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Wildcats Win Ugly at Minnesota, Look Ahead to Breaking Boilermakers

Northwestern Plays “Whack-a-Mole” at Gopher Homecoming, Winning Really Ugly 29 - 28

The Wildcats are now 5 - 0, 1 - 0 Big Ten after a really ugly win at Minnesota.

How ugly was it?

An ESPN announcer opined that “Northwestern was going to have a hard time winning a sixth game.”

Another sports analyst called Northwestern “...the worst 5 - 0 team in college football.”

Northwestern blew two red zone chances with turnovers. NU cemented its place atop the Big Ten...in penalties. The defense got burned. The offense was offensive at times. Special teams were not terribly special. I could go on and on. The Wildcats even fell behind the Gophers for much of the game.

Worth noting - this game was the very first one where NU was behind at any point in the game.

But when crunch time came near the end of the game with barely over two minutes to play and the Cats behind 26 - 28, Demos came through with a clutch field goal and put Northwestern in the lead 29 - 28. (Let’s call this particular play “Re-Demos” - it made up for every missed PAT and field goal earlier this year. Whatever funk Demos was in after the Outback Bowl, this should officially get him his mojo back.)

And with 2 and change left in the game, the Wildcats kicked off to the Gophers, who started a drive toward the NU red zone. (Recall they didn’t have to punch it in; they only had to kick a field goal. So getting inside the Northwestern 30 was going to give them a real shot at winning.)

Not putting down anyone’s coach, but it became pretty obvious pretty quick that Minnesota did not do a lot of 2 minute drill practice. The Gophers just looked disorganized and frantic. If I were a Gopher fan, I would have been livid. Meanwhile, Northwestern’s defense played the best it had the whole game. They anticipated things and confused the Gophers even more. The Gophers’ chances came down to a 4th and long with under a minute to play - and the MN QB (Weber) threw a pick to Ben Johnson. Much to everyone’s surprise (except the NU players/coaches) he quickly slid to down the ball. It looked like a pretty sure pick six, but he downed it. The Wildcats then went into Victory Formation (Shotgun variant) and ran the clock out for their fifth victory.

Final score: Northwestern 29 - Minnesota 28. My end game blood pressure: 149/100 for an over/under of 249. “Under” wins the “blood pressure derby” along with “The Probable” scenario from last week’s predictions.

5 - 0 by winning ugly. But that’s clearly better than losing.

BTW, there has been much discussion of the Johnson slide in the blogosphere (see various recent posts in www.laketheposts.com). While a pick six would have been cool, Johnson knew that there was a chance that he could fumble the ball, Minnesota recover, and then put points on the board for the win. (Sounds fantastic? We’re talking about the Cardiac Cats.) He chose the right course of action to assure the win. He did what was best for the team. So let’s give him a “honorary pick six” for doing the right thing.

I will repeat what I said last week after NU’s sloppy win over the Chippewas - Northwestern must develop a merciless killer instinct. Must. Sloppy play against stronger opponents will get the Wildcats killed.

Please fix this. I don’t want to develop a high blood pressure nosebleed or a heart attack because of the Wildcats getting complacent or careless. Okay?

Final thoughts about the Gopher game:

The Good: Poise when down near the end of the game, some improvement in the running game, Johnson making the right snap decision.

The Bad: Turnovers in the red zone, defense getting hammered for 28 by a pretty bad team, missed PAT, penalties, and many other smaller things.

A First Look At The Purdue Boilermakers:

Historically, Purdue has been considered a “joke” within the Big Ten. I’m not talking football - I’m talking about the opinions of various Big Ten alums I know. Everyone acknowledges that Purdue is an excellent academic institution. (Not as excellent as Northwestern, but that goes without saying in the Big Ten.) I’m talking about respect. There’s “Moo Moo Purdue,” sung to “Home on the Range.” There’s the “World’s Largest Marching Bass Drum” - their band’s claim to fame. When I jingle my cars keys in front of a group of Big Ten alums, its the Purdue ones that step forward first to park my car. I could go on, but you get the gist.

Likewise, there’s something about Purdue that brings out the “gonzo” in me. In my four years at Northwestern, I (with various accomplices from NUMB) drew four “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” penalties. Two of the four were against Purdue. My freshman year we stole the “WLMBD” and ran it onto the field in the middle of the 4th quarter. (Don’t worry, the game was lost anyway.) My senior year, we hijacked the Purdue Locomotive in the 4th quarter and forced Purdue Pete to drive out onto the football field and chase the Boilermaker football team around. (Don’t worry, the game was lost anyway.) But I digress.

Purdue has had more injuries to key personnel than any other two Big Ten teams. They are running on reserves. But they are doing so valiantly. They haven’t given up and they will not give up on Saturday. Like Minnesota, they point to Northwestern as a critical game for making it to a bowl game. Also like Minnesota, they consider Northwestern to be one of their more winnable games.

Unlike Minnesota, Purdue has more than one win. They are focused, desperate, and pretty smart. And they know that a win over Northwestern gets their Big Ten season off to a good start. (Yeah, NU is the start of their Big Ten season; last week was their bye week.)

So let’s look at the three scenarios: The Good, The Bad, and The Probable. The Vegas line is NU by 8 to 10.

The Good:

Something primal occurs in the Wildcat mind. The football team comes roaring out of the tunnel with a mission - to derail the Boilermakers. They do so in a public primetime performance that makes Michigan State take notice and start to worry. Purdue gets totally crushed in an offensive onslaught. The defense is merciless and efficient. The Wildcats are like animals possessed. And they play a full four quarters, easily putting on the best show yet. The rest of the Big Ten takes notice.

Final score: Wildcats 42 - Boilermakers 20 - and it isn’t even that close. (Blood pressure at the end: 140/90 since a “cruise control” win is still a fairly exciting ride.)

The Bad (Really bad…)

Persa gets gets injured early on and has to leave the game. Watkins comes in and tries his best. He’s overwhelmed early and the Wildcats lose their confidence. Meanwhile the Boilermakers rally after smelling blood on the field. The game turns into a pitched battle with the Boilermakers gradually taking control. Northwestern tries a last minute desperation drive with minutes left in the game - a drive where they must score a touchdown to win. The Wildcats move down field and give it a great effort, but a last second pass is picked off by the Purdue defense. NU loses the way they have won the past couple of games.

Final score: Purdue 36 - NU 30. (Blood Pressure at end: 160/110 out of frustration and worry for Persa.)

The Probable

Three in a row...three struggles in a row that is. The Wildcats follow the now familiar script - score first, let the other team come back in the second quarter, dominate the third quarter, and hold on by their claws in the fourth. It isn’t pretty but it is a win. The game is exciting for all the wrong reasons. Northwestern lets Purdue back into the game multiple times, blowing chances to pitch a blowout. They make it to 6 - 0 and immediately get named as the “...worst 6 - 0 team in the nation.” And I immediately repeat what I tweeted last week

Final score: Northwestern 35 - Purdue 28. (Blood Pressure at end: 150/90) NU wins, but does not cover.

This Week in Wildcat Football 15 Years Ago - Michigan Wolverines get Skinned

On 7 October 1995 the 3 - 1 Wildcats were the Homecoming guests of the 5 - 0 Michigan Wolverines. Northwestern was scheduled to play at a lot of Homecomings since they were considered the easiest, surest win in the Big Ten. That was the accepted order of things in the Big Ten and had been for over 20 years. The “upset” of Notre Dame was considered a freak occurrence.

But 1995 was a year full of surprises. The Wolverines didn’t have much in the way of respect at the beginning of the game. Their mistake…

The Wildcats took the game to Michigan. Do you know what the sound of nearly a 100,000 people breathing in shock is like? Add in a smattering of cheering Wildcat fans and you’ve got this hollow amphitheater of shock. And truth be known, the shock was on both sides. The only people not shocked were the Wildcats themselves. The “upset” of Michigan made the “upset” of Notre Dame look less like an upset.

The Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Michigan Wolverines 19 - 13. NU was now 2 - 0 in the Big Ten. It had been forever since that last occurred. They were 4 - 1 overall. There were the beginnings of talk of going to a bowl. It didn’t seem as fanciful as it had a week before. And four wins for NU seemed to indicate that Coach Barnett was a shoo-in for Big Ten Coach of the Year since former NU Coach Dennis Greene had won the title with only 3 victories over a decade before.

Things were looking up for the Wildcats. Next up was Minnesota at Minnesota. And it was another Homecoming game. The Gophers were confident of another yet another win to go along with their previous 3 for the season.

Go ‘Cats!

BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)



1 comment:

  1. They are going to be much tougher than MN, but this is a team we need to beat otherwise we have been living off easy competition.