2003 Season
Review Page


2003: The Season Review

2003 was a season of "three steps forward, two steps back."  What was expected to be a solid offense occasionally faltered and sputtered.  What was predicted to continue to be one of the worst defenses in Division I committed itself to "Lockdown" and followed through.  A running game that was great in 2002 became even better in 2003, with Jason Wright and Noah Herron exploding on the ground.  A head coach that started the season on the bubble got another year (at least) at the helm.  And a team that was expected by many to do no better than equal its three wins from a year ago doubled that count, thanks in part to a pivotal win against Indiana and a huge victory against a ranked Wisconsin team.  However, the blessing of an unexpected bowl season became something of a curse, as NU dropped its fourth straight postseason game and therefore suffered its 29th losing season 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 the Wildcats' "Return to Purple," as NU took to the field wearing purple jerseys for the first time since 1991.  The new-look 'Cats sported the best-looking NU uniforms in years, but still lacked the northwestern striping that was 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 unable to fill Ryan Field, going a third straight year without a sellout.

What follows are excerpts from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the 2003 season.

NU Wraps up First Week of Spring Practice;
Spring Game Slated for April 26 [posted April 6]

The Wildcat football team has concluded its first week of spring practice, testing out a variety of new offensive and defensive schemes and several players in new positions.  Most notable is the new role of Jeff Backes, who played running back and wide receiver last year, but is now taking on the role of cornerback.  According to NU Backes is faring well with his new defensive duties, making "eye-opening" plays.  Greg Lutzen is another Wildcat player who has found himself on the other end of the ball, so to speak, this spring, moving from the defensive to the offensive line.

At the conclusion of this week's practices, the Northwestern Gridiron Network held its annual NGN Auction and Dinner at Welsh-Ryan Arena on April 5.  The Auction attracted several hundred former players, alumni and fans of all stripes for an outstanding evening, raising thousands of dollars for NU football.  As with previous recent auctions, Coach Randy Walker took an active 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 the past decade.  For the first few years of Gary Barnett's tenure, the event was an alumni game, with former NU stars taking on the current varsity team.  Barnett later returned to the traditional Purple / White matchup.  Randy Walker has typically used the game to run a scripted set of plays between first and second-team squads, with limited special teams roles.

Although last year's Spring Game was held in Northwestern's indoor practice facility due to weather, the game is usually played at Ryan Field, and is one of only three official events that the stadium hosts each year (along with the University Commencement in June and-- of course-- NU's set of football home games in the fall).  Not only will the game be a great chance to soak in the Ryan Field atmosphere in the middle of the off-season, it will be an opportunity to see how the 'Cats are advancing.

Spring Practice Concluding;
Spring Game Canceled [posted April 18]

The Wildcats will conclude their 2003 spring practice schedule with a series of closed sessions this week, culminating in a closed practice this Saturday, April 26.  NU had originally scheduled the annual Spring Game for that date, but canceled the event, citing a need to re-sod the field.  This year marks the third year in the last five that there will be no Spring Game at Ryan Field.

Reports from spring practice and posted on nusports.com indicate that, in addition to Ray Bogenrief and Jeff Backes, Derell Jenkins might find himself playing a different position this fall.  Jenkins, who displayed good speed last year, has been moved from quarterback to running back this spring.

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 fracture or a sprain; either way, it further depletes the Wildcat offensive line, increasingly a position of concern.  

Will the Wildcats Have a New Look this Season? [posted April 27]

Adidas and NU ended their relationship at the end of 2001.  NU used surplus Adidas uniforms during 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 have a sponsor or will pay for the uniforms in full.  Reports indicate that the Wildcats will, indeed, return to purple in 2003, and might employ a new style with black side panels, similar to 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 road.  If true, it would be the first time NU has worn all purple in twelve 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 future), the Return to Purple is, for many fans and alumni, a most welcome event!

For a history of the NU football uniform, click here.

Camp Kenosha XII Underway;
Public 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 featured daily Kenosha updates, with pictures from the first day.  According to the official site, "Walker is pleased with the progress his team has made in learning their system.  'We've thrown a lot at them in these first few days.  We've got almost our entire offensive and defensive packages installed already.'"

. . . . 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 impression left from the last two seasons.  The players on defense especially have a lot to prove and have adopted the slogan "Lock down" for the season.  According to The Daily Herald, Louis Ayeni came up with the phrase: "We're trying to lock down offenses.  Stop the run, stop the pass."

Sports Publications Offer Their
Preseason 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 typically begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes with the Big Ten's July media event, when the conference announces its official front runner.

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 these previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring the biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings) is a profitable strategy.  However, NU has bucked that trend and the conventional thinking once before: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a Big Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.
  • Fox Sports - CollegeFootballNews.com: Initial ranking: 87th.  Revised ranking: 74th / 9th in the Big Ten, ahead of Indiana.  Strength: running backs.  Weakness: secondary.  Revising its initial assessment, which put NU below Michigan State, Fox Sports now has NU tied with the Spartans at 9th in the conference.  It also eloquently states, "the potential is there for this defense to be a whole bunch better."  UPDATE:  CFN released its game-by-game predictions on July 11.  Fox predicts a 2-10 season for NU, with the only wins coming against Kansas and Indiana.  "There's no reason this team should lose to... Duke" CFN states, but has the 'Cats losing to them anyway.
  • Athlon: 86th / 11th in the Big Ten.  No love for the 'Cats from Athlon.  However, 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)
  • Lindy's: 74th / 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Indiana.  Exact same preview and 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 these publications, 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 in the conference!"), The Sporting News put no nice touch on its blunt predictions for the 'Cats' season.  "[NU] says its defense is improved, that... Colby's 4-3 changes needed a year.  Until we see results, we say 'phooey.'"
  • If The Sporting News' prediction has you down in the dumps, look no further than Street & Smith's to cheer up.  S&S does not give national rankings except for the top 25 teams.  However, it predicts conference finishes, and places NU at 8th place in the Big Ten!  The 'Cats are ranked above Illinois, Michigan State, and Indy.  This, by the way, is the highest prediction for NU by a major publication since the summer of 2001, when NU was favored to win the conference (the highest prediction for NU last year was 9th, by pigskinpost.com).  Street & Smith's believes Jason Wright will be the difference-maker.
  • 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 NU should do well in the non-conference, and could flirt with .500 this year.  He rates NU over Michigan State and Indiana, and says he is "impressed with the athletic talent" NU has now on defense.
  • As of July 7, Jim Howell's Website, which determines a "power ranking" for every Division I team, lists NU 79th nationally in its 2003 preseason rankings.
  • Saragan's 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 might want to take that dire prediction with a large grain of salt:  NationalChamps.net also predicts that Wisconsin will win the conference, with Penn St. coming 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 lot else.  He isn't impressed with the 'Cats' latest recruitment effort, 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 has held its kickoff luncheon and media meetings (July 24), and Ohio State has been tapped as the conference favorite, with Michigan second and Wisconsin third.  Reporters from Big Ten newspapers were asked to vote for their predicted finishes; NU came in eleventh.
  • Sports 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 question, his only comment on the 'Cats: "Randy Walker is on the hot seat.  The school is still in court re: Rashidi Wheeler.  On the field, the Wildcats are the old Wildcats."
  • USA Today's outlook is on the more upbeat side, placing NU at ninth in the conference, ahead of usual suspects Michigan State and Indiana.  The return of 17 Wildcat starters drove the USA Today prediction.
[As he has been for many of NU's recent seasons, Phil Steel was the closest to predicting how NU would do.  No one guessed that the Wildcats would tie for seventh in the Big Ten, but Steel's comment that NU would "flirt with .500" was dead on.  And the Goat among the media?  That would have to be The Sporting News-- phooey, indeed. Goat runners-up are NationalChumps.net and the Big Ten newspaper reporters.]

'Cats 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, never to recover.  It is reasonable that some fans should fear this year's opener as well, given NU's performance throughout last year.  However, the Kansas opener is not Air Force.  And NU 2003 is not (quite) NU 2002.  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 problems last year, but so did KU, in buckets: during their conference run, the Hawks gave up 45 points to Iowa State, 53 to Colorado, 47 to Texas A&M, 64 to Kansas State, 45 to Nebraska and 55 to Oklahoma State.  The Hawks return seven starters from that troubled squad, including two safeties who 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 of gravy.  Thick, hot, delicious gravy.  Oh, yes, and he's turned to junior college transfers.  A lot of Juco transfers, thirteen to be exact, will enroll at KU this fall, ready to start.  Well, maybe ready to start-- there are some reports as of the writing of this preview (August 17) that the jury is still out regarding the academic eligibility of at least a couple of the new Juco players.  More than one KU fan right now is wondering if the Juco Junction was the best move the rebuilding 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 that Juco offensive lineman Johnnie Urritia is gone.  If so, this is important and very, very bad news for KU, since the O-line was its weakest offensive position last year.  Only one starter is back on O-line.  The line 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 behind the line.  This matchup might be just the one needed to bolster the 'Cats' confidence and performance.  If NU's D-line comes ready to play, 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.  The #1 key for the 'Cats in this game is to take advantage of the vulnerabilities in KU's O-line to get to Whittemore as quickly as possible.  Whittemore must  be shut down-- this is essential.  Running back Clark Green will also pose problems for NU if he is healthy.  Right now Green is banged up, but should be OK for the game.  Can NU's defense make the majority of behind-the-line or near-the-line tackles that they should?  The KU receiver group is thin, but if Whittemore doesn't have sufficient pressure, 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 their biggest recruit: there is a rumor (and, at this point, only a rumor) that linebacker John McCoy might also not be able to play.  While this is a deep position for KU, losing McCoy, combined with preseason injuries, does not help.  The hits just keep coming for Kansas, as it is not a rumor, but absolutely confirmed that co-captain defensive tackle Travis Watkins is out with a broken foot.  As long as NU's starting offensive line holds and is injury free going into the game, the Wildcats might actually (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 talent advantage going into a game.  So, what's left?  Intangibles are left.  Do the Wildcat coaches have NU ready?  Are the Wildcats 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 Purdue for homecoming in Evanston last year (absolutely no spirit whatsoever, divided and distracted), NU has the guns, guts and talent to take it.  NU wins by ten in a typically high-scoring game.

Scrimmage at Carthage
as 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 'Cats in action two weeks before they take the field at Kansas.  NU practiced and drilled for about an hour in ninety-degree heat and then ran a 45 minute scrimmage, which consisted of controlled sets of plays (including punts and 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 playing well.  The line, however, is quite thin, and the second-stringers are very young.  Noah Herron had a fantastic practice and looked very quick 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 missed tackles behind the line of scrimmage.  There was some tentative play by the linebackers (and quite a few of the linebackers were banged up and on the sidelines) and the defensive line did not attack quite as much as it needed to.  Overall, the defense does look like it has improved from this time last year, but there is still room for improvement showing, and things to "lock down" in the weeks before the season and during the nonconference.

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 which they will return to Evanston and make final preparations for their trip to Kansas.

Whew! NU Overcomes Jayhawk Rally to Win 28-20
[posted Aug. 31]

Northwestern blew a  14-0 halftime lead in one minute in the third quarter and survived a last minute rally by the Jayhawks to beat Kansas 28-20 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.  It was the Wildcats' first-ever meeting with Kansas, and the 'Cats' fifth season opening win in 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 night.  The teams began the second quarter without a score between them.  NU did have some chances, though.  Wildcat quarterback Brett Basanez was impressive, completing eight of ten passes in the first quarter for 60 yards, and NU made it to the Jayhawk three yard line, but missed a 20-yard field goal try.  Credit the NU defense for a job well done throughout the game, but especially the work of Senior safety Louis Ayeni, who was a monster against Kansas, coming up with fantastic plays.

In the second quarter Torri Stuckey intercepted and set up the NU offense.  Jason Wright then exploded for a 41-yard game to put the 'Cats in scoring position.  Wright then ran for another 18 yards and the score.

It 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 yard line.  On a completely broken play, with the Jayhawk quarterback seemingly out of options, KU reeled off a 75 yard explosion play to come within seven of NU.  On the resulting drive Basanez was intercepted.  The pick was run back for a TD, and within one minute KU had gone from being down 14 points and in danger of being trounced to tying the game.

NU 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 again.  However, NU was forced to punt, and the punt was blocked and run back for the second Jayhawk touchdown scored without the NU defense on the field.  But the evening belonged to the Wildcats after all: the KU point after attempt was botched, and NU retained a slim 21 to 20 lead.  Jason Wright and Roger Jordan continued their assault on Jayhawk territory and Wright scored yet again, tying his own NU rushing scoring record for a game.  Wright finished the game with 196 yards on 41 carries.

With a 28 to 20 lead, all NU needed was to stop Kansas with just over a minute to go.  Kansas made it interesting one last time, slashing through the Wildcat defense to come to midfield, then-- with 17 seconds to go-- completed a wild Hail Mary to put the ball on the NU 20 with three seconds to go.  The 'Cats stripped KU of the ball on the last play of the game, providing the Jayhawks with their fifth turnover of the night and giving Northwestern a hard-fought win.

After the game, Randy Walker said, "I knew some haywire things could happen.  It was a downpour, and some haywire things didhappen.  But I'm really proud of the way our kids responded.  At different times in the game, it would have been easy to have gone in the wrong direction.  And,  quite frankly, there have been times in the last couple of years when we've gone in the wrong direction.  These kids hung in there when it went bad for a play or two."

Although the game was a sloppy one, given the weather, miscues and turnovers, the Wildcat offense looked good and the defense really showed improvement, giving up only one touchdown (on the broken play) and 58 yards rushing.  NU's former running backs looked great in their defensive secondary positions, as Ayeni, Stuckey, and Jeff Backes all played their positions well and had terrific plays.  After four years of injury, disappointment and uncertainty, Ayeni-- like the Wildcat defense in general-- may have come into his own this fall.  After the game Ayeni said about the 'Cat defense, "you can tell the difference.  We're not having teams shove the ball down the middle of the defense.  We're hard workers.  We took this very seriously this summer.  You can tell by our play we ar much better."   Let's hope the improvement continues to be shown during the coming weeks.

'Cats Seek Revenge [posted Sept. 3]

First off, one must ask, can it be done?  Can Northwestern defeat a team against whom it suffered a 49-point loss the previous year?  There is precedent for it, but not much.  A little history:  since 1876 NU has been defeated by 49 or more points in a game exactly 27 times.  Three of those games came last year (tying 1981 as the season with the most super-blowout losses).  Of the 24 games before 2002, four of them involved opponents the Wildcats did not play the following year (including Nebraska, our Alamo Bowl opponent).  That leaves 20 examples throughout NU history.  NU lost to 17 of them the next year, tied one, and beat two.  One of the wins came against Chicago at the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The 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 team that NU had played -- and beaten -- only once before.  BC trashed NU 49-0.  The following year, NU again lost to Notre Dame in its opener.  This time, however, the 'Cats put up a respectable fight against the Irish, and -- although they lacked talent and depth -- they had momentum and motivation going into their home opener with BC.  Boston College was the 22nd ranked team coming into Dyche Stadium and NU was, understandably, 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.  Fisher DeBerry's team returns 17 starters from a very talented 2002 team.  They waxed an admittedly weak Division I-AA team last week, scoring 28 third quarter points before calling off the full attack.  And last year they had NU's number, not only ringing up 49 more points, but clearly having had more in 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.  The 'Cats are running a shifting series of defenses, abandoning the exclusive 4-3 for a mix of 4-3, 3-4 and 3-3.

However,  the 3-3-5 "hot package" works well against passing teams and teams without high-powered running games.  Against an elite ground assault that Air Force unleashes, the 'Cats will have to adjust.  Pat Durr said after the Kansas game, "the hot package is not that stout against the run, but we have plenty of 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 Kansas game becoming reacquainted with game conditions and pressures, and had an impressive fumble recovery at the end of the game.  For Durr, and the entire NU defense, this is the critical game, against the team that sent them spiraling last year.  However, it's important that the defense keeps its emotions in check and plays with businesslike intensity against the Falcons.

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,  a clear go-to running threat, and a menu of wideouts and tight end weapons at the ready, even the strong Falcon defense will take hits, and will give 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 contrary, Huffman had a great game.  His punts are always strong, and his kickoffs in the Kansas game were perfect.  However, Kansas called out the 'Cats' punting schemes.  According to Jayhawk player Darren Rus, "We practiced going after the punt block all week because we noticed that [Northwestern's] wingbacks were pushed back in their formation, so we could run an up and under type play.  We thought it was a great opportunity for a block."  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.  Expect both the Wildcat and Falcon offenses to operate at full strength.  Even with the improvement to NU's defense, this will still be a high scoring match, and possibly (hopefully) a shootout.  If so -- just like the Kansas game -- turnovers may be the critical stat for this game.  Can NU's defense rattle the Falcon option just enough to have a couple of loose ball opportunities?  NU's chance to notch its third-ever blowout revenge game might just depend on it.

Picked Apart: NU Loses Heartbreaker to Air Force [posted Sept. 9]

Northwestern took a 21 to 7 lead into the fourth quarter against Air Force at Ryan Field last Saturday, but it wasn't enough to survive a series of miscues and Falcon 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?  The Wildcats bowed to Air Force 22 to 21, after a plague of interceptions and after failing to retake the lead during a last-minute attempt.  For the second straight week Northwestern blew a  14 point lead in a matter of seconds.  Unfortunately, Fisher deBerry's disciplined and talented team accepted Northwestern's gift and never looked back.

Although 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 encouragement for the rest of the season.  The Wildcat defense, for the second straight game, held the opponent to just one touchdown from its offensive squad.  Marvin Ward was exceptional, recovering a Falcon fumble and tallying 17 tackles.  The defensive line and linebackers also had a terrific game and showed the potential for dominance, especially if they stay healthy.

For those at the game, a definite highlight was the play of kicker Brian Huffman, who has been simply outstanding this year, both at booming, looming, hanging punts and at kickoffs that slam out of the endzone.  For Wildcat fans who have grown green-faced with nausea at the thought of handing the ball to the opponent on their own 40 yard line to start every single drive, this has been a welcome change.

So, what happened?  Well, four interceptions happened, and close to 45 minutes of sparkling, quality football and a solid performance by NU's offense and a great performance by NU's quarterback (Basanez did have 234 yards, after all) faded from view.  What went wrong?  Should we blame Basanez?  The coaching staff and the fourth quarter play calling?  The line, for forcing Brett to scramble for his life on more than a couple of plays?

Look, this game has been picked apart, just like the Wildcat lead sliding into the final frame Saturday.  Unlike last year's Air Force game, which hung over everything and everyone like a shroud and was about as easy to get out of your head as the sight of Brittany Spears and Madonna locking lips, last Saturday's game should just be forgotten.  Air Force 2003 is happily not Penn State 2001, a harbinger of doom.  And it is not Miami 1995, a belch on the way to a Big Ten ring.

It was Air Force 2003.  Period.

Happily it is over.  And, happily, we don't have to keep reliving that last quarter.  We-- the fans, Brett Basanez, Walker, the rest of the 'Cats-- get four brand, spanking new quarters of unplayed ball this Saturday.  Bring it on.   Lock it down.

The 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 purple pants at home.  The uniforms, while taking some time to get used to, look outstanding!  This is the best uniform NU has sported in years.

The 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 next week as a 2-1 team, fresh from ridding itself of all the baggage that Miami has heaved onto its purple shoulders for two decades?  Or do the Wildcats wear a two game losing streak hair shirt into Wallace Wade Stadium?  How NU performs in this game will swing a sizable gate one way or another, and it will tell us volumes about what to expect from this team when the conference games begin.

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.  If Brett Favre can have a bad game now and then (and, trust me, Favre had a mother lode of a rotten game last Sunday...), so can Brett Basanez.  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 cherry on top all that and eight bags of chips Heisman candidate and all around great citizen and living legend" Roethlisberger.  Roethlisberger, whose name is Belgian for "Burger made entirely out of roethlis," will try to live up to his reputation, throwing roethlis with abandon and targeting the Wildcat 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 merchandise or whatever else he pleases.  You heard it here first, folks: look for the NU defense to win the battle at the line and to pressure Mr. Roethlisberger all day.  The defensive line has been improving, and they'll turn the 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 the RedHawk defense like Barry Alvarez through a box of Chips Ahoy.  Basanez, with the Wildcat line providing a more-secure pocket, should have little trouble taking advantage.  Unfortunately, he'll have one less weapon in his holsters against Miami: Ray Bogenrief is unlikely to play at tight 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, and must be completely prepared and motivated for this game.  This match will shape the rest of the season, and it presents NU with a feared and favored foe.  Can the Wildcats write this opponent off?  Absolutely not.

Can I?  Of course, and I have: NU wins, and wins by two or more touchdowns in a laugher.

Miami (Ohio) Manhandles NU 44-14 [posted Sept. 14]

The debate raged last week: after a devastating loss to Air Force the previous week, could Northwestern find the motivation to prepare properly and execute in a game the following Saturday?  After gift-wrapping a game and handing it to another team, could the Wildcats bounce back, or-- like the aftermath of the 2001 Penn State game (which saw the 'Cats blow a decent lead late in the game)-- would NU simply put the next game into the toilet?  Sadly, the answer to the debate was crystal clear-cut, and came in the form of a nightmarish slugging at the hands of Miami (Ohio).

Spectacular losses absorbed by Northwestern have been legion, particularly during the last two and a half years.  However, the Miami debacle was special.  The game was in many ways a benchmark for this coaching staff: four years after their debut at Ryan Field was spoiled by their previous employers, 28 to 3, how would the Walker-led Wildcats fare?  This is, after all, entirely Coach Randy Walker's team, and Miami has been a thorn in NU's side for fifty years, from Parseghian's Redskin squad topping NU's Lou Saban 25-14, to Miami handing Northwestern its thirty-fourth and final loss in The Streak, to Coach Walker adding the only black mark to Gary Barnett's 10-win regular season in 1995.  However, the 1999 loss to Miami was the most poignant: the coach who had felled the Big Ten's giants turned up four years later wearing purple, and was himself cut down during his opener by his former team.  Four years after that, what would happen?  After four years to prepare for this moment, how would fate be served?

Fate would be served by having the 'Cats served, en brochette, to Miami for a world-class gutting.  After the game, Walker said, "the better team won today, the better coached football team won today."  This was refreshingly simple and true.  Make no mistake: the season-- and more-- came down to this game, and the team was as ill-prepared and motivated as could be.

If you were not at the game, do not be fooled by the score.  The game was worse than that.  Miami (Ohio) called off the dogs early in the fourth quarter and gave its second string some paces.  All facets of NU's game were terrible.  On offense and defense the line work was surprisingly and disturbingly bad.  NU's offensive line played one of the worst games by a Wildcat line in ten years.  Brett Basanez was fleeing for his life for much of the time he was playing; although he did not have a good comeback after the Air Force meltdown, it should be noted that he was not sacked during the game.  This is entirely to the credit of Basanez, since his offensive line looked more like the Maginot Line.  Basanez separated his shoulder during the game, but-- in another brilliant coaching move-- was put back in the game during the second half.

With no holes punched open by the line, and no blocking of which to speak, the Wildcat ground game was lost.  NU's running backs combined for only 41 yards.  The NU defense never, ever, came close to applying pressure to Miami's wonder quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, whose name is actually Belgian for "shredding kittens to death with leatherworking tools."  Roethlisberger had as much time as he needed to do anything he wanted to do, and what he wanted to do was light up the 'Cat defense.  The defensive line?  The NU linebackers?  They were M.I.A. 

Referring to his breakdown against Iowa two weeks ago, Roethlisberger said, "Two weeks ago that wasn't the Miami offense."  While this quote sounds 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 are also superior to the 'Cats.  In a pointed reference to NU, Roethlisberger 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 a unit."

The heart of the Wildcat team is not currently in evidence.  The heart of the fans is also less evident.  Officially, there were over 24,000 in attendance at the Miami game, but this figure seems inflated.  What few fans were there actually booed the Wildcats as the beating worsened.  I myself can never condone booing a student team, but the frustration of those fans who did boo is almost understandable.  They are paying thirty dollars a pop... to see Pop Warner football.

They won't be paying for long.  Change is inevitable.  Whether that change comes in the form of a better prepared, better motivated, better playing team, or in the form of a new coaching staff, or in the form of a very large hit to NU's bottom line and a further spiral to the image of the school, remains to be seen.

Ron Burton, 1936-2003 [posted Sept. 14]
Northwestern has lost one of its gridiron heroes, and the community has lost a great man.  Ron Burton, the Wildcat running back instrumental in several of Ara Parseghian's strong NU teams, has died after a long battle with cancer.  Burton was 67 years old and leaves five children, several of whom also played football for NU.

Ron was a sensation as a running back at NU.  During his time as a Wildcat from 1957 through the 1959 season, Ron set a record for career rushing touchdowns with 21 scores.  That record stood for 37 years.  Burton was selected Northwestern's MVP in 1958, made All Big Ten in 1958 and 1959, was named All American in 1959, and was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.  He closed his college career in 1960 by playing in both the East-West Shrine Bowl and in the Hula Bowl.

Burton made history by becoming the very first draft pick of the new Boston (New England) Patriots team in 1960.  He played for six seasons, retiring in 1965.

He will be best remembered for his glory on the football field, but he made the greatest impact in his community through the Ron Burton Training Village, a summer camp he founded -- and funded -- to help underprivileged youth.  Burton's gifts to young people and the work that he did to help them will be valued far into the future.  He will be missed.

The 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 time being, might be the new look of winning, and winning u-g-l-y.  Sandwiched between the horror show of the Miami, Ohio loss and the chamber of horror that awaits in Columbus, Ohio, the Duke game is figuratively and literally in the eye of the hurricaine.  The 'Cats should enjoy the interlude in a close, less than textbook win.

It's Even: NU Whips Duke 28-10 [posted Sept. 21]

Northwestern forgot about its performance last week against Miami, a game Coach Walker declared a fluke, by beating Duke 28 to 10.  There was noticeable improvement on both sides of the ball Saturday, and the margin of victory would have been even greater but for a string of Wildcat self inflicted wounds.

The Wildcat ground game highlighted NU's offense, as Jason Wright returned to form with two touchdowns and 149 yards on the ground.  Noah Herron also cracked 100 yards, making this the first Wildcat game since 1988 to feature two 100-yard rushers.  Not since the tandem of Byron Sanders and Bob Christian has NU (officially...) delivered this type of one-two rushing punch.  Most of Noah's yards came from a spectacular 69-yard touchdown run that followed a recovered Duke fumble.  NU QB Brett Basanez had a strong game and benefitted from improved protection from his line.  He suffered 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 positions, in part evidenced by the fact that five of NU's six sacks were made by different players, with the sixth being credited to the team.  The line showed promise, particularly Luis Castillo, who notched a couple of tackles and 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 McGarigle, 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 Wildcats at what was a most depressing point in the season.  The victory not only evens out Northwestern's 2003 record at 2-2, it evens the Wildcats' all-time record with Duke-- arguably NU's most important non-conference rival.  The series is now tied at seven all.  The win also gives NU a .500 record in non-conference games, extending its streak to eleven seasons with an even or winning non-conference slate.

This Moment... [posted Sept. 22]

What 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

As predictable as the swallows returning to Capistrano, the annual race has begun to find the most devastating fact that illustrates how long Northwestern has suffered without a win against The The Ohio State University.  "Since the first Nixon administration," "I was a toddler!" "The longest Division I-A streak," and "Dude, are you going to finish that joint?" have all been uttered countless times this week and dribbled in the press.  It's a languishing, doleful sitcom rerun of a pre-game spectacle, and it's reason enough to pray for a Northwestern victory.

But is there a prayer?  Does NU have a chance?  Well, technically, yes.  NU will very likely lose their Big Ten opener, and lose by a blowout margin.  However, just a couple of weeks ago this game appeared to be impossible, an absolute Buckeye lock.  It looks so no longer.  The The Ohio State may have the longest current winning streak in major college football, but the last three wins have essentially been decided by the toss of dice.  Coaching, talent, and not a little luck have tilted the dice the the Buckeyes' way; eventually that luck will run out, as it always does.  When it does, the the Buckeyes will have to salt a game away, or lose it and cry until the Michigan game.

Against NU, OSU has ample talent to salt the game away.  Even without Maurice "at least I'll have my education on which to fall back" Clarett, the the Buckeyes' offense is lethal, and efficient, gaining fewer yards than last year, but just as many points.  OSU's underrated quarterback Craig Krenzel might have this game off, nursing an injury.  However, the Wildcat secondary will still face a challenge that will dwarf what they've yet seen.

The real test will be against the the Buckeye defense.  A.J. Hawk and the rest of the the Ohio State linebackers are the class of the conference.  The Wildcat offensive line, which looked so improved at Duke from its "sissy" play against Miami, will have to make a similarly large leap in intensity and performance this Saturday if it is to have a shot at keeping the the Buckeye defenders at bay.  

Of course, no one needs to be told just how titanic a Wildcat win would be against Ohio State.  It could, but never does, go without saying.

And it has been that way for decades.  Northwestern's great running back Ron Burton, who passed away last month after a courageous battle with cancer, gave an interview last year in which he stated that the chance to 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 more than anything," Burton said.  Preparing for the OSU game "was a passion."  His final chance to beat the Buckeyes came in 1958, his junior year, at Dyche Stadium.  Burton described the way the Wildcats played in that game by saying "we played as a family."  For Ron Burton, this was the moment, his moment.  It was in his hand, and he and the rest of the 'Cats grabbed it.  NU won 21 to 0, and students tore down the goal posts.

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 championship.

Beating Ohio State and ending a thirty-two year void is to do what so many of the Wildcats' recent legends could not: Chris Hinton, Ricky Edwards, Byron Sanders, Bob Christian, Darnell Autry, Steve Schnur, Brian Musso, Barry Gardner, Zak Kustok and Damien Anderson left this work unfinished.

Beating Ohio State is to take the star in your hand and write your name with it, inscribing your deed forever in Northwestern's history.  Two years of frustration and disappointment melt quicker than a snowflake.  It is that simple.

And it is that daunting.

Opportunities, Lost
OSU Blanks NU 20-0 [posted Sept. 28]

Northwestern found itself in the enviable position of being handed several golden opportunities by the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, but was unable to convert any of them to its benefit, falling twenty to nothing in Columbus.  Ohio came out and played flat early, almost playing down to its competition, allowing NU numerous chances to stay in the game.  Unfortunately, the Wildcats were hampered by a few bad breaks of their own, some atrocious play calling, and the absence of a kicking game.   
In the end, the Buckeyes, even when not firing all cylinders, were a mismatch for Northwestern.

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 all counts.  Terrific plays by Basznez, Herron and Wright all eventually 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, but the points didn't remain on the board, due to a holding call.  After another easy and totally blown field goal, NU whimpered away from a first and goal with nothing to show for it except the remarkable status of being one of only three Division I-A teams to have scored no field goals whatsoever this year (along with Arizona State and powerhouse UTEP).

The Wildcat defense played well, with a couple of brutal exceptions, including Ohio State's touchdown play in the first quarter.  Ross should have been tackled behind the line of scrimmage, but instead bounced around the scrum and easily and embarrassingly scampered in for the Buckeye's only touchdown of the half.

However, Tim McGarigle played strong, and had a great PBU.  And the first half was capped with Bryan Heinz intercepting a Buckeye pass that almost certainly would have set up OSU to take a 17 point lead into the locker room.  Once 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 Buckeyes another touchdown.  OSU, making a few adjustments at the half (adjustments at the half!  Interesting!), keyed on Backes and began throwing at will, driving  down the field quickly and wrapping the game up, 17-0.

With a couple of minutes away from the end of the third quarter, down by seventeen, with fourth down barely into OSU territory, and with a kicker who missed a gimmie at 34 yards, Randy Walker made possibly the most mystifying play call of the year by electing to attempt a 47 yard field goal.  The giggling from the 100,000 Buckeye fans in attendance was nearly audible on the telecast.  From there the game was a coast, as OSU coach Jim Tressel freely substituted (and, in fact, began swapping out his starters late in the second quarter) and scored just enough to secure the win.

One very bright spot to NU's game remains Brian Huffman, who punted eight times and averaged nearly 45 yards a punt.  Most of those kicks came from his own endzone, under tremendous pressure.  Kudos to Brian!

Overall, this was a fair performance by the 'Cats against a team that is simply on a different level in terms of resources and coaching.

Minnesota Pounds NU [posted Oct. 6]

There's no sense in rehashing in too much detail a game like the one NU and Wildcat fans suffered through against Minnesota last Saturday at Ryan Field.  With a few exceptions all elements of Northwestern's football program showed critical 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 responds to adversity-- it feeds off of it and kicks its game up a notch in order to join the challenge.  What fans saw Saturday was a Wildcat team that methodically, systematically drove down the field twice to take a 14 to nothing lead, gave up a touchdown on a single fluky play, and folded like a Japanese fan.  A team with even a shred of confidence, with a token amount of 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 Wildcats, and Minnesota-- though hampered as they are by Glen Mason, one of the most incompetent coaches in football-- adjusted its game to exploit NU's vulnerability.  Northwestern, unfortunately, showed that it is not capable of making any adjustments whatsoever, particularly adjustments in attitude.

After 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, and big plays are disheartening.  And I felt like we gave this one away, and I think our kids felt that way.  And our kids are a little fragile, and they just thought, 'Man we gave this one away.'  We just lost our fire.  We came out of the locker room good.  We came out on fire.  It's disheartening.  I think confidence is the whole issue here.  We haven't dealt with adversity very well.  When something bad 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 give the game away so much as Minnesota took it.  The Gophers claimed what was theirs.  They faced adversity far more shocking than a goofy 96-yard touchdown strike: Minnesota watched in horror as they were dominated on both sides of the ball for four and a half series.  Then Minnesota reacted.  They played with fire, they adjusted, they found the necessary ways to get it done.  And they ended up in a position where they had to call off the dogs and coast to a 42-17 victory.  In a rare move, Mason actually showed an ounce of grace in the fourth quarter.

The game was not without its silver linings, however.  The Wildcat kicking game looked good, and Slade Larscheid ended his drought by posting a 39-yard field goal.  Northwestern's best player, punter Brian Huffman, continued to make a case for All Big Ten status, punting seven times with two punts stopping inside Minnesota's twenty and one of those downed by Ashton Aikens at the Gopher one yard line.

'Cats Outlast Indy in OT
NU Edges Hoosiers 37-31 [posted Oct. 12]

Northwestern took a seemingly commanding 17 to 0 jump against Indiana last Saturday, then-- as the 'Cats had against Kansas, Air Force, and Minnesota-- watched as the opponent nullified a multiple touchdown lead.  This time NU hung on, battling to tie the game and then shutting out the Hoosiers in single overtime to win 37 to 31.  

It is NU's first Big Ten win since their victory over Indiana at Ryan Field last year, and the 'Cats' first Big Ten road win since the famous "Victory Right" game at Minnesota in 2000.  This is also NU's third-ever overtime game.  The Wildcats remain undefeated in games that go into extra periods, with a win at Duke in single overtime in 1999 and a win at Wisconsin in double overtime in 2000 (NU has yet to face overtime at home).

The Wildcats started strong, with Slade Larscheid making a 32-yard field goal.  The 'Cat defense shut down the Hoosiers, giving NU good field position for its first touchdown drive.  With a little over a minute to go in the first quarter  Brett Basanez connected with Brandon Horn for a 77-yard touchdown strike, the longest play for either Basanez or Horn, and the longest scoring strike for the Wildcats this year.

Indiana's fans, on hand at Memorial Stadium for Homecoming, expressed their displeasure with Hoosier second-year coach Gerry DiNardo and his play calling, showering the field with boos.

The Hoosiers responded, coming back from being down by 17 at two points in the game to stage a comeback, eventually taking the lead.  The "here we go again" mentality had seemed to descend again on Northwestern, as Indiana cut through the NU secondary several times on the ground and through the air.

Down by seven in the fourth quarter, the Wildcat players did not call the game quits and were able to take advantage of several key Hoosier mistakes.  While the Wildcats had quite a few mistakes of their own in the game-- 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 Jason Wright, Brandon Horn and Mark Philmore also turned in solid performances on offense, as did the offensive line, which seemed somewhat improved from the Minnesota game.  Of course, the level of competition this Saturday has to be considered: Indy is a team on the ropes, with only 65 players and the youngest team in the conference.

While the defense seemed to have an off game, interceptions by Pat Durr and Bryan Heinz should be noted.  Durr ran his pick back for 24 yards, while Heinz's catch ended Indiana's overtime possession and its chance to win the game.

With the win, NU is now in eighth place in the Big Ten.

Rivalry Renewed [posted Oct. 22]

Still 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 off NU's schedule for two years, a series that has been simmering since the Wildcats brought it to full boil in Camp Randall Stadium three years ago.  

It now seems like thirty years ago when we watched the game that signaled the beginning of NU's Y2K Championship run.  The 'Cats became electric in the second half, starting with Dwayne Missouri slamming into Badger QB Brooks Bollinger.  Bollinger ejected the ball into Kevin Bentley's hands; Bentley raced into the endzone.  The huge plays continued with a 69-yard touchdown run by Damien Anderson, a 28-yard TD pass by Zak Kustok, and a last-second 46-yard kick by Long.  Two overtime sessions later, the 'Cats came away with the shocking win, a win they could savor for their two "bye" years.

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 Schabert is in.  Schabert will lead what will likely be a very balanced attack against the 'Cats.  He saw action both in the Badger's terrific win over Ohio State (during which he threw for a touchdown) and last week's heartbreaking loss to Purdue, and should be effective enough this Saturday to prevent NU from attempting to stack up its defense.  Unfortunately, that is something that the 'Cats would definitely like to do against Wisconsin, since the Badgers sport the second best Big Ten running game right now (thanks to Anthony Davis' impressive 6.4 yards per carry), and NU is weighted with second worst conference run defense.  The Badger offensive line will offer little comfort-- although it is young, it is big (averaging 307 pounds) and deep.  A key matchup will be how well Colby Clark and Loren Howard can get off blocks and dispatch the Badgers'  Dan Bruenning and Morgan Davis.  Make no mistake, though: the Badger offense, even with its injuries, is at a level above any team NU has so far played, including the defending national champs.

Brett Basanez threw for 192 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago, and he scrambled for 40 more.  He'll need to have similar success against Wisconsin for NU to have a shot, and he just might get it.  Wisconsin is not very adept at defending the spread, and if the Wildcat O-line comes to play Basanez and Jason Wright could end up providing a few fleeting flashbacks of Kustok and Anderson.  Will it be enough?  Against a team that has had a wild two week swing from elation to heartbreak, and will likely enter Ryan Field in a furious mood, the Wildcats will have to pull out all the stops.  One thing's for sure: this rivalry might not be official, but for the last eight years it has been entertaining.  Hopefully this Saturday's game will follow suit.

'Cats Beat #17 Wisconsin [posted Oct. 26]

Northwestern celebrated Homecoming this year in the most surprising manner possible, beating Wisconsin (#20 AP, #17 Coaches Poll) in a spirited, physical, hard-fought and electric game.  While the game might not signal a Wildcat football renaissance, the win was no fluke.  Wisconsin did not lose the game; Northwestern won it.  The Wildcat offense, defense, special teams, and-- yes-- coaching all played up to, and seemingly beyond, their potential for sixty minutes.

The beginning of the game set the tone, as both teams began a pitched defensive battle, with NU held to punts and Wisconsin to a missed field goal.  Northwestern was the first to crack the scoreboard.  Late in the first quarter Brett Basanez connected with Roger Jordan for a 26 yard gain and put NU near mid-field.  Two plays later Basanez fired a pass to Jason Wright, who made a fantastic catch and raced into the endzone for a 53-yard scoring strike.

Northwestern was unable to get the point after.  On the Wildcats' following drive, NU's kicking woes again threw a scare into the Homecoming crowd, as freshman kicker Joel Howells launched a 25 yard field goal attempt directly into the buttocks of a player.  Wisconsin took the booty-ball back to the NU 48, but was still unable to score.  Toward the middle of the second quarter, however, the Badgers intercepted a Basanez pass and drove down the field to run in a score.  With the PAT, the Badgers took a brief one point lead.

NU responded by folding immediately.  Hold it.  Sorry-- that was copy from previous game write-ups from this season.  NU responded by toughening their resolve and methodically marching down the field.  They mixed up medium-gain passes with some effective rushing work by Basanez and a stunning effort by Jason Wright to get a first down while shattering tackles like they were made from crepe paper.  One field goal later (made by NU super-punter / place kicker and high school field goal kicker Brian Huffman-- is there nothing he can't do?) Northwestern had reclaimed the lead, reclaimed it for good, and reclaimed at least some of its respect on the field.

NU took its 9 to 7 lead into the locker room, came out after halftime and then collapsed.  Sorry-- there's that damn script again.  NU came out after halftime and shut down the Badger offense completely.  NU did, as predicted, stack the box and dare Wisconsin and their second-string quarterback to throw.  With Badger running back Anthony Davis out after the first quarter with an ankle injury, Wisconsin could not overcome the fired-up Wildcat run defense.  The NU pass defense stiffened, and Wisconsin was forced to punt on all of its third quarter possessions.  What can you say about the NU defensive line?  Well, you can take a cue from Badger offensive coordinator Brian White, who remarked "They were the biggest and strongest defensive front we've faced.  They were more physical than us."  This was said by the same coordinator who had faced and defeated Ohio State two weeks before, and ended the Buckeyes' 19-game winning streak.

NU capped the third period by putting the game away, using a modification of the "fumblerooskie" play that Walker had successfully used against Purdue in 2001.  Huffman came on to kick his second field goal.  Eric Batis took the snap, (accidentally) put the ball on the ground, and then snapped the ball to Noah Herron between his legs.  With Batis scrambling to his left toward the endzone and Herron standing still like he'd just thought of a really good recipe for clam dip, the Badger special teams unit bit hook, line, and sinker and flooded left.  Herron then sprang into action and raced to the Wisconsin three yard line.  Two plays later Wright flew past the goal.

"You can only dust [that play] off every few years," Walker said after the game.  "I'm not the most creative guy, [but] I'm the world's greatest plagiarist.  We took it from Ball State about ten years ago."

From there the game resumed its defensive struggle.  With over four minutes to go NU made a critical stop.  Granted, the Wildcats were up by nine and therefore by two potential Badger scores, but the game was still technically in doubt.  Regardless, during a TV timeout Badger fans began exiting Ryan Field in droves.  There was an audible reaction from the NU fans, and-- in a move I had never before seen at a game-- a visible reaction from the Badger players, who stood on the field with their backs slumped, their hands on their hips, staring in disgust at the leaking rivers of red in the stands.

This is a rare game that showcased superb effort by all of NU's squads.  On offense, Basanez had a few mistakes but did not let them get to him.  He toughed it out and ended up having a good game and passing for 176 yards.  Wright and Herron were exceptional.  Wright could be seen coming to the sideline grimacing in agony after many plays, but sticking with it and making plays.  He gave a "gut-it-out" performance worthy of any of the Wildcat championship teams.  The O-line played their best game of the season.  Trai Essex, Matt Ulrich, Trevor Rees, and Zach Strief were standouts.

The Wildcat defense held a Big Ten team to seven points or less for the first time since 1995 and arguably had its best game since 1996.  Loren Howard had the game of his career, his three tackles for loss (and one sack) not telling the whole story of his game-long harassment of Matt Schabert and company.  Howard said later,  "I looked over at their sideline in the third quarter and they were lifeless, there was no emotion over there.  I think at that point they threw the towel in.  They weren't responding to what we were bringing them."  What Howard was bringing them was emotional, disciplined and forceful football, and hopefully it was Northwestern football from here on.

Cofield, Castillo, Ward and Heintz all had a fantastic game.  Tim McGarigle looked like an All Big Ten candidate.  McGarigle definitely sounded like a player with a renewed will and confidence: "[This win] is going to carry us through the next four games.  We've got four more to win."  Louis Ayeni came back from another luckless injury to bring havoc on the Badger offense, tattooing players with bone-jarring hits.

The hits coming from the Wildcat Lockdown defense may have been devastating, but they were also clean.  While NU had a few before-the-play miscues, it had no after-the-play penalties, no personal fouls, no late hits.  This was just clean, hard smashmouth play, and it was the most disciplined effort by the Wildcats in years.  Credit the players for a job well done, but credit the coaches as well.  Walker and company have given fans reason to pull their hair in frustration lately, but last Saturday, if for one week, they gave them reason to celebrate.

The Next Level [posted Oct. 30]

For two weeks now Wildcat Purple has limned the Becky Crown Clock Tower, and Wildcat fans have watched NU progress from a pounding by Minnesota, to a shaky win over an even shakier Indiana team, to a huge, quality win over a top-twenty (but wounded) Badger squad.  Now, the 'Cats are facing the challenge of having to increase their intensity and performance again, when they square off against Purdue at Purdue-- a Boilermaker team that is also top-twenty, but fully functioning.

. . . . Purdue will almost certainly attempt to tear into NU in the same manner that Wisconsin attempted and failed-- through the air.  Purdue QB Kyle Orton should have a better time of it than did Wisconsin.  In 39 quarters of play and 339 attempts, Orton has thrown just four interceptions, and 14 touchdowns.  His favorite target, John Standeford, is Purdue's career receptions leader and is averaging almost 87 receiving yards per game.  Northwestern's secondary will have to have a flawless day of football to keep the 'Cats in this game.  Marvin Ward, Torri Stuckey, and Louis Ayeni have been a wrecking crew for the 'Cats recently.  They need to have the game of their lives this Saturday.  The NU run defense will also be tested.  Purdue features three running backs who have all notched 100 yard games so far this year.  The Boilers are deep on the ground and the threat will be relentless for sixty minutes.

Just as the passing game will be key for the Boilers, so might it be for the 'Cats.  With Jason Wright coming back from a sprained ankle, and with NU facing one of the best rushing defenses in the nation (currently fourth), Brett Basanez will also be called on to take his game to the next 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 virtually seal a bowl game, but it would be twice as surprising as the win was against the Badgers last week.  Purdue will have watched film of the Badger game, and there will be no surprises for the Boilers on Saturday.  If NU can pull it out, it will be due to every aspect of the Wildcat team playing seemingly above its capability.  Of course, that's not impossible.  In fact, we've seen it before, and so have the seniors on this team.

Back to Reality
NU Fumbles, Stumbles Away Purdue Game;
Bad Breaks, Bad Plays Lead to 34-14 Beating [posted Nov. 2]

Prior 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 its quarterback and a rare fumble by Jason Wright, along with breakdowns in its offensive 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 went on to cough up the ball five times, losing four of them to the Boilers.

Credit Purdue with coming back from their disaster with Michigan a week before.  The Boilermaker defense was effective all day, successfully attacking and aggressively blitzing a vulnerable Wildcat line and backfield.  The Boilers were, indeed, at a level above Wisconsin-- and certainly a level above where NU currently is.  As to Basanez's fumbles, Coach Walker explained, "They were blitzing.  Sometimes, especially in the gun, you get your eye on the blitz and you start worrying about the heat more than catching."  Baz certainly had reason to worry about the heat, since a blow torch was being directed squarely at him, with no insulation from his offensive line.

The defensive squad was slightly more effective than NU's stymied offense.  The defense worked with a short field for many of Purdue's drives, which did not do wonders for NU's defensive statistics.  Walker offered the defense some support: "I don't think the defensive performance was bad.  You would like them to make some of those stops but golly, they got thrown on the dust a couple of times."  Not just thrown on the dust, but-- on numerous plays-- the defense was burnt like toast.  NU's pass defense had a terrible day, and Boiler receivers were occasionally wide open, with nary a 'Cat in sight.  One notable exception was Louis Ayeni, who again turned in a great performance since coming back from injuries.  Ayeni continues to deliver  stone-popping hits.

The Lockdown Returns:
NU Slaps Penn St. 17-7
NU Defense Smothers Lions;
Herron Runs for 180 Yards;
Wildcats Throw a "Changeup" [posted Nov. 9]

After three frustrating, error-filled quarters of football, the Northwestern offense woke up and joined its defensive counterpart (already in progress) in a spectacular fourth quarter to defeat Penn State 17 to 7 at Ryan Field.  The win is the fifth for NU, making 2003 only the fifth season in 32 years to boast five or more wins.  And the victory drops the Wildcats' magic number to bowl eligibility to one game.  It also ensures that the absolute worst place that NU can finish in the Big Ten is eighth; the 'Cats could still (theoretically) finish in the top five.

The match with the Lions featured inspired play by both the offensive and 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, with the defensive line gunning for Lion QB Mills and shutting down the Penn State running game, the offense continued to sputter.  It was as if an invisible barrier shielded the Penn State endzone from the Wildcats.  For three quarters, NU tried to gain access, and for 45 minutes, access was most profoundly denied.  NU fumbled, NU was intercepted, and-- at the most exasperating moment of the game-- late in the third quarter NU lined up two feet from the Lion goal line and tried to run the ball in.  From the shotgun.  

The invisible barrier remained air tight.  Finally, midway through the fourth quarter, the barrier burst in as strange a way as possible.  Just two weeks after NU deployed its "fastball" trick play and Coach Walker declared it dead for another couple of years, the Wildcats pulled out the stunner again.  This time, however, there was a twist.  According to Adam Rittenberg in Sunday's Chicago Daily Herald, "Wideout Eric Batis took the [fourth down] snap and pretended to slip the ball between running back Noah Herron's legs before running for an 8-yard gain... The trick play, called 'changeup,' is a variation of...'fastball,' in which Herron actually takes the ball from Batis and runs.  The Wildcats hadn't practiced 'changeup until this week.

"'It's all an illusion, it's all magic, it's what fastball is, slight of hand,' Walker said.  'You get them distracted with something else... We've run fastball a bunch of times, but we never made it to changeup.  So changeup finally made its debut.  I made that one up.  I created that one.  I don't create many."

NU took the lead on a 40 yard bomb from Brett Basanez to Brandon Horn.  The play epitomized Penn State's current state, as Yaacov Yisrael attempted to intercept the pass, but instead tipped the ball into the hands of a startled Horn, who then stepped across the goal line.  It was a moment reminiscent of "Victory Right," only with half of its elements inverted and in photo-negative.  And, for the Lions, it was a back breaker.

Additional 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?  There is precedent for it, but not much.  A little history:  since 1876 NU has been defeated by 49 or more points in a game exactly 27 times.  Three of those games came last year (tying 1981 as the season with the most super-blowout losses).  Of the 24 games before 2002, four of them involved opponents the Wildcats did not play the following year (including Nebraska, our Alamo Bowl opponent).  That leaves 20 examples throughout NU history.  NU lost to 17 of them the next year, tied one, and beat two.  One of the wins came against Chicago at the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The other one took place almost ten years ago this week.

Northwestern came as close as possible to getting such a win against Air Force this year, but fell short.  Against Penn State, which beat NU 49-0 in 2002, the Wildcats succeeded, for just the third time in their history.  The game may not have been a thing of beauty, and Penn State might be down on its luck right now, but the accomplishment and the turnabout from last year is significant.

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 that team the following year.  The only other time that happened was in 1995, when the Lions lost to a strong Ohio State team 28 to 25.  The previous year was Joe Pa's last undefeated season, and Penn State dismantled OSU 63-14.
Lockdown In Progress?

The win over Penn State showcased a reinvigorated defensive effort.  For the second time this season, a Big Ten team has failed to score more than seven points against the Wildcats.  This is only the second time since 1971 that NU has kept two conference foes to seven or less points (the other time was 1995, when NU had one of the three best defenses in the nation).  Should NU keep Illinois (or Michigan....) to seven or less, it would mark the first 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 Eligibility
[posted Nov. 23]

Last Saturday's was a game of four-letter words:


Northwestern played a sloppy, mistake-ridden half of football against Illinois at Memorial Stadium before Jason Wright and Noah Herron put the game into overdrive and 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 scientists, some holding Nobel prizes, had previously concluded it was impossible, but the 'Cats proved them wrong: NU made Illinois look good.  The Illini, who concluded their season without a win against a Division I-A opponent, played their typical brand of hapless football, yet had striking success 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 named Northwestern's Most Valuable Player for the second straight year.  It was a most deserved honor.  In what might have been his final performance on a college field, Wright scored four of NU's five touchdowns, tying the Northwestern record.  He had a career day, torching the field for 251 yards and a 6.1 yards per carry stat.  Wright's rushing total alone against the Illini is the fifth-best in Wildcat history, edging out Darnell Autry's 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 his career, good enough for fifth place on NU's all-time list.  Wright's touchdowns Saturday bring his scoring total to 204, fourth on NU's all-time record.

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: Noah Herron ran for 163 yards, including a 37-yard breakaway.  Herron had an astonishing 9.6 yards per carry.  While depth might be an issue at 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 all if Brandon Horn converts from wide receiver.  Horn picked up two runs against the Illini for 49 yards, including a 42 yard explosion off of a well-timed reverse.  NU has had luck with the reverse play all year, and Walker pulled the play at the ideal moment in the game, with Illinois loading up and falling hook, line and sinker.


Wright, Herron, and Horn combined for 61 rushing plays which notched 26 first downs.  The Wildcats had 444 net yards on the ground, close to a school record.

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 Kunle Patrick, who built his streak of games with a completion to 46, the longest in the country and one away from tying the NCAA record.


Northwestern's fifth touchdown was notched courtesy of Marvin Ward, who had a terrific game and ran back Illinois backup QB Chris Pazan's pass the other 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.


NU has gained bowl eligibility by the frailest of margins.  Will the 'Cats make it to the postseason?  We'll know in a few days.

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 City Bowl in Detroit, ending several weeks of speculation as to whether the Wildcats would make it to postseason play.

With its win over Illinois, NU achieved a 6-6 record, making the 'Cats eligible for a bowl game with a Big Ten tie-in.   NU tied for seventh in the conference and was the eighth for a bowl slot.  The Big Ten's seventh bowl slot became available for NU when Ohio State was invited to play in the BCS Fiesta Bowl.

In a series of statements during the last two weeks, NU athletic director Mark Murphy has urged Northwestern fans to purchase their tickets for the Motor City Bowl through Northwestern because doing so will "...help us build a track record [of attendance] with the various bowl committees.  The reality of the situation is that numbers talk and your participation does make a difference!"

The Motor City Bowl will be played at Ford Field on Friday, December 26, 2003, at 5:00 p.m. EST.  ESPN will televise the game nationally.

The official Northwestern Alumni tour for the Motor City Bowl is being conducted 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 representative.
It's Northwestern Vs. Bowling Green

Bowling Green took the MAC East title by beating Toledo on Thanksgiving weekend.  The Falcons then lost the conference championship to Miami.  The RedHawks are headed to the GMAC Bowl, and the Falcons will represent the MAC in Detroit.

Bowling Green (10-3 overall; 7-2 MAC) has had an impressive season, beating Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium and coming very close to knocking off Ohio State.  Their crowning moment so far this year was beating previously undefeated Northern Illinois at BGSU, on ESPN, with the Game Day crew in attendance.  The Falcons' only slip-up besides their seven point loss to the Buckeyes was a drubbing at the hands of Miami.  The only time BGSU and Northwestern have met was in November 2001, when NU slid the Falcons into what should have been the 'Cats' bye week, only to have BGSU and quarterback Josh Harris upend NU 43 to 42.  Harris is still at the helm, and he sports 19 touchdowns so far, to only nine interceptions.  P.J. "Anti" Pope and Cole Magner are nearing 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, respectively.

Bowling Green Preview [posted Dec. 14]

When the BCS controversy dies down and the pomp and ceremony of NU's pre-game bowl festivities come to a close, there will still be a game to play against the Bowling Green Falcons.  NU comes into its fifth bowl game as the underdog, and for good reason-- the Wildcats have a big challenge on their 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 the matchup with the Falcons, but are related to the timing of the bowl and of NU's last regular season game.  By the time the 'Cats suit up in Detroit it will be well over a month since they have played football.  BGSU has played two games in that interval and has had time to rest as well.  The Wildcat players are wrapping up finals and will not even be able to use all of the pre-bowl practices allotted them by the NCAA.  NU will have to be very focused and productive with what practice time they do have.

By far the biggest threat from BGSU will come from senior quarterback Josh Harris.  Harris went wild on NU when these teams last met in 2001 (interestingly, 2003 is the second time NU and BGSU have met and it is also the second time that their meeting was not scheduled at the beginning of the season).  Harris has an arsenal of good wideouts, but Cole Magner is the favorite, and the Harris - Magner combination could shred the Wildcats.

NU will have to have a very balanced game from its defense-- the line, the LBs and the secondary must all have a good game.  If there is a soft spot anywhere on the field, it will ultimately open up a fatal attack from Harris.  However, if NU can get to Harris and apply effective pressure, 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 Noah Herron.  If the line can keep the excellent Falcon defensive front out of the backfield and can open a few holes, Wright and Herron should each be able to score, possibly multiple times.  Just as important, they should eat up the clock, time that Harris is not on the field eating up the 'Cats.  

NU's ground game will face an uphill battle, though.  The Falcons will certainly anticipate the NU ground attack and will probably bring the house to stop it.  Bowling Green will dare Brett Basanez to throw, but Basanez won't have to saddle the whole game on himself.  All he needs to do is execute a few well-timed effective passes to take just a little of the heat off the Wildcat running squad, which could be enough to let Wright and Herron pound away.  NU fans have seen Basanez have some very good games; we just tend to remember the bad games a little more clearly.  If Basanez has a career day the Falcons will be in trouble.

Still, will it be enough to counter Harris' flying circus?  Probably not, but stranger things have happened.  In fact, stranger things have happened this year for NU.  And if the Wildcats can outlast Bowling Green, wear down the Falcon defense, and pull off the upset, they'll have 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.  

An exceptional multi-instrument musician, a star in baseball, basketball, and football, a renowned coach and a respected military officer, there seemed little that Otto couldn't do.  Hailing from Waukegan, Graham came to NU on a basketball scholarship and went on to earn All-America honors in that sport.  

However, it was his skill on the gridiron that made him a superstar.  His discovery by Wildcat football coach Pappy Waldorf is now the stuff of legend.  Otto was leading his undefeated fraternity intramural football team to victory when he was spotted by Waldorf, who was happening by and who invited Otto to try out for the football team.  Otto's first Wildcat football game was the 1941 season opener against Kansas State at Dyche Stadium.  'Cat fans knew that they were witnessing history as Otto proceeded to return a Kansas State punt 94 yards and scored.

...And scored.  And scored.  "Automatic" Otto shattered most of Northwestern's offensive records during his career and, according to NU, broke every Big Ten passing record then kept.  He accomplished this despite missing an entire year after having knee surgery.  Otto went on to take two football All-America titles and eight Northwestern letters in three sports.  He came closer than any other Wildcat to a Heisman trophy, placing third in 1943.  Perhaps his crowning moment as a Wildcat came in 1943, when NU battled Wisconsin at Camp Randall.  During the game Otto rushed for three touchdowns, passed for a fourth, and personally kicked three of the points after.  Not only did Otto pose a triple threat during the game, he spent halftimes at Dyche Stadium playing in the marching band!  After the first half, rather than recuperating in the locker room, Otto would tear off his uniform, put on the band outfit, play the fight 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, engraving his name as the first Cleveland Browns legend and throwing his way into the NFL Hall of Fame.  During every season Otto played with the Browns, 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 Cleveland uniform, he never missed a single game.  Otto coached the Coast Guard Academy football team,  he coached the College All-Star team more times than anyone else, and he was the Washington Redskin's head coach from 1966 to 1968.

War hero, NUMBAlum, basketball and baseball standout, NFL star and coach, civic leader, and-- of course-- Wildcat football hero, Otto Graham leaves a void that is as varied and broad as it is unfillable.

'Cats Fight the Good Fight,
Fall in Motor City [posted Dec. 29]

Northwestern put up a valiant fight, taking a ten-point lead several times during the Motor City Bowl, before falling to the Bowling Green Falcons 28 to 24 at Ford Field.

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 and updated list of Northwestern bowl game records, click here).  Herron had scored the game's fist touchdown as well, when he broke free during a fourth-down attempt near midfield and trucked 40 yards to the endzone.

Unfortunately, Bowling Green adjusted in the second half, picking NU apart with screen and short-gain passes, for which the 'Cats had no answer.  And so NU's bowl drought continues for another year.

Northwestern may have come into this game without much respect, but they left it with Honor-- and with honors: Wright in his final college game forced Josh Harris to share the game's MVP trophy, the first time in Motor City Bowl history that the MVP honor has been shared.  Luis Castillo also made MCB history by claiming the UAW Motor City Bowl Lineman of the Year.  The 'Cats played smart, with spirit, and-- until the last five minutes-- they outplayed a ten-win team that had beaten the same Purdue team that dominated NU earlier in the year, showing strides by the Wildcats that were as surprising as they are welcome.  All that NU lacked in Detroit was the ability to finish.  They left the field with a letdown, and now they again have unfinished business.

The quest will continue.  There is work left undone, and between now and next September the Wildcats should occupy themselves with readying to complete what has been left inchoate for so very long.