The Season Review
2004 season split the fan base in two, just as the 'Cats split their
season, winning six of their twelve games. The perceived outcome
of the season truly did depend on whether fans saw NU's six victories
as "half full" or "half empty." The Wildcats finished their fifth
non-winning season out of the last six, and they did fail to earn bowl
eligibility. However, their five Big Ten wins were enough to earn
them an unshared spot at fourth in the conference. Aside from the
championship seasons, this was the best finish in 33 years.
The 2004 season, however, will be remembered for one thing. When
a few years tick away
and a couple more seasons play out, the thought of the last-minute
tossing away of what would have been an invitation to the Music City
Bowl will be dimmed. The kicking woes at TCU, the win in Happy
Valley, watching Ron Turner take his final exit as a head coach through
the doors at Ryan Field-- these too will fade out. What will
remain is the one moment that should serve as a template for all
Wildcat games from now on: NU's landmark victory over the Ohio State
Buckeyes. The Wildcats now have a guide to show them just what
they can accomplish when they function at maximum, and function as a
team. Even if 2004 proves to have been half empty, the Ohio State
win (and how the 'Cats prepared for and executed during that fight)
should be enough to prime the pump for 2005 and beyond.
What follows are excerpts
from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the
Takes to the Air in Spring Game;
concluded its 2004 Spring Practice with an exciting aerial attack in
annual Spring Game. As with all previous Spring Games under Coach
Walker, the "game" is actually a scripted series of plays and includes
and limited special teams situations as well.
Offense, Defense Deliver Crisp Final Practice [posted April 25]
considered the solid starter going into the season, was given the first
of plays, then was moved to the sidelines to give redshirt freshman
Malleo time to move the ball. While Basanez spent all of his time
wearing the green "no hitting" jersey, Malleo spent only the first half
the scrimmage protected by the "lucky charms" shirt and wore a standard
one for the second period.
looked very good, especially at this point in the year. Of
course, it helps
that the offensive line and the receiver corps also appear to have
As he did for much of the rest of the spring practice sessions,
freshman Kim Thompson provided the receiving highlights. Thompson
in a spectacular 30 yard pass from Malleo for the first touchdown of
There would be more touchdowns, including a catch by tight end Taylor
Jones and a short run by Noah Herron.
had limited time with the ball-- the script for the scrimmage clearly
showing off the Wildcats' air game. However, the running plays
did use Herron featured what he had become known for during the last
seasons: a bruising style that shows less slashing than it does
defenders with him. Most of the remaining ground plays were given
freshman Nathan Shanks, who was one of the most surprising players in
game. Shanks showed good bursts of speed and knew where to run.
scrimmage showcased the offense, but the defense had a good practice as
there were a few key defensive players who were out of the mix at the
of spring practice, nursing injuries. The defensive highlight
was an interception by linebacker Nick Roach. John Pickens also
some great plays and showed a renewed aggression. Colby Clark is
and successfully harassed the quarterback several times.
It was refreshing to see the spirit and enthusiasm of the team this
and the scrimmage presented a team that is on the verge of cohesion,
The scrimmage followed the traditional "Stretch with the 'Cats" event,
well as a full-blown Wildcat Alley event and a fan reception above the
room. Given the washout of the spring game a year ago (and the
department's reaction at the time), the effort that NU put into this
events was wonderful. Perhaps just as encouraging as the
shown on the field, the quality of the Spring Game activities showed a
by NU to continue to advance the program and to increase its appeal to
Sports Publications Offer
Preseason Predictions and Previews [posted July 11]
The sports media
are releasing their
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 August media event, when the conference announces its
Most of the print sources have released their views, and-- as
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 recently bucked that trend
and the conventional
thinking once before: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a
Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.
Here is the list so far, showing where NU is predicted to finish
and within the Big Ten:
[Ed. note: Each season review page includes the preseason
predictions. This year, the best predictions were from Andy Gamm
and his Final Score site, and from NationalChamps.net. The dog
this year was Street & Smith's, which missed NU's ranking in the
Big Ten by SIX places!]
- Fox Sports -
CollegeFootballNews.com: CFN ranks NU 66th in the nation and
ninth in the Big Ten, over Illinois and Indiana. The brain trust
at Fox Sports predicts the Wildcats will finish 3-8, even though NU
plays twelve games this year. Go figure. CFN ranks three of
NU's non-conference opponents higher: Arizona State at 30th, TCU 35th
and Hawaii 58th.
- Athlon also ranks
NU 66th nationally and ninth in the conference. This is a
considerable step up from Athlon's 2003 pre-season ranking, which was
86th in the country and dead last in the Big Ten.
- Lindy's has a
rosier picture for NU as well. Last year Lindy's essentially
copied and pasted their 2002 prediction for NU (74th in the country,
tenth in the Big Ten). This year they have NU at 57th, ninth in
- As of the beginning of July, Jim Howell's Website was predicting
NU ninth in the conference and 68th in the country, ahead of Illinois
(82) and Indiana (100), but behind Penn State (57).
- Perhaps the most exhaustive, best written NU preview so
far comes from Andy Gamm and his Final
Score site. Gamm predicts a 5-7 record for NU and a ninth
- OK, you might ask, but what about Phil Steele? Everyone knows
that Steele's last six or so predictions have been the most
accurate. Well, Phil doesn't show NU as much love as he did last
year, putting NU 61st in the country and ninth in the conference.
Steele points out the strength the Wildcats possess along the lines and
gives quarterback performance as a pivot position for this year.
- The Sporting News
also predicts NU will finish ninth in the Big Ten, but with a
lackluster 4-8 record. TSN has never been favorable to the
Wildcats' chances (last summer TSN predicted that NU would finish dead
last in the conference and wrote "...until we see results, we say
'phooey.'" Apparently, after seeing results they're still saying
phooey.). Strangely, though, TSN wraps up its preview by
proclaiming that NU "...has a chance to go bowling for a second
consecutive season. And it should do better than the Motor City
Bowl." So which is it? The Sporting News just might be the
magazine that talks more out of both sides of its mouth than any other.
- Most of the bettin' rags aren't out yet, but the Annual Gold Sheet magazine is, and it
predicts that NU will finish-- drumroll, please-- in ninth. Bet
you didn't see that coming?
- Eight previews so far, and eight predictions that NU will
finish in ninth place in the Big Ten. Look no further than Street & Smith's to buck the
trend. The magazine that offered the highest pre-season
prediction for NU in 2003 (eighth, when all others had NU in ninth,
tenth or eleventh) now offers the lowest pick for NU: tenth place,
beating out only the Hoosiers.
- The highest pick for NU so far this season goes to NationalChamps.net, who pick the
Wildcats eighth in the conference. NationalChamps.net last year
predicted that NU would go 0-12 and have a disastrous year.
Attempting to recover from his 2003 blunder, Tim Chapman writes this
summer "don't look now, but the last time the Wildcats returned this
many starters and balance on both sides of the ball, NU won eight games
and finished as one of the top offensive teams in the country.
Compare this year's squad with the 2000 team and you'll find them
NU Scrimmages at Carthage
Camp Kenosha Concludes this Week [posted Aug 22]
For the first
Wildcat football team played its annual pre-season scrimmage under
lights, as NU held its biggest Camp Kenosha event last Friday night at
Carthage College in Wisconsin. Northwestern made the switch to a
night practice since three of the 'Cats' games early this year will be
played at night.
According to reports from those present at the practice, the
Northwestern defense looked solid, and the punt return squad returned a
couple of simulated punts for touchdowns. The Wildcat starters
got very little playing time, leaving the field for the second and
third team players. . . .
NU Opens Season at TCU
[posted April 29, updated Aug. 29]
GOOD IS TCU SUPPOSED TO BE?
According to some writers TCU could beat half of the
teams in the NFL
this fall. They are expected to be the odds-on favorites to win
Conference USA title, and they probably should be ranked very high
this fall, but a cream-puff
schedule won't help their rankings, nor their BCS hopes.
On offense they have a full stock of veteran talent at every position,
they return eight starters. Their o-line is terrifying, with the
position simply loaded to the hilt. They also have deep
at quarterback. However, the QB situation is up in the air, even
in the days leading up to this game. It looks like this will be a
two-headed Frog that NU will face, which could work to the Wildcats'
The Frogs' defense needs to replace more talent than their offense, and
positions aren't quite as stocked. Its linebacker corps could be
a little thin;
however, middle linebacker Martin Patterson will anchor the squad
The defensive secondary is outstanding, and will threaten to
picks all day.
CAN WE EXPECT?
first game of the season, and this one is the toughest. To phrase it bluntly, NU can
expect a lot of trouble.
This isn't meant as a knock at NU. The 'Cats are coming into this
with somewhat low expectations, are underrated, and will shock some
However, TCU really is at a different level right now, and there
probably only two teams in the Big Ten that would be favored to beat
Frogs-- and neither of those games would be guarantees.
NU should have a couple of advantages in this game. The Wildcat
line is experienced (and simply enormous) and should overwhelm the TCU
Herron should also be able to punish the Frogs. But will
advantages be enough? NU's line and ground offense will generate
yards and points, but so will the TCU offense. Key
position: the Wildcat linebackers. If they can contain TCU's
ground game and pressure their excellent QBs, NU could have a
'Cats Fall to TCU in Epic
Heartbreaker [posted Sept. 2]
offense, particularly quarterback Brett Basanez and wideout Jonathan
Fields, turned in a shocking performance in the Wildcats' season
opener, rolling up 641 yards. The 'Cats were just 13 yards shy of
the NU team offensive record, set against Michigan in 2000.
passed for 513 yards, setting
a Northwestern all-time record. Including his 35 yards on
the ground, Basanez notched 548 individual yards of total offense, also a new NU record. Fields
had two long-range
touchdown strikes, including a stunning 69 yarder. However, a
terrible defensive performance in the first half, combined with a
disastrous night for the Wildcat special teams, tempered the wild
At several times during the game
NU seemed to be on the cusp of defeat,
only to roar back on the arm of Basanez and the hands of Fields and
Mark Philmore. After over three and a half hours NU managed to
tie the game with nine seconds left. Two overtimes later the
Wildcats bowed, and NU suffered its only overtime loss in history,
falling 48 to 45.
The first half
of Northwestern's season opener against TCU saw the Wildcats with more
scoring opportunities than most fans could have imagined, but NU only
came up with two touchdowns. The scores weren't enough to stop
the Horned Frog juggernaut, which blew up NU's secondary and shattered
its defensive schemes. The Wildcat secondary was staggered, and
the middle of the field remained exposed and unprotected for the entire
night. The exception in the first half was the fantastic heads-up
play by Dominique Price, who hustled to take possession of a Frog
fumble and shift a little momentum to NU.
The NU offense looked very
impressive from the start. Noah Herron,
after a cold beginning, warmed up with a few nice ground plays and a
terrific catch for first down, but never found a rhythm. The
offensive line, while spectacular with pass protection, did not do
Herron a lot of favors initially. Another reason for the slightly
stunted run game was the TCU defense, which loaded the box early and
dared Basanez to
throw. Bas did, and with authority. Philmore and Fields
had stellar catches and tremendous gains. But the most pleasant
was the great play of Brett Basanez, who looked in control and loaded
three fantastic field positions in the first half produced no
points. Northwestern's aerial assault in the second half brought
the 'Cats into overtime, but kicking woes eventually ended NU's
chances. That NU was forced to rely on its terrific punter, one
of the best players on the team, to handle placekicking duties as well,
is a circumstance that is solely the fault of the coaching staff and
their special teams recruitment efforts. The coaches also are to
be questioned for all of the calls in the second overtime: forsaking
the red-hot air game in favor of a couple of runs up the gut, followed
by another kick attempt was mystifying.
The outcome of this game was
about as hard to take as any in the last
few years, but the play by the Wildcats was inspiring. Particular
kudos must go to the offensive line (particularly for its pass
protection), Basanez (who has been named the Big Ten's offensive player
of the week), and the wide
receivers. The defense, especially the defensive line, are to be
commended for bouncing back from a brutal first half and locking down
TCU in the third quarter, holding the Frogs to just a field goal.
NU Vs. Sun Devils in Home
Opener [posted April 29, updated Sept. 6]
GOOD IS ARIZONA STATE SUPPOSED TO BE?
Better than last year. ASU had high hopes for
2003, but ran into
a buzz saw at Iowa early in the season. The Sun Devils didn't
recover, and limped to a 5-7 finish. Most people expect ASU to be
but only enough to nudge past the .500 mark.
The Devils' offense is explosive and returns outstanding talent at
and wide receiver. ASU's offensive star, a fullback, graduated.
than try to replace him, they've completely revamped their offense this
trashing the fullback position and setting up new H-back formations.
will this work out for ASU? No one knows, but it likely won't
what will be their bread and butter this fall: pass, pass, pass.
Devils should roll through the air, and on the scoreboard. QB
Walter will likely be directly responsible for several of ASU's wins
fall. He has ample experience (and needs just eight touchdowns
to break Jake Plummer's school record) and is deadly accurate. He
showed some of that accuracy last Thursday when he passed for three
more touchdowns against UTEP-- this during a "down night" for Walter.
The ASU defense gave up over 400 yards per game last year. Its
this year will probably be only modest. The key position to
however, is linebacker. Returning starters Jamar Williams and
Burks are being joined for the first time by a third linebacker on the
in another formation change for ASU. The Devils are loaded on
and Williams and Burks are among the best defenders in the Pac-10.
CAN WE EXPECT?
One thing we shouldn't expect is for the 'Cats
to have an advantage
by playing TCU on a Thursday and having an extra two days to rest and
for ASU. The Sun Devils also played on Thursday, September 2, and
they destroyed UTEP with ease, 41 to 9. However, NU
be the first real test for ASU, and the 'Cats will already have had
jerseys dirtied in Texas.
For the second straight week NU will face a very strong offense, and
'Cat defense-- particularly the secondary-- will be tested to its
limit. For NU to have even a remote shot at beating the Sun
Devils, the NU linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties with have to
improve their performances by a factor of ten over what we saw against
TCU. Otherwise, Walter will eat the 'Cats alive.
If the NU secondary can protect the middle of the field and keep their
game sharp, particularly in the first half, these teams should match up
very well. Expect a close game, though maybe not as close as the
Horned Frog game. Who has an edge? NU and
appear even when one looks at each team by position. The Wildcats
an advantage at running back, offensive line and defensive line.
seems to have the edge at wide receiver and defensive secondaries.
team has a clear edge with coaching. As for quarterback, if
Basanez plays this Saturday like he did last Thursday, I'd give the
edge to NU over ASU's stellar QB. If NU gets another performance
like that out of Bas, and if the 'Cats can exploit an edge on the
lines, it might make the difference.
'Cats Fail to Tackle
As NU Remains Winless [posted Sept. 12]
for the second straight game this season, refused to roll over when
faced with a substantial point deficit and lost a close one, this time
at home to Arizona State. For as much fight as the 'Cats showed
Saturday, NU still could not overcome below average performances by
its squads-- particularly the lines and the defensive secondary, and
fell 30 to 21 to Arizona State.
Arizona State, and particularly Devil quarterback Andrew Walter, also
did not play very well; in fact, Walter started the game in poor form,
connecting only on two of his first eleven throws. However, ASU
made plays when needed. As Coach Randy Walker said after the
game, "They made some big plays and those always hurt. They made
plays and we didn't." One such play was a bizarre fake punt that
the Wildcat coaches called after poor clock management took NU out of
field goal range. On fourth and thirteen, with three points
removed from the available options, the 'Cats could have pinned ASU
deep. Instead they spotted the Devils a position near midfield,
from which ASU eventually scored.
The NU offense had some fundamental difficulties, including a
momentum-shifting fumble. The offensive line had a terrible day
overall, and Brett Basanez found himself scrambling for his life on a
few occasions, and not having time even for that on other plays.
Baz took a beating, but hung in and turned in another very strong
performance. The running game also seemed to have improved from
last week, and Noah Herron cracked the 100 yard mark.
However, the offense's problems were overshadowed by the breakdowns by
all the units on defense. The 'Cat defense simply could not
finish-- neither a play nor a drive. There were too many rushing
plays to count during which Wildcat defenders would successfully streak
to an ASU ball carrier, wrap him up, and then let him gain another five
yards or let him slip away entirely. And the defense did have some
terrific plays on first and second downs, only to give up vast yardage
on the third down call. NU appears to miss lineman Loren
Howard as much as many fans feared it would. Also, for the second
game this year, opponents' receivers streaked to the middle of the
field and were wide open.
The Wildcats can take some lessons from both games so far and build on
their will-not-quit performances. However, they need to make some
significant adjustments soon, particularly on defense, or the non
conference slate might be nothing more than a telling omen of what
record NU can expect when it hits the Big Ten.
NU Hosts Revenge-Minded
Jayhawks [posted May 16, updated Sept. 16]
GOOD IS KANSAS SUPPOSED TO BE?
Like many teams
NU faces this year, Kansas expects to
be better than
they were last year. However, they've lost one of their key
quarterback Bill Whittemore. Whittemore wasn't all that
the Wildcats last year, but the NU game was arguably his worst game of
season. It was Whittemore who drove the Jayhawks through the
of the season and on to a bowl appearance. His replacement is not
Among a couple of contenders, sophomore quarterback Adam Barmann
a likely starter. Much of Kansas' fortunes rest on how well
(or whoever does end up with the starting job) steps up and leads the
A lot also rides on how well the junior college players Kansas
for last year's incoming squad have matured and integrated into Coach
we now know just how effective Barmann is as
Whittemore's replacement. Barmann absolutely shredded Toledo
during the first half of last week's game, throwing four touchdown
passes and going for 310 yards through the air. The Jayhawks went
on to hang 63 on the team that had been favored to win the MAC, and
broke the Rockets' record for the most points surrendered in a half.
CAN WE EXPECT?
Back in May, I
wrote that NU and Kansas match up well, and that the Wildcats have an
advantage at quarterback and on both the offensive and defensive
lines. NU still has the edge on the o-line, but the defensive
line has been hit hard, and the Jayhawk offense should be able to blast
through NU's line at will. Basanez still has an edge on Barmann,
but the Kansas quarterback will be formidable. If Kansas'
receivers come to play, look out: the Jayhawks have the potential to
run completely wild over Northwestern's secondary all day.
As of Thursday afternoon, it looked like neither Noah Herron nor
Terrell Jordan (both received injuries from helmet hits in the ASU
game) will start-- NU's running game could be in serious trouble.
With its ground game in tatters, its special teams coverage and
tackling at an all-time low, its defensive line running on fumes, its
defensive secondary recovering from two abysmal performances, and a
home "crowd" that might measure in the single thousands, Northwestern
will come to kickoff already in a substantial hole. Coach Walker
spoke of passion after the Sun Devil game. Coming out of the
Kansas game with a Win (and not just another oh-so-close, but still a
Loss with a capital "L") is going to take passion, all right.
It's going to take passion, a real desire to win which has been absent
so far, and it's going to take a team effort that is normally reserved
for the biggest games on the Big Ten schedule. That's what this
game is, after all: with the non-conference slipping behind NU, and
with Minnesota and Ohio State looking hungrily at the Wildcats, the
Kansas game has unfortunately become the biggest game of the year for
NU. We should expect a shootout, a fight to the last man, because
if NU wins this game, there is still hope for a redemption. Not a
bowl game, likely, but at least a shot towards a respectable season and
a few more wins. A loss, however, shuts the door, nails it
sealed, and posts the Wildcat basketball schedule on it.
Northwestern Picks up Win
in Close Game Vs. Kansas [posted Sept. 19]
spent one half of its football game last Saturday at Ryan Field stuck
in a strange quagmire with the University of Kansas, as both teams'
defenses showed vulnerabilities, but neither offense could find a way
to open up scoring. As both teams emerged from the 3-3 halftime
tie, the question was which team found the better set of
adjustments. The answer turned out to be the Wildcats, but just
barely, as NU edged the Jayhawks 20 to 17 and avoided their second
overtime game this season by a matter of a couple of feet.
The Wildcat defense showed the
same areas of concern that marked its
performance against TCU and Arizona State; Kansas, however, failed to
exploit its opportunities and botched what could have easily been
explosion plays against the 'Cats. Even so, the Jayhawks did
scorch NU in the air, notching 303 yards passing. Surprisingly,
Kansas only converted five of its 15 third downs, although those five
seemed like ten, given at what points in the game they occurred.
The defense did stiffen when it counted, shutting down Kansas' final
drive and batting down what would have been the winning pass for the
Brett Basanez continued his
series of strong performances this year,
launching 192 yards in the air and a touchdown strike, and no
interceptions. Basanez showed moves reminiscent of Zak Kustok,
bursting several times for big rushing gains, taking punishing hits,
and immediately resuming control of the offense. The offensive
line, running backs and wideouts had hit or miss plays throughout the
day-- when they hit, however, they hit spectacularly.
After two quarters of futility,
NU struck with a solid touchdown drive
and a 21-yard Huffman field goal. However, Kansas came back by
dominating the ball during an exhausting twelve-play, fourteen minute
possession. After Adam Barmann's pass brought Kansas to within a
field goal of NU, the 'Cats failed to convert, and Kansas scalded NU
through the air again to take a four point lead. The Wildcats,
looking like the quick strike offensive power of 2000, then tore across
the field to re-take the lead, using four plays to slash across 81
yards. Kansas' last offensive drive came up short, and the
Jayhawks had to depend on a 43 yard field goal try, which was wide
right. NU dodged a bullet and concluded their home and home
series with Kansas undefeated.
NU Opens Big Ten at Minny
[posted May 30, updated Sept. 20]
GOOD IS MINNESOTA SUPPOSED TO BE?
Good, but not
great. The Gophers no longer have
their primary weapon, Asad Abdul-Khaliq. His successor, Brian
Cupito, seems capable, but is relatively untested (having attempted one
pass in 2003). Cupito is a small quarterback, but he'll be
protected by an offensive line that will battle with Northwestern's to
be the best in the Big Ten. Minnesota's running backs stable is the best in the conference, and
its wide receiver corps is above average. Expect the Gophers to
light some offensive fireworks throughout the season.
opponents to do the same as well. The Gophers'
defense is average at best, and-- like Northwestern-- their line should
be the centerpiece of their defense. Darrell Reid will likely be
the playmaker for Minnesota's D, and Reid has the potential to be All
Big Ten. Minnesota is also trying to fill its middle linebacker
position, and the Gophers are short on power and experience, but strong
Minnesota didn't skip a beat with their replacement of
Abdul-Khaliq. Cupito has proven to be an exceptional quarterback
and has shredded the Gophers pre-conference warmup opponents. The
Minnesota ground game has been as fantastic as we predicted back in
May. With their balanced and talented offensive, Minnesota is set
to be a scoring-- and winning-- machine for the rest of the year.
CAN WE EXPECT?
Heading into Minneapolis, NU should be
more than a touchdown underdog. The 'Cats, however, should want
to avenge the ridiculous, embarrassing loss they suffered last year,
and should be enraged when they kick off under the dome. NU has a
clear advantage over Minnesota with coaching, quarterback, the
defensive line, and at linebacker. The 'Cats even have a slight
edge over Minnesota's offensive line. Minnesota holds an edge
only at wide receiver, running back, and special teams. If NU's
defensive line plays on all cylinders and if the Wildcat defensive
backs step up, this could be a statement game for Northwestern.
update: NU's edge at linebacker and defensive line has
suffered terribly recently due to injuries. However, the rest of
what we can expect still holds: it's up to the Wildcat defense, which
held and held well when it had to against Kansas, to take this game
from the Gophers. Unlike Kansas, which couldn't take proper
advantage of the 'Cats' mistakes, Minnesota will come out firing
against the NU secondary. If the defensive backs can play lights
out, keep the ball in their sights, and avoid giving up more than a
couple of big plays, NU could pull off the upset.
"We were just outplayed and outcoached
better football team." [posted Sept. 25]
came into Saturday night's game at the Metrodome having played nothing
but close games during the 2004 season. That trend has ended: the
Wildcats were blown off the field by Minnesota 43 to 17 in a game that
was 33 to 10 -- and over -- at halftime. The game was the fifth
straight loss for NU when on national television, and almost ensured
that Northwestern will not participate in a bowl game
NU seemed composed at the
beginning, stopping Minnesota on its first
drive and marching down the field to take a 3-0 lead. It was NU's
last glance at the lead, however, as the Gophers unleashed, as
expected, a balanced ground and air attack, taking advantage of their
superior running game and NU's weak passing defense.
The Wildcats already had a
tremendous challenge, facing the 19th-ranked
team in the country and one of the most potent offenses in college
football. Unfortunately, NU wasn't up for the task and suffered
breakdowns in its offensive line, wide receivers, and every spot on
The offense was stymied by
penalties, dropped balls, evaporating
pockets, and bad playcalling. Even when they were down big, early
in the game, the 'Cats did not attempt a long vertical pass.
There were attempts at screens and ticky-tack throws, but no
bombs. What did NU have to lose by chucking a few balls
downfield? Is NU simply incapable of even attempting a long pass?
Noah Herron had a good game, for
the limited number of plays in which
he was used. The Sun-Times reported after the game that Herron
said, "I felt [during the game] that we could do anything running the
ball. I guess they say we're rotating. I just go with the
flow." "They" are the NU coaches, and "we" are Herron and Terrell
Jordan. "We just want to play Terrell , and that's going to be
the plan all year," Walker said afterward.
As for the Wildcat defense, only
one stat needs to be mentioned: the
Gophers were an incredible 12 for 19 on third down conversions (the
'Cats were 3 for 13). If NU is to be competitive and avoid
catastrophe during the remainder of the conference slate, the defensive
secondary must be revamped entirely.
The bright spot for NU was its
special teams play. Colby Clark
blocked two point after attempts (this might be the first time in NU
history that a single player has notched two blocked kicks in a
game). Brian Huffman
had a good night and Joel Howells continued to kick off into the
endzone. Jeff Backes' 97-yard kickoff return in the first half
was probably the highlight of the game for the 'Cats, and inspired the
Minnesota fans to hurl garbage at Backes as he raced through
NU wore its old-style black pants
in the game for the first time since
2002. Unfortunately, the similarities between this season and the
2002 season don't end with the wardrobe. In fact, NU's record
this year is worse than at this point in 2002: NU hasn't been
faced with a one and three record since 1992.
High Hopes [posted May
30, updated Sept. 28]
GOOD ARE THE BUCKEYES SUPPOSED TO BE?
question might be, "how could they not
be good?" This team is so
stocked and deep with talent that it's virtually impossible for OSU win
less than nine games a year. 2004 is not an exception.
However, by OSU standards this might not be a stellar season. The
Buckeyes have a good offensive pair in quarterback Justin Zwick and
running back Lydell Ross, but they aren't All-World playmakers.
The starting wide receivers are excellent and quick, but they are also
young and an experienced defensive backfield could exploit some
vulnerability in their routes.
Any slight weaknesses
that OSU might have to work through on offense
might not matter, since the Buckeyes' defense is once again simply
terrifying. OSU's line is above average, but with some major
holes. Its secondary also has some holes, a big one coming from
Chris Gamble's decision to trek to the NFL. Still, with the
Buckeyes' depth, they should be able to fill the gaps by this
fall. The linebacker spot is not only the best in the Big Ten, it
is possibly the best in the country. OSU also has lost talent
here, but who cares? They've filled it with returner A.J. Hawk,
who will almost certainly take All-American, and several others who
could vie for the same honor.
update: this outlook, which posted in May, would change very
little as of now. The Buckeye offense has shown itself to be
good, but not yet overwhelming, even against underwhelming
competition. That OSU defense, however, is just as formidable as
advertised. OSU could be in a tight race with Minnesota and
for the conference title.
CAN WE EXPECT?
Yes, this game
should be a Northwestern loss, but
happily that's not guaranteed. Unfortunately, it's going to take
a lot to avoid loss number four this Saturday. Not only will NU
have to play its best football of the year so far, Ohio State will have
to make mistakes-- big mistakes. If the Buckeyes bring their "A"
game to Evanston, the Wildcats do not have a chance. This is just
as much OSU's game to lose as it is NU's to win.
For NU to win, it must,
absolutely must, solve whatever ailed its
running game last week. The Herron-Jordan rusher combo must be
used effectively this time, or NU will fail. Brett Basanez
continues to nurse his shoulder injury from the Minnesota game.
If Baz is not at 100 percent for this game, the 'Cats could be in for a
world of misery, and NU will fail. The offensive line must
deliver the performance every fan has waited for throughout this
season-- they must dominate the Buckeyes, or NU will fail. And
the defense must have a game like they had against Ohio State the last
time the Bucks were at Ryan Field, or NU will fail. Special teams
must execute coverage with a focus and determination unlike what we've
seen so far. They must prevent Buckeye drives from starting at
mid-field, or NU will fail. If all these things happen, and if
the Wildcats pressure OSU into making mistakes, into swerving from
their plan and their comfort areas, NU cannot fail.
Everyone knows that "The
Ohio State Streak" is now at 33 years and
counting, and everyone knows how much this game means to Northwestern
fans and to NU players, past and present.
That sense of importance won't be lost on the team, which should come
out firing, as it did two years ago.
OSU has an edge with its
special teams, all its defensive 'backers, its
quarterback, its coaching, and its wide receivers. However, NU
has a slight potential advantage at running back and-- as will be the
many games this year-- holds the edge on both lines. OSU has
enjoyed being able to slip along with minimal offensive effort,
grinding away at teams with its punishing defense. If NU can
match OSU at its own game and use the Wildcat line and Herron like a
short-yardage battering ram, the Wildcats just might win the time of
possession, and with it a shot at history.
Beat Ohio State
Year Streak Ends
NU Stuns Ohio State 33 -
27 in Overtime [posted Oct. 4]
one of the most stunning upsets in college football this year,
dominated sixth-ranked Ohio State on both sides of the ball, beating
Buckeyes 33 to 27 in the very first overtime game ever played at Ryan
The game's opening drive was an
omen for Ohio State of what lay ahead.
Wildcat defense, burned so many times in the first four games this
did not allow the Buckeyes to convert on a third and long. The
three-and-out was due in large part to the first snap of the game,
which Justin Zwick was sacked by Luis Castillo for a five yard loss.
who has played admirably all season, was part of a defensive line that
Ohio State for most of the evening.
NU's offense then went to work.
When also faced with a third down
long, Brett Basanez connected with Ashton Aikens for a 21-yard pass and
drive-saving first down. NU methodically moved the ball on the
OSU defense. Six plays later Brian Huffman booted a 41-yard kick,
took the lead, and the Wildcats never looked back. Ohio State
even the score several times during the game, but the Bucks never
to pull ahead.
OSU evened the score before the
end of the first quarter.
NU stormed back with a ten-play touchdown drive, featuring an
run by Basanez, two nine-yard passes to Mark Philmore, and a
pass to Noah Herron for the score. The following Buckeye drive
again slammed shut with a three-and-out. Tim McGarigle, who
inspired football all night, caused a fumble on third down and forced
The momentum of the game seemed
to shift with the next set of drives.
buoyed by three electric pass plays in a row (including a 22-yard
for Mark Philmore), seemed to be seconds away from going up by two
However, Basanez was intercepted at the Buckeye eight yard line.
Wildcat defense, as it did for much of the night, responded, forcing
to punt. NU, stymied on its resulting drive, also punted, but
a complete breakdown in coverage and allowed a 63-yard Buckeye
The 'Cats were held to
three-and-out on the following drive. The
NU defense then swarmed the field and regained the momentum for NU.
allowing a Buckeye pass that put OSU at midfield with a first down, a
score, and just over a minute to go in the half, the NU defense could
folded. Instead the defensive line destroyed Ohio State's
and John Pickens sacked Zwick and forced a fumble. Dominique
recovered the ball, and with it the Wildcat inertia heading toward
Electrified after the fumble
recovery, NU took the ball with less than
minute to play and carried out twin twelve yard air strikes to get to
goal range. Brian Huffman then delivered again, connecting from
yards as time expired. To the delight of Wildcat fans everywhere,
raced back to the locker room with a three point lead.
That lead grew as soon as the
second half opened. The Wildcats
down the field, as the NU offensive line gave Basanez considerably more
in the pocket than he's used to. The Buckeye huge defensive line,
commanding in their previous games this season, were manhandled with
by the 'Cats. Basanez completed three passes in a row, then
again with Mark Philmore for a wild scoring play that put NU ten points
of the team most experts predicted would run away with the conference.
NU's defensive secondary, which
had been under fire so often this
came out in the second half and denied OSU another third down
The secondary play, with few exceptions, was phenomenal during
The secondary's play was also
good on the next OSU possession.
Unfortunately, good wasn't quite
good enough this time. Buckeye receiver Roy Hall made one of the
spectacular catches of the year, picking up a 50-yard bomb in double
well-done) coverage. The 'Cat defense did everything right; the
however, was one in a million. Six plays later, OSU cut the NU
As they did for the entire game,
NU did not show any letup in intensity
desire. The 'Cats launched a thirteen-play march to the goal that
to destroy the Buckeyes' will. Jonathan Fields, Shaun Herbert,
Noah Herron piled up yards as the 'Cats went eighty yards to regain
ten-point lead, 27 to 17.
After a Buckeye field goal on the
next drive, NU and OSU traded
with the most critical being Jeff Backes' thrilling pick in the
The Bucks then forced a punt, landed three fantastic passes,
with just under two minutes left-- scored and tied the game.
For the first time in history,
Dyche / Ryan hosted a game that played
regulation time. NU won the toss and put its defense-- by this
exhausted, but having played some of the best football ever by the
on the field for one last stop. The 'Cats delivered, taking the
to a fourth down and forcing them to bring in Mike Nugent, their
kicker. In any other game Nugent would have responded and Ohio
would have taken its first lead of the game. This, however, had
Northwestern's night. NU had played with enough fire, passion,
talent to beat anyone in the country. Somehow, it would not have
right to have that kind of all-out performance end in yet another close
The Wildcats fans on hand, though
outnumbered in their own stadium,
wild. Suddenly, like an electric arc, the reality of what it was
shot through the crowd. Noah Herron plowed ahead for a yard on
first down. At first it looked like NU was positioning itself for
game-winning kick by Huffman. Then Brett Basanez became a madman,
the ball, and shot twenty-one yards to the Buckeye three-yard line.
the fans in scarlet began slowing heading for the exits, the 'Cat fans
Ryan Field into a screaming, surreal stage, waiting for what was now
the end of a streak that stretched a third of a century.
Noah Herron took the ball and
lunged forward. No call. No
score. Less than one yard to go, and three plays left in which to
travel it. NU, however, only needed one more play: with the next
snap, Baz shoved the ball to Noah, who unloaded his way into the
endzone and at the same time into the NU history book. The game
will occupy an honored spot in that
book, likely starting at page... 33. Noah, player number 33,
the game winner on his thirty-third carry. NU finished the game
33 points, one for every year that Wildcat fans had waited for this
Personal Notes from the Ohio State Game [posted
Saturday's game just might be the most exciting I've ever
witnessed in person-- and not just because of the performance of the
Wildcats or the game play itself. The game was not only a night
game, but a sold out one, the first fully-packed night game since the
1998 Homecoming game versus Michigan. Unlike that game, however,
which was played during a monsoon, the weather against Ohio State could
not have been better for a football game. It was, simply, the
perfect environment for what would turn out to be close to the perfect
I'll freely admit that I didn't
think it would turn out that way when I
entered the stadium. After the way the season opened, I had real
doubts that this team could put a dent in Ohio State. Thank
goodness the players themselves did not doubt. After the game one
of the coaches returned from the locker room with a sign that said
"Trust Yourself." That must have been the mantra of the team
prior to this match. They showed that trust, and a lot more, in
This game was special for a
variety of reasons, but a fundamental one
is that for the first time in nearly a decade, we saw Northwestern put
on an outstanding display at every position. The Michigan 2000
game, until now arguably the most exciting home game in history, was
thrilling to watch as a fan and it was a tremendous win, but it was an
offensive display, a gun battle to see who would have the ball
last. This win over Ohio State was complete. The offense,
defense, special teams, and coaching all performed at a level that
could have beaten any team in the country.
The coaching staff must be
commended on their finest hour. I've
never seen a better coached game by Coach Walker and his
assistants. To a man they were prepared for this game, fired up
the players like never before, and adjusted to anything the Buckeyes
could even consider throwing at them. OSU coach Jim Tressel is a
tremendous coach, one of the best to head the Buckeyes. Last
Saturday Walker coached circles around him. Walker just might be
the biggest riddle in college football: when this team is down, no team
can help but win against the 'Cats; when Walker's approach to a game
and its players clicks, the Wildcats are a terrifying and unstoppable
. . . . I don't think I've ever
seen the Wildcat players so excited on
sidelines. It was heartening to see this much energy and passion
and to witness such a disciplined, focused effort. If NU can even
approach that level of drive and determination in each of the remaining
games this season, a bowl game is still very possible. That it is
so is a testament to the tenacity of the this year's Wildcats. . . .
(Instant) Classics IV [posted
on October 5 that
the Ohio State game will be an Instant
Classic. This is the fourth Northwestern
Instant Classic since ESPN Classic
began the program in 2000 (the others were the "Victory Right" game vs.
in 2000, the win over Michigan in 2000 and the last-second upending of
in 2001). . . .
. . . . NU has also announced
live ESPN2 national broadcast of the
game was the network's most-viewed college football game ever!
game averaged 2,028,000 households and a 2.3 rating. It was the
most viewed program of any kind in the history of ESPN2.
Win Against OSU Ranks #14
on HailToPurple.com Greatest Games
List [posted Dec. 5]
has ranked NU's victory against Ohio State this year #14 on its list of
the greatest Wildcat games ever. For the past four years
HailToPurple.com has kept a list of the 25 greatest games in Wildcat
history, updating it at the end of each season. Games are judged
based on many factors, including HailToPurple.com reader responses, buildup to the game, importance
of the game (to
the season and to the future of the program), the quality and
of NU's play, and the strength of its opponent.
It was obvious
immediately after the game that the Wildcats' tremendous
victory over Ohio State should be among the 25 greatest games NU has
ever played, but it wasn't clear just where to rank it. There
were several questions still unanswered: how would this win affect
Northwestern's season? And just how good was Ohio State?
compelling reasons to rank this game near the very top of
the all-time list. First and foremost, the game shattered the
unbearable thirty-three year losing streak against the Buckeyes.
The Bucks were undefeated coming into the game and ranked sixth in the
nation. Many OSU fans were seriously talking about the
possibility of returning to the national championship game. The
buildup to the game was huge: NU made it a night game, it sold out and
was broadcast nationally. The game was among the most thrilling
ever played at Dyche Stadium / Ryan Field, and the overtime finish was
talked about across the country. Finally, and most importantly,
the game showcased some of the finest performances ever by Wildcat
players. Players at every position performed spectacularly, and
the game was perhaps the finest hour for Coach Walker and his staff.
there were a few drawbacks to ranking the game
higher. Ohio State proved to be a good team in 2004, but by no
means a great one, dropping several more games as the season
progressed. And Northwestern was able to capitalize on its big
win to a limited extent, capturing momentum through the middle of the
season, but losing it in the final few games. Unlike the the 2000
Michigan and 1995 Penn State games, for example, which were among
featured games in title seasons, the 2004 Ohio State game did not lead
to a title, or even a bowl appearance or a winning season.
Still, it was
one of the most memorable moments in NU history, a
wonderful example of the realized potential of a team when it comes
together and plays a great game in every aspect.
complete HailToPurple.com list of NU's greatest games, click here.
A lot of
readers wrote to
discuss their opinions about where the OSU game should rank on the
list. Some also described what the win meant to them. A
couple of days after the game wildcattmatt wrote:
was a true family
affair for me and a very emotional one as well. My grandfather,
Don Guritz, was an honorable mention All-American at NU (1936-1940); he
played with Haman and Voights. I remember my first game in 1973 or '74
when NU played Oregon. I was four or five years old. We drove to
the Big House in the mid 70s when the cats started 3-2, but then got
crushed by go blue 69-0. Both my parents went to NU as well as my
uncle, and great grandfather for law school. I wanted to play football
in college and played at Carleton in Minnesota, but my allegiance to NU
has always been my great genetic curse and glory. We lost my
grandfather to diabeties this summer at age 88, but we still had 3
generations in the stands on Saturday, and like the Packers-Bears game
a few years ago after Walter died, I like to think my grand-dad helped
push Nugent's kick just a little right to help our players realize that
this was our turn to beat the Bucks. Anyway, it was a beautiful, fun,
emotional, and thoroughly glorious night."
following came from another reader:
think I'd tie Saturday
night's glorious win for fourth with the win over Michigan, though that
rank could change depending on how the rest of the season goes -- it's
significant for finally beating the Buckeyes, but if it sparks a big
season and a bowl trip, it may be more important (also to Randy Walker,
who may be on the way to cementing long-term job security).
now, the Notre Dame
game I still think is No. 1 (I can still see Ron Powlus stumble on the
two-point try). Can't argue with the Rose Bowl win or the nutty
Michigan win as two and three, either. The win over Michigan in
'95 was a statement game and locked in NU's place as a national power,
erasing the bad taste from the Miami loss and confirming the ND win was
not a fluke.
night's win also
was a statement, providing the missing piece from the past nine-plus
seasons -- we never played OSU in '95, '96 or 2000 -- and showed what
this team can do when firing on all cylinders. The defense was superb
-- in that way, a flashback of sorts to '95 -- and the passion and
in Louisville and
working most weekends, I can only get to one or two 'Cats games a
season. I was at the 27-16 loss to the Bucks two years ago. This
season, there was no doubt which game I wanted to see -- the most risk
but the best payoff.
much in the way of
stories from section 232; we were probably about 50-50 OSU and NU fans.
One really obnoxious fan vanished soon after the winning score; most
were polite and (not unexpectedly) subdued...
a Medill '78 grad, so
from where NU was a quarter-century ago to this continues to be
we've got to see if
we can build on this win. The next three games should tell us all how
good this team is."
Indiana: The Watchout
Game [posted May 30, updated Oct. 5]
GOOD IS INDY SUPPOSED TO BE?
If "good" is relative and means
improved from last year, then yes-- Indiana will be good. If
"good" means "not finishing tenth or eleventh in the conference," then
no, Indiana again will not be good this fall. This team is still
undermanned and young. Coach DiNardo is a step up from Cam
Cameron, which isn't saying too much. He has made some changes in
the right direction, but the Hoosiers still have light years to
travel. Specifically, their defensive backs and linebackers are
undersized and outmatched in the Big Ten.
LoVecchio and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis
return from troubled outings as starters last year. If they have
improved greatly during the off season, Indiana could actually surprise
some people. If they struggle, Indiana is simply doomed.
update: Indiana has surprised at least one team, slapping Oregon
down on the road. They have at least one more upset in them
before calling it quits this year.
CAN WE EXPECT?
Here is a team
that Northwestern dominates at all
positions except special teams. NU has a clear edge in coaching,
all offensive positions and all defensive positions. With the
game at Ryan Field, NU should be a clear favorite. Yet, this is
the watchout game. If ever a game had letdown and upset written
all over it, here it is. The Wildcats had better take Indiana
seriously, because if they don't the Hoosiers could easily upset
NU. However, as long as NU plays at full strength and at full
intensity, expect the 'Cats to tear the lid off Indiana.
update: That last paragraph, written back in May, is even more
to the point now, with NU still giddy from the titanic win against Ohio
State. The word letdown, written in neon before, is now blazing
across this game in letters ten feet tall. Indiana will be
absolutely jacked coming into Ryan Field, considering first that
knocking off this week's media darlings will make them media darlings, and second
that the Hoosiers are looking for a special kind of revenge against NU
for the close, frustrating losses the 'Cats handed them in 2002 and
Oh, but the 'Cats are
ten and a half point favorites in this
game? Well, folks, so was Ohio State last week.
Again, if NU comes out
flat, expect the Wildcats to spend all day
putting out fires all over the field. If NU plays even remotely
like it did last Saturday however, this could get u-g-l-y -- in the
good, Las Vegas, Paint the town Purple kind of way.
NU 2004: We'll Sell You
the Whole Wildcat Seatback,
You'll Only Need THE EDGE!
Nudges Past Indy 31-24 in Double Overtime [posted Oct. 10]
As some fans feared, NU did
indeed face a letdown game after its monumental win over Ohio State
last week. However, the 'Cats were able to pull up from a
nosedive and avoid what would have been an embarrassing loss to a
mediocre Indiana team. In spectacular fashion, the Wildcats came
from behind with two minutes to go in regulation. Basanez
connected twice with Ashton Aikens, and NU tied the game with a
dramatic kick that hit the uprights and bounded in. The 'Cats
then scorched the
Hoosiers in the second overtime period to win 31 to 24.
Herron drove in the game winner just as he did against the Bucks.
Herron powered his way to 196 yards and three touchdowns. The
last gasp by the Hoosiers was snuffed when Demetrius Eaton sacked IU
quarterback Matt LoVecchio on the last play of the afternoon.
With the win,
Northwestern's season record is even, and the Wildcats'
chances for a bowl game have survived.
NU's winning 2-1 Big Ten
record marks the first winning record for Northwestern in the
conference since NU beat Minnesota in 2001.
Royale With Cheese
[posted May 30, updated Oct. 19]
GOOD IS WISCONSIN SUPPOSED TO BE?
May 2004 preview:
The previewers are all
over the map this summer with
Wisconsin. Some are calling the Badgers an excellent team with
enough firepower to give Ohio State and Michigan a run for their money,
and their title. Others say this is a team in decline, no longer
able to nurture the talent and win the big games it could just a few
Wisconsin still has
enough talent and depth to beat any team in the
conference on any given weekend. The Badger ground attack, which
was so prominent a few years back, will again be the focus for this
team. Anthony Davis is poised to lead Wisconsin with a rushing
campaign that will garner national attention. The Wisconsin
defense is led by its line and its experienced secondary.
Sophomore quarterback John Stocco has experience in only three games,
but is accurate. The linebacker spot is also relatively
inexperienced and might be the team's one weak spot.
October 2004 update:
Did I say that the
linebacker spot might be the team's one weak
spot? Oops. There are no
weak spots on the Badger defense, period. Wisconsin has looked
majestic on defense so far, and their undefeated record and top six
ranking are due to the solid, outstanding defensive coaching that they
CAN WE EXPECT?
A rough time of
it in Madison. Just as NU should
be fired up when it travels earlier to Minneapolis, Wisconsin will be
just as loaded when the 'Cats step into Camp Randall. Last year's
loss stung savagely for the Badgers, and they'd like nothing more than
to dismantle NU surrounded by 77,000 fans in red.
The 'Cats will have to
pull out all
the stops for this one; another "fastball" wouldn't hurt here. NU
will also need a balanced attack, successfully passing against
Wisconsin's secondary just enough to loosen up room for the Wildcat
ground game to test Wisconsin's middle defense.
October 2004 update:
Well, the 'Cats weren't
exactly fired up in Minneapolis, but I bet they
will be in Madison. This rivalry has not so quietly crafted
itself over the last twelve years as NU's fiercest (yes, beating out
games with trophies, Big Ten schedule protection and 33 year
Howard returns to the team, giving the 'Cats' defense a morale
booster. This game might be a loss for NU, but the 'Cats should
go down swinging.
No Slowin' the Badgers!
[posted Oct. 24]
Northwestern hoped to build on
its two game Big Ten winning streak and its momentum from the Buckeye
game earlier this month by stunning another top ten, undefeated
team. This time it was not to be, as the top ten team was
Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is for real. The Badgers slammed shut
NU's offense and lit up the Wildcat secondary en route to a 24 to 12
win in Madison. Northwestern's offense had a
rotten first half, "highlighted" by a series of dropped catchable
passes. The 'Cats' defense and special teams also had monumental
problems, giving up several huge plays and suffering a blocked punt and
a missed easy field goal (that, due to the UW score, eventually led to
two missed two point
conversions later in the game).
By the time
the Wildcats regained their composure and began executing
properly, it was far too late, and Wisconsin is on a level that allows
for no errors whatsoever. NU did have a good second half, and
overall played a fair game, but it wasn't close to what would have been needed to stop a
superior Badger squad.
some outstanding plays by NU, even during the dismal first
half. Marvin Ward picked off John Stocco on the Badger offense's
second play, and Wildcat receiver Shaun Herbert played well,
eventually catching four balls and tallying 54 yards in the air.
However, with few exceptions it wasn't a good day for Wildcat
receivers. True, they were going up against a tremendous
secondary defense, but there were far too many passes that hit
receivers in the hands or numbers, only to find their way to the
Herron continues his
rushing reign of terror-- when he is allowed
to, that is. Herron ran for over 100 yards and achieved 5.7 yards
per carry, but he had, as with previous games this year, "limited
playing time." Maybe someday, when the season comes to an end,
we'll all understand the wisdom of occasionally sitting the player who
is tearing up great chunks of yardage on one of the greatest defenses
in the nation. Until then, let's keep the faith.
Herron, the offense was not productive enough to overcome the
Badgers and their defensive power. NU did notch more first downs
than Wisconsin, but most of these were not at game-changing
points. The Badgers' first downs, however, were mostly
back breakers. Wisconsin went eight of fifteen for third down
conversions, and those eight were critical, and most were from third
and long. NU's defensive play calling, particularly on third
down, was badly wanting. Despite the unfortunate defensive
tactics and the woes within the Wildcat secondary, there were bright
spots on D. Tim McGarigle had fourteen tackles, one for loss, and
flew around the field well all day. David Thompson scored NU's
Boilers Look to Spoil
Another Homecoming [Posted May 30]
GOOD IS PURDUE SUPPOSED TO BE?
Similar to how
good NU ended up being in 2000: an
explosively high octane offense and a suspect defense.
Quarterback Kyle Orton is ready to light up the conference and the
country after considering and rejecting the chance to bolt for the NFL
after last year. Orton has it all: accuracy, distance, and
mobility. As long as his line and receivers-- both just above Big
Ten average-- play at their expected level, the Boilermakers will be
scoring machines. The defense is about average for the
conference, but there are big holes to fill on the line and at
CAN WE EXPECT?
A lot of fans
talk about NU's legendary losing streak
against Ohio State, but the Wildcats' recent record against Purdue has
been just as disturbing. Quietly Northwestern has amassed its
second longest current losing streak against Purdue, one of its
protected rivals. At seven games and counting, ending this cold
streak needs to become Big Ten priority number one for NU. Add to
this the fact that this year's Purdue game is Homecoming and the
attention this will bring, and the Wildcats should have this game on in
a red circle an inch thick on their calendars.
Expect a shootout, with
Orton slicing up NU's backfield, and the 'Cats
pounding away at the Boiler line. Purdue has clear advantages at
quarterback, wide receivers, and special teams. However,
everything else is up for grabs, and NU has an offensive line that
should be able to give Basanez some extra time and give Herron room to
run. For NU there will be strong shades of the 2000 season in
this game-- the big question is, which game in 2000?
NO MORE STREAKS!
YEAR DROUGHT ENDS [posted Oct. 30]
Defense, Wild Wind Stone Orton, Boiler O;
Runs Amuck, Scores Game Winner in Final Minute
Northwestern upended a ranked
team for the second time in October, upsetting Purdue 13 to 10 at Ryan
Field. As with the Wildcats' earlier victory over Ohio State,
Saturday's win over the Boilers concludes a long losing streak-- NU
last beat Purdue at Dyche Stadium in a game that sealed NU's 1996 Big
Ten title. This year's Wildcat win was the result of a tremendous
effort by NU's defense and a hammer-down performance by Noah
. . . . The
game was marred by a fierce windstorm which sent passes,
balls, and anything not cemented six feet deep into the turf flying
with abandon. The action was also marred with occasionally flat
performances by both teams. Purdue especially seemed to have had
the wind knocked out of them-- so to speak-- from their last two games,
both crushing home defeats. The Wildcat offense also sputtered
occasionally, although Herron tore ahead throughout the game. The
game seesawed for much of the second half, with the teams in a sort of
stalemate. During the last five minutes, however, the lid came
off, and both teams slugged at each other in an exciting finish.
Will the 'Cats Finally
Find Happiness in the Valley? [posted June 3]
GOOD IS PENN STATE SUPPOSED TO BE?
Well, they have
to be better than they were last year,
right? They're not likely to repeat their 3-9 spectacle.
The two biggest names back from last year are quarterback Zack Mills
and ... Joe Paterno. Paterno might be past his prime, but he's
still Paterno, and his sense for the game has to be respected.
He'll have this squad turned around from the doldrums of last
year. Joe has shaken up his staff, and the combination of a lot
of returning starters combined with new life from the assistants during
the off season might be the spark needed to get things running.
Still, there's only so
much room for improvement. How
much room might rest with
Mills, who didn't exactly light up the world last year (six touchdowns,
five interceptions), and who must show significant strides this
CAN WE EXPECT?
There are some
real similarities between NU and Penn
State coming into 2004-- both lost talent at wide receiver and will be
anxious to see how this position turns out; both have an experienced
quarterback who had a slump in 2003 and has high expectations for a
rebound; both have a lot of new faces on their football staffs.
However, NU has
something that Penn State and Uncle Joe don't have
right now: momentum. The 'Cats are coming off a pleasantly
surprising season and are in a position to build with confidence mixed
with healthy caution. Penn State has an air around it that smells
a little like desperation. In addition to questions surrounding
their wide receiver corps, the Lions also have vulnerabilities with
their offensive line, linebackers and special teams. By this time
in the season, if things have gone well for Northwestern (wins where
expected, few injuries) then the Wildcats should be in great shape to
take their very first win in Happy Valley.
Happy Valley at Last
Barges Past Penn St. 14-7; Wildcats Earn Win #5 [posted Nov. 11]
In a season that has seen
nearly as many streaks of futility broken as were witnessed in 1995,
the Wildcats achieved another milestone last Saturday: they won in
Beaver Stadium for the first time ever. NU "upset" Penn State,
inexplicably a four-point favorite, 14 to 7 in a game that lived up to
its billing as a defensive battle.
added 176 yards to his ground campaign this season, and
averaged 5.8 ypc. As they did against Purdue the week before,
Herron and Terrell Jordan each ran for a touchdown, with Herron's
proving the game winner.
NU edged Penn
State in nearly every facet of the game, leading on the
ground and in the air. Brett Basanez put up 205 yards
passing. The Lions, however, won the time of possession.
And NU coughed up the ball three times, but PSU failed to capitalize on
defense, facing a struggling Penn State offense, did not
let down. Dominique Price intercepted Penn St. on its very first
offensive snap. Nick Roach and Colby Clark each notched sacks
against Lion quarterback Zack Mills (and the Associated Press also
credited David Thompson with a sack, although he is not given credit in
the official stats). Tim McGarigle dominated the field, turning
in twelve tackles.
The win is the
fifth for NU this season; the Wildcats' magic number for
bowl eligibility is two. . . .
NU Returns to Ann Arbor
After Five Year Absence [posted June 27, updated Nov. 11]
GOOD IS MICHIGAN SUPPOSED TO BE?
As with Ohio
State, Michigan is a team whose
mediocre seasons still put it in the top three teams in the
conference. The Wolverines have an arsenal of talent to replace
along their lines, at quarterback and at running back. They will
look and play significantly differently from the Rose Bowl team of last
year. However, they have enough vets left, with remarkably good
younger players, to put together another title team.
Avant, the man with the
golden arm versus NU last year, is back to take
his place among a stellar wide receiver group. If whoever steps
up to take the Michigan quarterback spot (and right now that position
is up for grabs) does even an average job at getting the ball where it
should be on the field, the Wolverine receivers should be capable of
ripping defenses to ribbons.
The Michigan defense
will again feature an NFL-caliber backfield, but a
slightly softer line.
Update: True freshman quarterback Henne has done better than "an
average job," going over 2,000 yard for the season as of last
week. Michigan's passing assault has not let up. Let's not
even mention their ground attack, nor their 1,100-plus yard
rusher. No, let's just leave this whole disturbing topic in
CAN WE EXPECT?
beginning of the season I thought this game, along with the TCU match,
were the two games closest to an "instant lose" for NU. With
Michigan showing occasional vulnerabilities, however (replay that
triple overtime win against Michigan State. How many times could
the Spartans have nailed that one shut, only to let it slide?), and NU
having won four of its last five, hope has kindled for Northwestern.
On paper the game
actually doesn't look too bad: Michigan has a clear
advantage at defensive back and wide receiver; neither
team has a significant edge at linebacker, quarterback, offensive line,
line, or special teams; and Northwestern might have the upper hand at
running back. However, given the home field advantage and
considering how late the game is in the season (which clearly favors
Michigan's nearly endless depth and ability to absorb injuries during
the year), the advantages and tools the Wolverines possess probably
will be just too much for the 'Cats.
HALF A GAME
Hang with Wolverines in First Half,
Goes into Overdrive in Second
Michigan 42, NU 20
[posted Nov. 13]
powered by a
fantastic performance by Noah Herron and a spirited initial effort by
its defense, took an early lead in Ann Arbor, shut down the Wolverine
"balanced attack," and trailed Michigan by just one point at
halftime. But Michigan made the requisite halftime adjustments
and NU went into a shell, as the Wolverines went on to pound NU 42 to
Herron had 156
yards for the day, five more than Michigan's freshman
star rusher, Michael Hart. Herron also scored on a
breakaway run early in the third quarter-- one of only a handful of
standout plays by the 'Cats in the second half. Brett Basanez
also tallied more yards than his Maize and Blue counterpart, throwing
for 211 yards and one touchdown. The 'Cats felt the loss of
wideout Mark Philmore, though. There were several bobbled and
dropped passes throughout the day.
The NU defense
looked good early, playing up to its competition and
offering terrific coverage and a withering assault on Michigan QB Chad
Henne-- the 'Cats sacked Henne three times. But the Wolverines
came out of the locker room for the second half and showed just why
they are a top-ten team, torching the Wildcat defense-- particularly
its safeties-- and scoring
touchdowns on their next five possessions in a row. While NU was
stymied by poor tackling and a few holes in their coverage, Michigan
just had too many weapons to handle.
NU Defends Sweet Sioux
[posted June 27, updated Nov. 18]
GOOD IS ILLINOIS SUPPOSED TO BE?
2004 preview: Illinois was as bad as Indiana last year, but
see more improvement in 2004 than the Hoosiers will. Illinois
suffered several key injuries last year that worsened an already bad
year. If the Illini manage to head into 2004 at full strength,
they could press into the middle of the conference. Quarterback
Jon Beutjer is back for what seems like his thirteenth season, and many
are starting to wonder if his AARP benefits violate NCAA rules.
If Beutjer has a good season it could be enough to fire up Illinois and
drive a couple of wins. If Beutjer puts this into the toilet, so
goes the Illini season (and Mr. Turner).
The other key to
Illinois' season will be its ground defense, which was
tremendously bad last year. Turner has a new coordinator to try to
bring life to this weak unit, but that might be a year away.
2004 update: Illinois has lost some games in very close calls,
but let's face it: the Illini are not a good team, period.
CAN WE EXPECT?
brutal this year, but this game is NEVER a
given. The Illini would like nothing more than to do what they
failed to do last year: take a Wildcat team on the cusp of bowl
eligibility and send them home for Christmas. Add to this
motivation the fact that this game will likely be Ron Turner's last on
the Illini sideline, and you end up with a very, very fired up Illinois
team. If NU comes onto the field even a little overconfident, the
Illini will beat it out of them.
NU Edges Illinois in
Your Heart Take More??? [posted Nov. 20]
NU Sets NCAA Record for
Overtime Games in One Year;
Wildcats Now Guaranteed
Agasinst Losing Season
Northwestern survived a
somewhat sloppy, penalty-plagued slugfest with its state rival, and
watched its bowl hopes survive as well, as the 'Cats beat Illinois in
overtime, 28 to 21 at Ryan Field. The Illini threw everything
they had at the Wildcats, but NU held on, powered by another solid
performance by Noah Herron. Herron only had 20 carries, but
powered his way for nearly 100 yards and two touchdowns.
to the Wildcat win
was a 73-yard punt return for touchdown by Jeff Backes that tied the
score late in
the fourth quarter. Just after Backes' run, Illinois returned the
kickoff deep into NU territory and drove to the ten yard line.
With just nine seconds to go, the Illini lined up to kick the
game-winning field goal, a 31-yard chipshot. Illinois' freshman
kicker sent the ball sailing wide left, and sent the game into
overtime, to the heart-stopping shock and relief of 'Cat fans
everywhere. Jonathan Fields caught Brett Basanez's seven-yard
touchdown pass in overtime to seal the game for
The game set
an NCAA record for the number of overtime games by a team
in one year. NU had lost to TCU in the season opener in overtime,
but beat Ohio State and Indiana in OT. The win also secured the
Sweet Sioux trophy for NU for the second year straight, gave NU a
perfect Big Ten home game record, and ensured that NU cannot have a
losing season this year.
'Cats Say 'Aloha' (Hello
or Goodbye??) to Bowl this Saturday [posted June 27, updated Nov. 23]
GOOD IS HAWAII SUPPOSED TO BE?
Hawaii's offense last year was spectacular, and there
is no reason to think that it won't be so this fall. The
Warriors' returning quarterback is set to break the NCAA record for
career passing yards. He is inconsistent, but when he is "on," he
lights up the field. Hawaii's wide receivers are top-notch.
Its ground game is thin, but with the passing attack moving at full
speed, no one cares about rushing. Still, the running back talent
that returns is experienced and should be able to give the air attack
needed balance. Hawaii should be an offensive powerhouse.
The Warriors' defense
was troubled throughout 2003, and suffered the
same problems that NU faced from 2000 through 2002: with a high-octane,
rapid-fire offense that scored (or went out) quickly, the defense was
on the field constantly and wore down quickly. This year nearly
all starters return, and they all have the "trial by fire" experience
that helped NU's defense so much in 2003.
Timmy Chang did, indeed, break the collegiate
passing record-- and the NCAA interception record. Chang has been
inconsistent, but he has ample experience. If he (and his
talented receiver corps) has a good night, NU's offense had better be
ready to match him stride for stride.
The Warrior defense has
at times been downright awful, and they don't
match up well with the Wildcat ground game.
CAN WE EXPECT?
NU seems-- as
it did with many teams this fall-- to
have the edge on both
sides of the line. The Wildcats should also have an advantage
with defensive backs, special teams, and running back. Which
quarterback, however, will be hot? If Brett Basanez has a good
night, the 'Cats could break this open, since that would free up Herron
to run amuck and give NU a critical time of possession advantage.
Possession will be particularly important in this game, as will forcing
Chang to make a few more turnovers. If Chang rolls and is able to
establish a medium-range passing game, this could be NU's bowl. Prediction: this will be NU's bowl,
but it won't be this team's last bowl-- the 'Cats should win yet another close one and seal
their trip to Nashville.
Hawaii Hangs 49 on 'Cats;
Season Ends [posted Nov. 28]
came into Aloha
Stadium needing one win for bowl eligibility. Instead, it got a
loss in a dogfight as Hawaii outplayed NU to a 49 to 41 last-minute
finish. The Wildcats had a sloppy start, having to kick off three
times because of penalties to start the game. However, they soon
found a groove and built a 20 to 7 lead over Hawaii.
it was all Warriors-- Hawaii came back to take a lead with only a
couple of minutes left in the first half, then extended its lead to
eight with seconds to go before halftime. NU never recovered; the
Wildcat defense simply collapsed, and NU's special teams' coverage was
as bad as it's ever been. NU's tragicomic failure to stop Chad
Owens' 76-yard punt return, even after Wildcat defenders did
everything but give him a full physical exam on the field, will provide
a "highlight" clip for TV sports shows for at least a week.
offense put up a valiant effort, but came up short in the
last two minutes, as Hawaii intercepted NU's last gasp. Replays
showed the interception hit the ground, but with no instant replay the
play ended NU's season. Shockingly, Hawaii coach June Jones
argued with the refs after the game, while Coach Walker strode onto the
field to shake hands. Walker, left by himself at midfield,
eventually walked away. For a
coach who had just won, and won thanks in part to some very
questionable officiating calls, Jones showed a remarkable lack of class.
the penalties (13 for Northwestern, some earned, some not,
and totaling 116 yards lost), NU would have lost this game, primarily
due to the defense's complete breakdown from the middle of the second
quarter on, the offensive line's timid play, the punt coverage, and an
apparent lack of focus.
finally ends NU's long-enduring bowl hopes and relegates 2004
to a .500 season, the fifth non-winning season in the last six.