlie Kuhbander, kicker, Northwestern

Kuhbander missed a 38-yard field goal against Stanford and although I’m picking this to be a somewhat comfortable win, if he struggles again, this could force Fitz to reevaluate the kicking situation and perhaps be more aggressive on fourth down like he was last year.

Parker Johnson (@ParkerKJohnson): Northwestern 20, UNLV 10

I’m, uhh, nervous. Northwestern looked awful in week 1, and this is a non-conference home game in September. As a rising senior, my first three years have seen the likes of Illinois State and Akron come in and upset Northwestern in the early season and Duke dominate the ‘Cats twice. I think you can see why I’d be skeptical of this one. I am hopeful for NU because of the defense, which only allowed 10 points to a top-25 team (minus the last second defensive TD) last game. Against the Running Rebs, who lost by four scores to Arkansas State last week, the Wildcats should be able to control the clock and field position enough to neutralize the threat of yet another September heartbreaker. But don’t expect fireworks.

Player to watch: Rashawn Slater, LT, Northwestern

Slater went down with an injury against Stanford, but is listed as a starter for this weekend. If he is 100%, his talents should help slow the game down a little bit for Hunter Johnson, who looked very uncomfortable last week. The whole line will be key, but it can’t function without its star.

Jack Lido (@JackSLido): Northwestern 28, UNLV 16

Akron. Illinois State. The names strike a sharp, bitter chord in the hearts of Wildcats everywhere. Saturday, Pat Fitzgerald hopes to not add UNLV to that list. This time, Northwestern needs to take care of business. With a young quarterback making his second career start, the Wildcats should look to ground and pound against an objectively weaker opponent. Putting “A hat on a hat” means that every offensive blocker has a single assignment. Everyone goes one-on-one, and hopefully, everyone in purple wins their assignment. The ‘Cats won’t try anything too fancy this game; if they limit turnovers, play sturdy defense, and gel Hunter Johnson into the offense, the Wildcats should come out comfortably victorious.

Player to Watch: Berkley Holman, WR, Northwestern:

While my prediction called for a ground and pound attack, that doesn’t mean Hunter Johnson and the Wildcat offense won’t face a few 3rd and longs. Holman’s first target of the game against Stanford was on 3rd down, and it wound up being Johnson’s first career interception. If Holman is able to provide a security blanket to Johnson, it could prove vital not only for this game, but for the upcoming Big Ten slate.

Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central): Northwestern 31, UNLV 7

I see my peers are quite nervy for this one, and that’s likely for good reason. But there’s no way (at least on paper) Northwestern loses this game. UNLV is in trouble at QB (Armani Rogers was just 8-23 for 42 yards last week) and doesn’t have enough size on defense. The Wildcats establish the run game early, control the clock, and get Hunter Johnson some confidence with some easy throws as needed.

Player to Watch: Charles Williams, RB, UNLV:

If there’s one player who can hurt the Wildcats, it’s Williams. The dynamic running back has averaged over nine yards per carry in two games this season and has already reached paydirt four times this season. The UNLV defense will have to stand tall, but if Williams can hit a few home runs out of the backfield, the Running Rebels just might hang around.

Ben Krieger (@thebenkrieger): Northwestern 20, UNLV 10

Coming off an embarrassing loss to Stanford in which Northwestern failed to capitalize on gift-wrapped opportunities, the Wildcats shake off memories of Akron and take care of business in the home opener. Despite a slow start, Hunter Johnson looks much more confident with a game of experience and a comfortable hold on the starting job after TJ Green’s unfortunate injury, tossing two touchdowns in the second half to secure the victory. 

Player to watch: Travis Whillock, S, Northwestern 

Whillock was simply dominant down the stretch in 2018 after returning from more than two seasons’ worth of injuries, but he struggled with several missed tackles against Stanford. Whillock’s ability to make tackles in the open field is a crucial element of Northwestern’s defense, and the Wildcats need him to regain his form heading into Big Ten play. 

Drew Myers: Northwestern 21, UNLV 17

In last week’s game against Stanford, Northwestern scored only 7 points, mainly because Hunter Johnson looked unprepared and shaky throughout the entire game. His inability to get into a rhythm and throw simple screen passes doomed the Wildcats in a game that they should have won. For that reason, I don’t expect Northwestern’s offense to score more than 30 points against UNLV, even though they gave up a staggering 43 points against Arkansas State last week. The biggest thing for Northwestern to focus on in this game is to minimize mistakes and penalties. Last week was a learning game for Northwestern, which forfeited the ball a total of 4 times with two fumbles and two interceptions, not to mention a couple of significant penalties. It’s not expected for the offense to have solved all their problems, but after the bye week I expect Northwestern to take care of business a team that should help Northwestern prepare for a grueling schedule against five AP top 25 opponents.

Noah Coffman (@Noah_Coffman): Northwestern 24, UNLV 19:

The ‘Cats grind out a tough non-conference victory behind a dominant defense and a run game that proves up to the task.

Player to Watch: Daniel Kubiuk, P, Northwestern:

Punting is winning.

Eli Karp (@karp_Eli): Northwestern 31, UNLV 10

I don’t need to tell you that winning this game isn’t a given, but UNLV presents matchups on each side of the ball that the Wildcats can exploit. It won’t be pretty from a NU offense continuing to work out the kinks, but it’ll do plenty against a simply unimpressive UNLV defense. This IS a team that was just thrashed 43-17 by Arkansas State. Give me a comfortable albeit imperfect win.

Player to Watch: Travis Whillock, S, Northwestern

For Mike Hankwitz’s defense, I expect plenty of stacked boxes to counter a strong run game and force quarterback Armani Rogers to beat them through the air. Whillock has a chance to get back on track after several missed tackles at Stanford.

Be sure to tune into the game at 2:30 central time Saturday on WNUR Sports and on Mixlr!

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