Wildcats in 2005 continued to be a team focused entirely on offense,
and it paid dividends. NU averaged over 32 points a game, powered
by senior quarterback Brett Basanez, All-American offensive lineman
Zach Strief, and freshman running back Tyrell Sutton. While the
defense and special teams continued to struggle, the team still won
seven games-- its third straight season with six or more wins, and its
third bowl season under Coach Walker.
NU dropped its Big Ten opener with eventual champ Penn State in
heartbreaking fashion and sported a 2-2 record. The 'Cats then
ripped off three stunning conference wins, over Wisconsin, Purdue, and
Michigan State. All three games featured explosive offensive
performances, and NU achieved a national ranking for the first time
since 2001. After the 'Cats lost their marquee game of the year
(a sold-out night game with Michigan at Ryan Field), they staged a
stunning comeback against Iowa and secured a winning season.
After defeating Illinois, NU tied for third place in the Big Ten and
earned an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl. Although NU lost
its fifth straight bowl game, the season was a success and the bowl
helped strengthen NU's future postseason hopes (especially considering
that the Sun Bowl sold out and NU fans snatched up over 8,000 tickets).
from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the
Nine Wildcats Join NFL in 2005;
Nine Northwestern football players signed NFL contracts in 2005.
Three were drafted and six made free agent deals with the league.
Castillo Taken in First Round [posted May 1]
The San Diego Chargers drafted
Luis Castillo in the first round of this year's NFL draft.
Castillo was the 28th overall pick, and is the eighth Wildcat ever
picked in the first round, the second 'Cat during the Randy Walker era.
All-Time First-Round NFL Picks:
Wildcat tackle Trai
Essex was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round, and
the Steelers also drafted running back Noah Herron in the seventh
- Otto Graham, 1944,
- Vic Schwall, 1947,
- Ron Burton, 1960,
- Fate Echlos, 1962,
- Cas Banaszek,
- Chris Hinton,
- Napoleon Harris,
- Luis Castillo,
The six new NFL free agents from NU are: defensive tackle Colby Clark
(to the Rams), guard Ike Ndukwe (Saints), linebacker John Pickens
(Jets), safety Dominique Price (Cowboys), guard Matt Ulrich
(Colts), and cornerback Marvin Ward (Bills).
Sports Publications Offer
Preseason Predictions and Previews
[posted May 31 & updated during the summer]
As summer continues, we can
the rest of the annual college football magazines to appear at
offering their picks and predictions. 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
front runner. This year, the Big Ten announced that Michigan is
the frontrunner, followed by Ohio State and Purdue.
Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU. Of course,
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 did buck 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.
During the 2003 and 2004 preseasons, almost all of the magazines picked
NU to finish ninth in the conference. Of the 2004 previews, the
most accurate was by NationalChamps.net, which picked NU to finish
eighth in the conference (NU, of course, finished fourth, but with a
.500 record that eliminated them from the postseason). Phil
Steele uncharacteristically blundered, putting NU ninth in the Big
Ten. However, his pick was not the worst of 2004. No, the
worst picks go to Fox Sports (which predicted that NU would finish 3-8,
even though the 'Cats were slated to play 12 games!) and to Street
& Smith's (which put NU in tenth in the Big Ten, behind Illinois).
Here is a recap of what the larger 'Net and print publications have
predicted for NU in 2005.
[Ed. note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the preseason
predictions. The most accurate 2005 prediction turned out to be from NationalChamps.net. NationalChamps.net has now beaten the other preseason predictions two years straight! The dog
this year was... drumroll... Phil Steele, who missed NU's third-place finish in the Big Ten by SEVEN spots.]
- The Sporting News is out of the gate
first this year, releasing their magazine in late May. Of course,
it's easy to rush out a magazine of predictions when you cut &
paste most of your picks from last year. And, like last year, TSN
predicts NU will finish ninth in the conference, going 3-5, and 5-6
- The second
magazine out this spring is Lindy's,
and they also pick NU ninth in the Big Ten, and they also had picked NU
ninth last year. Can't any of these companies make a risky pick,
either high or low? Lindy's drops NU to 62nd in its national
rankings, from 57th in 2004. They cite the graduation losses to
- So Lindy's has
tabbed NU to finish ninth in the conference and 62nd nationally?
Guess what Athlon
predicts. That's right! Ninth in the conference and 62nd
nationally! Quelle suprise!
Athlon predicts the 'Cats will
win anywhere from one game (Ohio) to five.
- Prediction guru Phil Steele has NU down this year,
in tenth place, ahead of just Indiana. Again, graduation losses
top the list of concerns.
- It may have
given NU its lowest pick last year, but Street &
Smith's offers one of the highest picks for NU for '05. It
has tabbed NU eighth in the conference,
ahead of Illinois, Indiana, and-- drum roll, please-- Wisconsin!
S&S offers the most praise for starting linebacker Tim McGarigle,
who it believes is poised for a landmark season.
- Betting mag Gold Sheet follows the herd this
fall, placing NU ninth in the Big Ten.
- Webmaster James Howell calculates weekly
"Power Rankings" during the season. His 2005 pre-season power
ratings have NU in 64th place nationally, and eighth place in the
conference, ahead of Penn State (69th), Illinois (90th) and Indiana
(97th). NU is ranked below two of its non-conference opponents
(Arizona State is 23rd and NIU is 49th), but is above Ohio University
- NationalChamps.net puts NU at
seventh in the Big Ten, the highest prediction for the 'Cats so
far. NU is ranked ahead of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and
Michigan State, and just behind Penn State. NC calls Basanez the
Big Ten's "best unsung hero" and praises the wide receivers, LoHo,
McGarigle, and Cofield. It lists defensive secondary, kicking
and--strangely-- quarterback depth as concerns.
- Coming out just
before CollegeFootballNews.com's NU preview, parent company Fox Sports has picked NU ninth in
the conference and 53rd nationally. Fox points out the receiving
and linebacker corps as the team's strengths.
- ...and on the
heels of Fox's preview, CollegeFootballNews.com
released its full preview for NU. CFN also has NU in ninth place
in the Big Ten, tied with Illinois and above only Indiana. CFN,
in addition to the ninth place prediction for the 'Cats in conference
play, predicts that NU will finish the season 4-7, winning four of its
first five games, before sliding through the rest of the slate.
CFN is the first mainstream media source to recognize the loss of Jeff
Backes and Trevor Rees in its assessment of the 'Cats: "...To say the
loss of these two returning starters is a big time dagger to the
Wildcats' hope for another bowl game this season is quite an
understatement." However, CFN does admit the possibility that the
'Cats will still manage to string together a winning season and land
another bowl game.
- CBS follows the pack, with a
9th place pick.
- The annual Sports Illustrated college preview
issue also places NU ninth in the Big Ten, and 55th overall. If
there's any consolation to that pick, it's seeing NU in print directly
over Nebraska, which takes S.I.'s 56th spot. As with most of the
other print sources, S.I. highlights McGarigle and his expected
Loren Howard Leaves NU;
'Cats To Scrimmage Saturday [posted Aug. 14]
Wearing a yellow, "no practice" jersey, NU star defensive lineman Loren
Howard remained on the sidelines at Camp Kenosha this week, and it is
now clear that Howard will never again take the field as a
Wildcat. Northwestern announced over the weekend that Howard will
undergo knee surgery.
After leaving Saturday's practice session at UW - Parkside in Kenosha,
Wisconsin, Loren announced that he plans to enroll at Arizona
State. "I would like to become a Sun Devil," the Arizona East Valley Tribune quoted
Howard as saying.
Loren Howard is one of a string of losses and personnel setbacks the
'Cats have suffered since the end of spring practice. Among the
other hits the team has weathered:
'Cats seem to have suffered an unusual attrition this summer, with up
to five starters who will not make it to the field this year. NU
has the depth to fill their spots, but just barely: there isn't a whole
lot left in the well for the balance of the season. The 'Cats
will have to enjoy a big turnaround soon in their luck with injuries,
suspensions and departures, or the second half of this season will be
very, very long.
cornerback Jeff Backes: Backes' football career was ended by a
persistent injury. Having already graduated from NU, Backes
decided to enroll in Northwestern's Medical School for the coming
year. Not surprisingly, Jeff was a three-time Academic All-Big
Ten, and was named Academic All-America last year. Backes holds
the Wildcat all-time career record for kickoff return average yards
center Trevor Rees: Rees is out for the season.
starting running back Terrell Jordan: a hamstring injury has taken
Jordan out of the lineup indefinitely.
receiver Brandon Horn: Horn, a senior, is out for the entire
cornerback Cory Dious: Dious has been suspended for the first game.
linebacker Nick Roach: A hernia could keep Roach out at least for the
Some fans might get their first sneak preview of the players who will make it to the field when the
'Cats play their scrimmage this Saturday at Carthage College. NUSports.com
has directions to Carthage, which is just a few miles away from Camp
Kenosha's usual grounds at UW - Parkside.
Initial reports from Kenosha have mentioned that senior quarterback
Brett Basanez is in command and that backup quarterback C.J.
Bachér looks very good. Also making standout plays so far
are apparent starting running back Brandon Roberson and wide receiver
Court Orders Settlement in Wheeler Case [posted Aug. 15]
From Associated Press,
Chicago Tribune, and CBS sources:
Cook County Circuit Judge Kathy Flanagan today approved a $16 million
settlement offered by Northwestern University in the legal case
stemming from the death of Wildcat Rashidi Wheeler in 2001.
The settlement comes against the wishes of Wheeler's mother, Linda
Will, who sought a jury trial in the case. However, Flanagan
ruled that since Will is not the only plaintiff in the case, the needs
of the other family members should not be left out of the decision to
settle. According to the AP, NU spokesman Alan Cubbage said that
Northwestern agreed to the settlement to end the legal battle, but that
continues to believe strongly that Mr. Wheeler's death was caused by
supplements containing ephedra that he took on the day of his death."
Northwestern was not found at fault in Wheeler's death.
wanted the school to fire the coaches, provide counseling to Wheeler's
teammates and erect a memorial in his name. Flanagan sited
that it is "undeniable that much of the relief sought by Mrs. Will
could never be awarded to her on the estate by any jury, since requests
for memorials, counseling expenses for non-party players and witnesses,
etc., are not allowable as damages under Illinois law." Flanagan
added, directly to Will, "And what I have been able to glean from this
four years of watching you and observing you and observing what has
gone on in this case, it is my considered opinion that your wishes and
desires for the direction of this case and the ultimate result achieved
are unreasonable, they are unworkable and they are unattainable. That's
'Cats Scrimmage at Carthage;
Kenosha Finishes Early [posted Aug. 21]
Northwestern held its annual pre-season scrimmage last Saturday at
Carthage College, climaxing Camp Kenosha XIV. The practice,
although showcasing the effective ground offense provided by Brandon
Roberson and Tyrell Sutton, was overshadowed by the news that Wildcat
starting safety Bryan Heinz has been lost for the season.
Heinz apparently suffered an ACL injury earlier last week. He
joins Jeff Backes, Terrell Jordan, Trevor Rees, Brandon Horn, and Loren
Howard among the starters expected to return who-- since spring
practice-- have either left the team or are out for the year.
Heinz's absence leaves no returning starters in the NU defensive
backfield, and it also leaves only six returning starters on the team,
the fewest among Big Ten schools.
Roberson ran for 93 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's
scrimmage. Returning quarterback Brett Basanez also had a big
day, throwing for 141 yards and two touchdowns and running for 24
additional yards. Walker was quoted after the scrimmage as
saying, "Brett Basanez is everything I thought he was going to
be. I thing he is going to be a special player."
There were reports from the scrimmage that the revamped offensive line,
consisting of Zach Strief, Ryan Keenan, Austin Matthews, Joe Tripodi,
and Dylan Thiry, played well, and that Strief appears to be at top form.
The defense was riddled with holes during the scrimmage due to minor
injuries. "The defense is a little
depleted," Walker said. "We need to get our front-line guys back, and
our first line of linebackers healthy. I think they should be back
rolling next week but we missed them in there today."
In an unexpected move, Coach Walker called Camp Kenosha to a halt two
days before it was scheduled to end, moving Monday and Tuesday's
practices to Evanston.
'Cats Host Ohio To Open Season [posted Mar. 20; updated Aug. 14]
GOOD IS OHIO SUPPOSED TO BE?
Ohio has recently struggled to stay out of the MAC's
cellar. The are light on material right now, but with former
Nebraska coach Frank Solich taking the program over during the off
season, things are certain to turn around, even if Solich doesn't start
with the players he needs.
This is not to imply
that the Bobcats couldn't come out of the gate firing, and
winning. Last year Ohio trounced Kentucky and waxed Buffalo; then
again, winless and hapless UCF took the Bobcats to overtime.
Yecch. Solich will certainly have made some improvements, if only
in morale. And Solich does have a few really good players in
2005, including wide receiver Scott Mayle, who boasts almost 21 yards
per carry. Defensive backs Dion Byrum and T.J. Wright are top
tier as well. Sophomore running back Kalvin McRae could have a
big season as well. And Ohio is loaded at linebacker.
What about the Bobcats'
quarterback? This is a big question, since Solich is typically an
option oriented coach. Will starting junior starting quarterback
Austen Everson take to the option? Will he remain the
starter? Will Ohio switch to an option offense at all?
CAN WE EXPECT?
thing is certain: many fans at Ryan Field for this game won't be
wearing green or purple. They'll be wearing red.
An army of current and
former Nebraska fans have taken their Frank
Solich fan club and bandwagon east. They are new fans of the
Bobcats, even though many have never set foot in the state of
Ohio. Expect a lot of 'Huskers to invade Evanston, and the
likelihood that they'll be rooting for the Wildcats is about the same
as it would have been for them to root for the 'Cats in the Alamo Bowl
in 2000-- nil. These people are fanatical about Solich, and
they've transferred their unhealthy adoration onto The (Other) Ohio
State University. Well, if you wanted to see these 'Huskers cry
in their beer in 2000 but were disappointed, you'll soon be able to
exact some small measure of revenge.
For all of NU's losses
to its lines, both due to graduation and to
off-season attrition, the 'Cats still have more returning experience
than Ohio. The Bobcats have only one returning defensive lineman
and only two returners on O-line. The 'Cats should have the edge
on both sides.
Basanez is entering his
fourth year as the 'Cats' signal caller, and he
is in complete command of Walker's system. NU sports a decisive
advantage at quarterback. A very important matchup in the game
could be NU's well-stocked and talented receiver corps against Ohio
impressive corners. If the 'Cats can open up its air attack, the
game should be in hand early.
will be a good one for Walker to take out some frustrations on
his Alamo Bowl opponent. This won't be a feel-good reunion.
'Cats Shell Ohio 38-14;
Ryan Field Winning Streak: Six Games and Counting
[posted Sept. 5]
Northwestern opened its 2005 football campaign by easily
handling the Ohio Bobcats at Ryan Field, spoiling Frank Solich's debut
as Ohio coach. The 'Cats, en route to a 38-14 win, exploded for
28 points in the second quarter.
Engineering the second quarter spectacle was quarterback Brett Basanez,
who connected twice with Shaun Herbert for touchdown
passes. Basanez also ran for a TD late in the
quarter. For the day Baz tallied 353 yards through the air--
leaving him just 177 yards short of the Northwestern career passing
record. Coaches Walker and Dunbar wisely pulled Basanez very
early in the fourth quarter, giving backup C.J. Bachér valuable
Basanez looked poised and worked efficiently, especially after having a
few drives under his belt. However, Basanez himself thought his
performance could stand improvement: "Personally, I don't feel like I
had a good game. I missed my targets at times . . . I have to get
better next week, but it's good that we were able to come out with a
Basanez's highest-value target for the day, Herbert, notched seven
catches for 93 yards. The receiving crew was as good as
advertised, and also delivered some impressive blocking. Kim
Thompson made five catches for 99 yards in an outstanding effort, and
freshman running back Tyrell Sutton even caught two passes for 23 yards.
Sutton also ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns. While Sutton's
rushing yardage doesn't break a record (the most rushing yards gained in
the first game of a player's career is 192, set by Bill Swingle in
1961), Sutton did tie the record for
touchdowns by a freshman. The last time a freshman scored
two TDs was when Damien Anderson found the end zone twice against UNLV
The Wildcat defense showed some aspects that need to improve before the
team faces NIU, but overall the defense played a good game. One
of the great frustrations with NU's defense during the last couple of
seasons has been its tendency to give up the third down
conversion. Against Ohio, however, the 'Cat defense stopped them
nine times on nine third downs, an outstanding effort. Tim
McGarigle had nine tackles, Marquice Cole had eight tackles, Adam
Kadela notched a sack, Frederic Tarver had an interception, and Barry
Cofield recovered a fumble by Ohio quarterback Austen Everson.
THE Illinois Showdown
[posted Mar. 20; updated Sept. 6]
GOOD IS NIU SUPPOSED TO BE?
NIU may have lost to Michigan last Saturday, but so
likely would have 110 other Division I-A teams. The Huskies are
solid, and will be motivated this Saturday at Ryan Field like few teams
we've recently seen. Their main weapon will be running back
Garrett Wolfe, who rushed for 148 yards against the Wolverines and
scored one touchdown. If NIU can open a decent passing attack
against the 'Cats, it should stretch the defense enough to allow Wolfe
access to large chunks of 'Catland.
However, opening such an attack will be a tall order for NIU
quarterback Phil Horvath. Horvath did notch 200 yards against
Michigan, but he failed to find the end zone and he suffered one
interception. If the NU line can pressure Horvath and the
secondary can step up their coverage, NIU's attack will fail.
The Huskie defense should have its hands full with AirBaz and
Company. Michigan was able to convert 11 of 17 third downs
against NIU; if Sutton can put in a similar performance this Saturday
to what he showed against Ohio, the 'Cat offense will be robust enough
to roll up similar third down efficiency, and should keep the 'Cat
defense in their seats for a while.
CAN WE EXPECT?
We can expect, simply and arguably, the most important
game of the year for Northwestern. This is the ultimate turf
battle, a fight for Chicagoland media, attention and recruiting.
NIU is a program on the rise. The Huskies are building tremendous
new football facilities, they are coming off a bowl game, and they've
recently displaced the Illini on WSCR 670-AM in Chicago. A win by
NIU over Northwestern would seal the deal for them and announce
formally that they have arrived as Chicago's team, and since no further
game with Northwestern is on the schedule, the Huskies would enjoy
bragging rights for some time to come. A Wildcat victory,
however, nips that in the bud. An NU win over Northern would demand Chicago media attention,
however grudging the Huskie and Domer-lovers of the Chicago press would
giving it. The win would also bring national respect that the win
over Ohio could not, and it would focus all eyes on NU's game at
Arizona State the next week. Given who will be at Ryan Field this
Saturday (i.e., swarms of high school players), no game will be more
important for local recruiting. None.
Let's not forget the historical importance of this rivalry,
either. When NU suffered its record-setting losing streak, it was
a win over NIU that ended it. A win over NIU also ended the
"mini-streak" of 1988-1990. NU has never lost to the
Huskies. It would be unfortunate indeed to do so now.
The pressure is most definitely on. If NU wins just one more game
this year, it must be this one. If NU loses just one game at all
this year, it cannot be this
Not only is the pressure on, so is the challenge. This should be
a war between nearly perfectly-matched teams. NIU and NU have
virtually the same offensive and defensive talent levels, though NIU
enjoys a little more depth. Expect this one to go to the wire,
and as such, expect the 'Cats to squeeze out this very important win in
as close a fashion as possible.
'Cats Survive NIU 38-37;
Basanez Gains 220 Yards, Breaks NU Career Passing
and Total Offense Yards Records;
Sutton Runs for 4 TDs, 214 Yards
in a Spectacular Performance;
Ryan Field Winning Streak: Seven Games and Counting
[posted Sept. 11]
Northwestern got its much-needed win over the Northern
Illinois Huskies in about as dramatic fashion as possible, watching a
double-digit lead erode and NIU score what looked to be the tying score
with just over eight seconds to play. Rather than kick the point
after to tie, however, NIU coach Joe Novak went for two. The
attempt failed when the intended Huskie receiver slipped, and the
Wildcats emerged with a wild win, their seventh straight victory at
Northwestern was able to stay in the shootout thanks to a spectacular
performance by freshman running back Tyrell Sutton. Sutton broke
the NU record for freshman scoring in
a game by notching four TDs, which ties the school rushing touchdown record as
well. In doing so Sutton rolled up 214 rushing yards, and he is
now averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Sutton's spin move baffled the
Huskie defense, and much of Sutton's output came after first
contact. He has 682 yards to go to become the latest 1,000-yard
rusher under Coach Walker.
Quarterback Brett Basanez also had a productive day, with 220 passing
yards-- more than he needed to break the Northwestern career records for total
offense, passing yards, and passing completions.
ASU cruises to easy 52-21 win.
'Cats have no defense for 'Devils. [posted Sept. 18]
Northwestern jumped out to a 7-0 lead over 18th ranked
Arizona State last Saturday, but ASU stormed back and quickly flattened
NU, rolling over the 'Cats in a 52-21 rout at Sun Devil Stadium.
Most fans were unable to enjoy NU's brief lead: the road game was not
televised, and WGN's Internet Webcast was defective until late in the
first quarter. By then the Sun Devil offense was beginning to
get to work, and would eventually rack up a school-record 773 yards of
offense. ASU piled up 532 offensive yards in just the first half,
averaging a mind-boggling 12 yards per play! The Wildcat defense
had no means with which they could have slowed down the 'Devils, much
less stop them. This was particularly evident in the fatal second
quarter, during which ASU loaded 31 points onto the scoreboard and
effectively ended any chance the 'Cats might have had.
The 773 yards allowed by the Wildcat defense is also an NU record,
surpassing the defense-free spectacles of the early 1980s.
While the Wildcat defense was grossly mismatched, the NU offense also
faced serious challenges. Mysteriously, NU chose to limit its
effective running game early; running back Tyrell Sutton had relatively
few carries, though he was productive as usual when he had the
ball. Sutton finished just two yards shy of having a third
straight 100-yard game. Without a ground-heavy attack, NU lost
the battle for time of possession and left its defense to be sacrificed
on the field. Brett Basanez had a solid game, passing for 224
yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to overcome the
production by the ASU offense and the lost battle for possession
time. What is really telling was the difference between the
teams' aerial production: NU and ASU completed virtually the same
number of passes-- NU went 25 for 38, for a total of 236 passing yards,
while ASU went 27 for 39. However, Arizona State's 27 completions
gained 483 yards, slicing deep into the Wildcat secondary.
By the last few minutes of the third quarter, Northwestern had raised
the white flag and rested Basanez and many of its other starters.
After the game, Coach Walker remarked that NU "got what it deserved,"
and bluntly criticized himself and the team, mentioning that the 'Cats
had a terrible week of practices leading into the ASU game, and
apparently suffered a meltdown in Tuesday's practice, from which they
Hopefully the team can recover from Saturday's meltdown and regroup for
the Big Ten season.
PENN STATE EDGES 'CATS 34-29 [posted Sept. 27]
For a game that seemed to come down to nearly a dozen separate plays,
any of which could have decided its outcome, one stood out in last
Saturday’s 34 to 29 loss to undefeated Penn State. With under two
minutes to go, Northwestern had the Nittany Lions checked inside their
own territory. Penn State faced with a rough fourth down and 15
yards to go. When the Wildcats brought the house, putting rare
pressure on Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson, and Robinson still
managed to fire a perfect pass, just enough for a first down, NU’s fate
was sealed. What had been a game that NU led 23-7 became a
gut-wrenching loss for Northwestern.
Suffice it to say that the Wildcat defense did not have the best day
ever at Ryan Field. There's no need to pick apart a performance
that has been analyzed to death this past week, and it does no good to
hammer on the obvious: that the defensive secondary, the pass rush, the
special teams return coverage, and offensive playcalling all had
moments that eventually doomed Northwestern's chances against Joe
Paterno's rising team. Instead, let us mention three players who
did have strong games and deserved a win against the Lions.
One may debate NU's success or failure with its offensive performance
in the red zone and the fact that the 'Cats tried for six field goals
(several after drives stalled within the PSU five-yard line); however,
Joel Howells' performance was unquestionably brilliant. Howells
successfully kicked five out of six field goals Saturday, setting a Northwestern record.
The record had belonged to three Wildcats (Valenzisi, Gowins, and Long)
who had kicked four field goals in games. Howells was named the
Big Ten's special teams player of the week and was also named to the
Lou Groza Stars for the Week.
Senior quarterback Brett Basanez also had a solid day, throwing for 229
yards. His only interception came at the very end of the game,
when NU was in a desperate position. It was Basanez's only pick
this year. And Tyrell Sutton continued to wow fans and observers
across the country, notching 112 yards, including two touchdowns (setting an NU school record for
freshman rushing touchdowns in a season). Sutton also delivered
some impressive blocking as well.
Royale With Cheese [posted Mar. 27; updated Oct. 2]
GOOD IS WISCONSIN?
5-0 good right now, and at times this year they've looked spectacular--
watch their victory over Michigan again if you need proof of it.
Their quarterback, junior John Stocco is good, but has struggled from
time to time. Against a solid Wolverine defense, Stocco went 15
for 32 and gained just 147 yards and no touchdowns; however, against
Indiana last week he tallied 274 yards and three scores. If
Stocco's hot, the Badger offense is electric. If he's not,
Wisconsin still has junior running back Brian Calhoun to tear up
opposing defenses. And Calhoun is a master at it: he ripped
Michigan for 155 yards. Ironically, the only game so far in which
Calhoun did not achieve 100 yards was Wisconsin's 65-0 ax-handle
beating of Temple. Calhoun is also a threat in the air.
He's the Badgers' second-most productive receiver right now. Most
productive is Brandon Williams, who could very well spend most of next
Saturday terrorizing NU's defensive backfield. The Badger
offensive line is first-rate as well.
Except for the shootout win over Bowling Green at the start of the
season, Wisconsin's defense has been simply awesome so far.
Against Michigan and Indiana, the Badgers forced key turnovers and
produced the big stops they needed to. The entire Badger
defensive line is new; their '04 line was a wall of seniors, now
playing in the NFL. However, the rookies have transitioned well,
and they're supported by a linebacking crew that's every bit as good as
Northwestern's excellent LB crew. The Badger secondary is solid.
CAN WE EXPECT?
If I had
answered this question a week ago, I'd have been tempted to write that
NU could expect a gaping loss in a game likely decided by the middle of
the second quarter. The letdown against Penn State and the
Badgers' shocker against Michigan had made our match with Wisconsin
seem like too great a challenge. However, NU's loss to the Lions
now doesn't seem quite so bad: Penn State absolutely demolished
Minnesota, 44-14. The Wildcats rose 11 places in the Saragon
ratings last Saturday, despite being idle. And, even though they
blew out Indiana, Wisconsin did show some vulnerabilities.
Plus, this is only Wisconsin's second road game of the year, and the
first was an anemic 14-5 win at North Carolina. Granted, over
half the fans at Ryan Field will be wearing red, but there are a lot of
intangibles with the Northwestern / Wisconsin series, and home field
advantage will be more important for the 'Cats in this game than for
NU's offense will have its hands full with the excellent Badger D-- and
hopefully it will keep its
hands full: the 'Cats can't afford to turn the ball over like so many
of Wisconsin's foes this year. Turnovers could play a key role in
deciding this game. If the 'Cats' line can exploit Wisconsin's
front four and bang out ground and clock control, it could free up
Sutton to have a nice day. The 'Cat defense, as it will for the
rest of the year, will be tested. If the defense can stage a
breakthrough and put pressure on Stocco, the Wildcats might have a shot
at the upset.
'CATS OUTGUN #14 BADGERS, 51-48
[posted Oct. 9]
Many Northwestern fans wondered how the Wildcat football team would
respond to adversity following the 'Cats' close loss to Penn
State. The team informed them Saturday, roaring back from a
ten-point deficit against undefeated and fourteenth-ranked Wisconsin to
beat the Badgers 51-48 in a weird, wild shoot-out. NU fans
as the Wildcat offense broke or extended several school records and
proved that it is one of the top units in the country. However,
with the state of the Wildcat defense, and given Wisconsin's own
high-powered offense, the stage was set for a close, exciting offensive
bananza, similar to the 2000 game against Michigan.
Quarterback Brett Basanez; freshman running back Tyrell Sutton;
receivers Jonathan Fields, Mark Philmore, and Shaun Herbert; and the
rest of the NU offense combined for 674
yards, a new Wildcat record. The offense performed with
balance and precision, with every position playing to capacity.
The offensive line blew apart Wisconsin's young D-line, shutting them
down completely and giving Basanez and Sutton all the time and distance
they could ever need. Zach Strief blocked as if the Badger
defensive line were rag dolls, moving them around at will.
Wisconsin never got to Basanez behind the line.
The 51 points NU rang on Wisconsin is the most NU has ever scored
against Wisconsin. The 674 yards that produced those points are
the most a Wisconsin team has surrendered. To anyone.
Ever. The NU offense produced 11 "explosion" plays (20 or more
yards), which just might be a record of some sort as well. NU's
27 points in the third quarter were just a touchdown shy of the school
scoring record for a quarter (34 in the second quarter vs. Wake Forest
gets the first down. NUSports.com
/ AP Photo
Basanez showed why he should be considered one of the best quarterbacks
in college football, punishing Wisconsin in the air for 361 yards and
three touchdowns, and scrambling for another touchdown and 69 net
rushing yards. Basanez showed moves on the ground that most
starting running backs in the Big Ten would be challenged to equal,
including a fearless 20-yard sprint that sent the Badger defense
If Brett Basanez's performance was stunning, it was equaled by Tyrell
Sutton, who once again put on a clinic for his elders at Ryan
Field. He said after the game, "I don't like being tackled by the
first guy," which was like A.J. Foyt saying, "I don't like driving
slow." Sutton looked like a Badger magnet, picking up linemen,
linebackers, assistant coaches, Madison bartenders and anything in red
not nailed down, and hauling them along on his five foot, nine inch,
185-pound frame for however far he cared to run. More often than
not, that meant hauling his Badger cargo to a first down or a
touchdown. Sutton ground up 244 yards of turf, a top-ten all-time
performance by an NU running back and the best ever by a freshman, and giving
him the freshman running back season
record-- in game five! Sutton
averaged 8.4 yards per carry against Wisconsin, just short of
the record (8.8 by Damien Anderson at MSU in 2000). Sutton's
scoring was the inverse of Basanez's: Sutton ran for three touchdowns
and caught for another. 196 of Sutton's yards came in the second
half, which also might be a record for a half.
The NU defense, which has struggled through much of the five games so
far this season, showed its vulnerabilities, but did have some
outstanding moments. The line, led by Barry Cofield, looked good,
putting some pressure on Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco.
Brendan Smith returned a Stocco interception 23 yards in the first
half. And, of course, the defense came up big when it had to: on
the last significant play of the game, when Reggie McPherson picked off
Stocco with a minute and twenty seconds left to seal the win for
NU. However, the biggest contribution to the defense came from
its leader. Linebacker Tim McGarigle was a madman, flying all
over the field and hammering the Badger ball carriers for 25 tackles
(just six shy from NU's record, set by Chuck Kern in 1979).
McGarigle sacked Stocco twice, and afterwards said, "I haven't blitzed
too often in the past. They called my number a couple of times
today. It felt good getting in there."
Special teams also had several highlight moments, from Joel Howell's
momentum-building field goal at the end of the first half, to Gerard
Hamlett's 81-yard kickoff return (which looked more like something one
would see in a Playstation simulation than in real life: Hamlett
bounced around and out of pockets of Badgers as if he were programmed
to), to Ross Lane catching both of Wisconsin's onside kicks, to Ryan
Pederson's perfect punt at the end of the game that penned Wisconsin to
their three-yard line and forced them into desperation.
The coaching staff worked this game superbly as well. While
offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar might have made some insufficient
adjustments in the second half against Penn State, his plan against
Wisconsin was brilliant, and the offensive adjustments after the half
were spot on. Coach Walker is again establishing himself as one
of the great offensive-minded head coaches in the country, and despite
the areas of concern on defense, he took Barry Alvarez to the shed once
again. It is the last such trip for Barry, who is retiring after
this season to attend solely to his role as the Badgers' athletic
director. Against Coach Walker, Alvarez takes away a losing
record-- two wins to Walker's three. That Walker was able to take
his team and, in two weeks, bring them to this level of intensity and
cool under fire says a lot.
Now It Gets Interesting [posted Oct. 12]
GOOD IS PURDUE SUPPOSED TO BE?
Well, geez, they were supposed
to be very good. But Boilermaker fans, dreaming at the beginning
of the year of a Big Ten title and a BCS bid, have watched their team
lose in spectacular fashion to Notre Dame, Minnesota and Iowa, and fall
to 0-2 in the conference.
Purdue's heralded offense has been having a few problems, but the big
issue is its defense, which nationally ranks ahead of only three other
Division I teams. Unfortunately, one of those three is
Purdue is down, but the
Boilers are not out, and they still have loads of weapons and are about
as safe as a mad, wounded dog. On offense they have junior
quarterback Brandon Kirsch (junior?! I swear Kirsch has been
there at least eight years), who struggled in Purdue's overtime loss to
Minnesota, but improved in the Notre Dame and Iowa losses. When
Kirsch is on and when his line gives him time he is devastating, but he
is prone to a few mistakes. If NU's defensive line (which has
also shown some recent improvement) can put some pressure on Kirsh, the
'Cat secondary could be in line for an interception or two. Will
NU's defensive backs be up to the task of watching the ball and
snagging a couple of gifts?
The normally air-happy Boilermakers have lately been trying to
establish the run, and they've relied on two good backs, senior Jared Void "Where Prohibited by
Law" (who dislocated his shoulder earlier this season) and the voided
Void's replacement, freshman
Sheets (who showed flashes of greatness in the Minnesota effort,
running for 101 yards on 10 carries).
CAN WE EXPECT?
Don't expect Purdue to look past NU this week.
Any hopes that the Boilermakers might take their third home game in a
row for granted and gear up mentally for their coming road game at
Madison have been beaten into vapor by the World's Biggest Drum.
Purdue almost certainly considers this game as The One On Which What's
Left Of Their Season Rests, and they will come out motivated and
screwed on tight. NU should come out equally motivated: after
last week's confidence-builder, the 'Cats should smell blood in the
water, and catching this prey would give Northwestern a 4-2 record and
put them in official bowl contention. A letdown right now
would... well, it would suck, wouldn't it.
While no one knows how
this will play out-- and this game could head in any direction-- a
safe bet is a shootout of the lock your children, hide your doors
variety. 50 points? 56 points? How much could one of
these two teams score and still lose?
offensive line, Basanez, and Sutton play like they did last Saturday,
and if Northwestern's defense can execute
and keep at least respectably close coverage, and-- here's the key-- if
the 'Cats can get past the Wisconsin game and come into West Lafayette
focused and loaded for bear, NU stands a great chance of being on the
high end of this knife fight.
'CATS ESCAPE PURDUE WITH 34-29 WIN
Basanez: 463 Passing Yards; Offense: 600+ Yards [posted Oct. 15]
Wildcat fans were treated to what they've come to expect from NU
football when the 'Cats beat Purdue 34-29 in West Lafayette: an
entertaining shootout in which NU couldn't hang on to a big lead, only
to pull the game out at the last moment. It was Northwestern's
first win in West Lafayette since the Big Ten title clincher in 1995.
Wildcat offense worked wonders during the first half,
hanging 28 points on the Boilers before the intermission, while NU's
defense held Purdue to just nine points. However, the Wildcat
defense and special teams all found ways to let Purdue back into the
match, and the Boilers took a late fourth quarter lead.
Quarterback Brett Basanez was brilliant, throwing for 463 yards, second
only in NU history to Basanez's own 513-yard record, set last year at
TCU. He rushed for 43 more yards and one touchdown and threw for
three more scores (and no interceptions). His longest play was a
first half bomb to quarterback-turned-receiver Eric Peterman, who took
Basanez's throw 67 yards for a score.
In all, five 'Cats scored touchdowns: Basanez; Tyrell Sutton, who was
held to 89 yards for the day but scored the game winner; Peterman;
running back Brandon Roberson on an 11-yard catch; and fullback-- yes,
fullback!-- Frayne Abernathy.
The scoring festival effectively ended at halftime, however, and
Purdue's defense made several key adjustments and limited the Wildcat
O. The Boilers had focused on Sutton all day, which left Basanez
and his receivers free to raise hell. Unfortunately, while
Basanez had no trouble raising hell, his receivers couldn't catch it,
or anything else, for too many plays. NU suffered more dropped
balls than a nearsighted circus juggler. However, Shaun Herbert
came up with several great catches, and Sutton equaled his rushing
yards through the air. The Boilers' work on Sutton, combined with
those mistakes by the receiving corps limited NU in the second
half. However, the NU playcalling continued to be smart and
aggressive, and Wildcat offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar had another
For a while in the fourth quarter, however, it looked like Dunbar's,
and all Northwestern's day would be ruined. Ahead 28-23, NU had
the ball on the Purdue two-yard line. However, Roberson fumbled
and Purdue ground out an agonizing 18-play scoring drive to go into the
lead for the only time during the game-- this despite the sterling
defensive effort shown by linebacker Tim McGarigle.
Calmly, NU's offense
answered, methodically driving down the field and retaking the lead
with Sutton's score.
While the NU defense, particularly the secondary, continued to show
weaknesses (giving up over 500 yards yet again), it did make the stops
when they were absolutely necessary for the outcome of the game.
Most notable was the last significant play of the game, when Purdue,
down by five with under a minute to go, lined up to begin what they
hoped would be the game-winning drive. Instead, just as Wisconsin
had a week before, they threw the ball to a Wildcat and threw the game
away. This time Marquice Cole came up with the game-saving pick
for the 'Cats. The corners and safeties all registered some
jaw-popping hits on the Boilermaker ball carriers with an
aggressiveness that we haven't seen until now. Battle and
Henderson each had several outstanding plays.
The win is NU's second straight over Purdue and gives the 'Cats a 2-1
record in the conference. With Penn State's loss to Michigan
Saturday evening, all Big Ten teams now have at least one conference
loss, and NU remains in the thick of the Big Ten title hunt.
'CATS ROUT #22 MICHIGAN STATE
Offense, Defense, Special Teams and Coaching Produce a Masterpiece
[posted Oct. 22]
This game never seemed like an upset.
Technically that's what it was-- NU was, after all, a 12-point underdog
playing 22nd-ranked Michigan State on the road. However, from
seven minutes into the first quarter through the last play of the game,
Northwestern absolutely dominated the Spartans on offense, defense, and
special teams, and dismantled MSU 49 to 14 in front of a stunned
homecoming crowd and a national audience. The 47-point difference
between NU's winning margin and what NU was expected to do (the
12-point spread) makes this game-- at least in points-- the largest upset in Northwestern history.
To many fans, however, it seemed at first like the game would go the
way. Michigan State began the first quarter with the ball, and
they didn't need possession for long. On the very first play from
scrimmage Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton connected with Kyle Brown on
a 53-yard bomb; two plays later Stanton torched NU's secondary, and MSU
took a 7-0 lead.
It was the only lead the Spartans would hold all day, and it lasted
just seven minutes and 45 seconds.
MSU tried to extend their lead after NU punted the ball away, but the
47-yard attempt was wide right. And so the Spartan woes
began. They would compound manifold as the day progressed.
Wildcat quarterback Brett Basanez tore down the field, and running back
Tyrell Sutton raced toward the end zone, putting the ball on the MSU
one-yard line. However, Sutton fumbled on the next play.
Fortunately, MSU was unable to take advantage of the turnover, because
the Wildcat defense chose that very moment in the year to come alive
and become a raving gridiron terror. MSU's offense, the third
most powerful in the country, staggered and went three and out.
Despite a young line and a young, paper-thin secondary, the NU defense
found its game and began to play lights-out. Coverage?
Tight as a drum skin. Run defense? The best we've seen this
Now with offensive and, shockingly, defensive momentum, Basanez and
company went to work and feasted on Michigan State. Powered by an
offensive line that showed complete mastery of the Spartan defensive
front, sure-footed work by running back Brandon Roberson, and terrific
catches by Jonathan Fields and Shaun Herbert, NU scored in six
plays. Michigan State responded with a 16-yard monster drive that
ended when true freshman safety Brendan Smith picked off Stanton in the
Wildcat endzone and returned the ball 37 yards. Stanton tackled
Smith, who went down with a knee injury, but appeared to recover.
Basanez continued his reign of terror with passes to Kim Thompson and
Herbert, culminating in a 41-yard explosion pass play to Sutton that
set up Sutton's go-ahead touchdown. Basanez had the number all
day for the MSU secondary, and he effectively used a whole toolbox of
passes-- to the outside, long vertical passes up the middle, you name
it-- and worked MSU's vulnerabilities with scary precision. The
Sutton pass and resulting punch into the endzone put NU ahead for good.
MSU was down, but it wasn't truly out until the next drive.
Starting at the MSU 42-yard line, Stanton drove his team to the NU
9. On third down and five to go, Wildcat freshman defensive end
Kevin Mims popped Stanton and forced a fumble. In an incredibly
heads-up play, former linebacker and converted defensive lineman
Demetrius Eaton picked up the fumble in stride and bounded 86 yards,
untouched, for a wild, spirit-breaking defensive touchdown. The
Spartans' body language as they tried to catch the lumbering Eaton
whispered frustration and defeat, and from that point on, Michigan
State spent the day trying to get off its field.
That end would come, but not before another spectacular turnover.
Getting the ball back, Stanton again drove into Wildcat country, and
again gave the 'Cats the ball, this time getting a pass rocked by
Herschel Henderson, who simply denied the Spartan receiver the ball and
took the play from him. It was the type of pass defense NU hasn't
truly enjoyed since the days of Chris Martin and Hudhaifa Ismaeli a
The 'Cats enjoyed a 21-7 lead at the half, but how could fans help but
wonder: would it last? Would NU find a way, as it had so often
this season, to squander a big lead and either lose or fight like mad
to scrape to the win? Could this team, could this defense, follow through and keep up
this level of performance?
Basanez took the first possession in the second half to show that this
was not the Wildcat team of the first half of the season, this was the
new and improved Wildcat team that will not take its foot off the
accelerator until Lou Holtz cries on the postgame show. Baz
completed five of his next six throws, including a wicked touchdown
pass to Eric Peterman to put NU up by three
MSU's next drive stalled when cornerback Marquice Cole stopped Jeremy
Scott short of midfield and a first down, and Basanez's assault
recommenced. This time he was helped with huge plays by Sutton,
and Baz punched through a winded and wounded Spartan defense to take a
35 to 7 lead. Deante Battle's fantastic coverage on the next
drive ended MSU's shot at a score, and the 'Cats began yet another
drive to the endzone, highlighted by Roberson's 31-yard rushing
play. On the next play, Sutton raced nine yards for the score,
and most of the remaining 74,000 Spartan fans raced for the exits.
Those fans missed the crowning moment. MSU drove into Wildcat
territory, but on a first down from the NU 34, Stanton fired a pass to
the two-yard line. It was greeted by Henderson for his second
interception of the day. Henderson rocketed 47 yards to midfield,
and from there Basanez and Sutton finished NU's scoring, giving the
'Cats a 49-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. (well, Baz and
Sutton didn't quite finish the scoring. Joel Howells kicked his seventh PAT, an NU record).
Coach Randy Walker
by this point had pulled many of his defensive starters, and now
sportingly benched offensive lineman Zach Strief (who utterly dominated
MSU all day), Sutton and Basanez. Facing mainly a second-string
defense, MSU wrapped up all scoring with a short rush for touchdown.
Walker's preparation and execution of the plan for this
game was sparkling. The NU coaching staff outperformed Michigan
State at all levels, to a degree almost never seen against a ranked
team. MSU had no answer to anything NU threw its way. Much
like NU's win over Ohio State last year, the victory over MSU was complete: every position on the
field played at maximum. Walker should very well get some looks
for NCAA Coach of the Year.
The offense was just terrifying, and Brett Basanez made a case for the
Heisman trophy that can't be ignored by the media, no matter how hard
they might try. Baz put up another 331 yards passing, with two
touchdowns through the air and no interceptions. He rushed for
two more scores continues to pad his school records. The MSU win
gives Basanez his 20th win, an NU
quarterback record. Sutton also
rushed for two touchdowns and gained 109 yards for the day, putting him
just 30 yards shy of becoming Northwestern's newest member of the 1000
As for the defense, what can you say? Here is a unit that is one
of the most maligned in the nation, that had been unable to stop
anyone, that found itself on the road facing the #3 offense in Division
I Football. To play with the focus, preparation, intensity, and will that it showed against
Michigan State is a monumental achievement, and we can hope that it
marks a turning point. If it does, if Northwestern's defense can
maintain this level of excellence, then anything-- anything-- is still possible this
season for the Wildcats.
'Cats 21st in the BCS
Also 21st in AP Poll; Coaches Rank NU 23rd
[posted Oct. 24]
Northwestern football has broken
into the BCS rankings. Following the Wildcats' commanding win
over ranked Michigan State, 5-2 NU is now ranked 21st in the latest BCS
standings. This marks the first time the 'Cats have appeared in
the BCS since 2000, when NU made it to 15th in the BCS for one
week. NU is currently ranked above Cal, Colorado, and Auburn.
And, for the first time since October 15,
2001, NU is ranked in the standard polls. On Sunday, the
Press gave NU a 21st place ranking, with 240 points. NU was
ranked just behind TCU and just above Fresno State. Other Big Ten
teams in the AP Top 25: Penn State at 11th, Ohio State at 12th,
Wisconsin at 15th, and Michigan at 25th. Minnesota is unranked in
the AP Poll.
The USA Today
Coaches' Poll placed NU at 23rd in the nation with 179 points, just
behind Minnesota, and just ahead of Fresno State. The other
ranked Big Ten teams are: Penn State at 12th, Ohio State at 13th, and
Wisconsin at 15th. Michigan is unranked in the Coaches' Poll.
This Is the Big One: Michigan Preview [posted Oct. 26]
stepping onto a ball field in early January, the moment cannot get any
bigger than the one on Saturday night when Northwestern and Michigan
kick off. Northwestern is ranked and one game shy of bowl
eligibility. Michigan is ranked and is just as white hot in their
last two conference games as the 'Cats.
And this is... this is Michigan.
And if NU wins...
Well, just look what that might mean. Look at the last three
years NU beat Michigan:
Do those years hold significance, besides being the only three seasons
in the last 40 that NU prevailed over the Wolverines? Of course
they do: those years are painted across the west side of Ryan Field's
overlook, along with 1903, 1926, 1930, 1931, and 1936. You know,
it's the end of October, and yet there's still paint in the can to slap
up a nice, big "2005" up there at the end of the year.
But Michigan is standing in
And they are not going to be easy to push aside. This is by far
the toughest team NU has yet faced, and they are going to give the
'Cats all that they can muster. Michigan has already done what NU
could not: they've beaten Penn State. They will play for 60
minutes-- and maybe even a couple of seconds more, if Lllloyd Carrr can
work his Jedi Mind Tricks on the refs ("You blew your whistle before he
fumbled." "...I blew my whistle before he fumbled." "You
may go about your business." "You may go about your
business." "Move along." "Move along...").
Last week Michigan took a very talented Iowa team to the wall, and to
overtime, in Iowa City. The Wolverines' go-to rusher, Mike Hart,
injured his right ankle and left the game. No matter: Michigan is
of course stacked at any position, and running backs Jerome Jackson and
Kevin Grady cut up well over 100 yards between them. Hart is
questionable for the Northwestern game. If he is back to 100% he
will test the Wildcats' defense. Jackson and Grady will continue
to pound as well, both to chew as much time of possession as possible
(and therefore keep Brett Basanez's lethal attack contained on the
sideline) as well as to keep the NU defense concerned with the run, in
order to free up their main attraction...
Henne to Avant
Get used to that call; you'll hear it all Saturday night.
Michigan will live and die at Ryan Field based on how this duo
performs. Quarterback Chad Henne is 143 for 249 so far, with 15
touchdowns and 1,685 yards. More importantly, he has shown over
the past couple of weeks that he is cool under fire, and he will not
feel pressure. If the Wildcat defense is counting on a
Stanton-like pants-soiling from Mr. Henne, it is sadly, comically
mistaken. Henne will just shred NU's secondary if he spots a
weakness, and as for wide receiver Jason Avant...
Two years ago at Ryan Field Mr. Avant showed
just how fun he can make impossible catches look. What
awaits you, gentlemen, is a pigskin magnet in yellow pants.
Finally, the national media is having a field day with Northwestern
this week-- surprising considering that NU is by far the second-biggest sports story in
Chicago right now. Many pundits are predicting a Northwestern
victory. I'm not buying it, and I sure hope that the players
aren't packing bongs full of their press clippings and toking up
either. The 'Cats have the talent to win this game, but they're
going to need to come out of the gate with their helmets on fire, and
play lights-out the whole way. But, then again, why on earth
wouldn't NU do just that? They should
charge into this game loaded for bear. This is their
finest hour, the one moment to prove to the entire country, live and on
prime time, that they command respect and that no one, not even Michigan, can deny them the chance
to put their mark forever on Ryan Field's wall.
'Cats Fall to Michigan 33-17;
NU Scoreless in Second Half [posted Nov. 4]
spotted the Michigan Wolverines 14 points very quickly in the Wildcats'
homecoming game, seven of those points coming off an NU fumble as the
'Cats themselves were threatening to score. NU's offense, so
potent for much of the season, was put on ice for the second half, and
the result was a 33 to 17 bust against #25 Michigan.
Basanez found himself under a lot of pressure, and the Wildcat
offensive line did not provide much comfort, leaving Baz scrambling for
much of the evening. When Basanez was able to fire off a good
shot, it was dropped more often than it should have been. It
should be noted, though, that receiver Mark Philmore did have 139
receiving yards. Also, despite a critical fumble in the first
half that Michigan returned for a score, and despite only getting ten
rushing attempts in the game, Tyrell Sutton joined the 1,000-yard club,
the only freshman in NU history to notch 1,000 rushing yards in a
The capacity crowd (the third sold out home game for NU in the Randy
Walker era) did get to see a spirited performance by the Wildcat
defense. The 'Cats shut down Michigan several times in the third
quarter, but NU's offense just couldn't execute properly and could not
take advantage of the opportunities opened by the D. Linebacker
Tim McGarigle and defensive backs Herschel Henderson and Marquice Cole
each intercepted a Wolverine pass. It was Cole's fourth pick for
the season; he leads the Big Ten. McGarigle had 21 tackles and is
on pace to set the NU tackling record.
Down 24-7 at the half, NU storms back in the last three minutes to edge Iowa 28-27.
'Cats Still in Big Ten Title Hunt [posted Nov. 6]
much of Saturday's game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Northwestern seemed
flat, getting pushed on the lines and having trouble following through
on drives. That is, until the final three minutes of the
game. In a sequence of plays reminiscent of the 2000 Minnesota
and 2001 Michigan State games, NU staged a spectacular end-of-game
rally, lighting up the Hawkeyes with back-to-back touchdowns and
stunning Iowa by coming back from a 24-7 halftime deficit to win, 28-27.
Just as it had with Michigan a week before, NU promptly spotted Iowa 14
points in the first quarter. The Hawkeyes torched NU's defensive
backs en route to an opening-drive score, which was followed by a
Wildcat three-and-out. The Wildcat offensive line was not able to
give quarterback Brett Basanez much time, and the receivers continued
their woes from the previous week. Iowa then continued to shred
NU's defensive backfield and found the endzone again.
By the second quarter the offensive line began to show increased
effectiveness, and running back Tyrell Sutton and wideout Mark Philmore
notched a pair of critical first downs before Basanez connected with
Shaun Herbert to bring NU to within seven points. Iowa, however,
responded immediately, showing a great mix of rushing and passing,
culminating in quarterback Drew Tate's acrobatic endzone leap that put
the Hawkeyes up 21-7. Iowa would add a fieldgoal before the half
to take its biggest lead of the game. It is crucial to note that
a Hawkeye touchdown at this point would have eventually given Iowa the
ballgame. However, Wildcat linebacker Nick Roach came up with a
monstrous sack midway through the Iowa drive, which caused the Hawkeyes
to burn their last timeout of the half. Although Iowa continued
to drive to the Northwestern two-yard line, without a timeout the
Hawkeyes had to settle for the kick after a second down attempt into
the endzone failed. Roach's sack significantly contributed to
Basanez was able to connect with both Philmore and Herbert at the start
of the third quarter as NU drove methodically and effectively into the
Iowa red zone. Sutton, showing some of the phenomenal moves he
had shown earlier in the season, broke loose and found the goal line,
and the 'Cats put themselves within ten points of Iowa. Sutton's
run was the only scoring of the quarter.
NU's defense, which held beautifully in the third quarter, continued
its strong performance into the fourth, with great plays by Eddie
Simpson and Kevin Mims to force Iowa to punt. However, the NU
offense couldn't take advantage, and was forced to punt. When
Iowa was called for roughing kicker Slade Larscheid, the 'Cats got
another chance, but watched it evaporate when Basanez threw an
Again Iowa began a drive with terrific field position, and again the
Wildcat defense rose to the occasion, as Deante Battle broke up Iowa's
third down pass. Iowa was forced to settle for a field goal,
which put the Hawkeyes 13 points ahead. NU's offense remained
flat, going three and out.
When Iowa's third attempt at a field goal sailed wide left, it gave the
'Cats a chance to come within a touchdown of Iowa with roughly five
minutes to go. However, Basanez suffered his second interception
and snuffed the drive. At this point, two groups of people at
Ryan Field had decided they'd seen enough, and checked out of the
The first group was the bulk of Wildcat fans. Despite their team
demonstrating time and again that they do not ever quit, that anything
can happen in a Northwestern football game, and that the Wildcat
offense is about as dangerous as a loaded rifle propped on top of a
washing machine out of balance, the fan base fled the stadium.
The ESPN commentators were aghast at the sad stream of purple leaving
the stands, as were the few real Wildcat fans who remained in the
stadium and got to watch history. This team has fought like true
Wildcats through this entire season; they deserve so much more support
than the fans and the local media have been willing to show.
The second group of people who left Ryan Field were the Iowa players--
at least mentally. Hawkeyes began high-fiving each other on the
sidelines and calculating where they would be in December. There
were plenty of Hawkeyes left in the stadium, of course, but they were
in the stands.
In the final Iowa drive, during which NU coach Randy Walker wisely
burned two of his timeouts, the Wildcat defense came up with the
supreme stop. Trevor Schultz broke up Iowa's third-and-eight
pass, and Basanez and company got the ball back at their own 23-yard
line, with just over three minutes to go.
When Basanez's first two pass attempts fell incomplete, it did indeed
look like Northwestern would fall short in this game. But that's
just the point: unless NU is down by 40 and the ESPN sideline reporters
are already interviewing the winning coach, you simply cannot count the
NU offense out of a game, and Basanez is as cool under fire as any
quarterback in the country. Basanez began zinging balls to
Jonathan Fields and Philmore, quickly driving the 'Cats across the
field. Basanez's 15-yard scramble put NU at the Iowa one-yard
line, where Sutton quickly punched in the ball. Northwestern was
now less than a touchdown away from victory, with a little over two
The onside kick itself was a given, but the question was: would it be a
standard onside kick or one of the pooch kicks NU had perfected in
recent seasons? Kicker Joel Howells made a traditional onside
kick, which bounded high and was perfectly executed. Marquice
Cole and Reggie McPherson both leapt for the ball, and McPherson caught
it at midfield, in one of the greatest Wildcat plays of the season.
From the moment McPherson sprinted around with the ball, there was no
doubt what would happen next. Iowa's players had totally checked
out, and the Wildcat offense was as fired up as they'd ever been.
Passes to Ross Lane and Philmore took NU close to the Iowa red
zone. Basanez picked up six yards and a first down on a QB
keeper. However, after the play Iowa's Chad Greenway socked
Basanez with his helmet, the last of a string of dirty shots the
Hawkeyes had taken at Basanez during the game. The resulting
personal foul gave NU a first-and-goal at the Hawkeye nine-yard
line. Two plays later Basanez fired a bullet to Lane in the
endzone, and Howell's point after kick gave NU a stunning one-point
That lead converted into a Wildcat win when NU's defense provided one
last spectacular stop. On third down defensive lineman David
Ngene put enough pressure on the Hawkeye QB to disrupt the pass, and
Iowa's fourth-down desperation pass also fell incomplete. For the
10,000 Hawkeye fans still in attendance, it was the unthinkable ending
to a good Iowa performance. For the few hundred remaining NU
fans, it was blissful bedlam on par with any of Northwestern's great
victories of the last ten years. After the game, Basanez ascended
the NUMB conductor ladder and led the band through "Go U
Northwestern." Just as the fight song says, the Wildcats-- as
they have so many times this season-- "fight for victory."
Still a Shot at a Big Ten Title
...And, who knows; maybe those remaining NU fans saw the last home
field moments of the Wildcats' next Big Ten championship team.
With the NU win, there are now only three variables left in determining
whether or not Northwestern will claim a share of the conference
title. First, NU must win next week at Ohio State. By doing
so not only would Northwestern claim its fifth Big Ten win, it would
hand OSU its second conference loss. Second, NU would have to
beat Illinois, which would give the 'Cats a 6-2 final record in the
conference. And third, Penn State would have to lose at Michigan
Is this a long shot? Who can say: after all, wasn't NU a long
shot in its game against Iowa, with four minutes to go? Welcome
to Northwestern football. Anything can happen, and you can bet it
will be entertaining as hell.
Ohio State Preview:
Can NU Extend Its Winning Streak Vs. the Buckeyes? [posted Nov. 9]
So, the question is, do you remember the last time NU actually lost
to Ohio State? How old were you? Well, here is some
perspective: George W. Bush was a youthful first-termer, gas was only
$1.92 a gallon, and the White Stripes had just released Elephant. Ahh, feel those waves of nostalgia!
Seriously, the boys in
scarlet and gray still aren't too happy about
last year's tilt with the 'Cats, and you can bet they'll want to
dominate Northwestern this Saturday and get back to the way things
were, from 1972 through 2003. And they have the talent and depth
to make it so. Add to this the fact that it will be Senior Day in
Columbus, and add in the trivial matter of a possible Big Ten title for
OSU, and you get a heap of motivation for the Buckeyes to pound the
'Cats into dust.
But can they?
Tenth-ranked Ohio State has been playing lights-out this month, and,
yes, they can beat just about anyone in the country right now.
Granted, Illinois is a down team right now, but did you catch what OSU
did to the Illini? Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith toyed with them
before throwing three TDs and coasting to just under 300 passing yards,
and the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-and-so-on Bucks slapped up 40
points. "We're not opposed to scoring, contrary to popular
opinion," Coach Tressel smirked, after the game.
And OSU won't be opposed to it against NU, either. The Wildcat
defense has shown significant improvement during the season; the third
quarter against Iowa was as good a defensive performance as we've seen
from NU in the last few years. However, the defense will face a
world of pain against this surging Buckeye attack. Smith is
rolling, and their receivers are first-rate. Ted Ginn, Jr., is
averaging nearly 17 yards a catch, but that's peanuts compared to
Santonio Holmes and his 19 yards. Holmes has scored seven
touchdowns in the last four games; he'll score at least two against
Northwestern. The running game, led by Antonio Pittman, is
menacing, and is helped greatly by Smith's rushing (Smith has 433
rushing yards for the year, over a hundred more than Basanez).
The Wildcat defense has had trouble putting pressure on the
quarterback. It got the job done against the Hawkeyes, but the
Buckeye O-line puts up a kevlar pocket, and Smith will have ample time
to peruse his options after the snap.
Ohio State should score at will, but can Northwestern? The
Wildcat offense, so white-hot early and midway through the season, has
sputtered occasionally during the last two games. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in rushing defense, passing defense, and scoring defense. The
offensive line will have a tremendous challenge. OSU's veteran
defensive front features star Mike Kudla, who has notched eight sacks
so far this year. A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter are still
dominating the linebacker positions, where they've been for the past
twelve or so seasons. The key to this game, however, might be
within the Buckeye secondary. The Buckeyes will likely take a
page from Michigan and Iowa's game plans and will try to stop NU
running back Tyrell Sutton and dismantle the rushing threat, leaving
Basanez with just the pass. However, the Ohio State defensive
backs, despite leading the league, do have some vulnerability. If
NU can get its passing attack into high gear, and the Wildcat receivers
hold onto what is thrown their way, NU might have a shot at sticking
around in this game. And, as we've seen, if NU can stick around, anything can happen.
Buckeyes Rout NU 48-7 [posted Nov. 12]
as they say, revenge is sweet, the Ohio State Buckeyes had better check
their blood sugar levels after their game Saturday. The Bucks
exacted revenge-- and then some-- for their loss last year at Ryan
Field by humiliating Northwestern in Ohio Stadium, 48 to 7. Ohio
State simply proved too much for Northwestern,
piling up a 28-7 score by halftime and cruising the rest of the
While Ohio State was helped by a disastrous Wildcat special teams
performance, the Buckeyes were a team playing at a different level,
overwhelming both the NU offense and defense.
The game began with a promising start for the Wildcats.
Quarterback Brett Basanez and company quickly and methodically drove on
their first possession and scored a touchdown to open a 7-0 lead on
OSU. But from there on Ohio State completely dominated.
punting unit was abysmal, giving OSU fantastic field position on one
kick, and then, on the next punt, suffering a spectacular block.
The Buckeyes promptly ran the blocked ball into the endzone and put the
game out of reach for NU.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter Ohio State Jim Tressel had taken
his offensive big guns out of the game, and Coach Walker wisely
followed suit. The game was clearly lost, and Basanez was saved
for next week's showdown with Illinois, while C.J. Bachér gained
a quarter more experience behind center.
While the Wildcats had a dismal day, their failure was mostly due to
the quality of their opponent. The Buckeyes looked like a BCS
team and a Big Ten champion, while the 'Cats watched helplessly as
their Big Ten title hopes were officially snuffed. It was NU's
misfortune to catch Ohio State at a point where they are clearly
unstoppable; if Penn State had played OSU on Saturday instead of
earlier in the year, the Buckeyes would be undefeated in the conference.
It is a testimony to the quality of this Wildcat team, however, that
their Big Ten title hopes did in fact last until November 12, which
only a handful of fans would have predicted in August.
And it is crucial that the team now focus at once on one thing and one thing only: the Illini.
NU Defends Sweet Sioux [posted Nov. 15]
after last week's trip to the Buckeye woodshed, chances are the
Wildcats are going to be just a little bit ticked off this
Saturday. Enter the Illini, who are 0-7 in the conference and are
now backed into a corner and sniffing at a winless Big Ten
season. Both teams are likely to come into this one foaming at
the mouth and ready to take out some frustrations. Expect a
physical, tough game. And if Northwestern is still suffering a
letdown from the Ohio State loss, or-- heaven forbid-- is looking past
Illinois to the bowl game, expect this game to get ugly in a hurry.
The 'Cats, however,
aren't likely to be looking past Illinois. Zook's team is about
as primed to strike an upset as any squad in the country.
However, to do so the Illini will need their opponent's help, and they
aren't going to get if from Northwestern.
The Wildcat offense,
stymied in its last three games, should easily get back on track this
Saturday. Illinois' defense has been simply brutal this
year. In their last eight games-- all losses-- the Illini have
given up 35, 61, 35, 36, 63, 41, 40, and 37 points. The 61
pointer was against MSU's spread, and against the Wildcats' current
spread line-up the Illini will be at sea. NU should score at
will. It will be very interesting to see if the 'Cats can get
their ground attack back into high gear, and offer up a balanced attack
again. If Tyrell Sutton rushes for over 100 yards, this should be
The key to this game,
therefore, is whether or not Illinois' offense can keep up with the
whirling scoreboard. In their last two games the Illini have been
ice cold on offense, failing to score against the Buckeyes and
mustering only a field goal against Purdue-- whose defense hasn't
exactly been on fire this year. Junior quarterback Tim Brasic is
a good thrower, but again he's struggled to score, especially
lately. Brasic has recorded nine touchdowns for the season (and
ten interceptions). The Illini ground game has also had some
problems, mostly due to issues with the line. Pierre Thomas, Jr.,
has rushed for 567 yards so far, and he leads the Illini in touchdowns
for the season (with just four).
NU should look for a quick strike early and take the Illini out of this
one as soon as possible. If NU doesn't play "not to lose," and
produces aggressive, mistake-free football, the 'Cats should keep Sweet
beat Illinois by at least three scores.
NU RIPS ILLINOIS 38-21
'Cats Finish Regular Season with 7 Wins;
Bowl Berth Assured [posted Nov. 19]
Illini defense proved to be the tonic that Northwestern's
recently-stalled offense needed, as the Wildcats cruised to a 38 to 21
win over hapless Illinois to keep the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk and notch a
seventh win for the season. The win assures NU of a winning
season and a strong bowl berth.
The game began with a play that NU fans have not often seen recently: a
Wildcat kickoff carried through the end zone. A strong wind
throughout the game, coupled with a lessened threat that the Illini
would run back a kickoff return, helped ensure that most of NU's
kickoffs were touchbacks. The Wildcat special teams in general
were much improved, and they contributed one of the three key plays of
the game-- a spectacularly executed fake field goal (or was it a fake
punt?) early in the third quarter.
NU led by seven after two long, methodical drives by both teams
resulted in a missed field goal for the Illini and a Brett Basanez
touchdown. Basanez and Tyrell Sutton both tore up rushing yards
on NU's opening drive, while the Illini also found little trouble
getting their running game in gear. Illinois would end the day
with just under 200 rushing yards, while the 'Cats would explode for
356 ground yards, led by Sutton's 212. Sutton's 24-yard run
from midfield on NU's opening drive helped break the running game wide
open, and was the first of the three key plays of the game. Basanez
tallied 119 yards rushing. It was the second time in three
seasons that two NU players rushed for over 100 yards in a game.
Of course, Basanez also proved to be something of a threat through the air. His 240 passing yards put him over 10,000 for career passing yards (at 10,164), an ongoing school record. Basanez is just the third Big Ten quarterback in history to reach this mark.
Illinois soon responded against the Wildcat defense to even the score
(the Illini's first touchdown in their last three games), and the teams
settled into a first half shootout, with NU scoring and Illinois
answering. With just over ten seconds left in the first half,
kicker Joel Howells nailed a field goal to give the Wildcats a 24-21
the big question was: would Illinois, as it had throughout the first
half, use a balanced attack to respond and keep the game within less
than a touchdown? At first, it certainly seemed it would, as the
Illini drove with ease to the Northwestern nine yard line for a second
down and seven. However, in the second key play of the game,
lineman Barry Cofield intercepted Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic's
pass and rumbled 16 yards to the NU 30. With this one turnover,
Northwestern's defense woke up and momentum shifted fatally against the
Illini. Illinois, so prolific in the first half, failed to score
in the second.
in Total Wins
Randy Walker continues to rise among the ranks of NU's all-time
coaching greats, winning his 37th game as the Wildcats' head
coach. Two weeks ago Walker surged past Gary Barnett's 35 wins at
NU and landed in a three-way tie with Dick Hanley and Ara
Parseghian. Hanley and Parseghian each notched 36 wins at NU, and
each coached for eight seasons (this is Walker's seventh season at
NU). Walker needs 12 more wins to catch up with Pappy Waldorf,
NU's all-time winningest coach. At this rate Walker should
overtake Waldorf in 2007, his ninth season. Waldorf led NU for 12
Of course, the upcoming bowl will be Coach Walker's third with NU, a new record for an NU coach.
'Cats opened the half with terrific pass receptions by Shaun Herbert,
Jonathan Fields, and Sutton, and drove to the Illinois 28-yard
line. However, the drive stalled, and NU sent out its field goal
everyone in the stadium suspected a fake, none more so than Illinois
coach Ron Zook. However, Coach Walker didn't have just any fake
on deck: he had the classic fumblerooskie play in store.
Howells on the field, the initial thought was field goal (or
fake). However, when no Wildcat appeared in position to take the
hold, chaos resulted, and most fans thought the 'Cats might punt (or
fake). Before Illinois knew what was happening, or could call a
time out, NU snapped the ball to Chris Malleo, who slyly slipped the
ball forward to Gerard Hamlett. While Malleo streaked left like a
man possessed, Hamlett proved a better model of inaction and quiet
contemplation than any Shakespearean Danish prince. Hamlett,
marking off time and thinking, "to run, or not to run," finally raced
right and leapt into the end zone.
By the middle of the fourth quarter, with NU still up by ten points,
the 'Cats began looking for the score that would salt away the Illini
and give NU win number seven. They found it after a series of
great catches by Mark Philmore and Ross Lane, and a key 19-yard pickup
by Sutton to midfield. Positioned on Illinois' eight-yard line,
Basanez kept the ball and punched it in, giving NU a 38-21 lead.
The win meant Northwestern, the second youngest team in the conference,
finished its regular season in a four-way tie for third place in the
Big Ten, NU's best finish in the conference since winning its last
title in 2000.
NU ACCEPTS SUN BOWL BID [posted Dec. 4]
has formally accepted an invitation to play in the 2005 Sun Bowl, where
the 'Cats will face the UCLA Bruins. This will be the sixth bowl
appearance in school history, and the first in the Sun Bowl. NU
Athletic Director Mark Murphy, upon accepting the invitation to El
Paso, said, "We're extremely excited about the opportunity to play in a
bowl game, and especially in El Paso at the Vitalis Sun Bowl.
Everyone who has had an affiliation with this bowl has raved about the
Sun Bowl's organization and hospitality. Northwestern is proud to
represent the Big Ten this year in one of the country's most
Wayne Thornton, president of the Sun Bowl Association, said in a
statement, "It will be very special to have our final representative
from the Big Ten Conference to come from such a prestigious school as
Northwestern University. Randy Walker is one of the true
up-and-coming coaches in America, and we are excited to be a part of
Northwestern's recent success. We look forward to hosting a team
that has never been to the Vitalis Sun Bowl before and giving them the
same hospitality that El Paso is so famous for providing. And
even more so, we look forward to having another offense showcase from
our Big Ten parnter." Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas
seconded that thought, noting that "with the offenses that both of
these teams bring to El Paso, this could make for a very high-scoring
and memorable game."
Some historical info concerning the Sun Bowl and the
NU-UCLA series is posted below.
UCLA is currently 9-2, and ranked third in the Pac 10.
The History of the Northwestern-UCLA Series:
Northwestern leads this series, which began in 1931, three games to
two. The results of the five games played so far against the
Bruins follow below.
The UCLA football team made its first-ever trip east of the Mississippi
River when it traveled to Dyche Stadium to take on the Wildcats on
October 17, 1931. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they chose to
make their historic trip at a time when NU was at the peak of its
power. The 'Cats barely lost the national championship to Notre
Dame the prior season, and were undefeated coming into the game with
UCLA. NU actually began its reserve team against the Bruins, and
cruised to a 19-0 win.
The Bruins returned to Dyche Stadium on October 4, 1947 and found a
more vulnerable Wildcat squad. The team had lost its legendary
coach, Pappy Waldorf, to Cal at the end of the '46 season, and new
coach Bob Voigts was looking at a rebuilding year. Voigts' squad
would win only three games in 1947, but one of them was against
UCLA. Frank Aschenbrenner returned a UCLA kickoff 93 yards for a
touchdown, and the 'Cats edged out UCLA, 27-26.
By 1948, however, Voigts' squad had adjusted and was ready to tear
through its schedule on the way to a Rose Bowl championship. The
first victim for this veteran team was UCLA. The 'Cats traveled
to Los Angeles and handed the Bruins another 19-0 defeat.
The 'Cats and the Bruins did not meet again until October 4, 1969, when
NU hosted UCLA at Dyche Stadium, the first of a two-game series for the
teams. During the previous week USC had obliterated the
struggling Wildcats, 48-6, and UCLA followed suit, scoring their first
win against NU, a 36-0 rout.
NU and UCLA wrapped up their two-game series in Los Angeles, where UCLA
notched its second straight win over NU, 12-7. The 'Cats would
drop all their non-conference games, then shock the Big Ten by winning
six of seven conference games and finishing second in the league.
Strief Named All-American [posted Dec. 11]
Football Writers Association of America has named NU offensive lineman
Zach Strief a first-team All-American. The FWAA's pick was formally announced on December 10.
Strief is the first Wildcat named to a major first-team All-American
lineup since Damien Anderson in 2000, and the first NU lineman since
Chris Hinton in 1982. Congratulations Zach!
Sun Bowl, UCLA Preview [posted Dec. 13; updated Dec. 19]
I'll admit it: if anyone had told me at the end of September that NU
and UCLA would meet in a bowl game this season, I'd have advised them
to give up building model airplanes as a hobby, since the glue fumes
had obviously gotten to them. The Wildcats were licking their
wounds from being ripped by Arizona State and losing a heartbreaker to
Penn State. UCLA was undefeated, climbing to an eventual peak at
#7 in the rankings, and was seen as a realistic dark horse for the BCS
title game. NU had lost a slew of players the previous month to
injuries and lost one of its key defensive players-- to Arizona State.
Of course, Northwestern proceeded to reel off consecutive wins over
Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State, and the Wildcat offense has gone
on a record-setting tear. And so the 'Cats clawed their way to a
winning season, a bowl berth, and they're facing an opponent that was a
national champion contender early in the season. Seems like old
times-- this is what NU has faced in five of its six bowl games.
In 1949, the upstart and underdog Wildcats faced an undefeated Cal team
that was looking to secure a national championship in the Rose
Bowl. In 1996, the 'Cats played USC, the preseason #1 team in the
nation. In 1997, the 'Cats played Tennessee, the preseason #1
team in the nation. And in 2000, NU faced Nebraska-- you guessed
it-- the preseason #1 team in the nation. Northwestern has, with
fair consistency, faced up to bowl competition that has been in the
national spotlight and has either still been in the hunt for glory or
has recently slipped up and is looking for redemption. And the
results have been mostly unfortunate.
Put UCLA in the latter group of Wildcat competitors. The Bruins
were simply a juggernaut for most of the season, but could never crack
the top five, and many observers waited for the other shoe to
drop. And drop it did, in Arizona, where UCLA suffered a 52 to 14
humiliation at the hands of a far less-talented Wildcat team than
NU. The Bruins rebounded by spanking Arizona State, the same team
that dumped Northwestern in September. But then came the USC
game. UCLA's fatal flaw, its run defense, was exploited in tragic
fashion. UCLA, once looking at the BCS, now eyes El Paso, and
it is searching for redemption.
To achieve it, the Bruins will rely on the very same thing that NU will
rely on to stop them: a multi-weaponed, balanced offense that puts up
as many points as quickly as possible. UCLA and NU are in many
ways very similar teams, and those similarities begin with their
fantastic quarterbacks. Their senior quarterbacks, the #14s, are
the clear commanders of the offenses and have been shattering school
records throughout 2005. The Bruin #14, Drew Olson, is
phenomenal. Olson's efficiency rating prior to the USC game was
172.5, by far the best in the country. Olson has completed
two-thirds of his passes, has notched over 3,000 yards, and has thrown
an eye-popping 31 touchdowns, blowing away the UCLA record, which was
held by a little-known signal caller named Cade McNown. The Bruin
offense is averaging 282 passing yards per game and 8.5 yards per
pass-- not per catch, per pass.
Olson still leads the nation in touchdown passes per game, and he was
one of five finalists for the Manning Award for best college QB.
Olson has no lack of talented players to which he can toss the
leather. The Bruins have a strong brace of receivers and tight
ends, led by tight end Marcedes Lewis, a finalist for the Mackey
Award. Lewis, recently named All-American by the FWAA, has had 58
catches for 741 yards and 10 touchdowns. Of the wide receivers,
Joe Cowan stands out with 34 catches, 458 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bruin air game will be the best Northwestern has seen this year,
and we should expect the Wildcat defense to be tested to its
limit. So far NU's defense has seemed to rely on the opposing
offense eventually making a mistake: hang around, bend but don't break,
don't give up too many points, and eventually the opposing quarterback
will throw one your way-- be ready. Or so the NU philosophy seems
to have been this year, and it's worked: in several games the Wildcat
defense has come up with a game-changing interception. However,
that approach will be dead on arrival in El Paso. Olson has given
up three interceptions this year.
Olson is just drop-dead accurate, so if the defense waits around for
him to make a mistake, it will have to stick around to see if he utters
a gaffe in his post-game victory interview, because that's NU's only
chance of finding one with Olson. No, the Wildcat defense is
going to have to gut this one out, covering the UCLA receivers so that
every square inch of powder blue is draped in purple, and applying as
much pressure as possible on the Bruin pocket.
Getting to Olson will be very difficult; the UCLA line is very
good. Senior Mike McCloskey is fantastic, but he has been plagued
with ankle and shoulder injuries. If McCloskey is back to normal
he will be a formidable obstacle for the NU defense. [Update:
McCloskey's injuries will prevent him from playing. Backup center
Robert Chai suffered a knee injury in practice last week. His
status is not clear, and the center position is becoming a concern for
the Bruins.] Senior Ed Blanton
is also very dependable on the line.
As mentioned earlier, the UCLA offense does have balance, and its
rushing game is led by junior Maurice Drew. Drew, named an
All-American for his kick return efforts, has rushed for 900 yards,
averaging a respectable 4.9 yards per carry. Drew's scored 20
touchdowns so far and has set a UCLA record for all-purpose
yards. But his most dangerous talent is punt returning. Of
his touchdowns, six have come from taking a punt return to the
goal. So far he's averaged 29 yards per punt return (compare this
to the 8.5 yards UCLA's opponents have averaged returning Bruins'
punts). This is a key to the game: NU must execute flawlessly on
its punt downs, and it must kick the ball away from Maurice Drew.
In fact, if NU is in a fourth and short situation and there is a
question of whether or not to go for a first down, the 'Cats should
default to the offense: UCLA's defense has given up 18 of 24 fourth
down attempts by their opponents this year.
And there lies another similarity with Northwestern. The UCLA
defense has had trouble with the fourth down conversion, and it has
obviously been challenged to stop opponents, period. With the
Bruins, that challenge obviously comes from its run defense, which has
allowed 239 rushing yards per game. Assuming Tyrell Sutton plays
with focus (and the Wildcat line brings its top-tier game), he should
have a spectacular day.
One player on the UCLA defense that will definitely give Basanez,
Sutton and company fits is linebacker Spencer Havner. Havner has
92 tackles (15 for loss), two sacks and two interceptions, and he was a
semifinalist for the Butkis Award. Senior safety Jarrad Page is
another name to listen for. Page has been one of the best
defensive backs in the Pac 10 this year.
The Bruin defense, however, has made only five total interceptions this
year, including Havner's two, and has not been very
opportunistic. With Sutton tearing up yards and the UCLA defense
focused on the run, Basanez should be able to execute with authority.
Given the Bruins' efficient, accurate and effective offense and
Northwestern's quick and high-powered offense, this game will hinge on
which defense steps up. It will also possibly hinge on special
teams. As mentioned, the punting game and fourth-down strategy
will be very interesting to watch. On the other side, UCLA's
punter, Aaron Perez, is decent, averaging just under 40 yards per kick.
UCLA's terrific place kicker, Justin Medlock, has been suspended
indefinitely from the program, and no one else on the team has handled
a single kickoff or field goal try. Medlock had averaged nearly
77% on his field goals, including a 51-yarder, and his loss is
significant. Who will replace Medlock? It seems unlikely
that Perez would, and there are two true freshman kickers on the UCLA
roster. [Update: the two walkon freshman kickers, Brian Malette and Jimmy Rotstein, are competing for the kicking spot in practice.] This will certainly affect the Bruins' offensive
strategy, especially as their offense approaches the NU red zone, where
the Wildcat defense actually has had some nice success this season
While NU will probably be able to avoid punting to Drew, the 'Cats
might have a more difficult time keeping their kickoffs out of the
hands of Chris Markey. Markey is also lethal on kick returns,
averaging 22.5 yards per return. Hopefully the 'Cats will be able
to boot a few out of the end zone. If not, expect to see more
pop-ups, and very good field position for UCLA.
The Wildcats, if they are to win this game, must [CAUTION:
CLICHÉ ALERT!] play for 60 minutes. Trite, but true, more
so in this game than most. NU likes to pride itself, especially
under Coach Walker, as a fourth quarter team. Well, UCLA is the
fourth quarter team, bar none. This season, the fourth quarter
has been the best period for the Bruins, both on offense and
defense. In fact, UCLA has outscored its opponents so far 142 to
55 in the final period, and the Bruins have staged four spectacular
fourth quarter comebacks in 2005: against Washington (10 points down),
Cal (12 points), Washington State (17 points), and Stanford (a
stupefying 21 points down). As Northwestern well knows after this
season, no lead is safe, and against UCLA, no lead-- no matter how big,
no matter how late-- will mean anything until the teams walk off the
field. The Wildcat offense had better be well rested and ready to
go, because they'll likely have at least two full drives in the last
two minutes alone.
Of course, if NU's offense lays an egg it won't matter what the defense
does-- the 'Cats will be blown out of the stadium. If, however,
both units play to their capacity (think back to how the NU offense
looked in the Michigan State game and how the NU defense played in the
second half of the Iowa game), then this should be one of the best bowl
games of 2005, including the BCS matchups.
SUN SETS ON 'CATS
Up 22-0, Northwestern Goes On to Lose to UCLA 50-38
[posted Dec. 31]
In the HailToPurple.com Sun Bowl preview, one warning that was mentioned was, "no lead is safe."
Yes, but twenty-two points?
That was the lead Northwestern found itself owning, and then wasting,
as the 'Cats went on to fall to UCLA in the Sun Bowl, 50-38. The
game was Northwestern's fifth straight bowl loss, leaving NU's bowl
drought as dry and as looming as ever.
To put NU's 22-0 start, and eventual loss, in perspective: no
Northwestern football team, in the program's illustrious 129-year
history, has ever come back from a deficit of 22 or more points to win
a game. Never-- not in 1996, and not in 2000. But the
Bruins did just that, thanks in part to a stunning turnaround for UCLA
quarterback Drew Olson, a dramatic performance by Bruin running back
Chris Markey, and disturbing breakdowns by the Wildcat ground offense and
The Wildcat defense, however, began the game looking like the Chicago
Bears' defense. NU forced UCLA to go three and out to start the
match, with Barry Cofield and Kevin Mims providing key stops.
After a Joel Howells field goal, UCLA tried to answer, but Mims
intercepted the usually-perfect Olson and ran the ball back for a
touchdown. The Sun Bowl crowd, just a couple hundred short of a
sellout and overwhelmingly composed of Wildcat fans, went berserk, and
Northwestern enjoyed a 9-0 lead. However, the Great NU Special
Teams Disaster of 2005 began in earnest on the point after try, which
Before the Wildcat faithful could retake their seats, Olson threw
another interception, this time to Bryan Heinz. Heinz, who had
just returned to the team from an injury that forced him to sit out the
regular season, packed an entire season into one catch, coming up with
the critical pick on the UCLA 36-yard line. With a short field,
NU quarterback Brett Basanez had little trouble carving up the Bruins,
and Mark Philmore punched in the 'Cats' third score with just over six
minutes to go in the first quarter.
Once again, Howell's extra point attempt failed, and the 'Cats' Special
Teams Disaster had left two points on the field. However, the
'Cats did have a 15-0 lead, their largest lead in a bowl game ever.
NU would add to that lead less than two minutes later.
Unbelievably, Olson threw his third interception, equaling his picks
for the entire season. This time Nick Roach grabbed the ball, and
this time Roach streaked to the endzone and gave NU a 21-0 lead.
Howell's extra point was good, and NU had a seemingly commanding 22-0
lead and was clearly eyeing its first bowl win since 1949.
And then the Bruins turned off the lights.
On its next drive, UCLA methodically drove 80 yards in over four
minutes-- all of its yards on the ground. It took UCLA Coach
Dorrel nearly the entire first quarter to figure it out, but when he
did, the game was over: NU cannot stop the Bruins' rushers. And
so Chris Markey and Kahlil began vivisecting the Wildcats with
abandon. With the NU defense now panicking to try to stop the
newly-launched Bruin ground game, Olson was free to regroup, collect
himself, and start over.
Olson responded by throwing a 58-yard touchdown bomb, and NU's lead was
slashed to eight. The wheels were coming off. Basanez and
company drove down the field, but Basanez and his receivers never quite
found the synch they had established and enjoyed for much of the
season. On the drive's ninth play, from the UCLA 14-yard line,
Basanez was intercepted, and the Bruins resumed their deadly rushing
It took UCLA just five plays-- again, all of them on the ground-- to
race 90 yards and erase Northwestern's lead for good. Markey and
Bell simply tore through the Wildcat defense, and NU had no answer, no
means, no way to stop the bleeding.
NU's Special Teams Disaster continued on the following drive.
Gerald Hamlett muffed the UCLA kickoff and recovered on the Wildcat
eight-yard line. But Basanez, with help from Tyrell Sutton and
wide receiver Ross Lane (who had a fantastic game), rallied the 'Cats
and drove to the UCLA 20. Predictably, Howell's kick for the lead
was blocked. The S.T.D. unit had now left five points on the
UCLA, however, was leaving nothing on the field. The Bruins took
the lead for the first time, and took it for good, on the next
drive. NU linebacker Tim McGarigle was impressive, flying around
the field to make stops, but one player simply can't contain 11, and
UCLA began to balance its attack, throwing and rushing
effectively. Northwestern had a shot at a field goal at the end
of the first half, but with confidence in the S.T.D. unit scraping
zero, the 'Cats were forced to take a shot at the endzone and came up
A Sutton fumble in the third quarter set up the kill shot for UCLA, as
the Bruins quickly scored and went up 36-22. With NU's offense
not firing on all cylinders, and NU's defense and S.T.D. reeling, the
UCLA lead was, indeed, safe.
Basanez and the Wildcat offense then drove 72 yards but could not reach
the goal. Forced into another kicking situation, NU offered up
redshirt freshman Amado Villarreal, who successfully booted a
31-yarder. It looked like momentum might actually shift toward
NU, and the Wildcat defense held UCLA to midfield on the next
drive. Faced with a fourth down and one from midfield, UCLA
decided to go for the first down, but McGarigle stuffed Markey at the
line of scrimmage for a huge turnover on downs. Unfortunately,
dropped balls to Jonathan Fields and T.J. Jones doomed the drive, and
The 'Cats got another opportunity in the fourth quarter, when Adam
Kadela forced Markey to fumble near midfield, but again the Wildcat
offense stalled. After swapping punts, the 'Cats were able to
drive for a score with under three minutes left. Basanez, Sutton
and Philmore got into gear and moved the ball to the Bruin eight-yard
line, where Basanez found Philmore for the touchdown. However,
Basanez was intercepted on the two-point conversion, and NU remained
five points down.
That's when the S.T.D. took center stage. NU's onside kick went
straight to UCLA's Brandon Breazell, who returned it for a touchdown,
and delivered what appeared to be a knife in the Wildcats' last shot at
a bowl win. The Wildcats, however, responded as they did so often
this season, tearing up the field wildly on offense. Basanez
completed passes to Lane, Philmore and Shaun Herbert, and NU scored
again to come within five points of UCLA.
However, this time NU had only 24 seconds left to perform a successful
onside kick and throw a Hail Mary. The S.T.D made its last
appearance, kicking the exact same onside kick that it executed just
two minutes earlier. And, just like two minutes earlier, Brandon
Breazell caught the ball and returned it for a UCLA touchdown.
With the extra point, UCLA posted 50 points and the win. For
Northwestern, the end provided an unfortunate finish to a remarkable
NU had put together a season with six or more wins for the third time
in a row, the first such series of seasons since 1931. It enjoyed
wins over ranked teams, and-- for the first time since 2001-- it was
itself ranked in the A.P. Poll, for two weeks. It cracked the BCS
rankings, stayed in them for four weeks and appeared in the final BCS
rankings for the first time ever. It offered up Zach Strief, the
team's first All-American in five years. It made it to the
school's sixth-ever bowl game. But then, it...
Twenty-two points. A big number. But not nearly as big as 57 years.
NU Sets School Bowl Records [posted Dec. 31]
The Wildcats' performance in the 2005 Sun Bowl set several
records for Northwestern in a bowl game. Among the major school
bowl records that the team broke against UCLA are:
broke only one major record for a Northwestern opponent in a bowl
game. Chris Markey's 23 rushing attempts are the most by an NU
opponent in a bowl game (the previous record was 21 by Josh Harris in
the 2003 Motor City Bowl). More NU bowl records can be seen by clicking here.
- Most points: 38 (previous: 32 vs. USC in the 1996 Rose Bowl)
- Most touchdowns: 5 (previous: 4 vs. Tennessee, 1997 Citrus; 4 vs. USC, 1996 Rose)
- First downs: 33 (previous: 23 vs. USC, 1996 Rose)
- Yards, total offense: 584 (previous: 475 vs. USC, 1996 Rose)
- Passing yards: 416 (previous: 336 vs. USC, 1996 Rose)
- Touchdown passes: 2 (ties with: 2 vs. Tennessee, 1997 Citrus)
- Individual passing yards: Brett Basanez, 416 (previous: Steve Schnur, 336 vs. USC, 1996 Rose)