SjT: The BiG 10 and Randy Walker

After the loss of Randy Walker last week, Steve was reflecting on just one of Coach Walker's legacies at Northwestern -- how he is the first Northwestern coach to defeat each of the other Big Ten schools. So as a small tribute and a celebration of the Walker era, here's his look back at Randy Walker's defining victory against each of our Big Ten rivals.

In Alphabetical Order:
* ILLINOIS (Walker era record vs. Illini: 4-3): There's no real "classic" game in this rivalry during the Walker era ... certainly no Lenny Williams drive in Champaign in 1992 or fourth-down Autry run in 1995. But we still have some great performances, from the punt return by Jeff Backes to miraculously force overtime and the win in 2004 to the 2003 game where we didn't even need to pass in the second half and put on a ground display for the ages. But the 61-23 pasting during the 2000 year has to rank at the top.

It was the home finale against our in-state rival to clinch a share of the Walker's Big Ten championship. It was a display of what the spread attack could do, even in freezing weather. And the scary thing was, we played somewhat sloppy that day. But celebrating a title amid snow flurries against our rival in Walker's second season on the sidelines was a special moment.

* INDIANA (4-2): It didn't exactly have fans buying up tickets in droves, but the Hoosiers/Wildcats series during the Walker era produced some of the more exciting offensive football in the land. We scored 52 on IU in 2000, and they scored 56 on us the next year. We won 41-37 in 2002, 37-31 in OT in 2003 and 31-24 in 2OT in 2004.

No game really stands out, so let's go with the 2004 double-OT win here on Noah Herron's 4th-and-1 touchdown scamper down the sidelines, an epitome of the strong-finishing Wildcats under Walker.

* IOWA (2-3): Oddly, the Hawkeyes are the bookends of Coach Walker's career in Evanston. Iowa was NU's only Big Ten win during Walker's first season and Iowa was Walker's final home win as Northwestern coach. In between, the bumblebees stung the Cats several times, including that bitter 2000 upset that cost us the Rose Bowl, but in true Walker fashion, NU saved their best game against Iowa for last -- a dramatic home sendoff to Brett Basanez, Tim McGarrigle and, as cruel fate would have it, Coach Walker. Down 24-7 at the half and 27-14 with just over 2 minutes left, the Cats drove down to make the score 27-21 but had used all their timeouts to get the ball back.

So it was down to an onside kick and it was executed to perfection with Joel Howells getting a "turf bounce" on a wet grass field and Reggie McPherson leaping up to snatch the ball for the purple. Basanez quickly found Ross Lane in front of the goal post for a touchdown and a wild 28-27 victory to send the seniors off in style. Just another unforgettable ending for the Cats, living up to Walker's theme of "finish."

* MICHIGAN (1-4): Walker's only win over the Maize and Blue was truly one for the ages, the classic 54-51 thriller in 2000 that propelled NU to a share of the league title and brought the joys of the spread offense to many across the country. No one in the stands in Ryan Field will ever forget the offensive display that day, as it wasn't so much porous defense but two talented offenses at their peak.

This time, NU looked to have their dreams shattered in this back-and-forth battle when a fourth-down TD was called back in the final minutes and the second fourth-down play saw a well-thrown Zak Kustok pass bobble out of Damian Anderson's hands at the goal line. But the Cats never gave up, and when Michigan's Anthony Thomas fumbled at midfield on what would have been a game-clinching run, the Cats zipped downfield and Kustok found Sam Simmons on a post route for the touchdown that sent a purple craze throughout Evanston in a win that ranks right up there with the most thrilling games and finishes in history. CATS WIN!

* MICHIGAN STATE (3-2): Walker's teams had two terrific wins at East Lansing where their offense really kicked into gear to light up Sparty's scoreboard in 2000 and 2005, but the defining Walker game has to be the 2001 victory, a bright spot in a season of disappointment. The 2001 season began with the Rashidi Wheeler tragedy and the strain on the team was added to when the season was delayed by the terrorist attacks of September 11. By the time the Cats took the field against MSU for an ABC game in 2001, their status as preseason favorites was the last thing on their minds.

Still, Walker's team managed to pull off one last fantastic finish for the fans before succumbing to the pressure in 2001. In what had been a rather stagnant game until the final two minutes, a last-minute drive by the Cats appeared to be for naught as MSU ran back the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown and the lead with less than 20 seconds remaining. But a Zak Kustok-to-Jon Schweighardt hail Mary and 47-yard David Wasielewski kick later pulled out yet another fantastic finish and a 27-26 win.

* MINNESOTA (2-4): Victory right. 'Nuff said. A hail-mary tipped pass at the gun for a 41-35 road win in 2000 after being down 35-14. No NU fan can forget it.

* OHIO STATE (1-4): The Buckeyes proved a tough nut to crack for many a Wildcat coach through the decades and it was no different for Ohio-native Walker. But with Coach's flair for the dramatic, most NU fans will agree that it was worth the wait. In 2002, the Cats faced the Buckeyes' national title squad in a night game and gave it their all, falling 27-16 after being stopped multiple times on the goal line.

But in 2004, under the lights again, the Cats physically dominated the sixth-ranked and unbeaten Buckeyes in front of a national television audience. And when Mr. Clutch Mike Nugent missed a field goal for OSU, it was #33 Noah Herron made sure the Cats got that extra yard into the end zone in overtime to win 33-27.

* PENN STATE (2-3): Aside from teams wearing some variation of yellow/gold and black, the Nits may have been Walker's most pesky foe and he was this/close to being 4-1 against the legendary JoePa. In their first meeting, a 38-35 home loss in 2001, PSU sent NU on a spiral that left a preseason top 20 team out of a bowl game ... and their last game, the 29-24 home loss in 2005, was certainly a game the Cats let slip away late. But in between those losses, there were some bright spots. A deep bomb broke a 7-7 tie late in the 2003 game to give the Cats a win, but the defining Walker era win was the first win by the Cats at Happy Valley, 14-7 in 2004.

The Lions may have been in a down year, but winning at PSU -- or beating a Paterno two years in a row -- is never easy if you're not named Lloyd Carr. It was a tough win the Cats earned by showing some physicality and, as usual with Walker, guts to finish.

* PURDUE (2-5): Joe Tiller and his Boilers were a thorn in Walker's side as Purdue seemed to be the team that best understood Walker's spread attack and how to defend it. It wasn't until the final two years that the Cats got the better of wily Joe. The 2004 slugfest victory at home was a well-earned win on a windy homecoming day, but the 2005 game at West Lafayette was more vintage Walker. Reviving NU's recent role as not-so-welcome homecoming guests, the Cats raced out to an early lead and held on late with Tyrell Sutton's fourth-down TD with less than 2 minutes remaining to beat the Boilers.

* WISCONSIN (3-2): Walker's teams seemed to have the Badgers' number during his tenure in Evanston, knocking off a #17 ranked Badger squad on a gritty homecoming win in 2003, a #6 and unbeaten Badger bunch in 2000 and a #14 and unbeaten Wisconsin in 2005. The 2005 shootout, a wild 51-48 offensive explosion that announced the arrival of Tyrell Sutton as a major running back was a lot of fun to watch ... but the defining victory has to be the 2000 double-overtime classic in Madison that showed one of Walker's trademarks - bouncing back.

After a meltdown at TCU, the Cats faced a daunting two-game roadtrip to Wisky and MSU to start the Big Ten campaign. The Badgers were #6 in the nation and a heavy favorite, but Walker kept his team in the thick of a slugfest and suddenly the spread opened things up in the two overtimes, with Damian Anderson scoring the winning touchdown to the moans of Cheeseheads everywhere.

Looking back, Walker was 24-32 against the Big Ten, and 23-25 if you take away the first season -- four seasons of six or more wins, three bowl trips, one Big Ten title and memories and fantastic finishes too numerous to mention. And more importantly at Northwestern, a graduation rate that ranks among the best in the nation year in and year out.

It's been a pleasure to watch from the stands and an honor to have Walker on the sidelines in Evanston. We'll miss you coach and we hope the Fitzgerald era lives up to the legacy you began of always playing until the end and finishing strong.
* * * * * * * * *
STEPHEN J. TRUOG

GO CATS!!!


GO CATS!!!
-SjT


Stephen J. Truog, former NU Marching Band member and now educator
comments on the Wildcats from both the sidelines and his home
He has his own NU oriented Web Site Visit SjTonline

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directly to Coach Roy [CoachRoy74 on AIM]
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