And NU Head Coach Randy Walker had some opening thoughts:And that's all there is this week...See you all on the Cat Chat during the Game.
RW: Golly, where did the season go? - I can''t believe this is the last week as far as the teleconference is concerned but,
Obviously, we're trying to bounce back from a difficult Saturday in Ann Arbor, but that's probably pretty common for a lot of people. Its easy to have a difficult Saturday in Ann Arbor and we played well, I'm not disappointed in our effort, our preparation.
We let some things get away from us, mostly a kid named Breaston who took off an made a couple of plays. they had that capability and before you know it we were running uphill pretty steeply, but then again, I was not displeased with our kids, disappointed in the outcome - we gotta bounce back and -
I've always been pleased with this football team and their ability to bounce back and we certainly have to do that.
Illinois is coming off a great victory against Indiana - it was one of those games in addition to breaking down tape and you're just trying to study, it was fun to watch. They [Illinois] made such a great comeback and they played so well down the stretch. so I'm really looking forward to this game, its a rivalry week, its a trophy game, all the things that go into it. I think our kids will be ready to bounce back and play our best football this week.
What has changed at NU that allowed Gary Barnett and you to give NU a better football program?
RW: Ironically, I was here before Gary as an assistant coach and I can tell you , I think I know first hand what has changed.
The investment and the importance that the leadership of our institution attached to athletics here has changed.
Not that it wasn't always important, but under Henry Bienen's leadership [NU's President since 1994] and of course Rick Taylor, our former athletic director, and [present AD] Mark Murphy, I think the right kind of investment has taken place in our program and our facilities and and things to give us a chance to be competitive. I've said that for as long as I've been here.
I really trace it back - I think Gary Barnett's a great coach, did a great job here, I think every coach though wants to win, I give them a lot of credit, I think they're really good, I think it all starts with your administration. I think the credit really goes to Henry, of course our board of trustees who makes every decision but they made a decision - and ironically I asked this question before I took the job, "When did this all start?"
It actually started before they went to the Rose Bowl. In 1993 and 1994, they made some big decisions about upgrading, improving, renovating, all the things that needed to take place here. And that was before they had any success, so someone had some foresight, someone had some real desire to take this place to be more competitive, and better athletically in all sports and I'm glad to be here under that regime.
Talks about going up against a team - Illinois - that hasn't given up, even with all the losses.
RW: I think there's no question Ron's [Ron Turner] done a great job with a young football team.
They're in every football game, virtually, this year, and that's the nature of college football now. Its a fine line every week and they're teaching some young people how to play and keep getting better. They have great senior leadership that's bringing along those young players on the team. I fully expect this to be a real barn burner.
I think they're going to come in and - if nothing else, if there was nothing else on the line other than Illinois and Northwestern, I think that's a lot. I know their kids are going to come in here, and be ready to play and play a great game and I expect our kids to play well.
You know everybody goes through a tough season - we've had 'em here. But I know this, you come to this game and this opportunity to to play, everybody's going to come and play their best football.
What did Illinois do in the last game that surprised you?
RW: Like I said, they've played well all year.
They've been in virtually every football game, and they've been right there knocking on the door, and they were able to break through and find a way to win. I think they kept the pressure on. They attacked on both sides of the ball, inthe kicking game they made plays. Even when they were down 19 to nothing, before you knew it, bang - bang, they had 19-14.
You can see they were very aggressive, assertive and they were staying on the attack and everything they do and they made some plays when it counted and they came out with a win.
What drives the style of NU's offense?
RW: Our first year we looked at it real carefully. And what we try to do is suit our personnel and what we thought we could recruit here at Northwestern, and tried to do a better job of matching what we were doing - our personnel and what we could get, and basically came up with a spread offense, for while we were a no-huddle team, we eliminated that by and large, we are still a spread attack football team and we think that suits us best.
I've always said, I've been coaching college football 29 years and I think I've coached about everything, other than the single wing, full house T, I think I've coached every version of offensive football. You just try to find the best fit, and right now for us and what we are, I think its the best fit.
What kind of players can you recruit?
RW: I think we need to have -- I think its easier - there are some possitions that its getting increasingly more difficult to find. I think we can do a good job recruiting linemen.
We've quite honestly, found it hard to recruit fullbacks and tight ends. Now we them have in our program, but its hard - everybody's after those guys. The big skilled athlete - everybody wants those guys - they can do so many things on a football field.
We found ourselves back in 2000, without enough of those guys to make things work so that's what prompted the spread. Now we think we have some good young players in those positions now and we are more diverse in our formations, those are basically ideas and I think its more likely that we can get an athletic quarterback who can make some plays running, and maybe that prototype pro quarterback who's 6-4 and can just shoot it in there like a gun...
So those are the kind of decisions we made in 2000 and we're still kinda going in that direction.
Comment on the fact that NU has won 5 games by a TD or less - what changed so NU started winning those close game?
RW: We've been in a lot of close games - we've won some and we've lost some - I don't know if there's any magic formula for it.
We didn't go in the tank after the TCU game, it was a disappointing game, certainly.
But we learned a lot from it - I tell our kids all the time, from every game, whether its a win or a loss, you need to come away with some things you've learned and some things you can improve upon but then you let it go. When its a disappointing loss, or a great victory, you need to let it go and play the next week. And we find ourselves in that place again.
You know it was a disappointing game against Michigan, we need to let it go. We still feel we have a lot to play for in this football season and lets go out and have a great week of practice and preparation [and] play our best football this week. I just kinda take that approach every week with our guys and we have some kids that buy into that.
Did the overtime loss to TCU help you in your overtime wins?
RW: I really do look at it that - through every experience in your life, good or bad - I have an adage I say all the time "what may look like the worse day in your life, is probably the best day, if you handle it the right way."
Its all how you respond, all how you play the next week, its all how you take the next step and that [TCU] was a disappointing loss, and it was tough to go down there and be on national TV on Thursday night and lose, but I reminded our kids, "this could bury us, or we can go the right direction," that's what we learned from this. I think that loss has helped us be a better football team and the fact that we're able, as a team, not to drag around those anchors that hold you back, and that game didn't hold us back. We let it go and we continued to improve and play better.
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