The Complete 2004 Lowes Line
Line is an e-mailed description of NU's next
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat,
GallopingGrapes, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus. For
the 2004 season it returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes
Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat
(0-0) at Texas
to the Lowes Line for another year of
Northwestern football. The optimism that accompanies a new season
is upon us. And there are several reasons to feel good:
Eighteen returning starters. A quarterback with two years of
experience under his belt. An offensive line as big as a
house. Certain readers of the Lowes Line making hotel
reservations for New Year’s Eve in Pasadena.
September 2, 8:30 p.m. CDT
Northwestern ended last season reasonably well, capturing four of their
final six games down the stretch to get into the Motor City Bowl in
Detroit, a contest they ended up losing to Bowling Green, 28-24, to
finish with a 6-7 record. Although the ‘Cats have a large part of
the team back, lost to graduation was the star of last year’s team,
tailback Jason Wright, who was a large part of NU’s rushing offense
being ranked an impressive 14th in the country. Filling
Wright’s shoes in the backfield will be senior Noah Herron, who saw a
good deal of time as Wright’s backup last season and should get some
decent running room behind an experienced offensive line that averages
six-four and 310 pounds.
The ground game should be solid, but the passing game still has a few
question marks. The loss of dependable wideouts Kunle Patrick and
Roger Jordan will hurt. Replacing them in the starting
lineup are senior Ashton Aikens and junior Mark Philmore. At the
helm of the offense is junior quarterback Brett Basanez, who had what
many would call a sophomore slump last year. After a freshman
season that had people in Evanston excited about what he could become,
Basanez had a disappointing season in this writer’s opinion, throwing
for 300 yards less than he did as a freshman. More telling were
his 12 INTs against only 4 TDs last year. For the ‘Cats to be
successful this season, Basanez needs to step up and show that he has
confidence throwing the football. NU finished 103rd in the nation
last year in passing offense, and against a solid schedule of teams
that can shut down the run, NU needs to get the air attack in gear.
As the saying goes, the biggest room in the world is the room for
improvement -- words Coach Walker hopefully drilled into the defensive
squad during the ‘Cats’ preseason camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin. NU
surrendered over 400 yards a game last year, and was only mildly better
stopping the run than the pass. The defensive line should
be the heart of this unit, with a lot of experience returning,
specifically in the form of seniors Colby Clark and Luis
Castillo. At linebacker, hard hitting Tim McGarigle returns, and
sophomore Adam Kadela steps in the middle to take the place of Pat
Durr, the emotional leader of the team from a year ago. In the
secondary, the cornerbacks need to be playmakers. Senior Marvin
Ward, who seems to have been around since Francis Peay strolled the
Evanston sidelines, is at left corner, while junior Jeff Backes is on
the right side. Both of these two are fairly reliable, but they
need to overcome their lack of height with athletic ability and keep
the big names of the conference, like Braylon Edwards of Michigan and
Taylor Stubblefield of Purdue, out of the end zone.
Hurting the cause will be that defensive tackle Loren Howard suffered
an injured left ankle over the weekend, and is not expected to play
against TCU. Contrary to what the company line coming out of Camp
Walker may be, if Howard is to miss significant time it will be a big
loss, as the first team All-Big Ten defensive end was the anchor of the
NU line last year.
TCU comes off an impressive 11-2 season from a year ago. They could
actually better that record in a weak Conference USA this year, and
will be looking to get by NU as the first step on a much-desired
journey to the BCS in January, a trip they felt they were wrongfully
denied last year. Junior Tye Gunn gets the nod at quarterback to
start against the ‘Cats, but senior Brandon Hassell is likely to see
time behind center throughout the game. How ‘bout having a
quarterback with a name like Gunn? That just inspires confidence,
not to mention a plethora of opportunities for the TCU play-by-play
man: “Gunn fires a bullet across the middle…” “Gunn drops
back seven steps and draws…” and of course, for the NRA-friendly, 2nd
Amendment loving TCU fans gathering in New York this week, “Gunn
doesn’t kill people, Horned Frogs do.”
The Frogs present a dual-horned attack at tailback, with both junior
Lonta Hobbs and sophomore Robert Merrill handling the load. TCU
sports a very stingy defense, especially against the run, and as
mentioned earlier, NU will need to throw the ball effectively to keep
the Frogs honest and from putting eight in the box to stifle the
Northwestern running game.
As for the remainder of the 2004 campaign, it’s no pushover. The
‘Cats have five preseason Top 25 teams on the slate. Northwestern
hosts Arizona State and Kansas in September before the Big Ten schedule
kicks off. The ‘Cats travel this fall to Minnesota, Wisconsin,
Penn State, and Michigan, while Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, and
Illinois pay a visit to Evanston. NU closes out the season in
Oahu against the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii, following which they hope
to be able to say aloha (that’s hello, by the way, not good-bye) to a
Pick: Not the fairy
tale we’d like: ‘Cats kiss the frog, but get no prince – only
TCU 31, Northwestern 17. Take the Horned Frogs and lay the points.
Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes
0-0) v. Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0, 0-0)
I think it's
safe to say that the Wildcats kept a few
people awake past their bedtimes last week. In an unexpected
display of offensive fireworks, the purple defense eaters of NU and TCU
combined for nearly 1,200 yards. (Disclosure time--I missed the
second quarter and the opening series of the third in order to watch
the Leader of the Free World address the fans at MSG; and PurpleCatDog
missed part of the fourth quarter because he was jumping around the
back yard like Carly Patterson, trying to catch fireflies.) NU's
Brett Basanez (a no-brainer Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week)
racked up 513 yards passing and matched his 2003 season total with 4
touchdowns. Baz clearly benefited from a healthy receiving corps
(Jonathan Fields, 202 yards/3 TDs; Mark Philmore, 131 yards; Ashton
Aikens, 87 yards). Even more importantly, the Wildcat offensive
line looked dominant for most of the second half, and should be a key
to keeping the 'Cats in games this season.
September 11, 11:00 a.m. CDT
minus 1.5 (o/u 60)
The bad news, of course, is that the defense couldn't shut off the
middle of the field. Early in the first quarter, as he was
introducing the starting defense for Northwestern, ESPN2 bobblehead
Craig James noted that NU's secondary was clearly the strength of this
year's defense. Didn't sound right at the time, and it put the
whammy on our DBs for the rest of the game. Oh, by the way, NU's
defensive line is going to really, really, really, really miss Loren
After much debate, the Lowes Line staff is hesitant to lay the blame
for last week's loss at the foot of kicker Brian Huffman (the Rick
Ankiel of college placekickers), who went 1-for-6 on his field goal
attempts. To be fair, Huffman found himself thrust into the
kicking role in mid-season last year, and despite several shaky
performances he showed enough by the end of the year (and in the
offseason) to win the confidence of the coaches. If anything,
you've got to question those coaches for uninspired playcalling in
overtime. Coach Walker still has faith in the kid; he said after
the game: "It wasn't him kicking out there. I don't know who it
was, but it wasn't him." Hey, maybe it was Oregon State kicker
Alexis Serna, who missed three extra points in the Beavers' 1-point
loss to co-national champ LSU on Saturday night, and who apparently
took his long-lost twin's place in Wildcat purple last week in a zany
scheme to reunite Randy Walker and OSU coach Mike Riley. Then
again, maybe not.
Enough about the TCU game. On to the Sun Devils, whom NU haven't
faced since the groovy 1970s, when Billy Beer was king and Arizona
State was the "10" in the newly expanded PAC-10. Last week, ASU
beat the snot out of WAC cellar-dweller UTEP, 41-9. QB Andrew
Walter, who had a decent day himself last week, leading the Sun Devils
to nearly 500 yards of offense, is ASU's primary weapon. Like NU,
Arizona State has a very good, experienced offensive line, as well as a
quality back in sophomore Loren Wade, who like Noah Herron flashed his
potential in a back-up role last season. ASU has a star wide
receiver, Derek Hagan, buts lacks a proven second or third
option. ASU will play a lot of single back, two tight end/H-back
sets, giving Walter plenty of time to pick at NU's secondary.
Arizona State's defense looked good in dominating the Miners last week,
but that's like saying the Maginot Line looked pretty impressive before
being bypassed by panzer divisions tearing through the Ardennes in May
1940. NU's offensive line should be able to push the Sun Devils
up and down the field, and Baz should have plenty of time to choose
among his weapons downfield. Actually, ASU and NU will field very
similar teams this weekend, making for a tough matchup to predict
(hence the wobbly Vegas line, and the BIG over/under). At the end
of the day, Northwestern holds an edge in offensive weapons, and the
Wildcats will enjoy all of the intangible advantages (home opener;
already played a tough team, not a creampuff like UTEP). The key
for NU will be for the secondary, after being exposed last week, to
improve its coverage in the middle of the field and to slow down Andrew
Walter. ASU's only intangible advantage is that they might have,
by far, the best-looking cheer squad in college football. Or so I
Pick: Take the
over, big time. NU wins in a rock 'em, sock 'em shoot-out.
Northwestern 42, ASU 34. Take the 'Cats and lay the points.
(Season to date: 1-0 straight-up, 0-1 ATS)
P.S. At halftime of Saturday's game, NU will pay tribute to
Wildcat gridiron great Otto Graham, who passed away shortly before the
Motor City Bowl last December. NU will also honor former ASU (and
Arizona Cardinals) star Pat Tillman, and all uniformed military,
veterans, firefighters and police.
Preview and Prediction
By Brian Ullery
Kansas Jayhawks (2-0) vs.
Northwestern Wildcats (0-2)
the 'Cats have looked bad on national TV, as an
uninspired team dug themselves such a big hole that they couldn't
recover. The game looked out of reach in the middle of the third
quarter after the TD reception put the Devils up 24-7. The
comeback 'Cats again tried to make a game out of it scoring 2 TD's
drawing to within 3, but as we all know, a big hit on NU's Terrell
Jordan knocked the ball loose at the Sun Devils' 19 yard line.
ASU went on a time consuming 81 yard march that sealed the deal.
The Devils accumulated 431 yards of offense with 292 yards gained in
the air (I have to think NU's safeties are making mental mistakes, as
the middle of the field is just killing the 'Cats).
Date: Saturday, September 18, 1:00
Television: none (mercifully)
On to the Jayhawks. Kansas, a basketball school that hasn't had a
good football program in ages, seems to have started to put something
together. They are 2-0, beating Tulsa 21-3 in their opener and
then pounding the consensus MAC favorite Toledo 63-14. 49 points
were scored in the first half as the Jayhawks capitalized on Rocket
mistakes, good field position and great special teams play. They
are led by sophomore QB Adam Barmann, who last week threw for 310 yards
and 4 scores, while their young RB John Randle averaged over 5
yds/carry for 104 yards and two scores. Their defense is
opportunistic, forcing 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles which ultimately
led to scoring drives. It is hard to know what to make of this
team. Was Toledo overrated in what may be a down year for the MAC
after their success last season? Is the Big 12 down as a whole
with K-State, Nebraska and Mizzou getting beat last week? Hard to
say, but let's talk about the home team.
Basanez lead the 'Cats with a solid day last week throwing for 228
yards without an interception. The 'Cats' ground game became
untracked last week as Noah Herron carried the ball 17 times for over
100 yards and a score. The big question comes down to the defense
and the coaching. Walker called out his players in a post game
interview stating, "I'm pretty astute at seeing into people's eyes and
seeing what lies within them. And that is why I'm concerned and
upset. We have great kids and enough talent and ability to be a great
team, but I'm not sure we are playing with enough passion to want to be
a great team." Whose fault is that? Do you think Lou Holtz
has ever said that about one of his teams or even Barnett for that
matter? I do think talent exists on this team, and maybe that was
an attempt by the head coach at an eye-opener. The 'Cats
have to win this game if they even want to think about a bowl.
Even with a win, they will probably have to win in Hawaii over
Thanksgiving to qualify given a rough Big 10 schedule. You heard
it here first, NO BOWL=WALKER WITH WALKING PAPERS.
I think the plan works for one game...
Pick: NU wins one
for the Gipper forcing the young Jayhawk QB into several key mistakes.
Northwestern 31, Kansas 24. Take the 'Cats and lay the points.
(Season to date: 1-1 straight-up, 0-2 ATS)
Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Northwestern Wildcats (1-2) vs.
No. 19 Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0)
We here at
the Lowes Line had big hopes for the 2004
Wildcats. Following the bell-curve theory, this should be the
good year (8-4) sandwiched in between the two sets of 3-9 and
6-6. Unfortunately the 'Cats will be lucky to go 6-6 again this
year. How I long for the good ole days of '95 and '96 when the
Wildcats could go and simply beat a team...
Date: Saturday, September 25, 8:00
The 'Cats did pick-up their fist Victory last weekend beating Kansas
20-17. The much maligned and injury riddled 'Cats defense stepped
up and limited the Jayhawks to 17 points after they had averaged 42 in
their first 2 games. Basanez continues to look much better than
he did last year and could be very good in the future. NU's
kicking, in the words of Ty Webb, is "not good."
This week the Wildcats must slow down the Gophers rushing tandem of
Marion Barber III and Laurence Maloney who BOTH average over 125 yards
per game. This will be very difficult for the 'Cats who are
banged-up on the D-line. The lack of speed in the NU Defense will
also be exposed on the carpet in the dome.
Look for the Gophers to pop out of their hole and get out to an early
lead. The 'Cats will claw their way back into the game around
halftime, but the Gophers will be too much for the 'Cats.
Pick: Gophers win
going away. Minn. 38, NU 21
Take the Gophers and the points.
(Season to date: 2 -1 straight-up, 1-1-1 ATS)
State Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Northwestern Wildcats (1-3,
0-1) vs. Sixth-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0)
If the Lowes
Line abided by the old adage, “If you can't say
something nice, don't say anything at all,” this column would be about
3 sentences long. NU's defense is has more holes in it than
Bushwood after Carl Spackler detonated all of that C-4. And the
Gophers thrived in every opening.
Date: Saturday, October 2, 2004, 8:00
The 'Cats surrendered 454 yards of offense to those miserable rodents,
251 on the ground. Minnesota boasted the Big Ten's top 2 running
backs going into the game, and neither disappointed. Maroney ran
for 145 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run, on 24 carries, while
Barber rolled up 86 yards on 22 carries. Barber also threw a
halfback pass for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. Granted,
that smacks of poor sportsmanship on Minnesota's and Glen Mason's part.
The 'Cats' defense fared a little better defending the pass, though
Bryan Caputo did toss two TD passes. All-in-all, not a very
impressive performance on the defensive side of the ball. And it
promises to get worse this week, as the defensive line might possibly
be without David Thompson and David Ngene, who are listed as day-to-day
with a hamstring and knee injury, respectively.
Overall, the Cats defense is giving up an average of 34.5 points per
game and 440 yards per game.
NU’s offense was lackluster as well against the Minnesota
defense. Brett Basanez completed 50% of his passes for only 121
yards, no touchdowns, and one pick. Backup Chris Malleo was 1 for
2 for six yards upon replacing Basanez after the latter left the game
with an injury in the second half (Basanez suffered a sprained
shoulder, but is probable for Saturday) Noah Herron ran strong,
gaining 78 yards on only 11 carries, and made 4 catches for 44
yards. The real question is why a guy averaging 7 yards a carry
(and 11 a catch) touched the ball a sum total of 15 times.
This season, however, Basanez has been playing better than the year
previous, with 5 TD passes against only 2 interceptions. A
quarterback that makes few mistakes is always a key in the NU
offense. It seems that better play calling, to get the ball into
the right hands, is in order.
Ohio State comes into this game a bit of a question mark. In its
last contest, September 18 against North Carolina State, OSU gained
only 137 yards in total offense, and had to rely on kicker Mike Nugent,
who outscored NC State himself, kicking a school-record-tying 5 field
goals. Three of those were from 46 yards or farther. The
OSU offense is led by first-year quarterback Justin Zwick, who has a
54% completion percentage and 4 TD passes. He has shown his
inexperience, though, in matching that with 4 interceptions. On
the ground, the Buckeyes feature Lydell Ross, who leads the team with
282 yards and 2 touchdowns. Perhaps scarier for the Cats
secondary is wideout Santonio Holmes, who is averaging over 20 yards
per catch and has hit paydirt 3 times in three games.
The Buckeye defense has been stingy this year. It is ranked 13th
nationally and allows only 13.7 points per game. It is led by
linebacker A.J. Hawk, a first-team All Big Ten performer and the
defensive MVP of last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Against NC State, the
OSU defense proved somewhat vulnerable to the run, surrendering 157
yards. The Buckeyes did benefit from 5 turnovers.
The Buckeyes are ranked #6 in the country, but their results haven’t
been impressive. There is something to be said for winning ugly,
but OSU needed a last-second, 55-yard field goal to beat Marshall, and
5 field goals against NC State to down the Wolfpack. Perhaps this
bodes well for the 'Cats, as they may be able to hang around until late
and steal one.
This Lowes Line author doesn’t think so. This will be a “get
healthy” game for the Buckeyes, who need it before starting the meat of
their Big Ten schedule. The NU defensive line continues to suffer
from the injury bug, most significantly standout Loren Howard, whose
season-long absence has been fatal to the NU defense. Look for
OSU to pound the ball with Ross, who will have a 100-yard game.
And if NU creeps up to stop the run, Tressel will go over the top to
Holmes to stretch the defense.
Defensively, look for OSU to bottle up the NU offense. OSU has
had an extra week to prepare for NU’s spread offense, and that will be
time well spent. The only hope that NU has is better play
calling. But, this week, it won't be enough.
Poisonous Nuts 33, Mildcats 17. Take the Buckeyes and lay the
Season to date: Straight up, 3-1, against the spread 2-2
Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Indiana Hoosiers (0-2, 2-3) at
Northwestern Wildcats (1-1, 2-3)
Like some sort
of Kennedy-esque conspiracy, NU's number 33
(Noah Herron) scored his third touchdown on his 33 rushing attempt to
put the 'Cats up by 33 to 27 on the 33rd anniversary of the 'Cat's last
defeat of OSU (Thanks to Matt Baron for pointing all of this out). This
incredible event was followed closely in my household by my college
roommate (and fellow Lowes Line author) calling me from a vacation in
Florida with a voice hoarse from screaming (and I'm quite sure he was
watching the game alone) and waking my 4 week old daughter...Hey, I was
excited too, but I was hoping for 33 minutes of quiet at the time. What
makes that win so incredible is that in addition to actually winning
the game, the 'Cats NEVER trailed the Buckeyes. The defense forced five
punts, one fumble and an interception in possibly their best effort
over the past two seasons.
Date: Saturday, October 9, 2004,
11:00 a.m. CDT
Television: ESPN Plus
(-10.5) (as of Monday
However, I wouldn't buy the Motor City Bowl tickets just yet. While the
defense showed up big time, they still allowed 27 points to a suspect
OSU offense that has been carried by its defense for the past several
seasons. Reading the news reports in the local papers after the game
revealed several quotes from NU coaches expounding the virtues of their
game plan. Given that most of the NU coaches are Ohio natives, this
author strongly suspects a "Chicago Bears strategy" (i.e. Reporter:
"What are your goals for this year?" - Lovie Smith: "Beat the
Packers"), which involves an exorbitant amount of off season time spent
planning for one key game. In the end, I'm not sure I can blame them,
but it doesn't bode well for the rest of the season. The 'Cats will
continue to rely on outscoring opponents rather than stopping them,
which leads to some exciting games, but likely losses to any team with
a strong running game or strong passing game (God forbid they have
Next up are the Indiana Hoosiers, a team that still hasn't figured out
why the ball isn't round or where the basket is located on the field.
They've lost three in a row after beating Central Michigan (Go Chips!)
and the vastly overrated Oregon. While they've scored approximately the
same number of points per game as the 'Cats, their rushing yards per
carry are 3.1 ypc (versus 4.6 for NU) and they only have 753 total
passing yards (versus 1338 for NU). On defense, IU has given up 30
points per game, which includes limiting CMU to only 10 points in the
first game of the season. Even more telling is the 6.2 ypc rushing
they've allowed. NU, on the other hand, has given up 33 points per
game, but against better non-conference teams. To summarize,
statistically IU appears to compare well with NU until the quality of
their opponents is compared to the opponents NU has faced.
All this suggests a probable win for the 'Cats. In their last five
meetings, these two teams have combined for over 70 points per game.
Look for another high scoring game as the NU defense capitalizes on an
inept IU offense to keep the Hoosiers right around their season average
(not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it will be enough). Basanez
should exploit IU's focus on Herron to continue the development of the
NU passing game. It could turn into a blowout if IU gets too far behind
early and is forced to throw the ball (and thus more turnovers), but
look for another nail biter going into the fourth quarter.
Pick: NU 34 - IU 27
Take the IU and the points (NU wins but not by 10.5) -- On a side note,
I agree whole-heartedly with another Lowes Line author...the current
line on this game is designed to fleece NU grads after last week's
stunning victory. Don't be a sucker.
Lowes Line Record: Season 3-2 ATS: 2-3 (Hey, who would have picked the
Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Northwestern Wildcats (3-3,
2-1) at #7 Wisconsin Badgers (7-0, 4-0)
my apologies for the tardiness of this prediction…
unfortunately being a Lower Line staff member doesn't pay quite well
enough to prevent my day job from getting in the way.)
Date: Saturday, October 23, 2004,
11:00 a.m. CDT
Northwestern comes into this match-up with Big Ten power Wisconsin
fresh off a bye week. The NU coaches hopefully spent those two
weeks preparing for a rushing attack and an even stronger
defense. While the Badgers have not impressed much of this season
on the offensive side of the ball, their defense has stood tall,
limiting opponents to 8 points per game and only 222 total yards per
game. It took 6 games before anyone scored into the double digits
against the stout Badger defense (Ohio State – 13).
What's more, Wisconsin is coming off victories over other Big Ten
powers in (the) Ohio State University and Purdue, then ranked #5.
In fact, the UW defense was strong enough that it may very well have
derailed the Heisman hopes of Boilermaker signal caller Kyle
Orton. The Badger defense limited the vaunted Boiler offense to
only 235 yards passing and picked off Orton once. The Badgers
also returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown late in the game after
kicking a field goal to pull within 17-14. The Badger victory was
not secure until Purdue kicker Ben Jones inexplicably missed a 35-year
field goal as time expired. It wasn't even close to the uprights.
The Wisconsin offense under Barry Alvarez has styled itself a kind of
Tailback U, turning out Heisman Trophy winner and all-time NCAA leading
rusher Ron Dayne and NFL player Michael Bennett. This title has
come into jeopardy as of late, as the starting tailbacks at the UW have
failed to thrill this season. The Badgers even used fullback
Kenny Bernstein as the tailback in pounding the Lions of Penn State, an
impressive performance for which this Lowes Line author was in
attendance. However, ‘Cats faithful, the UW running attack is
again scary. Star tailback Anthony Davis is back from a sprained
ankle and is tearing up defense, rolling up 130 yards per game in his
appearances. Although he played sparingly against Purdue, the
Cats defense can expect to see a steady diet of Anthony Davis.
Wisconsin is led by quarterback John Stocco, who is trying to play
Schnur-esque football. Lead the team, make few mistakes, and let
the stellar running back corps do the job. Stocco does have
excellent receivers, with Jonathon Orr making key third down conversion
In its last outing, fresh from beating the Buckeyes in overtime, the
‘Cats needed OT to overcome a much less impressive Indiana Hoosier
squad. The Cat secondary was rather porous, surrendering 329
yards passing and 3 touchdowns through the air, including a 25-yard
completion during the first overtime. The Hoosiers mounted little
rushing attack, with quarterback LoVecchio leading with 50 yards
gained. One note of interest regarding the defense, it is rumored
that preseason standout defensive lineman Loren Howard will play
against the Badgers. That will give the ‘Cats d-line much needed
support against the run.
The 'Cats offense played well, especially Noah Herron, who gained 197
yards on 29 carries, and scored 3 touchdowns. Basanez was 28 of
48 for 254 yards, completing 1 touchdown (in overtime) and having 1
picked off. However, the 'Cats did need a late field goal by
Huffman to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
So what does all this mean for this Saturday? I really haven't
any idea, as my pick against the Buckeyes (which was happily way off
the mark) proves. One Lowes Line staffer asks whether I have the
cajones to actually pick an outright upset. Well, 'Cats faithful,
I do not. Perhaps I'm being chicken. Perhaps I view the
'Cats as living on borrowed time, demonstrated against the Hoosiers, a
vastly inferior team. And perhaps I realize just how good the UW
defense is, having seen the game against Penn State in which the second
string quarterback was knocked two weeks ahead during one play early in
the game. I also know that it happens to be Homecoming in
Madison, and the newly redesigned (and MUCH louder) Camp Randall will
be rocking and rolling. The brats will be grilling and the beer
flowing well before 9 a.m. tomorrow. The 'Cats' defense has
been a bend but (hopefully) don't break unit, and a unit that has
problems tackling, especially the first player to the play.
Against Anthony Davis, that's suicide. The Badgers offense will
run over the 'Cats' defense, and the Badger defense will keep the 'Cats
out of the end zone for most of the game.
(As with the Buckeyes, I hope I'm drastically wrong. But I don't
Pick: Wisconsin 24,
'Cats 10. Take the Badgers and lay the points.
Season to Date: Straight up 4-2, Against the Spread 3-3
Preview and Prediction
#17 Purdue Boilermakers (5-2,
2-2) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-4, 2-2)
played terribly in the first half last week against a stout
Wisconsin team with many missed opportunities and dropped passes, but
made a game of it in the second half scoring 12 unanswered points (why
go for the two point conversion so early Randy). Anyway, Noah
Herron again put up a strong game rushing for 109 yards on 19 carries
becoming the first back to break the 100 yard mark this season against
the Wisconsin D. This writer is not sure why Walker refuses to
feed Herron the ball 30 times a game, as he is just ripping off yards
every time he touches the ball and seems to be strong till the end, but
Date: Saturday, October 30, 2004
Kickoff 11:00 a.m. CDT
This week, the nationally ranked Boilermakers (what's a boilermaker?)
come to Evanston for Homecoming. The Boilermakers have come off
two crushing defeats, the first to the aforementioned Badgers on a late
Kyle Orton fumble returned for a touchdown, then a crushing defeat to
the Meat-Chicken Wolverines last weekend, 16-14. Purdue with Joe
Tiller at the helm is known for the wide open offense and senior Kyle
Orton looked like a potential Heisman Trophy candidate at the beginning
of the season. They are ranked 12th nationally in total offense
and 22nd in scoring, but the surprise this year is that a defense that
lost 8 starters is 10th nationally in rushing defense (2.9 yards per
carry) and 14th in scoring defense. Orton, obviously, is the key
for the offense, leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency and has
thrown for 2090 yards in seven games and 20 touchdowns mainly to his
favorite target Taylor Stubblefield who has 11. The backfield is
anemic and is led by Jerod Void who averages 62 yards per game.
The defense has allowed 95.4 yards per game and is holding opponents to
2.9 yards per carry. This will be the key to the
game. Let me repeat this, NU rushing vs. Purdue's rushing
defense will be the key to the game.
The NU offensive line is mammoth and is considered one of the strongest
in the Big Ten. For NU to win this game, they must dominate, and
NU MUST stick to pounding the
ball and sustaining long time consuming drives keeping Orton and Co.
off the field. The defense for the 'Cats cannot give up too
many big plays and the secondary must step up with 1 if not 2 key
Maybe this is the game Walker has been saving Herron for all
year. Maybe the full return of Howard to the D-Line will put
enough pressure on Orton to make a few mistakes. Maybe the 'Cats
can pull out the upset. Hmmm, one too many big plays early force
the 'Cats to play catch up in this humble writer's opinion.
31, Northwestern 28. Take the 'Cats and the points but the
Boilermakers spoil Homecoming with a victory.
Season to Date: Straight up 5-2, Against the Spread 3-4
State Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat
Northwestern Wildcats (4-4,
3-2) at Penn State Nittany Lions (2-6, 0-5)
writer is not the only one that thinks Northwestern is
ripe for a letdown after a big home win over Purdue last week. So
does the anti-social misfit in the back room at Harrah’s that sets the
point spread. NU comes in as a four-point underdog against a Penn
State team that hasn't done much right this year, unless you count the
big Ws against the likes of Akron and Central Florida.
Date: Saturday, November 6,
2004. Kickoff - 11:00 am CST
Television: ESPN Plus
Northwestern played a great game against the Boilermakers last week,
edging Joe Tiller for the first time, 13-10. The outcome was in
doubt until the final play, as Purdue wideout Taylor Stubblefield
dropped the Hail Mary pass at the final gun that would have been the
game winner. Most impressive was the Wildcat defense, which
held Purdue to 210 yards passing, more than 100 less than the Boiler
average, and only 122 yards rushing. With the win, NU moved to
3-2 in conference play, and is tied with Michigan State for fourth
place in the Big Ten standings.
The ‘Cats travel to Happy Valley this week in State College, PA, a
place where they have never won in four tries. Not only has NU
not won at Penn State, they have never really been in the game.
Fellow Lowes Line contributor Galloping Grapes will join me Saturday
morning for an early rise and trip out to the geographic center of
Pennsylvania for the game. No RV this year, as was the choice in
years past, but we’ll be cheering on the ‘Cats nonetheless inside
This game is a study in contrasts on both sides of the ball. Consider
the Penn State offense, about as useless as a chocolate teapot so far
this year. They've averaged a mere 7.4 points per game so far
this year, and are ranked 111th out of 117 teams in Division 1-A in
total offense. The Nittany Lion defense, which is ranked 14th
overall, only surrenders 15.4 points a game, and will give Brett
Basanez a good test.
Signs point to this game being low scoring, since Northwestern may have
trouble throwing the ball following a right knee sprain to leading
receiver Mark Philmore, who'll be sidelined for up to six weeks.
Should Philmore return this season, it wouldn't be until a possible
bowl game. The running game needs to get going early, and if Noah
Herron can keep the ‘Cats moving behind that big Wildcat offensive
line, NU could see their first win ever at Penn State.
Defensively for Northwestern, a repeat of last week's performance would
likely do the trick. Lion QB Zack Mills is questionable for the
game following a concussion, and didn't play last week against Ohio
State. Should Mills be unable to go, Michael Robinson will lead
the Penn State offense. Look for a big special teams play to
decide the outcome.
Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno was stopped by an exit poller on
his way out of the voting booth Tuesday, and proudly noted that he had
voted for the eventual White House winner in each presidential election
since that of Rutherford B. Hayes. Joe, pack it in.
Please. Like the wife of Judge Smails, you must have been
something before electricity, but it's time to move on and do the
things guys your age do, namely have your head chopped off and put in a
cryogenic facility like the Splendid Splinter.
The 77-year-old Paterno doesn't seem to know enough to get out, and his
four-year contract extension after a 3-9 season in 2003 is likely
hurting recruiting efforts in State College rather than helping.
Although he still looks spry on the sidelines with the trademark
high-water trousers, and running down referees after bad calls,
something is definitely different. Four losing seasons in the
past five, after one in the first thirty-four at Penn State? And
what kind of football coach of a major program makes a comment like,
“We were ahead 2-0 Saturday and couldn't take advantage of it,”
referring to the Lions’ 6-4 loss to Iowa?
Let’s hope that JoePa is wrong this weekend, that the Nittany Lions,
whom Paterno says “are not far off,” continue to show that they
are. Penn State could come out fired up, as this game likely
presents as good a chance as any for the Lions to get a conference win
for the home crowd. The question still on many NU fans’ minds is
whether NU is really a good team or not. Well, we find out this
week. Good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat, and
although a four-point underdog, Northwestern should beat this Penn
State team. They have more talent, and after a few firsts this
season, such as the first win over the Buckeyes since 1971, and
Walker's first win over Purdue, why not go for the trifecta and get the
first NU win at Penn State?
Northwestern 16, Penn State 10. Take the Cats and the points, as
NU breaks the hex in State College.
Season to Date: Straight up 5-3, Against the Spread 4-4
Preview and Prediction
Northwestern Wildcats (5-4,
4-2) at (#9) Michigan Wolverines (8-1, 6-0)
to last week's Lowes Line author (Jersey Cat)
for an outstanding prediction... it simply can't get much better than
Date: Saturday, November 13, 2004.
Kickoff - 11:00 am CST
Television: ABC (Big Time in the Big House)
(-14) - Ouch!
With last week's win, NU has a chance to become bowl eligible with two
more wins in their last three weeks. Very few people think this week
will be one of those wins. However, don't despair, Illinois is
downright horrible, and the Hawaii game is definitely winnable.
Regarding this week's game, NU will have its hands full on both sides
of the ball going up against a team that had last week off. Michigan
has had trouble in the recent past against NU when favored, but this
year is likely to be different. Coach Carr has been burned by NU before
and undoubtedly paid close attention to the second half of the
Wisconsin game, when NU made it a game and might have upset the Badgers
if a few things had broke their way. Suffice it to say that with an
extra week to prepare, Michigan will not be overlooking the weaker, but
still very dangerous, 'Cats.
Michigan has been steadily improving over the season in terms of
consistency as they develop their freshman tandem of QB Chad Henne and
RB Mike Hart. Much has been made of their "balanced attack". In
reality, they are no more balanced than NU, except instead of depending
on the run and using the pass to make the defense honest, Michigan
depends on the pass and uses the run to control the clock when they're
ahead or to keep the defense honest. This is reflected by Michigan's 17
passing TDs versus only 11 rushing TDs and is primarily due to
Michigan's most talented player, WR Braylon Edwards. NU's defense has
continued to show impressive improvement but it has no answer for
Edwards, who, at least at the college level, looks like a Terrell Owens
clone, with the size and speed to beat anyone for the ball.
Michigan's defense can be described as solid, but not spectacular like
some of the defenses from recent years. Michigan State proved that they
can be scored on two weeks ago, and hopefully Coach Walker has been
able to spot their weaknesses during his daily naps from 11 - 2 (I
swear, he has to take a nap because of his heart condition, a good
policy for anyone in my opinion). NU may find the rush not working as
well as they would like against Michigan, so Basanez will have to
continue to deliver the ball through the air in order to make this a
While in an ideal world, Michigan would probably like to control the
clock with the run and stop NU on defense, I think Carr will have
learned his lesson from previous NU games that NU will not quit.
Keeping the score close by trying to control the clock in the first
half is asking for trouble against the 'Cats, who have been tested
under fire in the fourth quarter and have proved up to the challenge. I
predict Michigan will try to follow the Wisconsin game plan by getting
ahead in the first half by utilizing the pass (with some running to
keep NU off balance) and then, once they're ahead, running in the
second half to burn the clock. NU may not cooperate with that plan, but
the key will be turnovers. NU cannot have more than 1 or 2
fumbles/interceptions and still stay in the game. They'll have to make
the most of their opportunities (oh, and get somebody from the women's
soccer team to kick field goals). In the end it will be closer than the
Pick: Michigan 31,
NU 21. Take the 'Cats and the points, as NU covers the spread with late
Season to Date: Straight up 6-3, Against the Spread 5-4
Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon
Northwestern Wildcats (5-5,
4-3) vs. University of Illinois Fighting Illini (3-7, 1-6)
come into their last home game needing a victory
on Senior Day and a win at Hawaii next week to secure a bowl bid.
Lose either game and Basanez might be calling and asking if you have
any extra space at the Christmas dinner table.
Date: Saturday, November 20, 2004.
Kickoff: 11:00 a.m. CST
Television: ESPN Plus, for those of you not
going to see Sesame Street
The 'Cats passed the "are they a good team?" test 2 weeks ago with a
victory over a sub par Penn State. For a little over 2 quarters
of play in the Michigan game this past weekend they had us thinking
that they might actually be a GREAT team. They trailed UM 14-13
after each team had its initial drive of the second half. Then
Michigan woke and scored a touchdown the next five times they touched
the ball. It quickly started to look like the days of old.
But as a fellow Lowes Liner pointed out, it did mimic the the early
90's as NU's offense went 3 and out while their defense seemed to spend
the entire second half on the field. They became worn down and UM
rolled. UM also exploited another NU eternal weakness, that they
can not cover three good wide receivers. This doesn't bode well
for next week's game versus Hawaii who likes to throw the ball more
than Frank likes to watch norp (for the sensors).
The highlight of last weekend's game was Noah Herron busting through
the line, breaking off a 68 yard touchdown run. If he stays on
average he could end up third on NU's single season rushing list,
behind Anderson and Autry.
This week the 'Cats need to ride the horse that is Noah Herron.
Spread the offense out wide, and give it to him early and often.
I can accept a three and out if Herron gets at least two of those downs
to carry the rock. I can not accept the three and outs where it
is three incompletions. Pound the Illini with the running game
and then when you throw it, throw it deep. This strategy will
open everything else up. Also this week Randy Walker needs to
re-think his fake kick attempts. Last week they had a fourth and
long, UM had their punt safe defense still on the field, then got a
delay of game, then attempted a fake punt. It was smoothed.
If you are going to go on fourth down give it to Herron.
The hope is that NU is not looking past Illinois to Hawaii, but this
being the Seniors' last home game I think they will show up mentally
and physically. The -12 line is a sucker bet. NU's largest
margin of victory this year has been 7 points. NU plays up
(Purdue, OSU) or down (Indiana, PSU) to its competition. This
week will be no different. Expect a lot of scoring from both
squads but NU is the stronger team and will win it without covering the
On their way to the Music City Bowl?!?!?!
Pick: NU 34,
Record: Straight up 7-3, Against the spread 5-5
PS: On a recruiting note, the all-time leading rusher in the
state of Ohio has just committed to Northwestern. Tyrell Sutton
of Akron Hoban has rushed for over 8,425 yards. He has rushed for
more than 100 yards in 34 consecutive games.
Preview and Prediction
Bonus Hoops Preview!
Northwestern Wildcats (6-5;
5-3) at Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (5-5; 4-4)
Date: Saturday, November 27, 2004.
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. Hawaii Time; 10:00 p.m. CST
Television: A surprise late addition to
ESPN Gameplan. Hooray!
I figured that since this is a late game, we could all stand
for a late
Lowes Line. Truth be told, I'm still suffering from tryptophan
poisoning, thanks to my in-laws and their cursedly delicious
turkey. (By the way, for the poindexters who will undoubtedly be
e-mailing me, I know that the L-tryptophan amino acid in Thanksgiving
turkey doesn't really make you sleepy, and that it was the overall
impact of the sugar/insulin effect and the massive quantities of mashed
potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green bean almondine,
bread, pies, and whipped cream that pulled the blood away from my brain
to help my Galactus-like digestive tract do its work.) (I'm also
well aware that at least a few of my fellow NU alums may also be
wondering whether my Thanksgiving alcohol intake might also have
contributed to my 42-hour nap. Let's just say that in addition to
corn dip and jalapenos stuffed with peanut butter, my other
contribution to the family festivities was a Margarita Pie.
That's right, a wonderful, delicious pie that is made with a couple
shots each of tequila and triple sec; it's key lime with a kick…and a
punch and another kick for good measure. I ate three pieces.)
Anyway, Northwestern plays at Hawaii tonight, needing a win to stay
bowl-eligible. Let's cut to the chase…NU wins, probably covers
the 6.5 point spread, and goes to Nashville to play in the Music City
Bowl on my 35th birthday. Now can I go back to bed?
Northwestern has had one heck of an exciting season. After
blowing the TCU game in overtime (I’m tired of being nice; I have no
confidence in NU’s kicking game. At all. Every punt is a
shank waiting to happen. Every extra point is an adventure.
Every field goal is a Lake Placid class miracle.), NU has managed to
scrape together three OT wins. Is anybody else out there ready
for a nice, boring smackdown win? Last week the ‘Cats were one
missed chip shot field goal away from coughing up a bowl, only this
time it was the Illinois kicker who, like a sorority girl who just saw
her feature film debut in “Girls Gone Wild – Snoop's Spring Break”, had
to slink back to the dorm in a burning shame.
NU is taking nine All-Big Ten players to the islands this week.
LB Tim McGarigle is the only first-teamer, and he deserves it.
McGarigle leads the country in solo tackles, and is continuing the fine
tradition of top linebackers at NU. Noah Herron is one of three
consensus All-Big Ten second teamers (with OT Zach Strief and DT Luis
Castillo). This being the Big Ten, it's not hard to believe that
Herron couldn't crack the first team, although he posted a pretty good
argument for it with his effort this season. Herron leads the
conference in rushing TDs, and is second in scoring, all-purpose
yardage, and rushing yards per game (at 117.4 ypg, Herron is 12th
nationally). Herron also will make his mark in NU’s record book
this weekend: he is tied with Damien Anderson and Jason Wright
for single season games scoring a TD (10), and he should hold that
record after tonight. One other NU record-holder that should be
mentioned: Randy Walker is the first NU football coach to beat
all ten Big Ten opponents during his coaching tenure. Way to go
coach. Now beat Hawaii.
I've only seen Hawaii play one time this season, the night they got
bitch-slapped on the blue turf at Boise State. It's hard to say
which was harder to watch: the Hawaii football team being treated
like Susan Lucci at the Daytime Emmys, or the poisonous blue hue of the
Boise State field. Hawaii is a classic WAC team, perhaps the only
true WAC team remaining. The Rainbows can score at will against
weaker teams, but will give up points in large chunks against better
teams (losing 69-3 at Boise State and 70-14 at Fresno State).
Historically, Hawaii plays with a noticeable homefield advantage (they
are 5-1 at home, and 0-4 on the road; interestingly, they'll end up
playing only four road games this season, and eight home games.
Those mainland Athletic Directors like the sun and sand as much as
anybody). Hawaii currently boasts the all-time NCAA passing king
in Timmy Chang. Chang averages over 300 ypg passing, and has 33
300-yard passing games in his career (to go with his 15,846 career
passing yards and 105 TDs). Chang can throw the pigskin, no doubt
about it. Unfortunately, his name isn't Wang, meaning I have no
excuse for a stream of Caddyshack quotes. Chang’s top receivers
are Chad Owens, Jason Rivers and Britton Komine—get used to their
names, because you could be hearing them a lot tonight. I’m not
sure if Hawaii even has a running back. I'm serious. I just
don't know. If they do have one, he's clearly the Zeppo to the
other Marx Brothers playing pitch and catch. Ditto for the
Rainbows’ defense. Aside from Slim Shady’s second cousin,
cornerback Abraham Elimimian (who is All-WAC, but playing hurt), there
isn't much to talk about. Hawaii's best defense, by far, is the
4,248 mile plane ride, the white sands, the warm breezes, and the wild,
untamed bikinis that earn Hawaii its official nickname: PleasureLand.
Can NU keep its focus? Hawaii needs this game for
bowl-eligibility, too, and the Rainbow Warriors will be anxious to
knock off an overconfident squad of sausage-eating Midwesterners.
Given NU’s problems defending the pass this season, not to mention
their uncanny ability to play down to the competition (see, e.g.,
Kansas, Indiana, Penn State, Illinois), I’ll admit to being scared of
this game. But NU is simply a superior team. The Wildcats
should have no problems scoring on Hawaii (or in Hawaii, if they play
their cards right...I’ve seen the movie “Blue Crush” 5 times, so I know
how it REALLY is out there in paradise). Hawaii is too
one-dimensional to hang with a balanced team from a power conference,
and NU should win going away.
Déjà vu from 1998: NU 47, Hawaii 21. See y’all in
Nashville against ‘Bama.
(Season to date: 8-3 straight up, 6-5 against the spread) [editor's
note: 6-5 ATS is the best record I've seen for picking NU, including
all the mainstream media picks. Congrats to the Lowes Line staff!]
BONUS NU HOOPS PREVIEW
Northwestern’s men's basketball team has already begun the season,
appearing in the Top of the World Classic in Alaska. NU finished
a disappointing 5th, losing to the Aggies of New Mexico State in the
second round, then losing in the semifinals to last year's highest
profile NCAA-snub recipient, Utah State (more Aggies). The games
were not televised, so all we have to go on are the write-ups, but it
sounds like NU suffered from slow starts and extended cold streaks in
all three games. Still, NU’s 1-2 start to the season should not
be a cause for concern; the ‘Cats have plenty of winnable
non-conference games, most of them at the cozy confines of Welsh-Ryan
For the second year in a row, NU must cope with the loss of a great
player. Guard Jitim Young’s graduation left a hole much bigger
than his 6’2 frame. Fortunately, coach Bill Carmody has built a
program at NU that has proven capable of replenishing the ranks (a
basic success story no other NU hoops coach has ever truly
managed). Junior forward Vedran Vukusic will take up the
leadership mantle, and together with junior point guard TJ Parker, NU
will play much the same type of game it has over the last two
years. NU will play some of the stingiest defense in the Big Ten,
and will not hesitate to shoot the ball from outside. NU lives
(and dies) by the three-pointer, a function of NU’s chronic weakness
In addition to Vukusic and Parker, NU will rely on guard Mohamed Hachad
to continue his offensive development. Forward Davor Duvancic and
center Ivan Tolic will need to hold down the middle until Duke transfer
Mike Thompson is eligible after December 14. Thompson is one of
several high-profile transfers that has NU hoops fans excited.
Carmody also reeled in G/F Tim Doyle from St. John’s, who is already
playing for the ‘Cats, as well as Bernard Cote from Kentucky (not
eligible this season, but will look great in a Northwestern uniform
next season). Carmody's excellent recruiting class also included
three good-looking freshmen: G/F Sterling Williams (NU's first Chicago
Public League recruit in 25 years); G/F Gary Lee (a product of
basketball-rich Flint, Mich., and another tall shooter); and G Brandon
Lee, who spent the last two seasons playing high school ball with
current LA Clippers rookie (and throw-back afro champion) Shaun
Livingston. Every year under Carmody, it seems that the future
Under Carmody, NU has gradually upgraded its schedule. The
tougher non-conference slate has made for disappointing season records
(14-15 last season), but NU's RPI (the grail of NCAA Tournament
selection) has risen steadily over the last two seasons. This
season, NU again has a nice mix of good mid-major and small conference
teams (most at Welsh-Ryan) and winnable games against power conference
teams such as Colorado, Virginia, Seton Hall and Arizona State.
NU's biggest week comes in mid-December, when the Wildcats host DePaul
and Seton Hall, before heading west for a rematch with Arizona State's
Ike Diogu. NU will have a tough time defending their home court
against a very good DePaul squad, but both Seton Hall and Arizona State
are winnable games. NU's post-season prospects will likely be
foreshadowed by their showing in those three games.
Once the Big Ten season starts, expect to see some modest
improvement. NU is not a team anybody likes to play; I keep
expecting them to make more noise in the conference tournament, but
have yet to see it happen. The Wildcats finished a respectable
8-8 in the conference last season, good enough for a tie for 5th
place. A January loss to Penn State likely kept NU out of any
post-season play last year. The Big Ten is once again expected to
have a bit of a down year (don't tell anybody that in Champaign—the
Illini are frickin' good this year). NU might be able to sneak
out nine wins, but will again struggle against the big inside games of
most Big Ten opponents. NU hasn't been competitive on the boards
since Evan Eschmeyer graduated, and they won't be this year,
either. I expect Carmody to get the Wildcats back to a fifth
place finish in the conference, but I'm not sure they'll get the two
wins they'll need in the conference tournament.
So, can NU finally break through to the NCAA Tournament? For
cripes' sake, NU hosted the first NCAA Dance, but remains one of only
51 Division I teams (out of 326), and the ONLY major conference team,
not to make the NCAA Tournament. As much as I like Carmody, and
as much as I admire what he has accomplished at NU so far, I'm tired of
NU being in the same club as Lipscomb, Wofford and Quinnipiac.
NU's next game is tomorrow, against Colorado in Boulder. The
Buffs beat the Wildcats 67-56 last season, but they lost their top 4
scorers to graduation, and they will be forced to abandon the great
inside game they had last season in favor of an outside game that plays
to NU's strengths. Let's go, ‘Cats!