Four consecutive losses will level and humble any football program, but the Wildcats are in dire need of finding some stable ground before falling out of bowl contention.
The rest of the season will be a tough test, starting this week as the Wildcats travel to Nebraska searching for their first conference win of the season.
NU is rapidly running out of time as the postseason door continues to shut. The ‘Cats are two wins away from bowl eligibility with the second half of their difficult conference schedule in front of them.
After playing the Cornhuskers, the Wildcats will host No. 21 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State in back-to-back contests at Ryan Field. They'll have a final game against Illinois in Champaign to close the season, but will still need to nab two of those games in order to play in a bowl.
As Northwestern tries to earn the win against Nebraska on Saturday, there should be three major things to look out for:
A returning Treyvon
The addition of another weapon to the NU offense
The loss of Venric Mark turned Northwestern's backfield into a committee this year.
Treyvon Green has been a crucial part of it.
He burst onto the scene with his 129 yards and two touchdowns against Cal and currently leads the team with 463 yards rushing. But after missing the Iowa game last week, Green should work himself back into the rotation against the Cornhuskers.
In Green's absence, Stephen Buckley handled most of the workload on the ground last week, finishing with 99 yards on 17 carries. Buckley's emerged to be an equally big playmaker, so having both on the field with Kain Colter should bode well for the Wildcats.
They'll need to score all the points they can facing this Nebraska offense.
Here comes another
Northwestern's defense against another powerful rushing attack
When describing Nebraska's offense, head coach Pat Fitzgerald listed off several potential playmakers.
Most notably, Nebraska boasts Ameer Abdullah, who's rushed for 981 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby comprise the third best rushing offense in the conference—averaging 271 yards per game.
And even with Taylor Martinez sidelined due to injury, the Wildcats should still prepare for another tough rushing attack.
It will be an interesting sight to watch because of how Northwestern played against Iowa last week. Minus the first and last Iowa possessions of the game, the Wildcats seemed to regain their step and were able to match Iowa's physicality up front.
Mistakes and Penalties
This is getting redundant. But if you look at the past four losses, the stat sheet doesn't lie. Northwestern's turned the ball over eight times, including a fumble that stalled an NU rally filled with big plays from Colter.
The Wildcats have committed penalties at backbreaking times as well. Although the mistakes at opportune times are becoming a recurring theme, it doesn't mean that it's something less important to watch.
For Fitzgerald, the key to ending the trend of giving away possessions remains in the team's tenacity.
"I haven't seen a team that hasn't hit a rut that hasn't had to fight and scratch and claw their way out of it and that's what we have to do," Fitzgerald said during this week's coaches' teleconference.
"Quite frankly, two-thirds of our football team is playing well enough for us to win. We have to become more consistent offensively, we have to score touchdowns and if we do that we'll be fine."