Wootton: "We learned our lesson"

Corey Wootton was asked this week whether or not Northwestern is taking Towson seriously. Well, Wootton has been around long enough to remember when another non-FBS underdog from the East Coast -- New Hampshire in 2006 -- rolled into Evanston and sprung the upset. So yeah, he said, the Wildcats will be ready.

A lot has changed. Northwestern is better, the opponent is worse, the expectations are higher.

Despite the differences, though, NU defensive end Corey Wootton thought it appropriate to mention a game from the Wildcats' past that – according to Wootton – is still relevant.

He started it – not me.

Earlier this week, a reporter asked Wootton, "You can't take anybody lightly either, can you?"

Fair question, especially because, well, Northwestern could decide to take this week's opponent lightly. After all, NU is coming off a nine-win season and a bowl game. The Cats will be in the friendly confines of Ryan Field, and while question marks abound on the offensive side of the ball, Wootton and the defense should be brick-wall solid.

Oh, there's more. This week's opponent, the Towson Tigers, have won just six games in the past two seasons. They play in the Colonial Athletic Association – part of the Football Championship Subdivision – and they were picked to finish dead-last in the conference

So, if there were an opponent to take lightly, this would be it. But Wootton, for one, has been around too long for that.

And he had a real-life example to draw upon.

"We've learned that from New Hampshire," Wootton said, referring to NU's 34-17 defeat back in 2006. "We didn't take them as seriously as we should have, and I definitely feel like we learned our lesson from that game."

Now, obviously Wootton's wasn't going to say, "Sure, this week will be a cupcake." But he took it a step further. His reply transcended clichés and the standard take-everyone-seriously banter that such questions often inspire.

He invoked one of the recent low-points in NU football, seemingly determined not to allow for a repeat. At least not this week.

The NU-New Hampshire game is history – and not all that recent. It was three years and 18 wins ago, Pat Fitzgerald's first season as head coach, Mike Kafka's second start at QB, Wootton's second game back from a neck injury that earned him a medical hardship year in 2005.

But despite the differences, there are similarities between this 2009 Towson game and that 2006 New Hampshire game. Indeed, Wootton's comparison isn't all that off-topic.

As is the case this heading into the Towson game, the Wildcats had played in a bowl game the year before the UNH game. They were playing in their home-opener. It was supposed to be a tune-up for the Big Ten season. (And in a twist of pure coincidence, NU will play Eastern Michigan next week; EMU was the opponent following New Hampshire as well.)

If you had intentionally erased the UNH game from your memory, it's worth a quick recap. Northwestern outrushed UNH 187 to 123 as Tyrell Sutton scampered for 99 yards – including a 61-yarder – and Kafka added 46 on the ground. Kafka had 173 yards passing, completing 19-of-32 throws. At one point NU led 14-13.

Northwestern also forced seven punts and only had two of its own. And Wootton, by the way, had seven tackles. Not too bad.

But still, UNH won. Handily. New Hampshire led 27-17 at halftime and wouldn't allow NU another point en route to doubling up the Cats, who fumbled three times. Despite being outgained 360 to 329, UNH held the ball for 10:40 of the final quarter, bleeding away the clock and sending Wildcat fans home stunned.

While New Hampshire was good – certainly better than this season's Towson squad – the team was not invincible. Evidence for that can be found later in the 2006 season when UNH lost to James Madison by 19 or when they bowed to Northeastern.

Yes, New Hampshire beat Northwestern but lost to Northeastern. (Towson, by the way, plays Northeastern later this season.)

Again, that game from 2006 – the first game at Ryan Field following Randy Walker's passing – isn't proof that Northwestern will struggle this week against Towson. But Wootton obviously hasn't forgotten it.

And it sounds like he doesn't want anyone to be referencing this Towson game a few years from now.

To reach David Vranicar, publisher of Purple Reign, please contact northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

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