EVANSTON, Ill. -- Mike Kafka led three touchdown drives in the first quarter and passed for a career-high 192 yards to lead Northwestern to a 47-14 victory over Towson on Saturday.
Andrew Brewer added a career-high 145 yards receiving, including a 72-yard touchdown, and the Wildcats (1-0) got off to a strong start after going 9-4 last season. Expectations are higher now. They hope to compete for the Big Ten title after reaching the Alamo Bowl last year.
Well, how's this for a start?
They scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and then got a safety while building a 30-0 lead and never looked back. Towson simply was no match, which was no surprise.
The Tigers (0-1) switched coaches last season after a 3-9 finish, firing Gordy Combs and hiring Rob Ambrose off Connecticut's staff, and they were playing a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for just the second time.
The Wildcats basically got what they wanted -- a glorified tuneup against a Football Championship Subdivision team.
Kafka was 15 of 20 and did not get picked off.
Brewer, a senior, caught six passes while easily breaking his previous career high of 48 yards. Stephen Simmons ran for 77 yards, while Arby Fields added 48 yards and two touchdowns. He spent most of the second half on the sideline because of cramping.
Although one game certainly doesn't answer all the questions surrounding the offense, this was a good start for a unit that lost running back Tyrell Sutton along with quarterback C.J. Bacher and the top three receivers from last season.
The defense is expected to be the team's strength, and that unit did its part, holding Towson to 205 yards even though defensive end Corey Wootton was quiet in his limited time.
A first-team all-conference pick last season, he was eyeing a jump to the NFL until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee late in the Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats went on to lose in overtime to Missouri, a bitter finish to their first nine-win season since 1996. Now they're looking for their first conference title in nine years.
They certainly were locked in against Towson.
Three years ago, New Hampshire came in and left with a 34-17 victory in the first game at Ryan Field since the death of coach Randy Walker. This time, it was clear from the start Northwestern wasn't about to lose to another Colonial Athletic Association opponent.
Kafka's 27-yard pass to Brewer and 16-yarder to Drake Dunsmore on the Wildcats' first possession helped set up Jacob Schmidt's 2-yard TD run. Fields then scored on a 2-yard run and 22-yard dash to make it 21-0 with less than a minute left in the quarter, and Dan Persa made it 28-0 early in the second when he found Brewer deep over the middle.
The only downer for Northwestern was losing backup running back Jeravin Matthews to an ankle injury late in the first half.
For Towson, freshman Peter Athens completed 15 of 25 passes for 140 yards. He threw a touchdown pass but got intercepted twice.