SjT: View From the Stands

SjT was in the house, as the Northwestern Wildcats just plain outscored the Wiconsin Badgers. Here's Steve's comment and analysis, along with his recap of what happened in the Big 1o yesterday...

Northwestern opened up the offense
and the offense opened a can of whuppin' on 14th-ranked Wisconsin's defense Saturday in a 51-48 shootout win for the Cats. It was a football score that topped many of the basketball scores these two have played in recent years with Bill Carmody and Dick Bennet in charge … and the funny thing is that when the teams went to he locker room at halftime, it was a 17-10 slugfest that gave fans no warning of the wild shootout it was about to become.

The only clue might have been on the last couple drives each team had the second quarter.

Wisconsin found success pounding the ball with a two-headed rushing attack and the Cats were starting to move it with a nice mix of slashing runs up the middle and deep passes – but NU's last two drives resulted in only 3 points despite all the movement because of a bad snap fumble at midfield and an ill-advised spike on third down by Brett Basanez to kill the clock with 9 seconds left before half instead of trying for the end zone.

But it was obvious heading into halftime that NU's offensive coordinators had seen something to exploit in the Wisconsin defense and they continued to hammer it after the break in one of the more impressive second halves put together by an NU offense. There were just too many scores to keep track of and the action was as fast as a tennis return, giving the crowd whiplash at times.

But this is Dyche Stadium, and nothing comes easy.

Both teams decided to send their defenses home early for the second half (seriously, I think the yardlines made more tackles on the day than the D, tripping Baz and a couple other runners up) and what we got was an offensive blitz unrivaled since the 54-51 classic with Michigan in 2000 that – as usual – kept Wildcat fans holding their breath until the final seconds. There were so many big plays by both offenses after the break – and so many displays of atrocious defense on both sides – that old lady mo's head was on a swivel and neither side could seize on the chance to gain momentum fully.

Going back to our discussion after Penn State, 29 points just isn't enough to win in the Big Ten anymore. It's a year of offense and after a 37-point outburst from both teams in the third quarter, it was clear that 40 wasn't going to be enough on this day. Thankfully for NU fans, Brett Basanez was up to the task and led six consecutive scoring drives and six second-half touchdown drives for the Wildcats.

The biggest difference (aside from Baz getting back to spreading it around to a variety of receivers) was NU's aggressiveness in throwing the deep ball. We threw it downfield 10 or more yards in addition to the short curls, and Baz was pinpoint in his accuracy on a pretty windy and overcast day in Evanston. The deep ball success kept the D from stacking the box and the O-line and superfrosh Tyrell Sutton took advantage with some huge runs and big yards-after-contact numbers in the second half. This in turn led to some nice play-action calls to spring more deep balls and the offense was clicking in perfection for the second half.

Wisconsin kept pace until the end and mounted a comeback that fell short in the final minutes with a perfect coffin-corner punt by NU and a defensive interception (at least we got one stop!), but the Badgers were playing from behind from the early third quarter on and NU never gave up the lead after it was 23-17. It was an amazing offensive display, aided by solid special teams and a couple plays from the D in terms of sacks by Tim McGarrigle and turnovers … but the D still needs to improve.

A lot. A heckuva lot.

But it was heartening to see the Cats come out with a lot of fire after the bye week and it was obvious they worked on adding new wrinkles on offense and defense. The offense wasn't going to settle for field goals this week and the coaching was much more aggressive in play calling.

One other side note – a good number of players from the 1995 Championship team were on the field at halftime. It's hard to believe a decade has passed already, but between the introductions at halftime and highlights on the video board, it was a good day for good memories. It was also remarkable to look at the group on the field and think of how few of them would be recognized by name outside of Evanston … and how few of them ever took a snap in the NFL. Probably fewer than any other league champ in that decade span.

It just goes to show what an amazing group of student athletes we had then and how they can still serve as an inspiration to teams today – it's not all recruiting or speed times. If you play together and play with heart, the sky's the limit. Great to see the team again and encouraging to see a lot of the Cats players on the field today displaying that same grittiness and fire.

Any win over Wisconsin is a good win and it's especially sweet to send Barry Alvarez out the same way we sent our old pal Hayden out on his last visit to Evanston. It's true that we're a couple plays from being 1-4 at this point, but we're also a play from being 4-1 … so at this point we'll have to take 3-2 and head forward one week at a time. Purdue is beatable if we stay on fire on O and bring a little D at least. Great day, (another) great finish and a great win.

GAME BALLS
* Tyrell Sutton – I can't express how much I love this kid right now – and I find more to love every game I see him. Against PSU, he showed that ability to squirt through small holes and slip under tackles. Against Wisconsin, Sutton showed surprising strength – often driving piles of Badger tackles forward 3 or 4 yards before going down. This kid gets more amazing every game and it's not too early to start mentioning him in the "freshman of the year" talks. A special player who fits perfectly into NU's attack and is growing by leaps and bounds every week. Cats fans are gonna love watching this kid the next four years.

* Brett Basanez – Baz needed to be on his game today and he was razor sharp – great accuracy, poise and he spread it all around the field. And he followed Sutton's lead and would drag the pile forward on a few of his runs today. He didn't let the mistake of spiking it right before half get to him and led his team to an amazing second half of offensive near-perfection. THAT's what a senior quarterback/leader is supposed to do – well done, Baz!

* Tim McGarrigle – OK, it wasn't a banner day for the defense, but it sure wasn't because of a lack of effort from #41. It seemed like the PA announcer was calling his name every play and he got some nice pressure and made a lot of hustle plays. [he had 25 tackles] Every week, this guy resembles his coach Fitz more and more – a tireless worker who was passed over by other schools for lack of size or speed but makes up for it in his heart and smarts.

THINGS TO WORK ON
* Defense. We seem to get to 3rd down fine, but then give up huge chunks of yardage on 3rd and 12 or 3rd and 16. The front seven was decent today, but these secondary problems are really starting to hurt.

* Stupid penalties. After not having many this year so far, we saw them return today – wiping out a big kickoff return from the non-play side of the field with holding, some drive-killing penalties early, etc. Get smart, guys!

* Keeping momentum – in a game and in the season. The second half was the longest our O has sustained being in the zone … let's keep extending that next week in West Lafayette.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
* This is shaping up to be one unbelievably wild Big Ten race! PENN STATE looks like they've grown by leaps and bounds since they were in Evanston two weeks ago and got JoePa a HUGE win against OHIO STATE in Happy Valley. Their reward? A trip to traditional nemesis and freshly embarrassed Michigan.

* Speaking of Big Blue, how can they explode on O against MSU and then clam up again at home against a MINNESOTA squad coming off a thrashing at PSU? Nice bounceback by the Gophers (who'll get the angry Badgers next week), but it's still puzzling how Lloyd wastes such offensive talent every other week. This may have been an elimination game in the Big Ten race, just as MSU/OSU could be next week.

* And speaking of elimination, IOWA stayed alive but PURDUE continued to crumble. Hopefully their funk continues at least one more week and we can exploit their passing D like ND and Iowa have done the last couple weeks.

* And don't look now, but INDIANA is 4-1. They don't play the Cats, but if they can pull off an upset in the next few weeks (and given the way the Big Ten is going, who knows what an upset is anymore?!), the old buckey game could be worth a bowl bid for the Hoosiers.

Another wild week in the league. As I said last week, I think we have the capabilities to beat anyone left on our schedule (except OSU, but even they look human now???) … it's all going to come down to how well we can put a streak together against a rough schedule. Gotta just focus on Purdue and beat the Boilers this week – then worry about the rest.

But it does go to show the depth (and unpredictability) of the league that 8 teams have been ranked from the Big Ten so far this year and at least 8 appear to be bowl bound – but 10 still appear to have legit hopes of heading someplace warm for Christmas and it's mid-October.

Just another wild day at Ryan Field.

GO CATS!!!
-SjT

Stephen J. Truog has his own NU oriented Web Site
Visit SjTonline


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