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.
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]
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
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
Could NU Help Host the 2016 Olympics? [posted Apr. 15]
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
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
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]
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
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
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
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
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
Camp Kenosha XVI Begins [posted Aug. 12]
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]
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
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
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
Media 2007 Previews and Predictions [posted June 28; updated Aug. 14]
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
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
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.
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.]
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
CRUISE. CONTROL. --'Cats Blank Northeastern 27-0 [posted Sept. 1]
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.
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
JACKPOT! NU Beats Nevada 36-31 [posted Sept. 9]
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).
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
on offense, and on defense the 'Pack stymied the Wildcat O. For a
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
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.
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]
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
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
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
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]
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
BACHER ROCKS HOMECOMING
'Cats Escape Minny 49-48 in Double Overtime;
NU's 21-Point Comeback Equals 'Victory Right' Game Vs. Minny in 2000
[posted Oct. 14]
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
E-M-U-G-L-Y: 'Cats Beat EMU 26-14 [posted Oct. 21]
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
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 Bachér
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
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, Bachér
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]
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.
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 Bachér.
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
Report: Packers Pick Murphy for CEO Spot [posted Nov. 27]
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
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.