Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski threw for a career-high 435 yards last week against Duke, the first time a Wildcat had topped 400 since Clayton Thorson did it four years ago.
Yet Northwestern couldn’t celebrate Hilinkski’s achievement because the Wildcats trailed Duke 21-0 and never could catch the visiting Blue Devils in a 31-23 loss.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald hopes Hilinski will be able to hand off more often Saturday when the Wildcats host FCS opponent Southern Illinois in Evanston, Ill.
“He probably doesn’t throw the ball 60 times if the game doesn’t start out the way it did,” Fitzgerald said. “Our guys had great resolve and kept battling, but to sum it up, there was a lot of self-inflicted wounds.”
The final one came with 12 seconds left when Evan Hull came up inches short of scoring on a run up the middle that would have given Northwestern (1-1) a chance at a two-point conversion to force overtime. Instead, he fumbled and Duke recovered to seal the outcome.
That play marred an otherwise terrific performance for Hull, who accounted for 278 yards from scrimmage. The running back did most of his damage as a receiver, hauling in 14 balls for 213 yards and a score.
Hull’s receptions tied for fourth in program history, and his yardage is fourth best.
While the Wildcats couldn’t complete a comeback, Southern Illinois (0-2) couldn’t hold a lead last week.
The Salukis are coming off a 34-31 loss to Southeast Missouri State in Carbondale, Ill., when they twice led in the fourth quarter. SEMO drove the length of the field in the final two minutes to score the deciding touchdown with 11 seconds remaining.
The SIU secondary, which was seen as a strength entering the season, was ripped for 451 yards in the season-opening 64-29 loss to by Incarnate Word, and then SEMO’s Paxton DeLaurent threw for 332 last week on 33 of 44 accuracy.
That’s a big reason why the Salukis have fallen out of the FCS Top 25 after starting the season No. 9.
“We know we haven’t played well the first two games,” said SIU coach Nick Hill.
This will be just the second meeting of the schools. Northwestern scored a 33-7 victory in 2008.
–Field Level Media