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Wildcats Chop Chippewas, Look Ahead to Goring Gophers

Northwestern Outlasts Central Michigan, Winning Ugly 30 - 25

Northwestern go to 4 - 0, sweeping the Big Ten “Preseason” schedule. Parts of the journey were ugly. And I do worry about the actual Big Ten portion of the schedule.

Four in a row. Northwestern beat the “Holtz Curse” for only the second time since the curse was levied in 1995.

But a win is a win.

Let’s take a look at the ugly win…

Much like last week, Northwestern was slow out of the blocks. Fortunately so was Central Michigan. Both teams really seemed to be missing a spark. Three bad things were evident during the 1st half: lack of a running game, shaky kicking game, and way too many penalties. (To be fair about the penalties, it was one of the most inconsistent officiating crews I’ve ever seen. They even got snippy with one another.)

Another bad thing happened as well; Persa threw his first pick of the season. I worried what it would do to the psyche of the team and himself. There was some real emphasis in the press about Persa going the first three games with zero interceptions. The good news is that they shook it off with no psychological damage.

Going into halftime, the score was 13 all. The Chippewas were hanging with the Wildcats. And frankly, they shouldn’t have been able to do that.

Once again, Coach Fitzgerald said something at halftime that worked for one quarter plus about a minute of the 4th. The Wildcats roared out of the gates and quickly built a 30 - 13 lead. It looked like Northwestern was finally going to hang 40 on someone.

Then the Cats lost focus in the fourth quarter. The game started to get away from the Wildcats as the Chippewas rallied. CMU scored following a Fields fumble. The Cats seemed to be flailing near the end of the game. Meanwhile, the Chippewas just would not quit. They scored 12 points in the last 15 minutes of the game and pulled within five of the Wildcats. The game started to become a Cardiac Cats incident as the Chippewas lined up for an onsides kick with just over a minute left in the game. Fortunately, the Wildcats recovered the kick and ran out the clock to clinch the win.

It should not have come down to facing an onsides kick with a minute left. This game was put away in the third quarter and the Wildcats lost focus. They allowed the Chippewas to battle back.

Northwestern must develop a merciless killer instinct. Must.

I know Coach Fitzgerald doesn’t want to embarrass anyone. He’s classy and the team is classy. But a 17 point lead isn’t enough for the Big Ten. After the Michigan State 35 point comeback a few years ago, I think NU needs to keep the pedal to the metal for at least 36 points worth of a lead. Minimum. 36 points is a solid lead without being abusive.

Keep in mind that at this moment, each and every other Big Ten team would hang 70 on NU if they had the opportunity. Trust me on this - I’ve seen it before. Remember that I went at NU during the Dark Times.

The Wildcats need to become a dominant team.

A First Look At The Minnesota Gophers:

Minnesota was recently called the “fifth best team in the MAC.” They are currently 1-3 for the season. Last week they lost to Northern Illinois U. Near the end of the NIU game you could see that much of the Minnesota team had given up - they walked back to the line, appeared sluggish, and just had failure all over their body language. It reminded me of Northwestern football during the late 70s. I’m seeing blog chatter that I would have expected during the NU Dark Times. (Read thedailygopher.com for examples of the abuse that Minnie fans heap upon their team.) This year is going really badly for the Gophers. The Gopher fans are convinced that the Northwestern game is do-or-die for the rest of their season. They believe that if they can’t beat Northwestern during Minnesota’s Homecoming, they can’t win against anyone else they play at home this year.

But Coach Brewer and the Gophers haven’t given up, at least verbally. They understand that even though they are 1-3 to date, they are 0-0 in Big Ten conference play. They have no BT losses. If they win 8 straight, they win the Big Ten. The Gophers understand that to have any hope in the conference, they must ignore the past and believe in themselves.

Sounds kinda like a former NU coach circa 1995.

It is Homecoming at U of M. Brewster will throw everything he can at the Wildcats. He understands that losing to Northwestern is the kiss of death for a coach. Losing to the Wildcats at Minnie’s Homecoming is doubly so. Frankly, if the Gophers lose this Saturday Brewster may be fired before sunup Sunday.

The Wildcats will be playing a bunch of Gophers - but they will be rabid, cornered, desperate Gophers. It will be a tough game.

You know the drill - we’ll look at the three scenarios: The Good, The Bad, and The Probable. (BTW, the Vegas line seems to be NU by 5 to 5.5. Which is disrespectful of the Wildcats. It means Vegas considers NU to be less than a field goal better than the hapless Gophers if the game was occurring on a neutral field. Hey Wildcat Football Team! - I’d be pretty angry about being dissed like that.)

The Good:

Persa maintains his NCAA FBS leading efficiency rating. No picks and plenty of TDs. Then Watkins goes in and shows that he will eventually be another great Wildcat quarterback. Perhaps what is more important in the long term, the run game clicks and NU tops over 200 yards on the ground. Trumpy emerges as the long prayed for Big Ten calibre RB (maybe…). And the Wildcat defense is tough, shutting down a decent Minnesota passing game and controlling the run. NU continues to be in positive territory regarding takeaway margin. The Northwestern kicking game has *ZERO* failures. The Gophers get C-4‘d (Caddyshack reference). The Wildcats score enough points to finally show that they will be a force in the conference. The Gophers get blown out at their own Homecoming. The Homecoming Queen screams “Off with their heads!”

Final score: Wildcats 45 - Gophers 20. (Blood Pressure at end: 140/90.) And Brewster is fired by Monday.

The Bad (Really bad…)

Gophers storm the golf course. (Caddyshack if you’ve somehow missed all the Spackler references in various NU or MN football blogs this week.) Minnesota comes to life. They stave off Brewster’s firing by at least one more week. All facets of their game - offense, defense, and special teams - work like they’ve not worked yet this season. NU looks sluggish, inept, and snakebit...in other words they play like they are the 1-3 Gophers. I start looking for evidence of aliens doing a massive pre-game body/brain swapping raid. Adding insult to injury, Coach Brewster lives up to Coach Fitzgerald’s high praise of his abilities and decision making. With 0:05 seconds left in the game and Minnesota behind by 3, he shrewdly calls the one play no one expects, “Everyone go long!” The Cardiac Cats die as the bomb connects. As time expires the stadium is rocking with happy Homecoming rodent fans. After the game NU finds they received the gift that keeps on giving - Persa got dinged up enough to make the Purdue game a lot more perilous.

Final score: Minnesota 28 - NU 24. (Blood Pressure at end: 170/110 out of terror and frustration. And a nosebleed on top.)

The Probable

The Gophers actually show up to play. They take the game to the Wildcats and it’s a dogfight...er...catfight. The Gopher O- and D-lines play with competence, approaching Big Ten calibre. This allows the Minnesota offense to get on track and make it a game. The Wildcats finally put the game away in the 4th quarter by simply wearing the Gophers down. It’s a crazy game, but the Cardiac Cats pull it out with about a minute to spare. Northwestern is an “unimpressive” 5 - 0, which is still a ton better than being the now 1 - 4 Gophers. NU must wait at least one more week to enter the Top 25.

Final score: Northwestern 33 - Minnesota 27. (Blood Pressure at end: 160/100) NU wins, and covers.

This Week in Wildcat Football 15 Years Ago - Hoosier Hoedown

30 September 1995 was the beginning of NU’s Big Ten season. They were 2 - 1 (non-conference) going into the game with Indiana. Everyone was watching to see if the Wildcats could sustain their momentum from the Air Force win.

At the end of the game with the Hoosiers, Northwestern stood triumphant. Indiana was blown out 31 - 7. The Wildcats were obviously competent and confident. This was really different from just a few years earlier. Additionally, people started noticing a triumvirate of outstanding talent - a quarterback (Steve Schnur), a running back (Darnell Autry) and a linebacker by the name of Pat Fitzgerald.

The Wildcats were now 3 - 1 with a precious Big Ten victory to add to wins over Notre Dame and Air Force. Some people were beginning to notice that this version of the Cats might be something different. I dared to hope for as many as six or seven wins during the 1995 season. However the next game would be against a program as legendary as Notre Dame’s - Michigan. To add to the pucker factor the game was at The Big House. No one was expecting Northwestern to win...except the Wildcats themselves.

Go ‘Cats!

BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)




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