several ways 2008 will be remembered as a landmark season for
Northwestern. It was Coach Pat Fitzgerald's third season as the
Wildcats' head coach, and it was the breakout year for him and for his
teams. The '08 Wildcats' nine wins put them in an elite set with
only four other teams in NU's history.
Coach Fitzgerald garnered national attention for the first time as a
head coach, taking the Touchdown Club of Columbus's Big Ten Coach of
the Year Award, and placing third for the Liberty Mutual National Coach
of the Year Award (Fitz also placed third in the Liberty Mutual voter
poll for the best Div. I-A coach). Fitz's induction into the
College Football Hall of Fame this year was well-timed.
The season began with a set of five straight wins, NU's best start to a
season since 1962, and its first sweep of the regular season
non-conference slate since 1963. A 5-3 Big Ten record included
impressive road wins at Iowa and Michigan. The regular season
finale against Illinois showcased one of the most powerful performances
by the 'Cats in recent memory, and it secured for Northwestern the
Sweet Sioux Trophy, in the award's last season. NU's nine wins
are all the more impressive when one considers the list of injuries
that plagued the Wildcats throughout the second half of the season.
A trip to the 2008 Alamo Bowl climaxed this solid season.
Although the 'Cats did not come away with the win, they did put in an
impassioned performance, taking Missouri to overtime before bowing.
The 'Cats were led on offense by a set of seniors in the skill
positions who were ready to power the team into the Big Ten elite:
staring quarterback C.J. Bachér, running back Tyrell Sutton, and
receivers Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, and Rasheed Ward. However,
the big surprise of the season came on defense, and it came with the
shocking turnaround orchestrated by new coordinator Mike
Hankwitz. NU's defense, anchored by team MVP Corey Wootton, was
25th in the nation in passing defense, and 23rd best in points allowed.
from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the
2008 season. Please note that the comments posted below were only
the ones written by me. The bulk of articles on HailToPurple.com
in 2008 came from jhodges and the other contributors. For their
2008 commentary and analysis, please check out the
pages for jhodges, the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.
(Links to the jhodges 2008 articles are up, and 2008 links for the
Waterboy and the Lowes Line will come later this month)
McGee Hog-Bound [posted Jan. 2, 2008]
When the Wildcats take the field against Syracuse in August, they will do so with a new set of coordinators.
With NU offensive coordinator Garrick McGee's departure this month for
Arkansas, Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald must now replace both his
coordinators, after having let defensive coordinator Greg Colby go at
the end of last season.
Fitzgerald has confirmed that McGee resigned in order to become
quarterbacks coach at Arkansas, a move that was first publicly
mentioned on TheTurkReport.com,
and later reported by the Daily Herald and the Pioneer Press. In
the official announcement on January 2, Coach Fitzgerald stated, "I
plan to start our search for a new coordinator immediately. We are
sticking with our current offensive philosophy and want to maintain our
reputation of having one of the most diverse and dangerous spread
attacks in the country."
The Daily Herald
story, written by Adam Rittenberg, mentions the likely internal
candidates for each coordinator position: wide receivers coach Kevin
Johns and linebackers coach Randy Bates. However, there is not
a clear indication that Coach Fitzgerald will choose an internal
candidate, and Rittenberg also mentions former NU defensive assistant
coach Tim Kish as a possibility (but also notes that former NU DC Ron
Vanderlinden is not a candidate for the job, despite the rumors and wishful thinking from several 'Cat fans last month).
Reports: Fitz Gets Hankwitz for DC;
Hires McCall for OC;
Washington Heads to Bears [posted Jan. 12 & 13]
NU football staff continues its fundamental changes during this
eventful offseason. Close on the trail of the recent
announcements that NU Athletic Director Mark Murphy was heading for
Green Bay and Coach Fitzgerald had fired Defensive Coordinator Greg
Colby, fans have also learned that Offensive Coordinator Garrick McGee
and Defensive Line Coach Eric Washington are leaving, and that NU is
poised to name its new football coordinators this week.
Hankwitz to DC
Coach Fitzgerald has picked up former Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Hankwitz has, to say the least, and impressive resume. He led the
Badger defense in 2006 and 2007, a defense that ranked fifth overall in
the nation in '06. Before that, Hankwitz served as the DC at
Colorado, and was Colorado's interim head coach for their bowl game in
2005 after the school fired... Gary Barnett. During an earlier
stint as Colorado's DC, Hankwitz contributed to the Buffaloes' 1990
national title (as did then OC... Gary Barnett). Hankwitz was
also DC-- and also interim head coach-- at Arizona, and served as DC at
Texas A&M, Western Michigan and Kansas. He also served as an
assistant coach at Purdue.
Hankwitz, besides having probably more diverse and varied experience as
a Division I defensive coordinator than anyone currently coaching, is
known as a master motivator. According to the Texas A&M bio
that was linked earlier on the Rivals message board, "As a
motivational tool, Hankwitz, along with the help of the A&M video
department, occasionally put together a six- or seven-minute highlight
film that incorporated music, graphics, movie clips, motivational
messages and game footage." He was known as "the Mad Scientist."
Welcome, Coach Hankwitz!
McCall to OC
Also, the Sporting News reported on January 10 that NU will name Bowling Green offensive
coordinator Mick McCall as its new OC, replacing the departing
When BGSU Head Coach Gregg Brandon promoted McCall to the Falcons' OC
last year, he noted McCall's "wealth of experience to share and his
ability to communicate and relate to the players on the offensive side
of the ball." Before
last season, McCall had been the Falcons'
QB coach. Wildcat fans are experienced with Coach McCall's
quarterback coaching work: it was a McCall-coached Josh Harris who
threw against NU in the 2003 Motor City Bowl.
that Coach McGee also served as NU's quarterback coach,
Coach McCall seems to be a logical fit into the Wildcat staff.
McCall also has experience coaching running backs (at Wyoming), and
served as an assistant coach at Oregon State from 1988-90, at Idaho
State from 1983-87 and at the University of Southern Colorado from
1979-82 (another Colorado connection... who happened to be working for
Gregg Brandon... hmm... mysterious, or not so mysterious, forces
seem to be lurking about).
Welcome, Coach McCall!
Washington to the Chicago Bears
Defensive line coach Eric Washington is
leaving the program. Washington, who spent four seasons with the
'Cats, will take a position with the Chicago Bears.
With the rapid changes now in play in Evanston, it is clear that Coach
Fitzgerald is shaping the staff and putting his stamp on the
program. Given the reaction from many fans in Wisconsin and Ohio,
who have shown the value they put on the two incoming coordinators, it
would seem that Fitz's moves have been well-played. The staff is
becoming more balanced, with both younger and more experienced coaches
who are bringing experience from nearly every position and
confernece. An already exciting offseason is starting to show a
lot of potential for entertainment.
Coach Fitzgerald Announces NU's Class of 2012 [posted Feb. 6]
Fitzgerald on Wednesday formally announced NU football's class of 2012,
describing the 20 incoming students who that morning signed letters of
commitments came from players spanning nearly every position. The
current slate of recruits is split nearly evenly between offense and
defense; among the 11 or so offensive players, at least five are on
the line. There were, however, no recruits devoted specifically
special teams. The players come from across the country, but
there is a concentration (at least six) of Illinois players.
As he announced the class, Coach Fitzgerald praised his current players
for their role in the recruiting process, by the way in which they
represented the program and the school. Coach Fitzgerald also
mentioned the recruiting advantage NU has because of its national
exposure: "[NU football] is on the Big Ten Network or it's on ESPN, and
that marketibility gives us the opportunity to go out and recruit young
men throughout the country." Click here for NU's official announcement, and here for the running blog that NUSports.com posted during the morning of signing day.
of February 6 Scout.com ranks Northwestern's incoming class 68th in the
nation (down from a 60th ranking on Jan. 8), just above Duke. Scout ranks NU last in
Big Ten, and it puts OSU, Michigan and Illinois at the top of the
Rivals has NU at 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Indiana. Rivals
ranks OSU, Michigan, and Minnesota (Minnesota?) at the top. Rivals has the
'Cats 72nd nationally (down from 64th on Jan. 8), behind Duke.
. . . Please note that HailToPurple.com does not follow recruiting
efforts, nor do I have interest in the recruiting process, crucial though it is-- for more
detailed info and analysis, be sure to check out Lou V.'s work at
NU fan Turk's commentary on The Turk Report.
Jim Phillips to Be Named A.D. [posted Feb. 27]
The Dekalb Daily Chronicle
on Wednesday morning reported that Dr. Jim Phillips had been offered
the Northwestern athletic director position, and that he would accept
the position in the coming days. NU has been looking for a
permanent replacement for former A.D. Mark Murphy, who left Evanston to
take over the Green Bay Packers at the beginning of the year.
If the report is correct, Northwestern will have landed a new director
who many people believe was the school's first choice for the
job. In fact, Phillips might have been a close second for the job
back in 2003, when he was Assistant A.D. at Notre Dame, and when NU
gave the nod to Murphy instead.
Phillips would definitely seem to be a great fit for NU. He has
raised the level of NIU marketing in the Chicago area to a point
competing with (and some would argue, surpassing) Northwestern and the
Big Ten. He made academic excellence his most important goal at NIU,
and according to NIU's Website, his teams have achieved the highest
average GPA in the school's history. And he has shown leadership
potential among his colleagues, serving as the chairman of the MAC
Athletic Directors Council.
Phillips has been a powerful force for fundraising and investment,
responsible for a $14 million new facility on the NIU campus.
"Prior to Phillips' arrival [to NIU], only one six-figure gift was made
to intercollegiate athletics, and under his tenure that tally has risen
to 27," his official bio states. When he took the NIU job he gave
fundraising a new visibility, stating, "Building the program means
building our budget. . . We have to give our coaches and staff
additional support for travel, recruiting, scholarships and academic
services. It means we have to increase private fundraising, but it also
means we have to increase corporate sponsorships, television
sponsorships, ticket sales, apparel and shoe contracts — every aspect
of the revenue picture." And he succeeded, landing contracts with
Adidas and increasing every other aspect of the program's financial
Before coming to NIU, Phillips had been
assistant in charge of fundraising at Arizona State, Assistant A.D. at
Tennessee, and Associate A.D. at Notre Dame.
Media 2008 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats
[posted throughout the summer]
The annual college football magazines have appeared at the
offering their picks and predictions. The slate of previews
begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes
the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its
Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU. Of course,
previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring
biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings)
a profitable strategy. However, NU has occasionally bucked that trend
and the conventional
thinking: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a
Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.
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. This year,
however, appears to be an exception, as you'll see from the list of
previews below. The "Heinz Line" doesn't appear to hold.
As for last year's previews and predictions, several sources tied for
the most accurate prediction, picking NU to win at least six games and
compete for a bowl slot. The least accurate picks were by the
always-wrong Sporting News, who picked NU last in the conference, and
Rivals, who also tabbed NU for the basement.
As has been the case since summer 2000, HailToPurple.com is posting a recap of what the larger 'Net and print
predicted so far for NU in 2008.
- The first magazine out this spring was Lindy's,
and it dropped NU from the 57th spot, where it had the 'Cats last year,
to 82nd, predicting that NU will finish 11th in the conference.
Mark it down: Lindy's will find itself, for the first time, holding the
title of "least accurate prediction" at the end of the season.
The magazine adds insult to injury by calling Fitzgerald "a determined
coach. . . who will want to get out of NU," apparently forgetting just
who Coach Fitzgerald is. Lindy's rates NU's special teams and every defensive unit either 10th or last in the Big Ten
- Want to wash the bitter taste of Lindy's out of your maws? Look no further than Sports Illustrated,
which has an uncharacteristically optimistic prediction. SI
places NU 50th nationally, over Notre Dame (52nd) and-- shockingly--
over Michigan (54th). NU rates 7th in the Big Ten; in addition to
Michigan, SI puts NU over Purdue, Minny, and Indy. It predicts a
7-5 record overall, and 4-4 in the conference. Eric Peterman is
singled out as a star player.
- The Fox Sports affiliate CollegeFootballNews.com
ranks NU 51st in the nation, ahead of Indiana and Minnesota. This
is the highest position that CFN has placed NU above the "Heinz Line"
in years. CFN predicts a 6-6 record, with the 'Cats sweeping its
non-conference slate (a bold, bold pick!), but struggling to only two
wins in the Big Ten. CFN cites the center as the key, make or
break position for NU this fall.
magazine is also mildly optimistic for the Wildcats, placing them 53rd
nationally and 8th in the Big Ten, over Purdue and the MinnyIndies.
- The folks over at Rivals
have tapped the Heinz Line, putting NU at 57th, and 8th in the conference, over Iowa (!) and IndyMinny.
They spotlight Keegan Kennedy, mentioning his potential to be All-Big
Ten. Of course, they also single out John Gill, C.J. Bacher, and
Tyrell Sutton. "Don't be shocked if Northwestern is within
striking distance of first place in the Big Ten in November." -- Quite
a leap from Rivals' last-place prediction for NU in '07.
- Always anticipated, Phil Steele
has said that "seven of my eight power ratings have Northwestern
winning seven or more games." Steele has NU in the Insight Bowl
vs. Oklahoma State. Since the Insight Bowl typically goes to the
sixth place Big Ten team, this equates to the highest prediction for
the conference finish. Huzzah!
- USA Today rates NU 11th in the Big Ten. Does anyone over 14 years old still read USA Today?
- Dennis Dodd at CBS's Sportsline
doesn't see much for the 'Cats this year. He puts NU at 10th in
the conference, ahead of Minnesota. "Pat Fitzgerald did wonders
in two seasons after taking over for Randy Walker. The Wildcats were
6-6 last season and could be knocking on the door of a bowl this
season. Quarterback C.J. Bacher could be the Big Ten's most
entertaining quarterback this side of Juice Williams. Nomad defensive
coordinator Mike Hankwitz inherits a respectable defense. Defensive
tackle John Gill is an NFL prospect."
- Webmaster James Howell
calculates weekly "Power Rankings" during the season. His 2008
preseason power ratings have NU in 75th place nationally, and tenth
place in the conference, ahead of the Gophers.
- Another, more famous power rating is published by Sagarin, who also puts NU 10th in the Big Ten (ahead of Indiana, however), and has NU 74th nationally.
- The Chicago Tribune
simply remarks, "There is no reason to think the Wildcats can't win
eight games." The Trib notes that NU must perform with more
consistency than it did last season, "which it transformed into a
roller-coaster ride that was wildly inexplicable and ultimately
- ESPN SportsCenter's Mel Kiper made a surprise pick by picking Northwestern as, well, his surprise pick. Kiper sees NU going 8-4.
- Andy Gamm's The Final Score
has NU tied for 9th in the conference. Gamm also thinks that NU
will sweep the non-conference and win two in the Big Ten, potentially
getting an at large bowl berth.
note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the media's preseason
predictions. Which was the media source with the most accurate
prediction for 2008? The winner this year is Mel Kiper.
Kiper's 8-4 pick was only one win off, and it edged out very good
predictions from Phil Steele and the Chicago Tribune. Sports
Illustrated also came close, earning special mention for ranking NU so
far ahead of Michigan.
There was a tie this year for the dog pick. The worst predictions
were from Lindy's (as expected: see the commentary above) and USA Today.
During the early part of the season, I did not provide any content. Be sure to check out jhodges for the previews and post-game analysis for the first three games of 2008.
NU's Defensive Effort vs. Ohio: Five Sacks;
NU's Special Teams: Two Blocked FGs
[posted Sept. 20]
A personal note about today's win over Ohio:
I've been going to Northwestern games since 1988. I had the
privilege of witnessing the awesome defense of the 1995 season, as well
as many other good seasons. I can honestly say that I've never
witnessed a more spirited performance by the Wildcat defense than what they showed today. It was a thing of beauty.
The special teams performance also has me searching for some
superlative performance in the past; I'd have to go back at least four
seasons to find a suitable comparison.
Congratulations to the Wildcats, the special teams, the defense, Coach Hankwitz and Coach Fitzgerald.
NU UPENDS IOWA 22-17
Remains Among the Unbeatens [posted Sept. 28]
ranked team after ranked team fell last Saturday in a raft of upsets
throughout college football, attention was diverted from a story that
has been quietly brewing in Evanston. Shh, don't tell anyone yet,
but it just might be magic time for the Northwestern Wildcats
again. As everyone in 'Catland knows as well as his own phone
number by now, NU's thrilling win over Iowa, 22-17 on the road, puts it
at 5-0 for the first time since 1962 and on the cusp of a truly special
season. However, for the rest of the football world, NU is still
a footnote to a week of perceived giants and giant killers. The
'Cats are creeping, stealthily, and now they are ready and about to
pounce on the unsuspecting.
Count the Hawkeyes among those unsuspecting. Iowa rolled out to a
seemingly easy 17 to 3 lead against NU at Kinnick Stadium, as the
Wildcat offense continued to have some of the same issues with
protection, skill position timing, and playcalling that it had shown in
But after those somewhat sluggish offensive performances in the first
third of the season,
which saw Bacher throw more interceptions than touchdowns, the third
quarter at Iowa was the welcome back party that fans had hoped Bacher
would throw. And throw he did: Bacher carved up the Hawkeyes in
the third quarter, standing behind a brick-solid line. By the end
of the day Bacher had thrown three TDs: two to Eric Peterman and
another to Rasheed Ward.
Ward had 94 yards and hands of velcro and the game of his career.
In the third quarter Ross Lane showed NFL moves as he threaded through
the Iowa defense to pick up a huge first down. Tyrell Sutton
exemplified the new offensive mix that the 'Cats had regained, picking
up 77 yards on the ground and 72 yards receiving. In fact, Sutton
led the NU receivers in yards per catch, with 12.
a few early foibles, the defense continues to show that it is light
years better and beyond what it had been in the past decade. Yes,
NU's D. allowed Iowa over 400 yards, but the Hawkeye offense is strong
and a good test for this team. The 'Cats held Iowa to only three
of nine first down conversion efforts. The big stat, however, is
the five turnovers that Iowa's offense and special teams gave up,
including a pick by Vince Brown and a jaw-dropping hit by Brad Phillips
that resulted in a fumble. Gill and Wootton also had spectacular
performances, including a game-breaking, monster sack by Wootton in the
Most importantly, the defense held at the moment of truth, even after
an egregiously reviewed play resulted in Iowa getting a first down deep
into the Wildcat red zone, despite the evidence of a fumble that was
recovered by NU. With a first down near NU's goal and four
chances to win the game, Iowa was stoned immaculately by the
white-shirts, sealing the deal for NU and its magical season so far.
You might ask if all of this "Wildcats undefeated" talk is making too much out of five too littles. Is this magic time for Northwestern? Is it
time again to bathe the Hancock building in purple light and break out
the plane tickets to somewhere warm? Or has NU done nothing more
than stumble through a weak non-conference slate, only to be given a
five-piece turnover gift set by the Hawkeyes?
let's take the non-conference schedule first. Weak sisters
or not, the fact remains that NU wrote a "W" next to each of their
names, something that no Wildcat team was able to do in over 45
years. And these sisters? Not so weak. After being
edged by NU, Duke has gone on to beat Navy (which just slapped around
an undefeated Wake Forest team) and absolutely destroy Virginia.
Ohio put 51 points up in a win over VMI, and even FCS team Southern
Illinois followed up being beaten by NU by upsetting FCS #5-ranked
As for non-Northern Iowa: yes, one could argue (wrongly) that Iowa lost
this game, more than NU won it. The Hawkeyes would have been
challenged to win the
game with five turnovers. But this is just the very feat
Northwestern accomplished the week before: the 'Cats turned the ball
over five times to Ohio and still found a way to win. "I don't
think I've ever been involved in a game where you turn the ball over
five times and win it," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after the
game. Kirk Ferentz is no Pat Fitzgerald. And the Hawkeyes
aren't the Wildcats, who appear to be able to pick any lock that guards
victory. True, Iowa gave
NU some breaks; NU simply took some others from Iowa, and NU found the
way to win.
Look at many of the games NU won during the legendary 1995 run.
Against a decent-- but by no means great-- Illinois team, NU found
itself down, and found a few ways to make things change, and found the
way to win. If the 2008 edition of the Wildcats has found this
elixir, this way to find the path to victory, no matter what, then this
just might be magic time again.
This team has shown, in fragments last year and in vast chunks this year,
that it has all the talent it needs to win. Now it just needs
these fragments to join together, to make a whole, and to point the way
to the next win. From here on out, it will be a daunting path
indeed, twisting through the heart of the best of the Big Ten.
But it leads to legend, and the Wildcats are ready.
NU's 2008 Undefeated Start:
A Historical Perspective [posted Oct. 3]
NU went on to beat
Indiana, going 6-0 and keeping its number one ranking.
Unfortunately, injuries had begun to stack up for NU, and further
injuries inflicted during the Indiana game were just too much to keep
the 'Cats at full strength. NU dropped its next two games, but
wrapped up its 7-2 season by pounding the Miami Hurricanes at Dyche
Given the attention the Wildcats are receiving for their impressive 5-0
run through the first portion of the 2008 season, it might be notable
to look at some of the seasons of Northwestern football in the
Twentieth Century that also began with long undefeated runs. How
do the 'Cats of (20) '08 stack up with, say the 'Cats of (19)
'05? Below are details of some of these Wildcat seasons with
unblemished starts, with descriptions taken from the book Northwestern Wildcat Football: Images of Sports.
To begin, let's look at the season that has already been evoked so
much, 1962. That was, of course, the last time the 'Cats went 5-0
to begin a season.
Coach Ara Parseghian had recruited bright, easily adaptable players
who, because they might have been overlooked by the bigger schools, had
something to prove and came to Northwestern with fierce
motivation. Parseghian himself had become a key recruitment
advantage. By beating Notre Dame three years running before 1962
and having his team continuously in the AP Poll, Parseghian had become
one of the hottest coaches in the country.
Parseghian's-- and the
Wildcats'-- strengths reached their peak during the 1962 season.
The team was stocked with veteran talent. . . The star of '62 was a 19
year-old sophomore from Troy, Ohio. Quarterback Tom Myers was
making his first start for NU.
Myers and receiver Paul
Flatley began the Wildcats' aerial circus by hosting South Carolina and
bombing the Gamecocks, 37-20. They routed Illinois, 45-0.
Minnesota, the defending Rose Bowl champion in '62, possessed one of
the best defenses in the country. On October 13, Minnesota hosted
the red-hot 'Cats and lost, 34-22, giving up more points to
Northwestern than they would to all their other 1962 opponents
combined. In their first three games, the Wildcats had compiled
116 points and had skyrocketed to eighth place in the nation.
then traveled to Columbus. Woody Hayes' team was coming off of an
undefeated season and was looking to repeat as Big Ten champions.
When the game started, it seemed that the Buckeyes would have no
problem doing just that-- OSU took the opening kickoff and ran it 90
yards back for a touchdown. The Ohio Stadium record crowd of
84,376 went into a frenzy. However, Myers and Flatley continued
their air campaign. Myers racked up 177 passing yards
[astronomical for the early 1960s), and Flatley had 10
receptions. The pair teamed up for an 8-yard touchdown that
brought NU back. Ohio State, meanwhile, repeatedly gave the ball
to the 'Cats: NU recovered two Buckeye fumbles and intercepted
once. Most shocking, however, were the four Buckeye turnovers on
downs. Hayes refused to surrender the ball to NU on fourth down,
and Ohio State paid. In the most spectacular series of the game,
Ohio State had the ball on a first down at the Wildcat five yard
line. Hayes decided to pound the ball down NU's throat. The
NU line held for three rushes. On fourth down and a yard to go,
Ohio State's quarterback, about to attempt another plunge, surged
forward too soon and drew a false start. OSU faced fourth down
and six and finally tried a pass. The receiver, however, was an
ineligible lineman. The penalty included a loss of down, and the
NU defense had rendered the Buckeye drive scoreless.
. . . As the game ended NU
fans came out of the Ohio Stadium stands and helped carry Ara
Parseghian, Woody Hayes' former assistant, off the field.
Parseghian called the game "one of NU's greatest victories."
Hayes was in tears as he strode toward the lockers. In Evanston,
2,000 celebrating fans clogged Deering Meadow.
Remarkably, 55,752 fans
packed themselves into Dyche Stadium for a showdown with Notre Dame,
setting the all-time record for the stadium, to this day the largest
crowd to see a Northwestern home game played on-campus. The game
was also NU's homecoming, the only time in the school's history that
its homecoming opponent was not a Big Ten team. The game
was never close. NU dismantled Notre Dame, 35-6.
Flatley makes a spectacular catch vs. the Irish
victory was the most lopsided game in the Notre Dame - Northwestern
series up to that time, and it gave NU four straight wins over the
Irish. A day later, the AP gave Northwestern the number one
ranking for the first time since 1936. For the first and only
time in the team's history, the 'Cats were also at the top of the UPI
Parseghian had begun his tenure at NU in 1956 and had gone .500 in the
Big Ten. But he had not begun with a very strong program, and by
the next year the program's shortcomings and the painful rebuilding
took a toll, and NU went winless. By 1958, however, Parseghian's
rebuilding was in full swing, starting with relentless and revamped
recruiting efforts. In 1959 the work was rewarded. Led by
Ron Burton, Gene Gossage, James Andreotti and Mike Stock, the 'Cats
tore through their first six games undefeated, earning a number two
spot in the national rankings that they held for a monumental six weeks
(LSU was a juggernaut in '59 and kept the number one spot).
Pappy Waldorf's Big Ten champion team won its first seven games and
swept its conference slate before losing the last game of the season
(and the national championship) to Notre Dame. The highlight of
the season was the win over sitting national champion Minnesota, the
fifth straight win for the 'Cats in '36:
Alas, the national title
(at least as recognized by the AP) was not to be for NU. After
the Notre Dame loss to NU at the end of the year, NU relinquished its
number one spot to... Minnesota? Yet, in one of the great flukes
in sports history, Minnesota took the #1 spot in the nation in 1936,
but only the #2 spot in its own conference. Some historical polls
do still give NU the 1936 national title.
|Saturday was Halloween, and it brought Big
Ten titan Minnesota into Dyche Stadium. Minnesota's unbeaten
streak had now grown to 28 games; with NU poised undefeated, the game
snowballed into the event of the season. Arrangements were made
to broadcast the game by radio nationally, one of the first NU games to
be heard by a national audience.
The audiences, both via radio and the 49,000 in person at Dyche, were
not let down. In one of the greatest defensive games ever played
by Northwestern, the Wildcats became the immovable object that overcame
the irresistible force-- the (up until then) high-scoring Gopher
backfield. The teams slugged at each other relentlessly in the
rain and held the other side scoreless through the middle of the third
Deep in their own territory, the Gophers fumbled. And ensuing
penalty gave the Wildcats the ball at the Minnesota one-yard
line. the capacity crowd at Dyche shot to its feet, and then
exploded into deafening celebration as Ollie Adelman broke into the
end zone for a touchdown and the only points scored in the game.
Steve Toth, who had conducted a Wildcat punting clinic throughout the
game, missed the extra point. Neither team had another chance to
As the game ended, wild celebrations spilled out of Dyche Stadium and
streamed into Evanston and onto Chicago's Loop. Thousands of
students and fans, along with the marching band, gathered at Fountain
Square in Evanston Monday morning to enjoy a pep rally and
The win propelled NU into a number one ranking in the AP weekly
poll. The 1936 season was the first to use the AP ranking system,
and Northwestern had been ranked fourth in the country in the
first-ever weekly poll. Just three weeks after the AP's debut,
the Northwestern Wildcats were perched alone atop it and were
positioned to take their first true national title.
1930 and 1931
Dick Hanley's back to back Big Ten title seasons both began with
impressive undefeated runs that lasted the entire season, only to lose
the last game of the season-- and with it, the national title each
The 1930 team simply destroyed its first seven opponents. No team
could score more than a touchdown against the 'Cats, who were averaging
26 points a game (during an era of three yards and a cloud of
dust). In a finale that garnered tremendous national attention,
the 'Cats fell to the strongest (and last) Notre Dame team that Knute
Rockne had ever assembled, 14-0.
The 1931 team began the season by beating Nebraska, but then tied
defending champ Notre Dame 0-0 at Soldier Field. NU went on to
win its next six, compiling seven wins, no losses, and the tie with the
Irish. This would have been good enough for a national title for
NU. However, after the season was to end, the 'Cats decided to
play an additional game in late November-- a charity game with Purdue
at Soldier Field to raise money for Depression relief. The
Boilermakers ruined NU's lossless season and national title hopes by
upsetting them, 7-0. Despite the loss to Purdue, NU still took a
share of the conference championship.
Another season that began with six perfect wins, only to be marred with
a loss in the season finale in a huge game. This time the spoiler
was Ohio State: one of the best Buckeye teams in that program's
history, led by Chick Harley. NU's Patty Driscoll nearly
single-handedly carried the Purple to a national title, shutting out
powerful Chicago and crushing Purdue 38 to 6 to set up the showdown
1904 and 1905
Jimmie Johnson, who, as a star for Carlisle had played against NU in
the Purple's season finale in 1903, now joined Northwestern (as a
Dental grad student) and carried the Purple, much as Driscoll would in
1916. Along with Harry Allen, Johnson powered NU to wins in its
first five games in 1904 and 1905. For both seasons, five proved
to be the end of the flawless starts: the '04 team then lost to Chicago
(at the time, the most powerful team in the nation), and the '05
edition tied Transylvania, KY., before also losing to Chicago.
However, both of these teams would go on to compile eight-win seasons.
We close with the greatest start for any NU team in the Twentieth
Century. Yes, one can argue that the 1995 team was better, but
the 1903 team had the biggest unbroken string of W's to start a
season. In fact, the Purple in 1903 had eight of them, tearing
through the following teams:
Eight games, eight wins.
They might not be the strongest teams in the nations, but-- much like
2008-- NU still put them away and found ways to win. The ninth
game of '03 was against national power Chicago, and NU was, despite its
8-0 record, a heavy underdog. But the Purple denied the Chicago
backfield a chance to score, and the biggest game in the conference that
year ended in a 0-0 tie and led to NU eventually snagging a piece of
the conference championship. NU would go on to beat Cincinnati
and Illinois, tie Notre Dame and Wisconsin and fall to national stars
Carlisle for a 10 win, one loss, three tie record.
- North Division H.S., 17-5 [Most colleges had "warm up" games with high schools during this era.]
- Fort Sheridan, 28-0 [Many
military bases, not just the Academies, had college-level teams in the
first half of the Twentieth Century. Fort Sheridan was actually a
- Englewood H.S., 35-0
- Naperville College, 22-6
- Alumni, 5-0 [Another common
occurrence in the early part of the century was to play an alumni team
or team of graduates from another school. ]
- Lombard College, 24-0
- Chicago Dental, 18-11 [Here
is the fun one. NU's official records and media guide record this
game as a loss for NU. In fact, NU won this game. Every
contemporary source available gives an account of a win by
Northwestern. Click here for the Chicago Tribune's account of NU's win over Chicago Dental. Scroll down to the black box.]
- Washington (Mo.) 23-0 [This is Wash. U. in St. Louis, and NU played them as part of the 1903-04 World's Fair.]
What does looking at these previous unsullied starts for NU tell us,
then, about 2008? It just might say that, even when playing
lesser competition-- S.I.U. in 2008, Naperville College in 1903-- the
ability to win is not guaranteed. We could have put up many more
examples from the last 110 years or so of a Wildcat team that was very,
very good, but still messed up its early season by dropping a game it
could have won. 1995 comes immediately to mind. The seasons
listed above might have included a few fluky wins in the each victory
stretch, but each of these NU teams were anything but fluky:
On the Rivals Board this past week, former defensive lineman Matt Rice compared the current team to the storied '95 unit:
- 1903: Big Ten co-champ, 10 wins (equaled only by the 1995 team);
- 1904 and 1905: 8-2 records;
- 1916: played for a national title, 2nd in the Big Ten;
- 1930 and 1931: played for a national title, Big Ten co-champs;
- 1936: played for a national title, Big Ten champs;
- 1959: ranked in the top five longer than any NU team, with two All Americans
- 1962: 3rd in the Big Ten, also with two All-Americans
"As I watch this 2008 defense, they are better than the 95 D in so many
ways. They have that same relentlessness, but with more playmaking
ability, especially in the front four. These guys can win their next
seven games. However, I would be surprised if many (or any) victories
are of larger margins than 7 points. If the offense can keep
progressing, this team can be something special.
"This 5-0 2008 team has lot of improvement they need to make. However,
they have all the ingredients they need to get it done. . . The
95 team was good enough to beat Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan,
but was average enough to lose to Miami Ohio. The margin of victory was
extremely tight every week. This 2008 team is no different."
The talent, the tools are there, and this 2008 team has the potential
to reach the accomplishments of any of the previous "gold starters" --and
perhaps even best them.
NU Vs. MSU: The Purple Haze Game [posted Oct. 3]
NU students are organizing a drive to make next Saturday's game against
MSU a "Purple Haze" game. They are urging everyone to wear as
much purple as possible and to attend the game at Ryan Field if humanly
possible. Click here to read NU senior Dan Desmond's "Call to Action"
on the North By Northwestern site. All indicatons are that the
student turnout for this game will be very high, and campus interest is
starting to reach the levels we saw back in 2000. Lake The Posts, in the spirit of the "Purple Haze" movement, has even snatched up 50 seats for the game!
jhodges is reporting that NUMB will be jumping into the Purple Haze theme
by playing the Hendrix classic from the stands. For all of us
alumni who have debated on and off whether NUMB has ever played this
tune during a game, the debate will be settled once and for all.
Let the Sensation on Central Street start, and the Spanking of the
'Cats Crack Coaches' Poll at #22;
First Ranking for NU Since '05 [posted Oct. 5]
NU is a ranked team, for the first time since the Sun Bowl season in
2005. NU was named the 22nd team in the country by the USA Today
Coaches' Poll, with 231 points, ranked just ahead of Auburn and
Wisconsin. . .
Congratulations to the 'Cats, and to Coach Fitzgerald for his first ranked team as a head coach. . .
Sutton to Have Surgery on Wrist;
Bachér Status Uncertain [posted Oct. 26]
The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday night that NU starting running
back Tyrell Sutton will have surgery for an injury he sustained to his
wrist during the loss to Indiana. The Trib quotes Coach
Fitzgerald saying, "For someone who has first-hand experience with a
major injury, I know how challenging this is for Tyrell," Northwestern
coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But our football team will
Sutton left the game in the third quarter after collecting 77 yards.
should learn more on Monday about the (apparent hamstring) injury CJ
Bacher suffered in Bloomington. Bacher limped off the field in
the fourth quarter and was replaced by Mike Kafka.
Best of luck to Tyrell and CJ as they begin their recuperation.
NU BEATS MICHIGAN 21-14;
Look South for Bowl [posted Nov. 15]
the clock at Ann Arbor ticked toward zero, after the visitors had
graciously taken a knee to end the game, after the handshakes and
prayer circles, the Wildcat players raced toward the small visitors'
section at Michigan Stadium, toward the Northwestern fans, parents, and
the band, to sing the fight song. Northwestern's players-- and
fans-- had reason to celebrate: what the players accomplished against
3-8 Michigan ranks right up against anything that the 'Cats of old did
in defeating the mighty Michigan teams of the nineties and of
2000. The 2008 edition of the 'Cats is an abridged edition, but they still delivered a classic story by knocking off the Wolverines 21-14.
Let's stop again to reflect on the pages missing from this storied win.
- Northwestern's star player, starting running back Tyrell Sutton
- Second-string running back Omar Conteh
- Key middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington
- Season starting cornerback Justan Vaughn
CJ Bacher returned to the lineup after recovering from his own injury,
and was relieved early in the game by Mike Kafka, who-- after carrying
the ball three times-- was knocked out of the game with a
concussion. Relying on Bacher and third-string runningback
Stephen Simmons, the 'Cats soldiered forward, helped by typically solid
defensive play by the 'Cats and two key special teams plays.
NU did suffer a blocked punt, the 'Cats also came up big on another
punt that touched Wolverine Martavious Odoms. Eric Peterman had a
terrific heads-up play, corralling the
live ball just before it could slip out of bounds. Earlier in the
game, Michigan attempted a short field goal to take a lead, but Corey
Wootton stretched out for the critical block.
also managed a sack later in the game, and Jordan Mabin picked off the
Wolverines in the end zone to snuff their fourth quarter comeback
it had been Northwestern that needed a comeback attempt to start the
second half. The 'Cats trailed Michigan 14 to 7 after a sloppy
first half. NU made several crucial adjustments to its offense at
the half, and Bacher & Co. came out firing in the third
quarter. Bacher hit Ross lane on third down and 17 for a
touchdown strike to tie the game. After Michigan responded with a
three-and-out, the 'Cats picked up a first down at midfield before
Bacher connected with Eric Peterman, who split the Wolverine defense
and hustled 53 yards for the winning score.
the win, Northwestern is guaranteed to finish the Big Ten season with
at least a .500 record and has accomplished its fourth eight-win (or
better) season of the Expect Victory era. And now it's on to the
next chapter of the story, against the Illini, to find out if this
battered, beleaguered and relentless Wildcat team can achieve what only
four NU teams in the last 126 years have accomplished: nine wins in a
The Sweet Sioux Trophy: 1945 - 2008 [posted Nov. 21]
an unfortunate move, the NCAA has directed the University of
Illinois to remove "all Native American imagery from its athletic teams
or lose the right to host postseason events." According to the
Chicago Tribune and other sources, that "imagery" now includes
the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy, the prize that goes to the winner of
the Northwestern - Illinois football game. And so, on Saturday,
November 22, 2008 at Ryan Field, the grand tradition of Sweet Sioux
will come to an end.
Tribune reports that Illinois will bring the Tomahawk with them to the
game on Saturday, and the trophy will be retired at Northwestern, no
matter who wins the 2008 game.
The Tribune quotes the Illini athletic department as stating, "We were
directed by the board of trustees through the chancellor's office to
retire the trophy. We're gouing to be working with Northwestern
over the coming months to establish a new series trophy." The
Tribune also quotes NU athletic director Jim Philips: "Out of
tremendous respect for the Native American community as well as for
Illinois and Northwestern, this was the right thing to do."
The decision by the NCAA brings to a sad end a tradition that began in 1945. Click this link and scroll to the 1945 entry to read about the origins of the Sweet Sioux trophy.
NU POWERS PAST ILLINOIS TO TAKE FINAL TOMAHAWK
First Nine-Win Season Since '96 [posted Nov. 23]
Photo from NUSports.com
Northwestern and Illinois played at Ryan Field last Saturday, the
recipient of the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy had been determined before
the kickoff. Because of the NCAA directive against Illinois and
its use of Native American imagery, Northwestern would take the trophy,
and Sweet Sioux would rest forever in Evanston.
Happily, the Wildcats chose to earn that honor Saturday evening by
playing a game for the ages against the Illini, who were fighting for
bowl eligibility one year after their Rose Bowl appearance.
Instead, Illinois will be the first Big Ten team in the age of the
conference's multiple bowl tie-ins to go from the Rose Bowl to no bowl,
and Northwestern claimed its ninth win of the year, the fifth time ever
that NU has reached that level, and the first time since the 1996
The 'Cats played a strong game at every position, including the ones
for which NU has had to reach into its second and third strings due to
injury. Again, as at Michigan, the 'Cats had to pull out a game
without its star running back or its backup running back. Stephen
Simmons, it turns out, did just fine, turning in a career performance
and bounding in for a touchdown. CJ Bacher passed for 230 yards
and two touchdowns, including a breathtaking back of the endzone pass
to Ross Lane and a beautiful play by Eric Peterman. Peterman was
a madman throughout the game-- just as he has been all season-- hauling
in eight catches for 111 yards. And the NU offensive line had a
dominating game, grinding down and softening up Illinois's defensive
front during the game and allowing no sacks against Bacher.
The Wildcat defense, however, went sack-happy against Juice Williams,
pulling him down five times. Kevin Mims notched two solo sacks,
and had a piece of a third, while Prince Kwateng, Brad Phillips, Adam
Hahn, and Corey Wootton all had at least a share of the sackattack that
NU unfolded on Juice. Phillips basically served as safety, ad hoc
linebacker, judge, jury, executioner and gravedigger as he multitasked
about the field, meting out justice. It can safely be argued that
no defensive unit in Northwestern's history has ever had as quick and
dramatic a turnaround as the 'Cats have enjoyed this year. Thank
you, Mr. Hankwitz.
And thank you, Brendan Smith. As usual, Smith excelled at safety;
however, he threw in a stellar move on special teams this time for good
measure, returning an Illini punt 51 yards in the fourth quarter by
slipping through tackles and being a general badass. With the
lone exception of a fluky missed extra point, the special teams unit
performed very well, with punter Stefan Demos again showing a knack for
finding just the right spots to put the ball.
Though it wasn't against a national powerhouse or a 10-win team, NU's performance was
against the defending Big Ten Rose Bowl representative and one of the
best quarterbacks in the league. The Wildcats' effort gave NU a
storied ninth win, engraving the names of these players and coaches
into the history and records of the team and ensuring a happy and warm
end to the season. For this reason, HailToPurple.com has added
this game, as an honorable mention, to its list of the Greatest Games in NU History.
As the game expired, and before hundreds of students would rush the
field to celebrate and sing with their fellow students in uniform, NU's
captains doused Coach Fitzgerald with Gatorade. It was just the
second time an NU head coach had received a Gatorade bath: the only
other time had been in the final seconds of the title-sealing 2000
victory over Illinois, which was one of Coach Walker's finest
moments. For Fitz, last Saturday certainly was one of his finest
moments as well: a confirmation as a successful head coach of a solid
program, one that has earned respect and national recognition.
And one that has, for the last time, earned an old metal hatchet framed
with wood, memories and toil.
NU Cracks AP Poll,
Returns to BCS,
Increases Position with Coaches [posted Nov. 23]
the first time this year, and the first time since 2005, the AP Poll
has ranked Northwestern in the top 25. NU appears this week at
#24, with 145 points. The other Big Ten teams ranked by the AP
are Penn State at #6, Ohio State at #10, and Michigan State at
#22. Iowa is unranked.
has returned to the BCS standings, also in the 24th spot. The
team also has returned to the Coaches Poll in the #20 spot, with 310
points, and above #21 Michigan State. Iowa, again, is not ranked.
Click here for the full history of NU's all-time rankings in the AP Poll and BCS standings.
Bowl Situation Becoming Clear [posted Nov. 30]
With nine wins in its pocket and a winning record in the Big Ten, Northwestern is now not only guaranteed a Big
Ten bowl, it is in the running for a January 1 spot.
Technically, NU is still eligible for the Capitol One Bowl; however,
realistically NU has a shot at the Outback, Alamo, or Champs Sports.
State has secured the Rose Bowl.
Depending on how much love Ohio State gets from the BCS, the Big Ten
could have two teams in the BCS. The Oregon win vs. Oregon State
has likely placed USC in the Rose Bowl (assuming USC beats UCLA next week), and it is now very unlikely that the
Pac-10 will get another team into the BCS.
And that leaves a nice big gap in the BCS for... Boise State?
Doubtful, when the BCS can have the (financial) pull of the
Buckeyes. With Ohio State now one step closer to the BCS, let's
look at where this would place the Big Ten teams:
Rose: Penn State
BCS At Large: Ohio State
Cap One: Michigan State
Outback: NU or Iowa
Alamo: NU or Iowa
Should OSU find itself shut out of the BCS, the Buckeyes will surely head to the
Capitol One Bowl, with Michigan State likely taking the Outback.
NU and Iowa will fight it out for the Alamo or the Champs Sports.
Why are NU and Iowa in this deadlock? Well, NU has the better
record (nine wins to Iowa's eight) and NU did win the head-to-head
versus Iowa (at Iowa, no less), but Iowa has the more impressive
November, knocking off Penn State and absolutely destroying
Minnesota. Iowa reps will also point to a more attractive fan
base than NU, but this argument simply does not hold: NU has traveled
well to every bowl it has ever played.
It has been three years since NU's last bowl appearance, and the 'Cats'
nationally-flung fan base is ready to show. So, the arguments for
and against Iowa and NU are about even; we shall see who gets picked
before whom. Still, let's be frank: even though NU does travel
well to bowls, it is hard to overcome the reputation of being a small
school amid a crowd of state schools. It would hardly shock to
see a bowl select Iowa for its RV crowd and overlook (to its detriment)
the traveling power of NU alumni and the compelling media story that is
unfolding with the Wildcats' season.
Who Might Be NU's Bowl Opponent?
might get tabbed for the Outback Bowl, which would pit the 'Cats
against the third or fourth pick from the SEC. A likely contender
for the Outback is South Carolina.
If Northwestern heads back to the Alamo, the 'Cats will face the Big
12's fifth-picked team. Right now, that could mean Oklahoma State
or Missouri. Kansas and Nebraska also have a shot at San Antonio,
meaning we could actually see a rematch of
the 2000 Alamo Bowl.
Should NU get the invite to the Champs Sports Bowl, it will line up
against the fourth-picked ACC team. Currently, Miami appears to
be in that slot, and Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are also in the
running. An Academic Bowl featuring NU and Wake Forest would not
only be an interesting story, it would give Coach Fitz a chance to face
the team that ruined his return to the field in '96 after his
season-ending 1995 injury.
The NU - Missouri Series [posted Dec. 7]
Wildcats and the Tigers began their series back in 1895, but it has not
been a frequent matchup. The teams did meet twice under NU coach
Dick Hanley, they had a home-and-home in the mid-sixties, and NU
traveled twice to Missouri in the mid-eighties. NU and Missouri were tied 4-4 in the series.
- 1895, road game played in St. Louis: MU 22, NU 18.
Led by new coach and former star Alvin Culver, halfback Albert Potter,
and lineman Jesse Van Doozer, NU had a great team in 1895.
However, Missouri snapped a Purple six-game winning streak.
- 1915 at home: NU 25, MU 6.
NU was only a year away from Paddy Driscoll's huge breakout year in
1916, but 1915 was a down year for the team. Fortunately it was
also a down year for Missouri. The only wins for NU came from
Lake Forest and this game against the Tigers, played at Northwestern
Field. The game matched NU head coach Fred Murphy with his former
team: Murphy had coach at Missouri at the turn of the century.
- 1927 at home: MU 34, NU 19. On the heels of NU's '26 Big Ten title, the team was rebuilding under new head coach Dick Hanley.
- 1932 at home: NU 27, MU 0.
The 1927 rebuild was followed by four straight winning seasons for NU,
and two conference titles in '30 and '31. By 1932 NU was again
needing to reload. However, it had enough left to shut out
Missouri in the '32 season opener at Dyche Stadium. The game was
deadlocked and scoreless until the fourth quarter.
- 1963 away: NU 23, MU 12.
Ara Parseghian's final season with NU began with this win at Missouri,
beating a very strong Tiger team. Until the teams meet in the
2008 Alamo Bowl, this game is the highlight of the series.
- 1967 at home: MU 13, NU 6.
Under Alex Agase, NU began this season by knocking off Miami, the #1
team in the nation. The 'Cats couldn't sustain the magic into the
following week, however, and lost a close one to the Tigers, who were
enjoying their 11th straight winning season...
- 1985 away: NU 27, MU 23. ...By '85, however, Missouri had fallen on hard times and was in the middle of a 13-year streak of losing
seasons. Under Dennis Green, NU had improved since its disastrous
losing streak of '79-'81, but was still a long way from being
competitive. The 'Cats were able to snatch this rare road win.
- 1987 away: MU 28, NU 3. The 'Cats were mired in a two-win season when they last met Missouri.
Fighting 'Til the End,
'CATS FALL IN ALAMO BOWL O.T.
[posted Dec. 30]
a night draped with gritty performances, wild plays, a flicker of
Highest Hopes and moments of outright anguish, Northwestern gave the
Missouri Tigers all they could handle before falling in overtime in the
2008 Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats turned in outstanding performances
on both offense and defense, and they were boosted by astonishing
coaching jobs by both Coach Fitzgerald and by Defensive Coordinator
Mike Hankwitz, who had prepared the team beyond the expectations of
However, the thrilling game that the 'Cats delivered was marred late in
the fourth quarter when Wildcat MVP Corey Wootton, shaking off an
uncalled hold, raced toward Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel and came
down awkwardly on his right leg, collapsing to the turf. As of
Tuesday morning, the extent of Wootton's injury was not known.
Wootton had been integral in NU's efforts to stop Daniel throughout the
game, having intercepted Daniel in the first half and also notched the
'Cats' lone sack.
Joining Wootton in the pick club were Brad Phillips and Brian Peters,
who each caught an interception. Daniel, in addition to the three
interceptions, was limited to two touchdowns and 200 yards. His
family, however, were the stars in San Antonio on Monday night: ESPN
decided to focus on his parents and family in the stands for much of
its coverage, rather than focusing on the ho-hum action on the field as
it led to a wild, roiling finish in overtime.
Despite CJ Bacher's family not getting so much as a mention during the
Daniel Family Showcase, the Wildcat quarterback caught fire, throwing
just one interception amidst three touchdowns (to the Wildcat Touchdown
Trinity of Peterman, Ward, and Lane) and 304 yards. Bacher's
three TDs tie NU's bowl record for individual scoring (shared with
Darnell Autry in the 1996 Rose Bowl) and they break NU's bowl record
for TD passes (previously held by Brett Basanez in the 2005 Sun Bowl
and Steve Schnur in the 1997 Citrus Bowl, who had each thrown two
touchdowns). The 46-yard TD strike to Ward also set a Wildcat
bowl record for the longest touchdown pass. Bacher was a leader
on the field in San Antonio, and he nearly led his team to glory.
Northwestern had its hands around that glory for nearly the entire
evening. The team began with a sterling defensive effort,
snuffing Missouri's opening drive with an interception near
midfield. This set up the Wildcat offense and the return of
starting runningback Tyrell Sutton. On the first snap, Sutton
took the ball with his free right hand, cradling his hand with the cast
that still envelops his recovering left wrist, and took off for seven
yards. Sutton would finish the game with 116 yards, more than
double any other rusher in the game.
The Peterman touchdown strike finished off NU's opening drive, and the
'Cats would keep a lead until one minute to go in the first half.
Content with a 10-10 tie, the 'Cats-- on their own 23 yard line and
with all of their time outs-- burned out the clock.
NU would regain the lead on the very first drive in the second half, as
Lane, Peterman and Ward all caught big passes to take the 'Cats across
the field and to a 16-10 lead. Unfortunately, Daniel followed
this with his most impressive drive of the night, slicing through the
'Cats on a 12-play campaign that put the Tigers up by one. Later,
Bacher's one interception and a field goal by Mizzou put the momentum
squarely with the Tigers.
However, Northwestern had come to win, and the team would not let this
glory slip through its fingers without clawing the hell out of it
first. The Wildcat defense stepped up again, intercepting Daniel
and putting the offense in position for the Ross Lane TD that gave NU
its final lead of the game, 23 to 20.
NU's lead held until less than three minutes to go in the game. A
Tiger 37-yard field goal sent the Alamo Bowl into a tie, and a 44-yard
attempt with just three seconds to go would have won it for Mizzou, but
the Tigers' terrifyingly accurate kicker suffered a rare miss to send
the game into overtime, which sent Wildcat fans into hysterics.
For NU, 60 years of bowl futility were possibly going to close with
glory in an overtime game, and NU was 8-1 in overtime games coming into
the Alamo Bowl. The 'Cats' only previous overtime loss: in Texas,
And, indeed, The Wildcats again fell in overtime in the Lone Star
State, as Chase Daniel orchestrated a touchdown drive in the first
overtime set. NU found itself, after a recovered fumble on third
down, looking at a fourth down and goal from the 31-yard line.
The Hail Mary, hanging in space for a flicker of time, carried six
decades of hopes, hopes higher than any sane fan would have dreamt in
the summer of 2008, hopes that woke up during that flicker of time and
then began their slumber anew, as the ball hit the Alamo turf.