The Season Review
a season of "three steps forward, two steps back." What was
to be a solid offense occasionally faltered and sputtered. What
predicted to continue to be one of the worst defenses in Division I
itself to "Lockdown" and followed through. A running game that
great in 2002 became even better in 2003, with Jason Wright and Noah
exploding on the ground. A head coach that started the season on
bubble got another year (at least) at the helm. And a team that
expected by many to do no better than equal its three wins from a year
doubled that count, thanks in part to a pivotal win against Indiana and
huge victory against a ranked Wisconsin team. However, the
of an unexpected bowl season became something of a curse, as NU dropped
fourth straight postseason game and therefore suffered its 29th losing
in 32 years.
It was NU's
first 13-game season in a hundred years, and also the one hundredth
anniversary of NU's first Big Ten championship. The season marked
Wildcats' "Return to Purple," as NU took to the field wearing purple
for the first time since 1991. The new-look 'Cats sported the
NU uniforms in years, but still lacked the northwestern striping that
an NU tradition.
NU had a very
impressive fan showing at the Motor City Bowl, filling its
side of Ford Field with Purple. However, the 'Cats were still
to fill Ryan Field, going a third straight year without a sellout.
from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the
NU Wraps up First Week of
Spring Game Slated for April 26 [posted April 6]
Wildcat football team has concluded its first week of spring practice,
out a variety of new offensive and defensive schemes and several
in new positions. Most notable is the new role of Jeff Backes,
played running back and wide receiver last year, but is now taking on
role of cornerback. According to NU Backes is faring well with
new defensive duties, making "eye-opening" plays. Greg Lutzen is
Wildcat player who has found himself on the other end of the ball, so
speak, this spring, moving from the defensive to the offensive line.
At the conclusion of this week's practices, the Northwestern Gridiron
held its annual NGN Auction and Dinner at Welsh-Ryan Arena on April 5.
Auction attracted several hundred former players, alumni and fans of
stripes for an outstanding evening, raising thousands of dollars for NU
As with previous recent auctions, Coach Randy Walker took an
part in the auctioneering.
After conducting its spring practice sessions throughout April,
Northwestern will play its annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 26
at Ryan Field. The kickoff time is high noon.
The Wildcat Spring Game has gone through several format changes during
past decade. For the first few years of Gary Barnett's tenure,
event was an alumni game, with former NU stars taking on the current
team. Barnett later returned to the traditional Purple / White
Randy Walker has typically used the game to run a scripted set of
between first and second-team squads, with limited special teams roles.
Although last year's Spring Game was held in Northwestern's indoor
facility due to weather, the game is usually played at Ryan Field, and
one of only three official events that the stadium hosts each year
with the University Commencement in June and-- of course-- NU's set of
home games in the fall). Not only will the game be a great chance
soak in the Ryan Field atmosphere in the middle of the off-season, it
be an opportunity to see how the 'Cats are advancing.
Spring Game Canceled [posted April 18]
will conclude their 2003 spring practice schedule with a series
of closed sessions this week, culminating in a closed practice this
April 26. NU had originally scheduled the annual Spring Game for
date, but canceled the event, citing a need to re-sod the field.
year marks the third year in the last five that there will be no Spring
at Ryan Field.
Reports from spring practice and
posted on nusports.com
indicate that, in addition to Ray Bogenrief and Jeff Backes, Derell
might find himself playing a different position this fall.
who displayed good speed last year, has been moved from quarterback to
back this spring.
Practice Ends with Closed Scrimmage [posted April 27]
. . . . Despite the private
nature of NU's spring practice this year, some reports about the team
were allowed. Lindsey Willhite has written a comprehensive
article about the April 26 practice in Sunday's Daily Herald.
Reports from spring practice and
posted on nusports.com indicate that
offensive lineman Zack Strief suffered a leg injury during
Saturday's session. It is not clear whether Strief's injury is a
or a sprain; either way, it further depletes the Wildcat offensive
increasingly a position of concern.
the Wildcats Have a New Look this Season? [posted April 27]
and NU ended their
relationship at the end of 2001. NU used surplus Adidas uniforms
the 2002 season, but needed a new supplier for 2003. (At the end of
2002, HailToPurple.com posted several suggestions as to what a new uniform might look like) As of
spring 2003, there are increasingly frequent reports that the 'Cats will
sport new uniforms this fall. It is uncertain whether NU will
a sponsor or will pay for the uniforms in full. Reports indicate
the Wildcats will, indeed, return to purple
in 2003, and might employ a new style with black side panels, similar
the Denver Broncos or Miami (both Florida and Ohio).
The "N-Cat" logo might remain on
the uniform. There is reason to believe that the 'Cats would
wear purple jerseys and purple pants at home, and all-white unis on the
If true, it would be the first time NU has worn all purple in
years, and only the second time in almost thirty years.
While many fans may miss
the black jerseys (and, of course, there's no reason
why the black unis couldn't return for one game some time in the
the Return to Purple is, for many fans and alumni, a most welcome event!
For a history of the NU
football uniform, click
Kenosha XII Underway;
Scrimmage this Saturday [posted Aug. 10]
The Wildcats began practicing in Kenosha,
Wisconsin last Friday and are now
practicing for the first time in full pads. NUsports.com has
daily Kenosha updates, with pictures from the first day.
to the official site, "Walker is pleased with the progress his team has
in learning their system. 'We've thrown a lot at them in these
few days. We've got almost our entire offensive and defensive
. . . . As the team
continues to work toward its August 30 opener, reports continue
to come in that the players are enthusiastic and are ready to erase the
left from the last two seasons. The players on defense especially
a lot to prove and have adopted the slogan "Lock down" for the season.
to The Daily Herald, Louis Ayeni came up with the phrase: "We're trying
lock down offenses. Stop the run, stop the pass."
Sports Publications Offer
Predictions / Previews [posted June 1; updated Aug. 13]
The sports media have
released their annual college
football season predictions and previews. The slate of previews
begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes
the Big Ten's July media event, when the conference announces its
Most of the print
sources have released their views, and-- as expected--
NU is not forecast at the top of the league. Of course, most of
previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring
biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings)
a profitable strategy. However, NU has bucked that trend and the
thinking once before: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a
Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.
Sports - CollegeFootballNews.com: Initial ranking: 87th.
Revised ranking: 74th / 9th in the Big Ten, ahead
of Indiana. Strength: running backs. Weakness: secondary.
its initial assessment, which put NU below Michigan State, Fox Sports
has NU tied with the Spartans at 9th in the conference. It also
states, "the potential is there for this defense to be a whole bunch
UPDATE: CFN released its game-by-game predictions on July
Fox predicts a 2-10 season for NU, with the only wins coming
Kansas and Indiana. "There's no reason this team should lose
Duke" CFN states, but has the 'Cats losing to them anyway.
86th / 11th in the Big Ten. No love for the 'Cats from Athlon.
the magazine did get the name of the NU coach right, for the first time
in two years. (for those playing at home, the correct
answer is Randy Walker, not Gary Walker)
74th / 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Indiana. Exact same preview
prediction as Lindy published for NU in 2002.
- Are you detecting
a pattern? 74th, 86th, 74th . . . ok, here's The
Sporting News: 86th / 11th in the Big Ten. Unlike most of
which invariably put a soft spin on a team that is forecast to do
poorly ("a little
young-- next season, look out" or "they just might surprise some people
the conference!"), The Sporting News put no nice touch on its blunt
for the 'Cats' season. "[NU] says its defense is improved,
Colby's 4-3 changes needed a year. Until we see results, we say
- If The Sporting
News' prediction has you down in the dumps, look no further than Street
to cheer up. S&S does not give national rankings except for
top 25 teams. However, it predicts conference finishes, and
NU at 8th place in the Big Ten! The 'Cats are ranked above
Michigan State, and Indy. This, by the way, is the highest
for NU by a major publication since the summer of 2001, when NU was
to win the conference (the highest prediction for NU last year was 9th,
pigskinpost.com). Street & Smith's believes Jason Wright will
- His predictions
for the Wildcats have been fairly accurate for the last several
seasons. Phil Steel's
annual mag puts NU in 9th place in the conference, but he writes that
should do well in the non-conference, and could flirt with .500 this
He rates NU over Michigan State and Indiana, and says he is
with the athletic talent" NU has now on defense.
- As of July 7, Jim
Website, which determines a "power ranking" for every Division I team,
NU 79th nationally in its 2003 preseason rankings.
pre-season computer power ranking for NU is slightly better: 77th out
of all Div. I teams.
- Are the print mags
not pessimistic enough for your taste? Tim Chapman, providing the
Big Ten preview for NationalChamps.net,
forecasts that NU will take the o-fer, going 0-12 in 2003. You
want to take that dire prediction with a large grain of salt:
also predicts that Wisconsin will win the conference, with Penn St.
in second, and Minnesota third. Mmm-hmmm.
- More of a betting
rag than a true football magazine, Jim Feist's
annual publication gives a lot of point spread info, but not a whole
else. He isn't impressed with the 'Cats' latest recruitment
and predicts NU will finish 10th in the conference.
- The Website Fanstop.com
ranks NU ninth in the conference, above MSU and Indiana.
- The Big Ten
held its kickoff luncheon and media meetings (July 24), and Ohio State
been tapped as the conference favorite, with Michigan second and
third. Reporters from Big Ten newspapers were asked to vote for
predicted finishes; NU came in eleventh.
Illustrated released its preseason rankings and predictions August
6 and placed NU at 75th in the nation, four spots ahead of the Hoosiers.
- One person who
offers the Wildcats absolutely no respect is CBS Sports'
Dennis Dodd, who predicts NU to finish dead last in the Big Ten without
his only comment on the 'Cats: "Randy Walker is on the hot seat.
school is still in court re: Rashidi Wheeler. On the field, the
are the old Wildcats."
- USA Today's
is on the more upbeat side, placing NU at ninth in the conference,
of usual suspects Michigan State and Indiana. The return of 17
starters drove the USA Today prediction.
has been for many of NU's recent seasons, Phil Steel was the closest to
how NU would do. No one guessed that the Wildcats would tie for
in the Big Ten, but Steel's comment that NU would "flirt with .500" was
on. And the Goat among the media? That would have to be The
News-- phooey, indeed. Goat runners-up are NationalChumps.net and the
Ten newspaper reporters.]
to Open Season at Kansas [posted Aug. 17]
Last year, the Wildcats traveled for
their season opener to Colorado
and were ambushed (or at least so it seemed to fans) by Air Force,
to recover. It is reasonable that some fans should fear this
opener as well, given NU's performance throughout last year.
the Kansas opener is not Air Force. And NU 2003 is not (quite) NU
First, let's look at Kansas.
The Jayhawks are also
still smarting from a disastrous 2002 campaign, having
gone 2-10, and winless in the Big Twelve. NU had defensive
last year, but so did KU, in buckets: during their conference run, the
gave up 45 points to Iowa State, 53 to Colorado, 47 to Texas A&M,
to Kansas State, 45 to Nebraska and 55 to Oklahoma State. The
return seven starters from that troubled squad, including two safeties
are actually quite good-- Zach Dyer and Nick Reid.
So, how can second year
Coach Mangino fix his team, and fix it quick? Mangino
has turned to double helpings of mashed potatoes and gravy. Lots
gravy. Thick, hot, delicious gravy. Oh, yes, and he's
to junior college transfers. A lot of Juco transfers,
thirteen to be exact, will enroll at KU this fall, ready to start.
ready to start-- there are some reports as of the writing of this
(August 17) that the jury is still out regarding the academic
of at least a couple of the new Juco players. More than one KU
right now is wondering if the Juco Junction was the best move the
program could have made.
Mangino clearly wants to
keep a lid on any of this, so it is not yet clear
if some of the Jucos are falling out. However, one source claims
Juco offensive lineman Johnnie Urritia is gone. If so, this is
and very, very bad news for KU, since the O-line was its weakest
position last year. Only one starter is back on O-line. The
gave up 33 sacks last year.
So far, the Wildcat
defensive line has looked OK in practice, but has not
exhibited the aggression and initiative needed to make things happen
the line. This matchup might be just the one needed to bolster
'Cats' confidence and performance. If NU's D-line comes ready to
they should be able to do just that in Kansas.
This isn't to say that
KU's offense will roll over. Their much-heralded
quarterback, Bill Whittemore, will cause NU no end of problems.
#1 key for the 'Cats in this game is to take advantage of the
in KU's O-line to get to Whittemore as quickly as possible.
must be shut down-- this is essential. Running back Clark
will also pose problems for NU if he is healthy. Right now Green
banged up, but should be OK for the game. Can NU's defense make
majority of behind-the-line or near-the-line tackles that they should?
KU receiver group is thin, but if Whittemore doesn't have sufficient
he will make things happen with what few tools he has.
As to the KU defense,
the Wildcat offense should be able to shake the rust
fairly quickly. The Jayhawk academic woes might continue with
biggest recruit: there is a rumor (and, at this point, only a rumor)
linebacker John McCoy might also not be able to play. While this
a deep position for KU, losing McCoy, combined with preseason injuries,
not help. The hits just keep coming for Kansas, as it is not a
but absolutely confirmed that co-captain defensive tackle Travis
is out with a broken foot. As long as NU's starting offensive
holds and is injury free going into the game, the Wildcats might
(gasp) have a clear edge on both sides of the line.
Even with Kansas'
emergency player transfusion, the bleeding might be continuing.
NU, for the first time since last year's Indiana game, has a
advantage going into a game. So, what's left? Intangibles
left. Do the Wildcat coaches have NU ready? Are the
motivated enough to Lock Down Kansas?
Prediction: as long as
we see the NU team that appeared at Kenosha in August
(fired up, excited, spirited) and not the team that showed up against
for homecoming in Evanston last year (absolutely no spirit whatsoever,
and distracted), NU has the guns, guts and talent to take it. NU
by ten in a typically high-scoring game.
Kenosha Winds Down [posted Aug. 17]
The Wildcats played
their summer public scrimmage last Saturday at Carthage
College, Kenosha. A good-sized group was on hand to witness the
in action two weeks before they take the field at Kansas. NU
and drilled for about an hour in ninety-degree heat and then ran a 45
scrimmage, which consisted of controlled sets of plays (including punts
field goal tries) and continuously shifting lineups.
For one series the
first-team offense played the first-team defense, with
Brett Basanez throwing several good passes and the offensive line
well. The line, however, is quite thin, and the second-stringers
very young. Noah Herron had a fantastic practice and looked very
on the field...
Pat Durr led the defense, the secondary
of which showed a marked increase in speed and aggressive coverage.
The defense, however, did not have a great practice, with several
tackles behind the line of scrimmage. There was some tentative
by the linebackers (and quite a few of the linebackers were banged up
on the sidelines) and the defensive line did not attack quite as much
it needed to. Overall, the defense does look like it has improved
this time last year, but there is still room for improvement showing,
things to "lock down" in the weeks before the season and during the
Special teams showed a
little rust, but Brian Huffman was ready to go, booming punts with
great hang time.
The Wildcats have two
practice sessions scheduled for Monday, Aug. 19 at
UW-Parkside and a final practice at Carthage College on Tuesday, after
they will return to Evanston and make final preparations for their trip
NU Overcomes Jayhawk Rally to Win 28-20
blew a 14-0 halftime lead in one minute in the third quarter and
a last minute rally by the Jayhawks to beat Kansas 28-20 Saturday night
Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. It was the Wildcats'
first-ever meeting with Kansas, and the 'Cats' fifth season opening win
the last seven years.
The Wildcat offense was
stymied early in the game, as the Memorial Stadium
field was rain-slicked and a steady torrent fell throughout the
The teams began the second quarter without a score between them.
did have some chances, though. Wildcat quarterback Brett Basanez
impressive, completing eight of ten passes in the first quarter for 60
and NU made it to the Jayhawk three yard line, but missed a 20-yard
goal try. Credit the NU defense for a job well done throughout
game, but especially the work of Senior safety Louis Ayeni, who was a
against Kansas, coming up with fantastic plays.
the second quarter Torri Stuckey intercepted and set up the NU
Jason Wright then exploded for a 41-yard game to put the 'Cats in
position. Wright then ran for another 18 yards and the score.
looked like NU would salt the game away at the beginning of the third
quarter. However, Kansas got the ball and moved to their own 25
line. On a completely broken play, with the Jayhawk quarterback
out of options, KU reeled off a 75 yard explosion play to come within
of NU. On the resulting drive Basanez was intercepted. The
was run back for a TD, and within one minute KU had gone from being
14 points and in danger of being trounced to tying the game.
scored at the start of the fourth quarter and shut KU down. With
NU ahead 21 to 14 and driving, the game appeared to be in hand
However, NU was forced to punt, and the punt was blocked and run back
the second Jayhawk touchdown scored without the NU defense on the
But the evening belonged to the Wildcats after all: the KU point after
was botched, and NU retained a slim 21 to 20 lead. Jason Wright
Roger Jordan continued their assault on Jayhawk territory and Wright
yet again, tying his own NU rushing scoring record for a game.
Wright finished the game with 196 yards on 41 carries.
a 28 to 20 lead, all NU needed was to stop Kansas with just over a
to go. Kansas made it interesting one last time, slashing through
Wildcat defense to come to midfield, then-- with 17 seconds to go--
a wild Hail Mary to put the ball on the NU 20 with three seconds to
The 'Cats stripped KU of the ball on the last play of the game,
the Jayhawks with their fifth turnover of the night and giving
a hard-fought win.
After the game, Randy Walker said, "I knew some haywire things could
It was a downpour, and some haywire things didhappen. But
really proud of the way our kids responded. At different times in
game, it would have been easy to have gone in the wrong direction.
quite frankly, there have been times in the last couple of years
we've gone in the wrong direction. These kids hung in there when
went bad for a play or two."
the game was a sloppy one, given the weather, miscues and turnovers,
the Wildcat offense looked good and the defense really showed
giving up only one touchdown (on the broken play) and 58 yards rushing.
former running backs looked great in their defensive secondary
as Ayeni, Stuckey, and Jeff Backes all played their positions well and
terrific plays. After four years of injury, disappointment and
Ayeni-- like the Wildcat defense in general-- may have come into his
this fall. After the game Ayeni said about the 'Cat defense, "you
tell the difference. We're not having teams shove the ball down
middle of the defense. We're hard workers. We took this
seriously this summer. You can tell by our play we ar much
Let's hope the improvement continues to be shown during the
Seek Revenge [posted Sept. 3]
First off, one must ask, can it be done? Can
a team against whom it suffered a 49-point loss the previous year?
is precedent for it, but not much. A little history: since
NU has been defeated by 49 or more points in a game exactly 27 times.
of those games came last year (tying 1981 as the season with the most
losses). Of the 24 games before 2002, four of them involved
the Wildcats did not play the following year (including Nebraska, our
Bowl opponent). That leaves 20 examples throughout NU history.
lost to 17 of them the next year, tied one, and beat two. One of
wins came against Chicago at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
other one, however, took place almost ten years ago this week.
Gary Barnett had just
suffered a bad loss to Notre Dame in his Wildcat debut.
The following week, Barnett's 'Cats traveled to Boston College, a
that NU had played -- and beaten -- only once before. BC trashed
49-0. The following year, NU again lost to Notre Dame in its
This time, however, the 'Cats put up a respectable fight against
Irish, and -- although they lacked talent and depth -- they had
and motivation going into their home opener with BC. Boston
was the 22nd ranked team coming into Dyche Stadium and NU was,
a heavy underdog. The Wildcats won in a squeaker.
So, it has been done,
but not often, and it's going to take every break going
NU's way to edge a team as loaded and skilled as Air Force.
DeBerry's team returns 17 starters from a very talented 2002 team.
waxed an admittedly weak Division I-AA team last week, scoring 28 third
points before calling off the full attack. And last year they had
number, not only ringing up 49 more points, but clearly having had more
store, if they had chosen to continue at full strength.
The Wildcats showed last
week that they are a changed team from last year,
and some of the changes appear in the early view to be improvements.
'Cats are running a shifting series of defenses, abandoning the
4-3 for a mix of 4-3, 3-4 and 3-3.
3-3-5 "hot package" works well against passing teams and teams without
running games. Against an elite ground assault that Air Force
the 'Cats will have to adjust. Pat Durr said after the Kansas
"the hot package is not that stout against the run, but we have plenty
time to fix that."
Durr made his return to
the field last week, after suffering season-ending
injuries during last year's Air Force game. He spent much of the
game becoming reacquainted with game conditions and pressures, and had
impressive fumble recovery at the end of the game. For Durr, and
entire NU defense, this is the critical game, against the team that
them spiraling last year. However, it's important that the
keeps its emotions in check and plays with businesslike intensity
The Wildcat offense was
stymied, to say the least, in last year's game with
Air Force. Now that the 'Cats have an experienced quarterback,
clear go-to running threat, and a menu of wideouts and tight end
at the ready, even the strong Falcon defense will take hits, and will
up two touchdowns at a minimum.
The special teams were a
concern last week, especially the punting unit.
That is not to say that punter Brian Huffman was at fault; on the
Huffman had a great game. His punts are always strong, and his
in the Kansas game were perfect. However, Kansas called out the
punting schemes. According to Jayhawk player Darren Rus, "We
going after the punt block all week because we noticed that
wingbacks were pushed back in their formation, so we could run an up
under type play. We thought it was a great opportunity for a
Let's hope that the Falcons have no such opportunity.
NU's 28-20 win in Kansas
was hampered by nonstop driving rain and opening
game rust. Neither should be evident at Ryan Field this Saturday.
both the Wildcat and Falcon offenses to operate at full strength.
with the improvement to NU's defense, this will still be a high scoring
and possibly (hopefully) a shootout. If so -- just like the
game -- turnovers may be the critical stat for this game. Can
defense rattle the Falcon option just enough to have a couple of loose
opportunities? NU's chance to notch its third-ever blowout
game might just depend on it.
Apart: NU Loses Heartbreaker to Air Force [posted Sept. 9]
took a 21 to 7 lead into the fourth quarter against Air Force at Ryan
last Saturday, but it wasn't enough to survive a series of miscues and
opportunism. Last week, in the Air Force preview, I wrote, "turnovers may be the critical stat for
this game." However, who knew just how critical they would be?
Wildcats bowed to Air Force 22 to 21, after a plague of interceptions
after failing to retake the lead during a last-minute attempt.
the second straight week Northwestern blew a 14 point lead in a
of seconds. Unfortunately, Fisher deBerry's disciplined and
team accepted Northwestern's gift and never looked back.
this game was among the most gut-wrenching in years for NU, there
was much to the Wildcats' performance that left room for optimism and
for the rest of the season. The Wildcat defense, for the second
game, held the opponent to just one touchdown from its offensive squad.
Ward was exceptional, recovering a Falcon fumble and tallying 17
The defensive line and linebackers also had a terrific game and
the potential for dominance, especially if they stay healthy.
those at the game, a definite highlight was the play of kicker Brian
Huffman, who has been simply outstanding this year, both at booming,
hanging punts and at kickoffs that slam out of the endzone. For
fans who have grown green-faced with nausea at the thought of handing
ball to the opponent on their own 40 yard line to start every single
this has been a welcome change.
So, what happened? Well, four interceptions happened, and close
45 minutes of sparkling, quality football and a solid performance by
offense and a great performance by NU's quarterback (Basanez did have
yards, after all) faded from view. What went wrong? Should
blame Basanez? The coaching staff and the fourth quarter play
The line, for forcing Brett to scramble for his life on more than
couple of plays?
this game has been picked apart, just like the Wildcat lead sliding
into the final frame Saturday. Unlike last year's Air Force game,
hung over everything and everyone like a shroud and was about as easy
get out of your head as the sight of Brittany Spears and Madonna
lips, last Saturday's game should just be forgotten. Air Force
is happily not Penn State 2001, a harbinger of doom. And it is
Miami 1995, a belch on the way to a Big Ten ring.
was Air Force 2003. Period.
it is over. And, happily, we don't have to keep reliving that
last quarter. We-- the fans, Brett Basanez, Walker, the rest of
'Cats-- get four brand, spanking new quarters of unplayed ball this
Bring it on. Lock it down.
Wildcats wore for the first time their new-look purple uniforms, going
for the first time since the 1991 Illinois game with purple jerseys and
pants at home. The uniforms, while taking some time to get used
look outstanding! This is the best uniform NU has sported in
Game of Truth [posted Sept. 9]
Here it is 'Cat fans:
the moment of truth, the game
to set the stage for the rest of the year. Does NU hit the road
week as a 2-1 team, fresh from ridding itself of all the baggage that
has heaved onto its purple shoulders for two decades? Or do the
wear a two game losing streak hair shirt into Wallace Wade Stadium?
NU performs in this game will swing a sizable gate one way or another,
it will tell us volumes about what to expect from this team when the
At first, it might seem
that the pressure is on NU quarterback Brett Basanez,
but that is misguided and unfair. Brett should be just fine.
Brett Favre can have a bad game now and then (and, trust me,
had a mother lode of a rotten game last Sunday...), so can Brett
Brett (B.) will be just fine this Saturday.
Unfortunately, likely so
too will be Miami's quarterback, the ultra-hyped
Ben "www.wherehaveyouben.com, the RedHawk mega super duper with a
on top all that and eight bags of chips Heisman candidate and all
great citizen and living legend" Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger,
name is Belgian for "Burger made entirely out of roethlis," will try to
up to his reputation, throwing roethlis with abandon and targeting the
secondary for some Saturday morning toast. Well, screw him.
Who cares what he wants.
What he'll get
will be three nice new sacks, and he can use them to hold his Heisman
or whatever else he pleases. You heard it here first, folks: look
the NU defense to win the battle at the line and to pressure Mr.
all day. The defensive line has been improving, and they'll turn
corner this week.
Jason Wright, who had
108 yards rushing against Air Force, should continue
to impress against Miami, and the offensive line should power through
RedHawk defense like Barry Alvarez through a box of Chips Ahoy.
with the Wildcat line providing a more-secure pocket, should have
trouble taking advantage. Unfortunately, he'll have one less
in his holsters against Miami: Ray Bogenrief is unlikely to play at
end Saturday, having hurt his knee against Air Force.
Miami is a favorite by
more than three points in this game. NU has
had nightmarish problems with Coach Walker's former team in the past,
must be completely prepared and motivated for this game. This
will shape the rest of the season, and it presents NU with a feared and
foe. Can the Wildcats write this opponent off? Absolutely
Can I? Of course,
and I have: NU wins, and wins by two or more touchdowns in a laugher.
(Ohio) Manhandles NU 44-14 [posted Sept. 14]
debate raged last week: after a devastating loss to Air Force the
week, could Northwestern find the motivation to prepare properly and
in a game the following Saturday? After gift-wrapping a game and
it to another team, could the Wildcats bounce back, or-- like the
of the 2001 Penn State game (which saw the 'Cats blow a decent lead
in the game)-- would NU simply put the next game into the toilet?
the answer to the debate was crystal clear-cut, and came in the form of
nightmarish slugging at the hands of Miami (Ohio).
losses absorbed by Northwestern have been legion, particularly
during the last two and a half years. However, the Miami debacle
special. The game was in many ways a benchmark for this coaching
four years after their debut at Ryan Field was spoiled by their
employers, 28 to 3, how would the Walker-led Wildcats fare? This
after all, entirely Coach Randy Walker's team, and Miami has been a
in NU's side for fifty years, from Parseghian's Redskin squad topping
Lou Saban 25-14, to Miami handing Northwestern its thirty-fourth and
loss in The Streak, to Coach Walker adding the only black mark to Gary
10-win regular season in 1995. However, the 1999 loss to Miami
the most poignant: the coach who had felled the Big Ten's giants turned
four years later wearing purple, and was himself cut down during his
by his former team. Four years after that, what would
happen? After four years to prepare for this moment, how would
fate be served?
would be served by having the 'Cats served, en brochette, to
Miami for a world-class gutting. After the game, Walker said,
better team won today, the better coached football team won today."
was refreshingly simple and true. Make no mistake: the season--
more-- came down to this game, and the team was as ill-prepared and
as could be.
If you were not at the game, do not be fooled by the score. The
was worse than that. Miami (Ohio) called off the dogs early in
fourth quarter and gave its second string some paces. All facets
NU's game were terrible. On offense and defense the line work was
and disturbingly bad. NU's offensive line played one of the worst
by a Wildcat line in ten years. Brett Basanez was fleeing for his
for much of the time he was playing; although he did not have a good
after the Air Force meltdown, it should be noted that he was not sacked
the game. This is entirely to the credit of Basanez, since his
line looked more like the Maginot Line. Basanez separated his
during the game, but-- in another brilliant coaching move-- was put
in the game during the second half.
no holes punched open by the line, and no blocking of which to speak,
Wildcat ground game was lost. NU's running backs combined for
41 yards. The NU defense never, ever, came close to applying
to Miami's wonder quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, whose name is
Belgian for "shredding kittens to death with leatherworking tools."
had as much time as he needed to do anything he wanted to do, and what
wanted to do was light up the 'Cat defense. The defensive line?
NU linebackers? They were M.I.A.
to his breakdown against Iowa two weeks ago, Roethlisberger said,
"Two weeks ago that wasn't the Miami offense." While this quote
hilariously familiar, what is not familiar is the aftermath. This
week was the Miami offense, and they, along with the Miami
defense are mid-to-high tier in the Mid America Conference. They
also superior to the 'Cats. In a pointed reference to NU,
added, "[our defense] is the best in the country in my opinion. They
may not be the biggest or the fastest, but they play with heart as
heart of the Wildcat team is not currently in evidence. The heart
of the fans is also less evident. Officially, there were over
in attendance at the Miami game, but this figure seems inflated.
few fans were there actually booed the Wildcats as the beating
I myself can never condone booing a student team, but the
of those fans who did boo is almost understandable. They are
thirty dollars a pop... to see Pop Warner football.
won't be paying for long. Change is inevitable. Whether
that change comes in the form of a better prepared, better motivated,
playing team, or in the form of a new coaching staff, or in the form of
very large hit to NU's bottom line and a further spiral to the image of
school, remains to be seen.
Burton, 1936-2003 [posted Sept. 14]
has lost one of its gridiron heroes, and the community has lost a great
Ron Burton, the Wildcat running back instrumental in several of
Parseghian's strong NU teams, has died after a long battle with cancer.
was 67 years old and leaves five children, several of whom also played
Ron was a sensation as a running back at NU. During his time as a
from 1957 through the 1959 season, Ron set a record for career rushing
with 21 scores. That record stood for 37 years. Burton was
Northwestern's MVP in 1958, made All Big Ten in 1958 and 1959, was
All American in 1959, and was enshrined in the College Football Hall of
He closed his college career in 1960 by playing in both the
Shrine Bowl and in the Hula Bowl.
Burton made history by becoming the very first draft pick of the new
(New England) Patriots team in 1960. He played for six seasons,
He will be best remembered for his glory on the football field, but he
the greatest impact in his community through the Ron Burton Training
a summer camp he founded -- and funded -- to help underprivileged
Burton's gifts to young people and the work that he did to help
will be valued far into the future. He will be missed.
Eye of the Hurricaine... [posted Sept. 17]
. . . . Expect a more balanced game from both teams, in a game that
could be sloppier
than Kansas. NU's sharp new-look white uniforms, at least for the
being, might be the new look of winning, and winning u-g-l-y.
between the horror show of the Miami, Ohio loss and the chamber of
that awaits in Columbus, Ohio, the Duke game is figuratively and
in the eye of the hurricaine. The 'Cats should enjoy the
in a close, less than textbook win.
Even: NU Whips Duke 28-10 [posted Sept. 21]
forgot about its performance last week against Miami, a game Coach
declared a fluke, by beating Duke 28 to 10. There was noticeable
on both sides of the ball Saturday, and the margin of victory would
been even greater but for a string of Wildcat self inflicted wounds.
The Wildcat ground game highlighted NU's offense, as Jason Wright
to form with two touchdowns and 149 yards on the ground. Noah
also cracked 100 yards, making this the first Wildcat game since 1988
two 100-yard rushers. Not since the tandem of Byron Sanders and
Christian has NU (officially...) delivered this type of one-two rushing
of Noah's yards came from a spectacular 69-yard touchdown run that
a recovered Duke fumble. NU QB Brett Basanez had a strong game
and benefitted from improved protection from his line. He
only two sacks, and gained 176 yards through the air.
Refreshingly, NU's defense won the sack battle. The 'Cats dropped
the Blue Devil quarterbacks
behind the line six times, equalling the total number of sacks the
Wildcat defense registered during
the entire 2002 season. The Wildcat D looked better at all
in part evidenced by the fact that five of NU's six sacks were made by
players, with the sixth being credited to the team. The line
promise, particularly Luis Castillo, who notched a couple of tackles
a sack. At secondary Backes and Stuckey had a good game, and
Dominique Price had a pick that he ran back 43 yards. Newcomer
Bryan Heinz also
had an improved game. The linebacker play was highlighted by Tim
who not only notched a sack but caused a Duke fumble.
The win is just about the best thing that could have happened to the
at what was a most depressing point in the season. The victory
only evens out Northwestern's 2003 record at 2-2, it evens the
all-time record with Duke-- arguably NU's most important non-conference
The series is now tied at seven all. The win also gives NU
.500 record in non-conference games, extending its streak to eleven
with an even or winning non-conference slate.
Moment... [posted Sept. 22]
As predictable as the
swallows returning to Capistrano, the annual race has
begun to find the most devastating fact that illustrates how long
has suffered without a win against The The Ohio State University.
the first Nixon administration," "I was a toddler!" "The longest
I-A streak," and "Dude, are you going to finish that joint?" have all
uttered countless times this week and dribbled in the press. It's
languishing, doleful sitcom rerun of a pre-game spectacle, and it's
enough to pray for a Northwestern victory.
lies behind us and what lies before us
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand,
and melting like a snowflake.
--M. B. Ray
But is there a prayer? Does NU have a chance? Well,
yes. NU will very likely lose their Big Ten opener, and lose by a
margin. However, just a couple of weeks ago this game appeared to
impossible, an absolute Buckeye lock. It looks so no longer.
The Ohio State may have the longest current winning streak in major
football, but the last three wins have essentially been decided by the
of dice. Coaching, talent, and not a little luck have tilted the
the the Buckeyes' way; eventually that luck will run out, as it always
When it does, the the Buckeyes will have to salt a game away, or
it and cry until the Michigan game.
Against NU, OSU has ample talent to salt the game away. Even
Maurice "at least I'll have my education on which to fall back"
the the Buckeyes' offense is lethal, and efficient, gaining fewer yards
last year, but just as many points. OSU's underrated quarterback
Krenzel might have this game off, nursing an injury. However, the
Wildcat secondary will still face a challenge that will dwarf what
The real test will be against the the Buckeye defense. A.J. Hawk
the rest of the the Ohio State linebackers are the class of the
The Wildcat offensive line, which looked so improved at Duke from
"sissy" play against Miami, will have to make a similarly large leap in
and performance this Saturday if it is to have a shot at keeping the
Buckeye defenders at bay.
Of course, no one needs to be told just how titanic a Wildcat win would
against Ohio State. It could, but never does, go without saying.
And it has been that way for decades. Northwestern's great
back Ron Burton, who passed away last month after a courageous battle
cancer, gave an interview last year in which he stated that the chance
beat Ohio State was one of the reasons he came to NU, and beating
OSU was the most exciting moment of his college career. "It meant
than anything," Burton said. Preparing for the OSU game "was a
His final chance to beat the Buckeyes came in 1958, his junior
at Dyche Stadium. Burton described the way the Wildcats played in
game by saying "we played as a family." For Ron Burton, this was
moment, his moment. It was in his hand, and he and the rest of
'Cats grabbed it. NU won 21 to 0, and students tore down the goal
Burton briefly left his jubilant family and teammates, walked with his
star to the lakefront, and wept.
. . . . At
Northwestern, the only surer way to glory is to claim a bowl
Beating Ohio State and ending a thirty-two year void is to do what so
of the Wildcats' recent legends could not: Chris Hinton, Ricky Edwards,
Sanders, Bob Christian, Darnell Autry, Steve Schnur, Brian Musso, Barry
Zak Kustok and Damien Anderson left this work unfinished.
Beating Ohio State is to take the star in your hand and write your name
it, inscribing your deed forever in Northwestern's history. Two
of frustration and disappointment melt quicker than a snowflake.
is that simple.
And it is that daunting.
OSU Blanks NU 20-0 [posted Sept. 28]
found itself in the enviable position of being handed several golden
by the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, but was unable
convert any of them to its benefit, falling twenty to nothing in
Ohio came out and played flat early, almost playing down to its
allowing NU numerous chances to stay in the game. Unfortunately,
Wildcats were hampered by a few bad breaks of their own, some atrocious
calling, and the absence of a kicking game.
In the end, the Buckeyes, even when not firing all cylinders, were a
mismatch for Northwestern.
left the field after the first half having had ample
opportunities to keep the game close and to score, but came up empty on
counts. Terrific plays by Basznez, Herron and Wright all
failed to put points on the board.
Roger Jordan had a good opening half, coming up with several fantastic
catches for first down. Basanez ran a keeper into the endzone,
the points didn't remain on the board, due to a holding call.
another easy and totally blown field goal, NU whimpered away from a
and goal with nothing to show for it except the remarkable status of
one of only three Division I-A teams to have scored no field goals
this year (along with Arizona State and powerhouse UTEP).
Wildcat defense played well, with a couple of brutal exceptions,
including Ohio State's touchdown play in the first quarter. Ross
have been tackled behind the line of scrimmage, but instead bounced
the scrum and easily and embarrassingly scampered in for the Buckeye's
touchdown of the half.
However, Tim McGarigle played strong, and had a great PBU. And
half was capped with Bryan Heinz intercepting a Buckeye pass that
would have set up OSU to take a 17 point lead into the locker room.
again NU ended a half with all three of its times out, safely unused.
NU came out of the gate in the second half and promptly spotted the
another touchdown. OSU, making a few adjustments at the half
at the half! Interesting!), keyed on Backes and began throwing at
driving down the field quickly and wrapping the game
With a couple of minutes away from the end of the third quarter, down
with fourth down barely into OSU territory, and with a kicker who
a gimmie at 34 yards, Randy Walker made possibly the most mystifying
call of the year by electing to attempt a 47 yard field goal. The
from the 100,000 Buckeye fans in attendance was nearly audible on the
From there the game was a coast, as OSU coach Jim Tressel freely
(and, in fact, began swapping out his starters late in the second
and scored just enough to secure the win.
very bright spot to NU's game remains Brian Huffman, who punted eight
and averaged nearly 45 yards a punt. Most of those kicks came
his own endzone, under tremendous pressure. Kudos to Brian!
Overall, this was a fair performance by the 'Cats against a team that
simply on a different level in terms of resources and coaching.
Pounds NU [posted Oct. 6]
no sense in rehashing in too much detail a game like the one NU and
fans suffered through against Minnesota last Saturday at Ryan Field.
a few exceptions all elements of Northwestern's football program showed
faults, any one of which would prevent a victory.
The most glaring fault by far belonged to the Wildcat coaches, who have
somehow fostered a team that is as fragile as a
crystal kitten in a glass menagerie. A truly well-coached team
to adversity-- it feeds off of it and kicks its game up a notch in
to join the challenge. What fans saw Saturday was a Wildcat team
methodically, systematically drove down the field twice to take a 14 to
lead, gave up a touchdown on a single fluky play, and folded like a
fan. A team with even a shred of confidence, with a token amount
trust in its leadership would have been able to take the field still
leading by a touchdown
and keep pounding. However, Minnesota had found a weakness in the
and Minnesota-- though hampered as they are by Glen Mason, one of the
incompetent coaches in football-- adjusted its game to exploit NU's
Northwestern, unfortunately, showed that it is not capable of
any adjustments whatsoever, particularly adjustments in attitude.
the game, Coach Walker said, "I think this was a game lost by attitude.
Playing with a fire and passion. They made some big plays,
big plays are disheartening. And I felt like we gave this one
and I think our kids felt that way. And our kids are a little
and they just thought, 'Man we gave this one away.' We just lost
fire. We came out of the locker room good. We came out on
It's disheartening. I think confidence is the whole issue
We haven't dealt with adversity very well. When something
happens, we gotta get back up on the saddle very quickly."
All of Coach Walker's comments are true enough, except that NU didn't
the game away so much as Minnesota took it. The Gophers claimed
was theirs. They faced adversity far more shocking than a goofy
touchdown strike: Minnesota watched in horror as they were dominated on
sides of the ball for four and a half series. Then Minnesota
They played with fire, they adjusted, they found the necessary
to get it done. And they ended up in a position where they had to
off the dogs and coast to a 42-17 victory. In a rare move, Mason
showed an ounce of grace in the fourth quarter.
The game was not without its silver linings, however. The Wildcat
game looked good, and Slade Larscheid ended his drought by posting a
field goal. Northwestern's best player, punter Brian Huffman,
to make a case for All Big Ten status, punting seven times with two
stopping inside Minnesota's twenty and one of those downed by Ashton
at the Gopher one yard line.
Outlast Indy in OT
NU Edges Hoosiers 37-31 [posted Oct. 12]
took a seemingly commanding 17 to 0 jump against Indiana last Saturday,
as the 'Cats had against Kansas, Air Force, and Minnesota-- watched as
opponent nullified a multiple touchdown lead. This time NU hung
battling to tie the game and then shutting out the Hoosiers in single
win 37 to 31.
is NU's first Big Ten win since their victory over Indiana at Ryan
last year, and the 'Cats' first Big Ten road win since the famous
Right" game at Minnesota in 2000. This is also NU's third-ever
game. The Wildcats remain undefeated in games that go into extra
with a win at Duke in single overtime in 1999 and a win at Wisconsin in
overtime in 2000 (NU has yet to face overtime at home).
The Wildcats started strong, with Slade Larscheid making a 32-yard
goal. The 'Cat defense shut down the Hoosiers, giving NU good
position for its first touchdown drive. With a little over a
to go in the first quarter Brett Basanez connected with Brandon
for a 77-yard touchdown strike, the longest play for either Basanez or
and the longest scoring strike for the Wildcats this year.
fans, on hand at Memorial Stadium for Homecoming, expressed their
with Hoosier second-year coach Gerry DiNardo and his play calling,
the field with boos.
The Hoosiers responded, coming back from being down by 17 at two points
the game to stage a comeback, eventually taking the lead. The
we go again" mentality had seemed to descend again on Northwestern, as
cut through the NU secondary several times on the ground and through
Down by seven in the fourth quarter, the Wildcat players did not call
game quits and were able to take advantage of several key Hoosier
While the Wildcats had quite a few mistakes of their own in the
they were penalized ten times-- they did not turn the ball over once.
Basanez had a good day, passing for nearly 200 yards with no picks, and
Wright, Brandon Horn and Mark Philmore also turned in solid
on offense, as did the offensive line, which seemed somewhat improved
the Minnesota game. Of course, the level of competition this
has to be considered: Indy is a team on the ropes, with only 65 players
the youngest team in the conference.
While the defense seemed to have an off game, interceptions by Pat Durr
Bryan Heinz should be noted. Durr ran his pick back for 24 yards,
Heinz's catch ended Indiana's overtime possession and its chance to win
With the win, NU is now in eighth place in the Big Ten.
Rivalry Renewed [posted Oct. 22]
savoring a win over Indiana and with a week of "rest," Northwestern now
looks On (to) Wisconsin and Homecoming.
Ah, Wisconsin. The Wildcats' Unofficial Rivals have been
NU's schedule for two years, a series that has been simmering since the
brought it to full boil in Camp Randall Stadium three years ago.
It now seems like thirty years ago when we watched the game
the beginning of NU's Y2K Championship run. The 'Cats became
in the second half, starting with Dwayne Missouri slamming into Badger
Brooks Bollinger. Bollinger ejected the ball into Kevin Bentley's
Bentley raced into the endzone. The huge plays continued with a
touchdown run by Damien Anderson, a 28-yard TD pass by Zak Kustok, and
last-second 46-yard kick by Long. Two overtime sessions later,
'Cats came away with the shocking win, a win they could savor for their
One thing the
Wildcats won't have to prepare for is facing the Badgers' first-string
quarterback. Jim Sorgi is out, likely for the year, and Matt
is in. Schabert will lead what will likely be a very balanced
against the 'Cats. He saw action both in the Badger's terrific
over Ohio State (during which he threw for a touchdown) and last week's
loss to Purdue, and should be effective enough this Saturday to prevent
from attempting to stack up its defense. Unfortunately, that is
that the 'Cats would definitely like to do against Wisconsin, since the
sport the second best Big Ten running game right now (thanks to Anthony
impressive 6.4 yards per carry), and NU is weighted with second worst
run defense. The Badger offensive line will offer little
although it is young, it is big (averaging 307 pounds) and deep.
key matchup will be how well Colby Clark and Loren Howard can get off
and dispatch the Badgers' Dan Bruenning and Morgan Davis.
no mistake, though: the Badger offense, even with its injuries, is at a
above any team NU has so far played, including the defending national
Brett Basanez threw for 192 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago, and he
for 40 more. He'll need to have similar success against Wisconsin
NU to have a shot, and he just might get it. Wisconsin is not
adept at defending the spread, and if the Wildcat O-line comes to play
and Jason Wright could end up providing a few fleeting flashbacks of
and Anderson. Will it be enough? Against a team that has
a wild two week swing from elation to heartbreak, and will likely enter
Field in a furious mood, the Wildcats will have to pull out all the
One thing's for sure: this rivalry might not be official, but for
last eight years it has been entertaining. Hopefully this
game will follow suit.
Northwestern celebrated Homecoming this year in the most surprising
manner possible, beating Wisconsin (#20 AP, #17 Coaches Poll) in a
hard-fought and electric game. While the game might not signal a
football renaissance, the win was no fluke. Wisconsin did not
the game; Northwestern won it. The Wildcat offense, defense,
teams, and-- yes-- coaching all played up to, and seemingly beyond,
potential for sixty minutes.
'Cats Beat #17 Wisconsin [posted Oct. 26]
The beginning of the game set the tone, as both teams began a pitched
battle, with NU held to punts and Wisconsin to a missed field goal.
was the first to crack the scoreboard. Late in the first quarter
Basanez connected with Roger Jordan for a 26 yard gain and put NU near
Two plays later Basanez fired a pass to Jason Wright, who made a
catch and raced into the endzone for a 53-yard scoring strike.
was unable to get the point after. On the Wildcats' following
drive, NU's kicking woes again threw a scare into the Homecoming crowd,
freshman kicker Joel Howells launched a 25 yard field goal attempt
into the buttocks of a player. Wisconsin took the booty-ball back
the NU 48, but was still unable to score. Toward the middle of
second quarter, however, the Badgers intercepted a Basanez pass and
down the field to run in a score. With the PAT, the Badgers took
brief one point lead.
NU responded by folding immediately.
it. Sorry-- that was copy from previous game write-ups from this
NU responded by toughening their resolve and methodically
down the field. They mixed up medium-gain passes with some
rushing work by Basanez and a stunning effort by Jason Wright to get a
down while shattering tackles like they were made from crepe paper.
field goal later (made by NU super-punter / place kicker and high
field goal kicker Brian Huffman-- is there nothing he can't do?)
had reclaimed the lead, reclaimed it for good, and reclaimed at least
of its respect on the field.
NU took its 9 to 7 lead into the locker room, came out after halftime
Sorry-- there's that damn script again. NU came out after
and shut down the Badger offense completely. NU did, as
stack the box and dare Wisconsin and their second-string quarterback to
With Badger running back Anthony Davis out after the first
with an ankle injury, Wisconsin could not overcome the fired-up Wildcat
defense. The NU pass defense stiffened, and Wisconsin was forced
punt on all of its third quarter possessions. What can you say
the NU defensive line? Well, you can take a cue from Badger
coordinator Brian White, who remarked "They were the biggest and
defensive front we've faced. They were more physical than us."
was said by the same coordinator who had faced and defeated Ohio State
weeks before, and ended the Buckeyes' 19-game winning streak.
NU capped the third period by putting the game away, using a
of the "fumblerooskie" play that Walker had successfully used against
in 2001. Huffman came on to kick his second field goal.
Batis took the snap, (accidentally) put the ball on the ground, and
snapped the ball to Noah Herron between his legs. With Batis
to his left toward the endzone and Herron standing still like he'd just
of a really good recipe for clam dip, the Badger special teams unit bit
line, and sinker and flooded left. Herron then sprang into action
raced to the Wisconsin three yard line. Two plays later Wright
past the goal.
"You can only dust [that play] off every few years," Walker said after
game. "I'm not the most creative guy, [but] I'm the world's
plagiarist. We took it from Ball State about ten years ago."
From there the game resumed its defensive struggle. With over
minutes to go NU made a critical stop. Granted, the Wildcats were
by nine and therefore by two potential Badger scores, but the game was
technically in doubt. Regardless, during a TV timeout Badger fans
exiting Ryan Field in droves. There was an audible reaction from
NU fans, and-- in a move I had never before seen at a game-- a visible
from the Badger players, who stood on the field with their backs
their hands on their hips, staring in disgust at the leaking rivers of
in the stands.
is a rare game that showcased superb effort by all of NU's squads.
offense, Basanez had a few mistakes but did not let them get to him.
toughed it out and ended up having a good game and passing for 176
Wright and Herron were exceptional. Wright could be seen
to the sideline grimacing in agony after many plays, but sticking with
and making plays. He gave a "gut-it-out" performance worthy of
of the Wildcat championship teams. The O-line played their best
of the season. Trai Essex, Matt Ulrich, Trevor Rees, and Zach
The Wildcat defense held a Big Ten team to seven points or less for the
time since 1995 and arguably had its best game since 1996. Loren
had the game of his career, his three tackles for loss (and one sack)
telling the whole story of his game-long harassment of Matt Schabert
company. Howard said later, "I looked over at their
in the third quarter and they were lifeless, there was no emotion over
I think at that point they threw the towel in. They weren't
to what we were bringing them." What Howard was bringing them was
disciplined and forceful football, and hopefully it was Northwestern
football from here on.
Cofield, Castillo, Ward and Heintz all had a fantastic game. Tim
looked like an All Big Ten candidate. McGarigle definitely
like a player with a renewed will and confidence: "[This win] is going
carry us through the next four games. We've got four more to
Louis Ayeni came back from another luckless injury to bring havoc
the Badger offense, tattooing players with bone-jarring hits.
The hits coming from the Wildcat Lockdown defense may have been
but they were also clean. While NU had a few before-the-play
it had no after-the-play penalties, no personal fouls, no late
This was just clean, hard smashmouth play, and it was the most
effort by the Wildcats in years. Credit the players for a job
done, but credit the coaches as well. Walker and company have
fans reason to pull their hair in frustration lately, but last
if for one week, they gave them reason to celebrate.
Next Level [posted Oct. 30]
. . . . Purdue
will almost certainly attempt to tear into NU in the same manner that
attempted and failed-- through the air. Purdue QB Kyle Orton
have a better time of it than did Wisconsin. In 39 quarters of
and 339 attempts, Orton has thrown just four interceptions, and 14
His favorite target, John Standeford, is Purdue's career
leader and is averaging almost 87 receiving yards per game.
secondary will have to have a flawless day of football to keep the
in this game. Marvin Ward, Torri Stuckey, and Louis Ayeni have
a wrecking crew for the 'Cats recently. They need to have the
of their lives this Saturday. The NU run defense will also be
Purdue features three running backs who have all notched 100 yard
so far this year. The Boilers are deep on the ground and the
will be relentless for sixty minutes.
two weeks now Wildcat Purple has limned the Becky Crown Clock Tower,
Wildcat fans have watched NU progress from a pounding by Minnesota, to
shaky win over an even shakier Indiana team, to a huge, quality win
a top-twenty (but wounded) Badger squad. Now, the 'Cats are
the challenge of having to increase their intensity and performance
when they square off against Purdue at Purdue-- a Boilermaker team that
also top-twenty, but fully functioning.
Just as the passing game will be key for the Boilers, so might it be
the 'Cats. With Jason Wright coming back from a sprained ankle,
with NU facing one of the best rushing defenses in the nation
fourth), Brett Basanez will also be called on to take his game to the
level. Even with a world-class safety, Purdue still can be beaten
in the air-- can the 'Cats rise to the
task? This would be an enormous win for NU, a win that would
seal a bowl game, but it would be twice as surprising as the win was
the Badgers last week. Purdue will have watched film of the
game, and there will be no surprises for the Boilers on Saturday.
NU can pull it out, it will be due to every aspect of the Wildcat team
seemingly above its capability. Of course, that's not impossible.
fact, we've seen it before, and so have the seniors on this team.
NU Fumbles, Stumbles Away Purdue Game;
Bad Breaks, Bad Plays Lead to 34-14 Beating [posted Nov. 2]
to Saturday's game with Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium, Northwestern led
the nation in fewest fumbles
lost, with only two. The Wildcats suffered multiple crushing fumbles by
quarterback and a rare fumble by Jason Wright, along with breakdowns in
line that wiped away the 'Cats' sterling turnover record. NU fell
behind by halftime
to Purdue 20 to 7. The second half proved just
as uncompetitive, and the 'Cats limped to a 34-14 whipping. NU
on to cough up the ball five times, losing four of them to the Boilers.
Purdue with coming back from their disaster with Michigan a week
The Boilermaker defense was effective all day, successfully
and aggressively blitzing a vulnerable Wildcat line and backfield.
Boilers were, indeed, at a level above Wisconsin-- and certainly a
above where NU currently is. As to Basanez's fumbles, Coach
explained, "They were blitzing. Sometimes, especially in the gun,
get your eye on the blitz and you start worrying about the heat more
catching." Baz certainly had reason to worry about the heat,
a blow torch was being directed squarely at him, with no insulation
his offensive line.
The defensive squad was slightly more effective than NU's stymied
The defense worked with a short field for many of Purdue's
which did not do wonders for NU's defensive statistics. Walker
the defense some support: "I don't think the defensive performance was
You would like them to make some of those stops but golly, they
thrown on the dust a couple of times." Not just thrown on the
but-- on numerous plays-- the defense was burnt like toast. NU's
defense had a terrible day, and Boiler receivers were occasionally wide
with nary a 'Cat in sight. One notable exception was Louis Ayeni,
again turned in a great performance since coming back from injuries.
continues to deliver stone-popping hits.
NU Slaps Penn St. 17-7
NU Defense Smothers Lions;
Herron Runs for 180 Yards;
Wildcats Throw a "Changeup" [posted Nov. 9]
three frustrating, error-filled quarters of football, the Northwestern
woke up and joined its defensive counterpart (already in progress) in a
fourth quarter to defeat Penn State 17 to 7 at Ryan Field. The
is the fifth for NU, making 2003 only the fifth season in 32 years to
five or more wins. And the victory drops the Wildcats' magic
to bowl eligibility to one game. It also ensures that the
worst place that NU can finish in the Big Ten is eighth; the 'Cats
still (theoretically) finish in the top five.
The match with the Lions featured inspired play by both the offensive
defensive lines (especially by Loren Howard, who was a titan on the
field) , as well as solid play by Brian Huffman, Torri
Stuckey and Noah Herron, who notched 180 yards.
While the defense returned to the form it showed against Wisconsin,
the defensive line gunning for Lion QB Mills and shutting down the Penn
running game, the offense continued to sputter. It was as if an
barrier shielded the Penn State endzone from the Wildcats. For
quarters, NU tried to gain access, and for 45 minutes, access was most
denied. NU fumbled, NU was intercepted, and-- at the most
moment of the game-- late in the third quarter NU lined up two feet
the Lion goal line and tried to run the ball in. From the
The invisible barrier remained air tight. Finally, midway through
fourth quarter, the barrier burst in as strange a way as possible.
two weeks after NU deployed its "fastball" trick play and Coach Walker
it dead for another couple of years, the Wildcats pulled out the
again. This time, however, there was a twist. According to
Rittenberg in Sunday's Chicago Daily Herald, "Wideout Eric Batis took
[fourth down] snap and pretended to slip the ball between running back
Herron's legs before running for an 8-yard gain... The trick play,
'changeup,' is a variation of...'fastball,' in which Herron actually
the ball from Batis and runs. The Wildcats hadn't practiced
until this week.
"'It's all an illusion, it's all magic, it's what fastball is, slight
hand,' Walker said. 'You get them distracted with something
We've run fastball a bunch of times, but we never made it to changeup.
changeup finally made its debut. I made that one up. I
that one. I don't create many."
NU took the lead on a 40 yard bomb from Brett Basanez to Brandon Horn.
play epitomized Penn State's current state, as Yaacov Yisrael attempted
intercept the pass, but instead tipped the ball into the hands of a
Horn, who then stepped across the goal line. It was a moment
of "Victory Right," only with half of its elements inverted and in
And, for the Lions, it was a back breaker.
Notes from the Penn State Game [posted Nov. 10]
Prior to this year's Air Force game, I had posted this:
Can Northwestern defeat
a team against whom it suffered a 49-point loss the previous year?
is precedent for it, but not much. A little history: since
NU has been defeated by 49 or more points in a game exactly 27 times.
of those games came last year (tying 1981 as the season with the most
losses). Of the 24 games before 2002, four of them involved
the Wildcats did not play the following year (including Nebraska, our
Bowl opponent). That leaves 20 examples throughout NU history.
lost to 17 of them the next year, tied one, and beat two. One of
wins came against Chicago at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
other one took place almost ten years ago this week.
came as close as possible to getting such a win against Air Force this
but fell short. Against Penn State, which beat NU 49-0 in 2002,
Wildcats succeeded, for just the third time in their history. The
may not have been a thing of beauty, and Penn State might be down on
luck right now, but the accomplishment and the turnabout from last year
On the other side of the equation, it was noted by ESPN during the
close of the Penn State game that last Saturday marked only the
second time in Penn State's history
that the Lions had beaten a team by 40 or more points, only to lose to
team the following year. The only other time that happened was in
when the Lions lost to a strong Ohio State team 28 to 25. The
year was Joe Pa's last undefeated season, and Penn State dismantled OSU
Lockdown In Progress?
The win over
Penn State showcased a reinvigorated defensive effort. For the
time this season, a Big Ten team has failed to score more than seven
against the Wildcats. This is only the second time since 1971
NU has kept two conference foes to seven or less points (the other time
1995, when NU had one of the three best defenses in the nation).
NU keep Illinois (or Michigan....) to seven or less, it would mark the
time since 1960 that NU had done so to three Big Ten
teams in a season.
Wright, Herron Power 'Cats to 37-20 Win over Illini and to Bowl
[posted Nov. 23]
Last Saturday's was a game of four-letter words:
played a sloppy, mistake-ridden half of football against Illinois at
Stadium before Jason Wright and Noah Herron put the game into overdrive
led the Wildcats to a 37 to 20 victory. NU launched an
interception that was run back for an Illini touchdown and fumbled four
times (shockingly losing only one of those fumbles). Teams of
some holding Nobel prizes, had previously concluded it was impossible,
the 'Cats proved them wrong: NU made Illinois look good.
Illini, who concluded their season without a win against a Division I-A
played their typical brand of hapless football, yet had striking
in shutting down Northwestern until halftime.
What I spent halftime screaming, seconds after witnessing a couple of
the most bone-headed plays I've ever seen.
The hero of the game was Jason Wright. On Sunday night Wright was
Northwestern's Most Valuable Player for the second straight year.
was a most deserved honor. In what might have been his final
on a college field, Wright scored four of NU's five touchdowns, tying
Northwestern record. He had a career day, torching the field for
yards and a 6.1 yards per carry stat. Wright's rushing total
the Illini is the fifth-best in Wildcat history, edging out Darnell
memorable performance against Iowa in 1996.
With his stellar game, Wright has become just the
third player in NU history (after Autry and Damien Anderson) to log two
1,000-yard seasons. He
closed the regular season with 1,151 rushing yards and has 2,388 for
career, good enough for fifth place on NU's all-time list.
touchdowns Saturday bring his scoring total to 204, fourth on NU's
Still recovering from an ankle injury, Wright took charge on the field
and displayed grace and leadership off it.
However, Wright was not the only 'Cat at a track meet in Champaign:
Herron ran for 163 yards, including a 37-yard breakaway. Herron
an astonishing 9.6 yards per carry. While depth might be an issue
running back next year, NU's starting spot should not be a concern.
Come to think of it, depth at running back might not be a problem after
if Brandon Horn converts from wide receiver. Horn picked up two
against the Illini for 49 yards, including a 42 yard explosion off of a
reverse. NU has had luck with the reverse play all year, and
pulled the play at the ideal moment in the game, with Illinois loading
and falling hook, line and sinker.
Wright, Herron, and Horn combined for 61 rushing plays which notched 26
downs. The Wildcats had 444 net yards on the ground, close to a
The game was simply a ground assault spectacle for
NU; the 'Cats attempted
just one pass in the second half. Then again, NU only completed
one pass in the first half! Of course, that completion was to
Patrick, who built his streak of games with a completion to 46, the
in the country and one away from tying the NCAA record.
fifth touchdown was notched courtesy of Marvin Ward, who had
a terrific game and ran back Illinois backup QB Chris Pazan's pass the
way for a 69 yard strike, sealing the game for NU. Ward caught
two Illini passes, as did Bryan Heinz.
With the win, NU has won its sixth game and has avoided a losing season
for just the fourth time since 1971.
has gained bowl eligibility by the frailest of margins. Will the
make it to the postseason? We'll know in a few days.
NU ACCEPTS INVITATION TO DETROIT
NU Athletic Dept.: Buy Your Tix Through NU [posted Dec. 7]
For the fourth time since the Expect Victory
Era began, Northwestern is going bowling.
On Sunday, December 7, NU accepted an invitation to play in the Motor
Bowl in Detroit, ending several weeks of speculation as to whether the
would make it to postseason play.
With its win over
Illinois, NU achieved a 6-6 record, making the 'Cats eligible for a
game with a Big Ten tie-in. NU tied for seventh in the
and was the eighth for a bowl slot. The Big Ten's seventh bowl
became available for NU when Ohio State was invited to play in the BCS
In a series of statements during the last two weeks, NU athletic
Mark Murphy has urged Northwestern fans to purchase their tickets for
Motor City Bowl through Northwestern because doing so will "...help us
a track record [of attendance] with the various bowl committees.
reality of the situation is that numbers talk and your participation
make a difference!"
Motor City Bowl will be played at Ford Field on Friday, December 26,
at 5:00 p.m. EST. ESPN will televise the game nationally.
The official Northwestern Alumni tour for the Motor City Bowl is being
with Conlin Athletic Tours. The tour will include a stay at the
Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center,
which is the official hotel for the Big Ten's Motor City Bowl
It's Northwestern Vs. Bowling Green
Green took the MAC East title by beating Toledo on Thanksgiving
The Falcons then lost the conference championship to Miami.
RedHawks are headed to the GMAC Bowl, and the Falcons will represent
MAC in Detroit.
Bowling Green (10-3 overall; 7-2 MAC) has had an
season, beating Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium and coming very close to
off Ohio State. Their crowning moment so far this year was
previously undefeated Northern Illinois at BGSU, on ESPN, with the Game
crew in attendance. The Falcons' only slip-up besides their seven
loss to the Buckeyes was a drubbing at the hands of Miami. The
time BGSU and Northwestern have met was in November 2001, when NU slid
Falcons into what should have been the 'Cats' bye week, only to have
and quarterback Josh Harris upend NU 43 to 42. Harris is still at
helm, and he sports 19 touchdowns so far, to only nine interceptions.
"Anti" Pope and Cole Magner are nearing 1,000 yards rushing and
Bowling Green Preview [posted Dec. 14]
the BCS controversy dies down and the pomp and ceremony of NU's
bowl festivities come to a close, there will still be a game to play
the Bowling Green Falcons. NU comes into its fifth bowl game as
underdog, and for good reason-- the Wildcats have a big challenge on
hands if they want to claim NU's first bowl championship since 1949.
NU has a number of disadvantages that have nothing to do directly with
matchup with the Falcons, but are related to the timing of the bowl and
NU's last regular season game. By the time the 'Cats suit up in
it will be well over a month since they have played football.
has played two games in that interval and has had time to rest as well.
Wildcat players are wrapping up finals and will not even be able to use
of the pre-bowl practices allotted them by the NCAA. NU will have
be very focused and productive with what practice time they do have.
far the biggest threat from BGSU will come from senior quarterback Josh
Harris went wild on NU when these teams last met in 2001
2003 is the second time NU and BGSU have met and it is also the second
that their meeting was not scheduled at the beginning of the season).
has an arsenal of good wideouts, but Cole Magner is the favorite, and
Harris - Magner combination could shred the Wildcats.
NU will have to have a very balanced game from its defense--
the LBs and the secondary must all have a good game. If there is
soft spot anywhere on the field, it will ultimately open up a fatal
from Harris. However, if NU can get to Harris and apply effective
while not sacrificing coverage, the 'Cats could keep it close.
The key to NU's offense lies with the line and with Jason Wright and
Herron. If the line can keep the excellent Falcon defensive front
of the backfield and can open a few holes, Wright and Herron should
be able to score, possibly multiple times. Just as important,
should eat up the clock, time that Harris is not on the field eating up
NU's ground game will face an uphill battle, though. The Falcons
certainly anticipate the NU ground attack and will probably bring the
to stop it. Bowling Green will dare Brett Basanez to throw, but
won't have to saddle the whole game on himself. All he needs to
is execute a few well-timed effective passes to take just a little of
heat off the Wildcat running squad, which could be enough to let Wright
Herron pound away. NU fans have seen Basanez have some very good
we just tend to remember the bad games a little more clearly. If
has a career day the Falcons will be in trouble.
Still, will it be enough to counter Harris' flying circus?
not, but stranger things have happened. In fact, stranger things
happened this year for NU. And if the Wildcats can outlast
Green, wear down the Falcon defense, and pull off the upset, they'll
accomplished what no Northwestern Big Ten Championship team
ever did: they'll have won a bowl game.
[posted Dec. 17]
Northwestern lost its greatest athletic star tonight.
Otto Graham unexpectedly died from a rare heart condition. He was
82 years old.
exceptional multi-instrument musician, a star in baseball, basketball,
football, a renowned coach and a respected military officer, there
little that Otto couldn't do. Hailing from Waukegan, Graham came
NU on a basketball scholarship and went on to earn All-America honors
However, it was his skill on the gridiron that made him a superstar.
discovery by Wildcat football coach Pappy Waldorf is now the stuff of
Otto was leading his undefeated fraternity intramural football
to victory when he was spotted by Waldorf, who was happening by and who
Otto to try out for the football team. Otto's first Wildcat
game was the 1941 season opener against Kansas State at Dyche Stadium.
fans knew that they were witnessing history as Otto proceeded to return
Kansas State punt 94 yards and scored.
...And scored. And scored. "Automatic" Otto shattered most
Northwestern's offensive records during his career and, according to
broke every Big Ten passing record then kept. He accomplished
despite missing an entire year after having knee surgery. Otto
on to take two football All-America titles and eight Northwestern
in three sports. He came closer than any other Wildcat to a
trophy, placing third in 1943. Perhaps his crowning moment as a
came in 1943, when NU battled Wisconsin at Camp Randall. During
game Otto rushed for three touchdowns, passed for a fourth, and
kicked three of the points after. Not only did Otto pose a triple
during the game, he spent halftimes at Dyche Stadium playing in the
band! After the first half, rather than recuperating in the
room, Otto would tear off his uniform, put on the band outfit, play the
songs, then put his football uni back on and race back to the field.
Otto went on to even grander fame as a professional quarterback,
his name as the first Cleveland Browns legend and throwing his way into
NFL Hall of Fame. During every season Otto played with the
they went to the championship game, winning seven out of ten. He
threw for an astounding 23,584 yards
with the Browns, notching 174 touchdowns. While he wore the
uniform, he never missed a single game. Otto coached the Coast
Academy football team, he coached the College All-Star team more
than anyone else, and he was the Washington Redskin's head coach from
War hero, NUMBAlum, basketball and baseball standout, NFL star and
civic leader, and-- of course-- Wildcat football hero, Otto Graham
a void that is as varied and broad as it is unfillable.
'Cats Fight the Good Fight,
Fall in Motor City [posted Dec. 29]
put up a valiant fight, taking a ten-point lead several times during
Motor City Bowl, before falling to the Bowling Green Falcons 28 to 24
The 'Cats came out and shocked BGSU early, rolling up yards and picking
off Falcon QB Josh Harris. Jason Wright, angered at outrageously
disrespectful pregame comments by ESPN, among others, went wild.
Wright broke several Northwestern bowl records, including most
yards rushing and the longest touchdown run. Wright streaked 77
yards for the score and returned a kickoff
88 yards, setting up another touchdown by Noah Herron (for an expanded
updated list of Northwestern bowl game records, click here).
Herron had scored the game's fist touchdown as well, when he
free during a fourth-down attempt near midfield and trucked 40 yards to
Bowling Green adjusted in the second half, picking NU apart
with screen and short-gain passes, for which the 'Cats had no answer.
so NU's bowl drought continues for another year.
Northwestern may have come into this game without much respect, but
left it with Honor-- and with honors: Wright in his final college game
Josh Harris to share the game's MVP trophy, the first time in Motor
Bowl history that the MVP honor has been shared. Luis Castillo
made MCB history by claiming the UAW Motor City Bowl Lineman of the
The 'Cats played smart, with spirit, and-- until the last five
they outplayed a ten-win team that had beaten the same Purdue team that
NU earlier in the year, showing strides by the Wildcats that were as
as they are welcome. All that NU lacked in Detroit was the
to finish. They left the field with a letdown, and now they again
The quest will continue. There is work left undone, and between
and next September the Wildcats should occupy themselves with readying
complete what has been left inchoate for so very long.