Northwestern aims for fresh start in opener at Rutgers

northwestern-aims-for-fresh-start-in-opener-at-rutgers

After a hazing scandal led to the ouster of longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern interim coach David Braun wants to focus on football as the Wildcats prepare for their Sunday season opener against Big Ten opponent Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J.

“My policy on that is we’re … less than a week away from our first football game. I’m here to talk about football,” Braun said Monday. “Our players are ready to talk about football. That’s what we’re focused on.”

Yet his players did not talk about football, because the program did not make any athletes available to the media.

Braun is a first-time head coach due to the unexpected circumstances of the offseason. He spent the past four seasons as defensive coordinator for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. He was hired to the same position at Northwestern last winter before receiving the interim coaching assignment for 2023.

“I hope that anyone who has interacted with me since I’ve arrived at Northwestern would say that I’ve tried to do my best in” building transparency and trust, Braun said.

The team, like many these days, isn’t being transparent about its starting quarterback decision. Braun said it would be kept in-house until Sunday. Last week, the coach said Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant and Brendan Sullivan were taking the majority of the first-team reps over Ryan Hilinski, who began last season as the starter.

Northwestern lost its final 11 games in 2022 to finish 1-11, while Rutgers started 3-0 but finished at 4-8 after losing its final five contests.

While the Wildcats ranked last in the West Division in Cleveland.com’s annual Big Ten media poll, Rutgers at least beat out Indiana for sixth in the East Division. The Scarlet Knights are aiming higher and hope to benefit from stability at quarterback.

Gavin Wimsatt was named Rutgers’ starter before fall camp even opened. The former four-star recruit was an early enrollee in 2021 and saw the field in fits and starts in 2022 while nursing an injury.

“His career has been nothing but disjointed,” coach Greg Schiano said in July. “He plays three high school games, gets here the first week of the (2021) regular season, you’re not learning. It’s probably the worst way to learn, in retrospect, because you’re learning bits and pieces but you’re not understanding the basis of it.”

–Field Level Media

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