2007 Season
Review Page



In 2007 Northwestern football remained the half-full glass.  Or is it half-empty?

Views remain as divided as the Wildcats' fan base.  This is as it should be, since a six-win season has become the de facto benchmark with which to evaluate NU.  Ever since Coach Walker righted the Pickleboat in 2003 and traveled with his six-win team to Detroit, the 'Cats have hovered at this record, dipping just above in 2005 and below in 2006.  It is a mark of just how far NU football has come that the benchmark is now six wins, a feat that would have brought paroxysms of joy from fans in the 1970s, '80s or early '90s.

And in 2007, the second under Coach Fitzgerald, six wins is again where the 'Cats have landed.

Raise your hand if you see a half-full glass.  This season saw significant improvements from last year.  Its six wins marked the fourth time in the last five years that the team has hit or exceeded the benchmark.  The 'Cats achieved bowl eligibility in 2007, for the third time in five years.  NU led the conference in passing offense.  Of the six wins in '07, two were landmark: an overtime win at Michigan State, and a double-overtime win against Minnesota.  The win over the Gophers featured a 21-point comeback, tying the Wildcats' record for a deficit overcome to win.  And all of this was done with a relatively young team, most of whom should be back next year.

Among those who should return is Tyrell Sutton.  Sutton was expected to have a return to the production of his breatkout year in 2005; instead, an injury during the Nevada game sidelined him for weeks and followed him for the rest of the year.

NU's glass in '07 was half-empty, you say?  Look no further than the defense, the Wildcat unit that continued to underwhelm.  NU gave up an average of 31 points in '07.  And yes, the 'Cats were bowl eligible, but enjoyed no bowl.  This was due in part to a freak year in the Big Ten which saw ten conference teams wind up bowl-eligible.  The other reason for NU staying home?


Despite the abundance of great performances by players such as Bachér, Peterman, Roberson, Lane, and Kadela, and no matter how much good came from the 2007 season, a shadow will always hang over it-- a dark blue shadow with a pitchfork and horns.

Still, in any other year, the Wildcats' six wins would have meant adding another bowl name to the Otto Graham Wildcat Honor Roll.  Also, no one would have been surprised after the Duke game to have seen the team pack it in and coast through the rest of the year.  Instead, they salvaged their season with the tough performances against the Spartans and Gophers and the Hoosiers.  Because of that Wildcat spirit, like it or not, 2007 was indeed a benchmark year.

What follows are excerpts from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the 2007 season.  Please note that this is only commentary written by me.  For articles in 2007 by other contributors, please check out the pages for jhodges, the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.

Ryan Field Used in Upcoming Film [posted April 15]

Peter Koerner recently sent in the following info: "I thought that I would bring it to your attention that Ryan Field is the filming site for the upcoming movie The Express.  The movie is about the first African American Heisman winner, Ernie Davis.  They already recruited NU cheerleaders to be the cheerleaders in the film, and they are calling for extras among the student body.  Apparently, they plan to film game scenes at NU. Dennis Quaid has already signed on to play the coach."

The Express is set for release in 2009.  The film crew has begun filming and will shoot in Chicago for the next three months.  Shots are also being filmed at Lane Tech and throughout Chicago.  According to a Syracuse University Website, "Special effects will be incorporated to try and replicate parts of Archbold Stadium where Davis played during his time at Syracuse University. There will be a few days of filming at SU in order to place Davis on campus."

Koerner added, "They started filming for the movie this week at Lane Tech High School which will be the 'home' field in the movie.  Ryan Field will serve as the 'away' venue.  The filming should take place at Ryan Field in late May to guarantee nice weather.  A cheerleader that I know told me that the production crew has been busing NU cheerleaders to Lane Tech every morning at about 4 a.m. for filming."

Could NU Help Host the 2016 Olympics? [posted Apr. 15]

On April 14 the US Olympic Committee chose Chicago for the American bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.  NU alumnus Pat Ryan is the Chicago bid chair, and his team has proposed that, in addition to new and existing venues in Chicago, several sites at Northwestern could be used to hold Olympic events.

According to chicago2016.org, Ryan Field could potentially be used to host preliminary soccer matches.  The decision would add the top to the long string of events that Dyche Stadium / Ryan Field has hosted, including professional football games (including one NFL game), the old College All-Star game, and entertainment events.  It would bring a burst of additional visibility to the campus and to the program.

Coach Alex Agase 1922 - 2007 [posted May 3]

Former NU head coach Alex Agase has died in Florida.  He was 85 years old.

Coach Agase was born in Chicago, lived in Evanston and attended Evanston Township High School.  However, he did not attend Northwestern, but enrolled in the University of Illinois, where he made his debut on the field with the Illini in 1941.  His team fell to NU and Otto Graham at Dyche Stadium in the last game of the 1941 season.

Agase's breakout year came a season later.  He scored two touchdowns against Minnesota in 1942, the second time in college football history that a guard notched two touchdowns in a single game.  The Illini returned to Dyche and had their revenge, shutting out the Wildcats.  Agase was named All-American at the end of the year.

By 1943 Agase had joined the Marines and was stationed at Purdue for training.  While at Purdue Agase earned All-American honors again, becoming the only player in college football history to do so at two schools.

Agase was stationed in the Pacific in 1944 and fought on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.  When he returned to the US, Agase re-enrolled at Illinois and again made All-American in 1946.

After playing pro ball with the Cleveland Browns, Agase returned to Evanston, this time as an assistant coach at Northwestern under Ara Parseghian.  During his time as a Wildcat assistant Agase would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

When Parseghian left for Notre Dame in 1964, NU named Agase its head coach.  Thus began nearly a decade of challenge for Coach Agase, as he kept the Wildcats competitive in an increasingly powerful and money-driven conference and, later, battled the university administration to maintain the viability of a big-time football program at NU.

And Agase succeeded.  His teams would go on to beat the #1 team in the nation (the Miami Hurricanes at Dyche Stadium in 1967) and would be Big Ten runners up two years straight (1970 and 1971).  He was named national coach of the year in 1970.

In December 1972 Coach Agase resigned after nine seasons as head coach, taking the top spot at Purdue.  He remained there for four years, then went on to serve as athletic director at Eastern Michigan and to assist at Michigan.

Big Ten Network Begins August 30 [posted Aug. 1]

Once the new Big Ten Network launches on August 30, Wildcat fans (assuming they can get the network) will be able to watch all of NU's games this fall on TV-- the first couple on the new network, and the rest on a combination of the Disney channels (ABC, ESPN, The Ocho, etc.) and the Big Ten Network.  NU fans (and the rest of the conference) will be seeing a few other things stemming from the launch as well.

One of those things is a new slate of Big Ten football coaches' shows.  Those Big Ten coaches who currently have a weekly televised show (NU had one from the 1960s until Coach Walker's second season) will have their shows switched to the Big Ten Network.  Will Coach Fitzgerald also have a show on the network, with the other ten coaches?  One Big Ten Network producer, when asked, said "every school will have their coach's show air on the Big Ten Network this fall."  That could mean, of course, that every school with an existing show will have it air on the Network; we will see.

In his most recent Murphy's Mark commentary, Athletic Director Mark Murphy does not mention a coach's show for Fitzgerald-- it seems like he would have discussed this if it were in development-- but he did write about NU alumnus Dave Resvine's spot as host of the Network's nightly wrap-up show and Chris Martin, who will do color commentary for football.

One of the effects the network has already had is the renewed talk of the Big Ten conference possibly expanding.  Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney has always shown a desire to add a twelfth team, likely in order to pave the way for a money-generating (and tradition-defying) conference championship game.  The conference's notorious courting of Notre Dame a few years back still leaves some fans with an uneasy feeling.  Delaney was candid last week in admitting that conference expansion is back in the "hot topics" bin: "The broader (the network) is distributed, the more value (expansion) has," Delaney told the Des Moines Register. "We have eight states. With expansion, you could have nine." Murphy concurs in his column, adding that "The conference will be studying expansion carefully in the coming months, as well as ancillary issues related to football scheduling (i.e., number of conference games, whether to create two divisions and play a championship game)."

The network has announced that, in addition to the slate of live games this fall, it will show some of the classic recent Big Ten football games on a weekly basis.  Among these will be at least three Northwestern games, including a couple from the 2000 Big Ten title campaign.

But will NU fans be able to see the new network?  There have been well-publicized debates between the Big Ten and several major cable companies, including Comcast, during the past two months.  Only DirecTV has come aboard so far.  Of course, it helps that DirecTV is owned by Fox, which is a major partner in the Big Ten Network.  Apparently, the conference and Comcast were set at the beginning of July to sign an agreement as well, but it fell apart at the last minute.  Since then the Big Ten has attempted to launch a public relations and ad campaign to win support for its demands of the cable companies, and has tailored the ads to the Big Ten school in each market.

So, what might all this mean for NU?  That might depend on how things turn out between the Big Ten and the major cable companies.  If the Big Ten Network fails to reach agreements with the major companies, or if it does reach a settlement, but that settlement results in the network being consigned to a premium-priced sports tier package, then NU could lose out.  With a higher portion of its games likely going to the BTN (as opposed to, say Michigan or Ohio State, with their games clogging ABC and ESPN), and with NU's emphasis on national recruiting (and the effects that national exposure has on it) NU could be put at a disadvantage.  However, if the network secures a base-channel spot on Comcast and the other major companies, and if it gains a foothold on the sports-tier packages outside the region, the 'Cats could stand to benefit, since it would become increasingly less likely that an NU football game would not be televised, and exposure to NU football could potentially increase.

Camp Kenosha XVI Begins [posted Aug. 12]

On Saturday, August 11, the Wildcats held a practice session at the UW-Parkside, Kenosha Campus, opening the 16th annual "Camp Kenosha."

Unlike previous seasons, and in keeping with other Big Ten schools this year, NU has closed all practices in Kenosha to the general public.  Media and friends of the program may attend select practices.  However, the main scrimmage of the Camp remains open to the public.  The scrimmage, again located at Carthage College, will take place this Saturday at 3:00 pm.

HailToPurple.com has traditionally attended only the public scrimmage and has not reported on the other practices in previous seasons, so the change-- which is an understandable one-- will not affect our coverage.  Look for updates and a report after the August 18 practice.  In the meantime, good coverage is being provided by both the Chicago Daily Herald and the Evanston Review-- from their "dynamic duo" of NU sports reporters. . .

'Cats Hold Preseason Scrimmage [posted Aug. 19]

NU held (what for fans is) the climactic event of Camp Kenosha, the open preseason scrimmage, last Saturday at Carthage College.  However, the biggest news of the camp so far came not from Saturday's practice, but from two days before: during practice on Thursday NU wide receiver Andrew Brewer suffered a compound fracture of his arm, and is lost for the season.

Brewer's injury caps another injury-plagued camp-- the Wildcats' biggest offensive threat, Tyrell Sutton, is also nursing an injury, according to the Chicago Tribune.  The Tribune's NU reporter, Skip Myslenski, also reported that Kim Thompson and Brendan Smith are sitting out camp after sustaining injuries, though Myslenski notes that Coach Fitzgerald told him that Smith and Thompson should be ready for the season opener.  While all schools deal with injuries to some degree during their preseason practices, NU always seems to be hit hard in August, with-- on average-- at least one big potential playmaker dropping out of the season.  Hopefully Andrew Brewer will make a full recovery, so that we can see him play in a bowl game at the end of the season.

According to those who attended the scrimmage (I could not this year), quarterback C.J. Bachér and D lineman Corey Wootton both looked to be in top form.

The 'Cats now will focus on getting their special teams positions solidified and will begin to ready for their first opponent of the season: Northeastern.

Media 2007 Previews and Predictions [posted June 28; updated Aug. 14]

As summer rolls on, the annual college football magazines continue to appear at newsstands, offering their picks and predictions.  The slate of previews typically begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes with the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its official front runner.

Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU.  Of course, most of these previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring the biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings) is a profitable strategy.  However, NU has occasionally bucked that trend and the conventional thinking: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a Big Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.

For the past few years, however, most media typically place NU at ninth place in the conference, ahead of Indiana and one school from the group of Illinois, Michigan State or Minnesota.  There is also what I call the "Heinz Line" at the 57 spot nationally: if a magazine favors NU, it will place the 'Cats just above the 57th spot among the ranked Division I-A teams; a bad prognostication consigns NU to a lower rank.  If the sportswriter has no overly optimistic or pessimistic feel for the team, he will invariably rank NU at 57.

As for last year's previews and predictions, several sources tied for the most accurate prediction: James Howell, Lindy's and Athlon Magazines predicted that the 'Cats would finish 2006 at eighth place in the Big Ten-- NU tied for eighth with Iowa.  Unfortunately, the least accurate prediction for 2006 was the Gold Sheet's pick of NU for fourth in the conference.  Of course, given the tumultuous events surrounding the NU program last summer and fall, these predictions-- already for "entertainment purposes only"-- were rendered even less meaningful.

As has been the case since summer 2000, HailToPurple.com will keep track of all the previews and predictions for the team throughout the summer.  Here is a recap of what the larger 'Net and print publications have predicted so far for NU in 2007.  There are only a few so far-- this page will be updated throughout the summer as more previews and predictions roll in.

The 2007 Wildcat Predictions:
  • The first magazine out this spring is Lindy's, and it keeps NU at the same spot it predicted for it last year: eighth in the conference.  However, it upgrades NU's national rank to... you guessed it: 57.  Lindy's Big Ten and National editions both include a feature on Coach Fitzgerald.  Among the many interesting facts included in the column: Coach Fitzgerald never once considered making coaching changes last year, perceiving the late-season improvement as a cause to be "really confident about the future"; Fitz "instructs players to sit front and center in the classroom and ... is known to pop into a class"; Coach Walker used to call the fight song "Coach Fitz's song"; and we can expect to see more of Fitz's own "twists and things" added to the program.  Incidentally, Lindy's helpfully mentioned that, because of NU's far-flung fan base, "bowl attendance is strong; regular-season crowds are small."  Any mainstream mention of solid bowl attendance helps to build that perception, which is always a good thing to NU's future bowl selection strategy.
  • The Fox Sports affiliate CollegeFootballNews.com ranks NU 61st in the nation, ahead of Indiana and Minnesota.  It asserts that "six wins [are] a must, and seven wins likely if everyone learns from the mistakes of last year."  CFN believes that 2008 will be the Wildcats' big year, that '07 will build up to it.  CFN calls this year's nonconference schedule "a joke."  Let's hope the team doesn't believe that.  As we've seen, NU's nonconference schedule has been a very unfunny joke since 1963.  CFN predicts, in its bowl predictions at the end of May, that NU will face Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl.
  • Sports Illustrated's college football annual preview (available on cnnsi.com) places NU tied with MSU for eighth, ahead of Indiana and Minnesota.  SI predicts that NU will make the Motor City Bowl, to do battle with Western Michigan.
  • The Sporting News has the 'Cats dead last in the Big Ten.  That's right: 11th place, the first major media source to pick NU for the basement of the conference since 2003.  In '03 Athlon and The Sporting News (again!   What's with The Sporting News?) both tagged NU for last place; instead the Wildcats went bowling.  This year The Sporting News puts NU at 87th in the nation and predicts only three wins.  TSN also rates Coach Fitzgerald at the bottom of the Big Ten coaches, which seems like a difficult feat even if one is trying to justify putting Fitz at the bottom.  But, hey, TSN ranks Willie the Wildcat at the top of the conference's mascots, so that's something, isn't it?
  • Wait: turns out that two sources have picked NU for the basement.  In addition to TSN, Rivals has also tabbed NU for 11th in the conference.  Rivals rates Michigan at the top, followed by Penn State and Wisconsin.  Rivals also notes that NU offensive coordinator Garrick McGee is "on the hot seat." Nevermind that this is only McGee's second season at OC, nor that last season had as many unusual circumstances as possible.
  • Also placing NU below the "Heinz Line" is Athlon Magazine.  Athlon has NU at 66th in the country, but is more optimistic for NU in the conference, putting the 'Cats at eighth, ahead of Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota (Athlon has Indiana at the 60th spot, and picks Wisconsin to win the conference).  As for individual 'Cats, Athlon doesn't pick anyone for its first or second team All-Big Ten list, despite Tyrell Sutton recently being named to the Maxwell Award's watch list.  Sutton and Corey Wootton do, however, get mention as third-team All-Big Ten.
  • Always anticipated, Phil Steele has released his picks, and he puts NU at eighth place in the conference, ahead of Michigan State, Indiana, and Minnesota.  Steele predicts that Michigan will win the conference and Penn State will also make it to a BCS bowl.  With two conference teams in the BCS, eight Big Ten teams will be eligible for postseason play, and Steele sees NU heading to Detroit in December.  Delightful!
  • Every summer at least one never before seen newspaper tabloid-style annual comes out, and this year it's something called "Football Action."  Football Action gives a preview of all Division I-A teams.  It isn't very specific about NU, but it is relatively optimistic, stating that the 'Cats could win "up to" eight games in '07.  It also comments on NU's very soft nonconference schedule.
  • Dennis Dodd at CBS's Sportsline talks about his top eight teams in the Big Ten: NU is not among them (Dodd calls Michigan the favorite, followed by Wisconsin and OSU).  However, Sportsline, in its early team preview for NU, does mention that "with 15 starters back from a squad that showed significant improvement over the latter half of the 2006 season, Northwestern has the look of a team that could fight for a bowl berth this fall."  So far, not many of the media prognosticators have discussed the Wildcats' upswing in the second half of the '06 season.
  • Webmaster James Howell calculates weekly "Power Rankings" during the season.  His 2007 preseason power ratings have NU in 67th place nationally, and ninth place in the conference, ahead of Indiana and Illinois.  NU is ranked above two of its nonconference opponents.  Duke is 114th and EMU is 116th; however, Nevada is ranked at 57th (Northeastern is Div. I-AA and is not represented on the power rankings).
  • Street & Smith's annual magazine places NU eighth in the conference, ahead of Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana.  S&S give accolades to Coach Fitzgerald: "if there's anyone who knows how to win in Evanston, Illinois, it's Pat Fitzgerald."  And they name wide receiver Andrew Brewer "the next big thing."
  • Andy Gamm's The Final Score is back, refitted from a Website and message board to a blog.  The Final Score's annual Big Ten preview is out, and it predicts a 5-7 season for the 'Cats and a ninth-place finish.  Despite the overall pick, Gamm thinks the Wildcat offense is strong: he calls Sutton "electrifying" and has tremendous respect for Brewer and his converted receiver spot.  He also praises the defensive line, but thinks the linebacking troop is suspect.
  • And how do the fan sites, blogs, and other sundry 'Net scribblers think the 'Cats will do?  
    • HailToPurple.com: 7-6, with a win in the Motor City Bowl
    • jhodges: 7-5, and a trip to the Insight or Champs Sports Bowl
    • The Turk Report: 10-3, with a major bowl loss and a top-15 ranking
    • Lake The Posts: 8-4 for the regular season
    • (Penn St.) Black Shoe Diaries: six wins and a bowl game
    • The Wolverine (Rivals): 10th in the conference (they think NU can't do better than it's four-win record last year, then turn around and state that seven wins is possible.  OK...)
    • Jeff Rice's Blog (Centre Daily News): 8th in the Big Ten. Rice notes NU's strong finish last year.
    • AOL FanHouse: FanHouse avoids an outright finish prediction, simply stating that "Fitzgerald should get this team to bowl eligibility."
    • While the Sporting News has NU in last place, Sporting News editor Steve Greenburg is slightly more optimistic, putting the 'Cats in 10th place.
    • PrognosticationStation.com has NU in a three-way tie for seventh in the Big Ten (with Illinois and MSU). 
    • All-Encompassing Football Blog: 8th in the Big Ten, 6-6 overall.
[Ed. note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the preseason predictions.  Which was the media source with the most accurate prediction?  It turned out to be a logjam, as several sources had good predictions, including Lindy's and CollegeFootballNews.com.  There was a tie this year for the dog pick.  The worst predictions were from Rivals and The Sporting News, both of whom picked NU dead last in the conference, with only three wins.  Instead, the 'Cats were bowl eligible.]

CRUISE.  CONTROL. --'Cats Blank Northeastern 27-0 [posted Sept. 1]

Northwestern began its 2007 campaign with a convincing win against Division I-AA Northeastern, blanking the Huskies 27-0-- the first NU shutout win in a decade.  The win helped assuage the memories of last year's loss to New Hampshire and provided a stark contrast to what was happening in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines were falling to Appalachian State.

Before the game, Big Ten Network cameras in the Wildcat locker room showed Coach Fitzgerald telling his team, "emotionally, you're ready; let's sustain it for sixty minutes. . . Mentally, this is as good a week of preparation as we've had going into the opener since I've been here.  Now physically, let's go out and play Northwestern football."  Fitz raised the "Trust Yourself" board and exclaimed, "When we raise it up here, men, like we do on Game Day, it's time to trust yourself, stick together-- no matter what happens, stick together-- play for the warrior next to you, and let's go regain Northwestern respect.  Let's go play Northwestern Football."

The 'Cats did just that, and they took command of the game at the outset, as Northeastern's opening drive led to nothing but its first missed field goal of the day.  On NU's opening march, C.J. Bachér went six for six, hitting Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, Tyrell Sutton and Rasheed Ward, while Sutton ground out a few more yards on the ground and Bachér kept the ball and punched in the first score.

Sutton finished the day with 108 yards, adding one more rung in his ladder to the NU rushing records.  Sutton and Bachér both looked in control and at the top of their form.  Bachér finished with 23 completions out of 29, for 243 yards.  Despite a few missteps by the offensive line (their mojo certainly being thrown by missing starting center Trevor Rees, who was suspended for this game, but will return next week), the offense looked strong.

In fact, this game showcased improvement in offense, defense, and special teams.  While the defensive line and the linebackers had a slightly sluggish game, they stopped Northeastern when it counted.  Say what you will about the Huskies and their level of talent; Northeastern was still an opponent that presented a worthy challenge (they did beat New Hampshire last year, after all...), and the 'Cats' defense maintained the shutout.  One player who thought the Wildcat defensive line played very well was Northeastern running back Maurice Murray: "I think [Northwestern] just came out there and played hard. I think the defense had a great scheme. Their defensive line had a great game. It was just a hard fought game."

The NU defensive backs were an order of magnitude better than they have been during the last couple of seasons, and they swiftly neutralized any deep threat Northeastern could have even potentially posed.  Although the defense did not snag any turnovers, they did manage some nice break-ups (including Phillps' break-up, pictured at the top of the page), and Sherrick McManis came up with six tackles, including two TFLs.  On special teams, the kicking, punting, and return teams all showed substantial improvement.

JACKPOT!  NU Beats Nevada 36-31 [posted Sept. 9]

If last Saturday's win against the Nevada Wolfpack didn't epitomize NU football-- as it is currently played and loved-- then no game does, or ever could.  The Wildcats' crazy 36 to 31 triumph had all the landmarks: a frustrating first half, when it seemed NU could do nothing well; late surges by the 'Cats; a ground game that fired the afterburners just when needed (this time courtesy of Brandon Roberson); a defense that couldn't make a stop to save its skin (Nevada smugly went three for three on fourth-down conversions) until absolutely necessary-- and then proceeded to make a series of eye-popping plays to save the game; and the wild will-to-power, quarterback-unleashes-hell ending that has become a true Northwestern tradition (please refer to #41 on the Traditions List for verification).

Just as it did the week before with the Northeastern game, the Big Ten Network started its coverage at NU by televising Coach Fitz's comments to the players.  "We set the pace!  We take it to them!  . . . We make a big play, press on!" Fitz instructed the team.

Unfortunately, Nevada came out and set the pace instead, controlling the ball on offense, and on defense the 'Pack stymied the Wildcat O.  For a long stretch of the game it seemed like Bachér and his receivers were not in synch, and the offensive line was still bereft of its mojo, lost since last week.

Matters seemed to take an even further downward-- and frightening-- turn in the second quarter, when Tyrell Sutton went down and then slowly limped from the field.  The NU ground game, which had not been used to any extent before Sutton's injury, lurched to a halt.  However, all three of the Wildcat running backs-- Omar Conteh, Roberson, and Sutton-- had good games.  Sutton, due to the play calling in the first half and due to his injury, had only 14 rushing yards, but he did catch five passes for 59 yards, including an impressive 32 yarder.  And, when the game was on the line, Roberson looked fantastic and lightening-fast, finding opportunities even when the offensive line provided none.

By the end of the second quarter, however, there didn't seem to be many opportunities at all for the 'Cats, or at least any that NU seemed capable of exploiting.  Down by ten points-- the amount NU was favored-- the 'Cats put together a decent drive with two minutes to go that was anchored by the big pass play to Sutton.  Then, on third and 11 near midfield,
Bachér flashed the first hint of the Zak Kustokian performance to come, and he rumbled out of the pocket for 14 yards, setting up an Amado Villarreal field goal.  It should be noted that the special teams' performance against Nevada was spectacular.  Villarreal and Stefan Demos both had great games.

After its lead was trimmed to a touchdown, and with less than a minute to go, Nevada orchestrated a drive that was a dagger to the Wildcat defense.  A first down pass was followed by a broken play that sent the Nevada quarterback scrambling with no time on the clock.  It seemed the half would end right there, and the Wildcat secondary was totally out of position.  Then Nevada launched a bomb, and everyone at Ryan Field knew the result of the play the moment the ball left Nick Graziano's hand.  The 'Cats limped into the locker room down two touchdowns.

It seemed that Nevada's lead would widen in the third quarter, as they began driving at will; that will, however, was snapped by Reggie McPherson's interception.  The pick set up another Wildcat field goal, and-- with momentum returning-- the Wildcat defense stopped the 'Pack on the succeeding drive.  Roberson and
Bachér set the pace and took it to Nevada on the next drive, which included an explosion run by Roberson and another Kustokian rush by Bachér.  A goal line push by Roberson, and a touchdown catch by Conteh in the fourth quarter capped 17 unanswered points for NU.

But the surge seemed pointless late in the fourth quarter, when Nevada began a balanced and successful air and ground attack, driving down for the lead score in just over 30 seconds.  NU, in its bid to reclaim the lead, attempted a fourth down play which-- unlike Nevada's three-- failed.  Nevada, holding onto a four-point lead, tried to grind time off the clock, but was forced to punt, and NU had the ball, 80 yards to go, and 1:12 remaining, with no timeouts.

Queue the wayback machine.  Like so many game-ending drives in 1996, 2000, and since, the Wildcat coaches and players found the skill and will to craft another wild finish.  And, like many of those spectacular endings, this one was witnessed by only a few faithful fans.  The crowd (only a meager 17,000 to begin with; NU fans might have had some lame excuses last week, with Labor Day and a Division I-AA opponent, but there was no such flimsy excuse to be absent from the Nevada game.  None.) had thinned considerably just before NU's last drive.  Why?  Were these fans not yet born in 2005, when Iowa looked to bury the knife in NU with only a couple of minutes to go?  Why buy the dinner when you don't stay for the pie?

Bachér: nine-yard pass to Rasheed Ward.
Bachér: 23-yard pass to Kim Thompson.
Bachér: scramble for 20 yards.
Bachér: rush for 15 yards.
Bachér: incomplete pass, immediately followed by...
Bachér: ESPN highlight reel touchdown pass to Ross Lane.

Ross Lane?  Oh, yeah.  The guy who made the game-winning completion against Iowa in 2005, the play that half of NU's fans didn't see either.

The Wildcat defense, not to be outdone by Mr.
Bachér, stepped up with seconds to go and crushed Nevada, sending their quarterback into the endzone turf for NU's first scored safety since the 2001 Iowa game.

A wild finish, another lesson to NU's fans, and a bigger lesson to the team (one that, if the team is lucky, is retaught at least once every two or three years): the will to win is the way to win.  Press on.

CURSES.  Duke Beats NU 20-14 [posted Sept. 16]

The Duke victory over Northwestern was the Blue Devils' first since a victory over Division I-AA VMI in September 2005, their first win over a Division I-A opponent since they beat Clemson in 2004, and their first road win against any division since a win at North Carolina in 2003.  It left NU still holding its 25-year old record for the longest Division I-A losing streak.  After the win over Northwestern in Evanston, Duke students broke into Wallace Wade Stadium and tore the goal posts down.

One might be tempted to think, after seeing Duke win at Ryan Field, that Duke is at last improving, that it is not as bad as its streak might make it seem.

Avoid temptation.  Even from these Blue Devils.

Duke is as bad as advertised, but NU made them look like the Indianapolis Colts.

Since this game was one of the worst-ever performances by a Wildcat team, this wrap-up won't address a single detail of it.  Not the coaching, the absence of any preparation for Duke, the gameday execution, or the unfolding tragedy put on the field by both the offense and the defense.  Why bother?

Yes, the game's officiating was absolutely the worst.  Yes, the officials were ACC officials, the same crew that tried desperately to hand the 2002 game to Duke when it lost a close one at Ryan Field.  However, there were several horrifyingly bad calls that also went in NU's favor, and the 'Cats should never have been in a position against Duke that allowed a bad call to determine a game.  There is no way to blame the officials for NU's ineptitude.

This is a program that has a long road ahead of it, and a lot of major steps to make before it is again competitive.

[Ed. note: At the time I wrote this brief, bitter excuse for a wrap-up, I thought I was being too harsh.  In hindsight, this game is actually worse than it seemed at the time.  Duke truly was as bad as we thought: the NU game was Duke's only win 2007, and the Blue Devils fired their coach at the end of the season. 

Curses, indeed: it now appears that, had NU managed to win this game, Duke would in fact have broken NU's all-time Division I-A losing streak early in 2008.  Instead, because of the 2007 NU loss to Duke, the 1979 - 1982 Wildcat teams will keep that unfortunate record.  For this reason, combined with a host of others, the '07 loss to Duke is among the all-time worst ten losses in NU football history.]

Pistol-Whipped: OSU Downs NU 58-7 [posted Sept. 23]

Northwestern's 2007 Big Ten opener was, unfortunately, a showcase for a very powerful Ohio State team and a reminder that-- as Coach Fitzgerald put it after the game-- "obviously we have a long way to go."  The 'Cats came out flat and got flattened, losing 58 to 7 in the 500th game played at Ohio Stadium.

The score, of course, was a little misleading: as expected Coach Tressel began freely substituting his starters early in the game (perhaps less expected was just how early the subs would begin.  Parts of the Buckeye starting offensive line began disappearing late in the first quarter), and Ohio State jumped to a 28 to 0 lead in the first quarter, needing only 11 plays to do so.  The Bucks amassed a 45 to 0 lead at the half.  They coasted from there, opting not to score at all in the fourth quarter.  With a return trip to Ryan Field "looming" on their schedule in 2008, perhaps the Buckeyes decided not to give the 'Cats too much motivation for next year's game.

NU unveiled several new offensive formations, at times even resembling Nevada's "pistol" offense.  Sadly, it wasn't the Wildcat offense's day.  C.J.
Bachér, commenting after the game, said, "We were running the same stuff we've been running with a few twists, and they were ready for it."  Tyrell Sutton remained sidelined with the ankle injury he sustained playing Nevada, the offensive line was overmatched against the NFL-level power facing them on the other side, and backfield miscommunication reigned again.  The 'Cats gained 61 yards on the ground, the exact same amount they also lost on the ground, for a net rushing total of zero.  Bachér did manager 120 yards through the air, but he was harassed all day, and was dropped for five sacks.  Northwestern's offense did not manage to breach Ohio State's red zone at any point in the game.

For the Wildcat defense, Ohio Stadium was a house of horror.  Ohio State only tallied 396 yards, but when the team is scoring at will and averaging six and a half yards per play (!), the total offense is irrelevant.  The defensive line, linebackers and secondary were simply overmatched, and NU had no answers for the power OSU was displaying.  Adam Kadela, however, did notch 13 tackles, a career best.

For the 'Cats, one bright spot came on the kickoff to open the second half.  Stephen Simmons, handling his first kickoff return, sprinted 99 yards, slipped past several Buckeye tackles, and scored.  The 99 yard return was second only to Jason Wright's thrilling 100-yarder against TCU in 2002.

Wildcat Offense Shines in Wild Overtime Win Over Michigan State
[posted Oct. 7]

In a track meet of a game, which strangely resembled the 2000 Michigan game with its free-flowing offense and lack of defense, Northwestern outplayed, outcoached, and outgunned Michigan State for a thrilling 48-41 win in overtime.  It was the biggest win so far in the Pat Fitzgerald era.

The Northwestern offense showed flash and fire that resembled the best moments of the 2000 and 2005 seasons.  It was the best game so far for NU's veteran offensive line; quarterback C.J Bachér was given maximum protection.  And
Bachér made the most of it.

Bachér brought back the skill and will he showed in the Nevada game and ramped it up tenfold, throwing perfect screens and vertical passes and making simply amazing decisions.  His 520 passing yards broke the school record of 513, set by Brett Basanez against TCU in 2004, and his five touchdown strikes tied Mitch Anderson's record, set against Minnesota in 1973.  Bachér's passing yards are the fifth-best performance in Big Ten history.

Bachér did not have to go it alone on Saturday.  Omar Conteh, taking the place of the injured Tyrell Sutton, continued to come into his own.  Conteh rushed for two touchdowns and caught a third, showing power (blowing past MSU and delivering a few great blocks), finesse (on one run Conteh tap danced over two defenders before executing an incredible spin move to pick up several more yards), and speed.

The 'Cats had not shown this sort of speed in years; against MSU they went into warp drive.  Eric Peterman, on his touchdown reception, absolutely torched the Spartan secondary, who looked like they lacked the gear into which Peterman had shifted.  Also finding the Wildcat gear was Jeff Yarbrough, whose 78-yard reception threw the game momentum squarely with NU.  Yarbrough so separated from the MSU defense that when he raced into the endzone there wasn't a green shirt within 15 yards of him.  Peterman caught nine passes for 141 yards, and Rasheed Ward caught eight-- both career bests.  While those widouts found extra gears, Ross lane was again a "clutch" receiver, catching two touchdown passes and two more for critical first downs.

A big round of applause must go to NU offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, who called a nearly perfect game.  Too often we worry about the other team's preparation for us-- that opposing defensive coaches have worked out our offense; that the opposing offense knows just where to go to exploit our defense.  Against MSU, even early in the game, there was a sense that it was Northwestern's coaches who had the better preparation, that the 'Cats had come into Spartan Stadium with a war plan that was rock solid.  McGee's use of the screen and bubble passes, ineffective against many of NU's opponents, were lethal against Sparty, who had no answer.  The version of the spread that NU employed sent MSU reeling, and the playcalling worked to perfection.

NU's defense, to be sure, did give up 41 points and 481 yards (an average of 7.6 yards per play-- even larger than the vast chunks NU's offense picked up per play), and tackling seemed to be optional for both teams.  But MSU was only four of ten for third-down conversions (NU converted a ridiculous 13 of 19), and the Wildcat defense did what was needed in the end to win the game: Adam Kadela's third-down tackle stopped the final Michigan State drive in regulation time at the MSU 40-yard line and set up NU's final possession.  And the Wildcat defense successfully shut down MSU's (inexplicable) four shots at the endzone in overtime.  The NU players' great execution in the overtime drive, coupled with Michigan State's odd playcalling, salvaged a defensive effort that mostly showed the same deficiencies fans have witnessed for a number of years now: faulty tackling and tremendous coverage cushions.  After the game  Coach Fitzgerald said, "'There are points that we [need to address] and coach not to repeat.  If we repeat, we need to change. Either we make a change in scheme or we make a change in personnel. That's how you get better."

While the last play of the game in regulation-- NU's missed field goal to win-- was the indelible moment for NU's special teams, it should be noted that there were also moments of brilliance for the squad.  A blocked MSU punt, Corey Wootton's blocked PAT (which provided the difference to send the game to overtime), and several great punts gave NU the edge.

So, which is it to be for the second half of the season?  Will it be the Northwestern that was unprepared for Duke, the team that seemed timid at Ohio Stadium, the one that had no sense of urgency going into Northeastern, Nevada, or Duke?  Or will the rest of the season be marked by the Wildcat team that showed up in East Lansing: focused, prepared, and hungry?  The Tribune included in its coverage this quote by Lane:
"Before the game, definitely, there was a huge sense of urgency," he said. "We had a major sense of urgency. … We really needed this. Everyone knew it."  They needed it, they played for it, and now they have it: a renewed respect and another shot at the postseason.

It's now up to the team.  They've showed the talent-- power, speed, and finesse.  But how will they press on?  If they fall back, back to how they played against Duke, they'll not win another game.  If, however, they come into each game like they did against Michigan State, they could very well win every single game left on the schedule.  And the season could look just as wild as this single game did against the Spartans.

'Cats Escape Minny 49-48 in Double Overtime;
NU's 21-Point Comeback Equals 'Victory Right' Game Vs. Minny in 2000
[posted Oct. 14]

For the second straight week, Northwestern claimed a Big Ten victory by taking an opponent into overtime, mounting a thoroughly outstanding offensive performance, and providing a key defensive stop at the moment that it was needed to stave defeat.  This week's opponent was Minnesota, and Northwestern's 49 to 48 double overtime win required the greatest comeback in NU history.  Down 21 points, Northwestern's offense kicked into the now-standard Wildcat Gear, and began the business of winning a game.

If last week's offense-laden win over Michigan State seemed at times strangely similar to the 2000 Michigan game, the win Saturday over Minnesota seemed like-- well, the 2000 Minnesota game.  In 2000 in Minneapolis, the 'Cats found themselves down 35 to 14 before Zak Kustok and company launched their comeback.  So, too, NU seemed to bow to Minnesota at Ryan Field, down 35 to 14, before the 'Cats scored 21 straight.    From there, however, the game seemed like a photo negative of the earlier win over Minnesota: in 2000, having evened the score at 35 all, NU forced a Minnesota punt and got the ball back near midfield.  After two running plays, the 'Cats had a third down with eight seconds left and a running clock.  Kustok spiked the ball with just three seconds on the clock, and the 'Cats then executed Victory Right, ending the game with a win.

Fast forward to 2007.  After NU had again erased a 21-point deficit, it was Minnesota that found itself with the ball, decent field position and eight seconds left.  So naturally, being on the road and wishing to avoid overtime (the Gophers had sported a 1-3 Big Ten OT record), they pull out a creative Hail Mary variant and try for the win.  No?  They take a knee?  Yes...

Fast forward to double overtime.  NU has scored a touchdown and kicked for a 7-point lead.  Minny answers with a touchdown of its own.  So naturally, the Gophers play the odds and kick, relying on their defense to make a stop that is statistically more likely than making a two-point conversion.  No?  They go for it? 

Yes, they went for it, by throwing to the right side of the field.  And in the 2007 "Anti-Victory Right," the ball sailed harmlessly to the grass, and NU dodged a bullet and claimed its fourth win of the year and a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten.

By the numbers, this comeback equaled the 2000 Minnesota game, but because of the recent rule changes to clock management, this one was more difficult and therefore more impressive.  Kudos must go to Coach Fitzgerald and his staff, who were masters of clock management during the fourth quarter of the game.

What is there to say about the Wildcat offense right now and its expert use of the Wildcat Gear?  All positions on offense were brilliant on Saturday.  C.J. Bachér piled on more gaudy stats onto his performance from last week: 470 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and another touchdown on the ground.  Combined with last week's torching of the Spartans,
Bachér's 990 yards are the second-best two-game performance in Big Ten history.  His performance Saturday was also error-free: no fumbles, no picks.

And again,
Bachér was aided by a revived offensive line.  The line gave Bachér a solid pocket from which to slice and dice up Gopher meat for most of the afternoon.  And the block leveled by Trevor Rees (which was actually called out by the Big Ten Network broadcasters) during the first Wildcat scoring drive was almost comical: as Roberson catches Bachér's pass and begins to lunge forward, Rees has already streaked down the field, slamming into the Gopher defender and grinding him about 20 yards back and toward the sideline.  Peterman finished the day with 114 yards and a touchdown, Lane also caught for over 100 yards and had two touchdowns, Conteh had a 51-yard reception to supplement the 81 rushing yards he picked up, and Tonjua Jones turned in a spectacular 28-yard touchdown catch.

The defense again was troubled for much of the day, giving up 580 yards to Minnesota.  However, it's not that the Wildcat defense was uniformly bad: it was just very inconsistent.  One need only look at the tremendous goal line stand by the 'Cats at the end of the first quarter to see the squad's talent and potential.  Malcolm Arrington and Corey Wootton both notched momentum-shifting interceptions, and Adam Kadela had 15 tackles for the day.

E-M-U-G-L-Y: 'Cats Beat EMU 26-14 [posted Oct. 21]

On Friday, Northwestern needed a win to keep its bowl hopes alive, and it got a win-- no frills, nothing fancy, and no style points.  But the "W" coming from the Wildcats' sloppy 26 to 14 win over Eastern Michigan is just as much a win as was NU's fantastic victory earlier over Michigan State, and in many ways it showed just as much character by the team.

The 'Cats began the game, however, ice cold.  The Eagles returned the opening kickoff to the NU 42-yard line, a sign of things to come for the Wildcat kick coverage unit, which struggled terribly all night.  While the Wildcat defense held EMU to a three-and-out, NU's offense came out of the gate firing blanks.  Two completed passes were followed by a sack and an interception, setting up an Eastern Michigan touchdown.

The 'Cats answered by moving the ball systematically down the field.  As they have for the last few games, Northwestern's wide receivers performed spectacularly.  Eric Peterman even took a pitch and ran for a 21-yard gain.  Peterman also had 70 passing yards for the game, but Kim Thompson led the large and diverse Wildcat receiving corps, with five catches for 133 yards, including a tremendous 71-yarder for the game-sealing touchdown.

At one point running back Tyrell Sutton even came into the game, although it became apparent that the play was designed with Sutton as a decoy.  The decoy play marked one important thing: any possibility that Sutton might be granted a medical redshirt for the season has come to an end.

The rest of the offense struggled for the first three quarters.  The offensive line seemed plagued for portions of the evening, and quarterback C.J. Bachér was also sacked at the end of the second quarter.  Several of the line were called for holding, and Trevor Rees, usually rock-solid delivering the ball to
Bachér, played "bowling for dollars" for much of the game, sending the ball bounding across the turf several times.  Rees, however, delivered several eye-popping blocks, just as he has in most of this season's games.  And Bachér, despite a slow start, finished the game with 361 passing yards and a commanding performance in the fourth quarter.

Before the fourth quarter, however, Northwestern and Eastern Michigan were locked in a close fight.  EMU, down by six,  had several chances to come back in the third quarter but blew each opportunity.  After recovering a Wildcat fumble at their own one-yard line, the Eagles shredded Northwestern's defense for 70 yards.  True freshman quarterback Kyle McMahon, making his first start for EMU, was made to look like Jim McMahon-- he passed for 282 yards during the night and seemed very poised.  However, what counts is what makes it onto the scoreboard, and the Wildcat defense did not allow a passing touchdown.  Nor did it allow a third quarter score of any sort by EMU.  The Eagles' great fumble recovery and drive in the third quarter came down to a missed field goal, followed on their next drive by a terrific interception by Adam Kadela.  EMU's very next drive told in miniature the entire game: the Eagles threw at will, gaining three big first downs, only to deliver the rock into the hands of Deante Battle.  In addition to Kadela and Battle, Brad Phillips also came up with an interception (maybe Kyle resembled Jim a little too well...).  Despite the defense's problems with tackling and its tendency to give up vast chunks of yards all night, it came up with the stops when they were needed, which has been the case for much of this mid-season.

It was in the fourth quarter that
the Wildcat line woke up, Bachér began to connect with his receivers, and the team finally slipped slowly into the Wildcat gear.  They were aided by several fouls by the Eagles, including a couple of personal fouls.  The teams swapped touchdowns, and then Bachér delivered to Thompson, who streaked down for his touchdown, and the game was finally in hand.

Just as it showed in the Nevada and Minnesota games, Northwestern has the resolve to stay in games and to continue to find ways to win.  And in this game, unlike against Nevada or Minnesota, the opponent struck first.  As NU mentioned after the game, a Fitzgerald-coached NU team had not yet won a game in which the opponent opened the scoring.  Not so now: the Wildcats are continuing to develop ways in which to win games.  Even if the process isn't always a thing of beauty, the team's growth is continuing.

'CATS SURVIVE INDY 31-28 [posted Nov. 12]

The fourth quarter curse is a myth.

Northwestern, as it had this season in games against Purdue and Iowa, came into the fourth quarter with a three-point lead against Indiana, only to find itself quickly trailing.  However, unlike in those earlier contests, the 'Cats were able to claw back, tearing out a 31 to 28 win against the bowl-eligible Hoosiers.

With the win, NU itself becomes bowl eligible, but with a long way to go to actually snag an invitation to the postseason.

The game started promisingly enough, with the Wildcat offense overcoming some initial kinks to march down the field via great passes to Lane and Sutton.  With the offense stuck at the IU 11-yard line, Villarreal kicked to put NU on the board and in the lead.

That lead lasted shorter than Notre Dame's 2007 homecoming celebration.  The Wildcat kick coverage decided to make the game more interesting by helpfully escorting James Bailey 91 yards to a touchdown.  Things started to look like they might be coming unglued (and NU might have started its fourth quarter curse three quarters too early) on the next drive, which resulted in Bachér throwing a pick.

However, the Wildcat defense, as it has a key moments throughout the season, stepped up and forced the Hoosiers to a three and out.  With its foiled drive, Indiana used just a minute, 36 seconds-- its only time of possession in the first quarter.

The Hoosiers would definitely have more possession time in the second quarter, however, slicing and dicing their way through the Wildcat D to go up 14 to 3.  When Bach
ér and company responded by throwing an interception in the endzone for a Hoosier touchback, the ghost of Air Willie could be heard loudly leaking air across Ryan Field. 

Then Eddie Simpson pulled off the granddaddy of all momentum shifts.  On third down, Hoosier backup quarterback Ben Chappell set foot onto the field and promptly fired off a pass... to Simpson.  Simpson shot back 41 yards the other way, burning the newly-converted Hoosier offensive / defensive secondary and scoring the first Wildcat touchdown off of a pick since the Sun Bowl.

Indiana opened the second half with a drive that culminated with what the refs initially called a long touchdown pass, despite the quarterback having flown past the line of scrimmage.  The call was eventually reversed, and the Hoosiers punted.  At least the officials had a chance to correct that key play: there were scads of other plays, mostly blatant holding on Indiana, that went mysteriously uncalled.

Cue Lane and Sutton, who again combined to scorch Indiana's defense en route to a Wildcat touchdown.  The NU defense again held, and NU, ahead by three, delivered what should have been a kill-shot: a halfback pass from Roberson to Thompson in the endzone.  However, with just over a minute until the fourth quarter, IU's Lewis lit up NU's secondary with two great passes and a touchdown. 

Up by just three, heading into the now heavily dreaded fourth quarter, the Wildcats responded... with another interception.  After a methodical drive to the IU three-yard line, and on third down, Bach
ér floated a pass into the endzone for another Hoosier touchback.  IU spent the next five minutes grinding away by air and land, until they had plowed 80 yards for the lead.

But there isn't a curse, after all.  And Northwestern began to execute in the fourth quarter just as they had against Michigan State and Nevada this year, and as they had so many times under Coach Walker.  The 'Cats calmly orchestrated a mix of passes to Lane and Sutton and sprints by Sutton and
Bachér to drive right back to the IU three-yard line.  One more pass into the endzone, and this one-- to Lane-- was not intercepted. 

Northwestern regained the lead, kept it, and with it secured a monumental sixth win.  In the eight seasons from 2000 to now Northwestern has finished with six wins or better five times, which is the team's longest stretch of consistent success since the late 1940s.  Even if this team does not make it to a bowl, it has made great strides from the difficulty of last year's games, and it has put together a solid season.

Illini Rout 'Cats 41-22, Re-Claim Tomahawk [posted Nov. 17]

Within the first five minutes of its game with Illinois, Northwestern went from a bowl contender to a team which was playing its final game of the year and will stay home for the holidays.  The 'Cats suffered an interception to begin the game, and the NU defense allowed a quick Illini touchdown to dig the hole from which they watched the rest of the game unfold, right to its 41 to 22 conclusion.  Illinois, winless against Northwestern since 2003, has re-claimed the Sweet Sioux and with it the bragging rights of the state.

Make no mistake: Illinois is a very good team, and the Illini came to the field with an array of offensive weapons, and came out very well-prepared specifically for NU.  Illinois was not only prepared, they were fired up, knowing what was on the line and hungry to make it so.  Northwestern, on the other hand, looked emotionally dead-- flat, unconcerned and lethargic, so much so that the ESPN commentators (when they weren't referring to NU's previous coach as "Gary Walker") even mentioned how surprised they were to see the Wildcats so listless on the turf.  After the game Coach Fitzgerald was blunt: "We got away from who we are and the way we practiced all week. Credit the Illini. They played extremely well. We had opportunities to get the job done, but we didn't. Put that on the coaches. [Illinois] didn't do anything new today. They didn't do anything we hadn't prepared for."

It was a bad day for most of the 'Cats.  C.J. Bachér, in addition to the pick that wrecked the opening drive, tossed another interception in the second quarter, negating one of the few good plays by the Wildcat defense (just two plays before, Illini quarterback Juice Willliams had his pass picked by redshirt freshman cornerback Justan Vaughn).  The Wildcat offensive line, which had chaotic highs and lows all season, had a monumental low against the Pumkinheads, sputtering, sieve-like, and offering absolutely no protection for B

And the defense... Well, the performance of each of the defensive units typified how things went for the defense all year.  NU gave up over 540 yards on the day, 321 on the ground.  Attempts at tackling, when a Wildcat defender was actually close to the ball carrier, was more often than not a passing arm tackle that brushed the rusher as he breezed by.

However, not all of the 'Cats were off.  Stefan Demos put on a punting clinic (averaging 49 yards and putting three deep into Illini territory), and the special teams as a whole were improved from last week.  Tyrell Sutton looked good, averaging five and a half yards per carry.  He would have looked better had he received even mediocre blocking support from the line.  And NU's receivers also were solid, especially Eric Peterman, who had 120 yards on ten catches.  It should also be noted that
Bachér did finish the day with a blistering 310 passing yards, which gave him 3,656 yards for the season, setting a new Northwestern passing record (and breaking the record Brett Basanez set in 2005).

Northwestern finishes the year with six wins, the fifth time in the last eight years that the program has finished with six (or more) wins.  The program has started to show consistency, and getting to bowl eligibility is certainly a measurement for success.  But it speaks to how far Northwestern has come in the last 15 years when success can still bring disappointment.  And today's game certainly does mark a disappointing end to a season which was spinkled with disappointment. 

Report: Packers Pick Murphy for CEO Spot [posted Nov. 27]

After a week of initial rumors, then news reports that Wildcat Athletic Director Mark Murphy was considering the CEO position with the Green Bay Packers, it now appears that Green Bay has selected Mr. Murphy for the job.  The question now is: will they offer him, and will he leave NU?  The answer appears to be yes.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had reported on Monday that Mr. Murphy confirmed that he had been recruited and interviewed by the Packers for their top spot.  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney was also being considered by Green Bay.  Murphy, of course, has NFL experience, having played on the NFL-champion Washington Redskins team.

On Tuesday night PackersNews.com reported that NFL sources have told them that the Packers and Mr. Murphy are in contract negotiations

While the move is a good one for Mr. Murphy, it would be a significant blow to the 'Cats.  Mr. Murphy's five seasons with Northwestern have seen a resurgence in Wildcat athletics in nearly every sport.  When he left his job as athletic director at Colgate (his alma mater) for NU in 2003, he inherited a chaotic program that was starting to move into decline.  He has helped to bolster the University's athletic profile. 

Under Murphy's tenure, Coach Walker had his final three successful seasons, golf and tennis flourished, softball made it further into the national finals than ever before, and lacrosse brought three straight national titles to Evanston.  And, with one exception, no team at the school suffered any significant negative publicity. 

Mr. Murphy is also responsible for hiring Pat Fitzgerald as head football coach after Coach Walker's death.  Having an experienced former pro football captain as the University's athletic director during this challenging transition has likely been vital in the continued and potential success of the football program.

If he does choose to leave Evanston, we at HailToPurple.com would like to thank A.D. Murphy for everything he did for the Northwestern athletic program and wish him success with the Green and Gold.