The Wildcats followed an all too familiar script in Saturday night's loss to Michigan, jumping out to a halftime lead that it couldn't hold in the second half. It was the second-straight second half meltdown for the NU, which blew an 18-point lead to Illinois last week.
Something has to change for the broken record that is Northwestern football, but it's hard to pinpoint just what that is.
"It feels like it's the same story every game," quarterback Kain Colter said. "We're up in the first half and somehow we lose it. It's tough. It seems like we go into halftime and something happens."
What is that something?
It seems like nobody really knows, not even Northwestern.
Over the past three weeks, coach Pat Fitzgerald has turned to the same word to describe each of his team's losses—execution. But after three straight inexplicable losses, it's starting to seem like there's more to the problem than just a lack of execution.
Maybe this team, no matter how senior-laden and how experienced, just doesn't know how to win.
"The credit goes to our opponent," Fitzgerald said. "They came back in the second half and made the plays that winners make."
Michigan made plays when it counted. Northwestern didn't. That certainly is a matter of execution, but after three straight losses it becomes more than a lack of execution; it's the lack of the ability to make plays in the clutch.
Michigan played with a winner's mentality. Northwestern didn't. And as a result the No. 12 Wolverines are 6-0, while the Wildcats are 2-3.
This was supposed to be the best Northwestern team of the Pat Fitzgerald era with All-Big Ten players returning on both sides of the ball. But five games in, we've uncovered holes that weren't obvious during fall camp.
The secondary, which was supposed to be the strongest unit on the defense, has become the Achilles heel of this team, turning in miserable performances against Illinois and Michigan in consecutive weeks.
The unit has looked lost at times, and despite recording three interceptions against Michigan, gave up 362 passing yards, including plays of 57 and 48 yards, to a mediocre passing game.
That has become the norm for the Wildcat secondary—making mediocre passing offenses look spectacular—and it isn't what was expected from one of the most talented units on the team.
The offensive line, which has supposed to be Fitzgerald's best yet, has underperformed as well, giving up four sacks against the Wolverines.
Senior leaders are expected to step up in big games, and very few have for Northwestern this season and none have in the clutch.
The Wildcats have always prided themselves in finishing. They've yet to do that this season.
"We've got to come out and start making plays and we can make them and finish the game," Colter said.
With seven games left on the schedule, there's still time to salvage the season, but someone needs to light a fire under this team quickly.
"We just have to stay consistent," Persa said. "Our sense of urgency has to go up."
It's one thing to say that, and it's another to show it.
After three straight weeks of all talk and no action, Northwestern finds itself in a major hole in the Big Ten race. However, there isn't time to harp on the past, just the need to regroup and refocus for the future.
"I really think we lost focus," defensive lineman Tyler Scott said. "There and there the one-man breakdowns really kill you in crunch time."
It's crunch time right now for the Wildcats and it's time to live up to the hype.
If they can't, it will continue to be the same broken record all season long.