Let's not forget...

Yeah, Northwestern lost on Saturday. And yeah, a Mike Kafka interception late in the fourth quarter led to Syracuse's game-winning field goal. But despite the loss, and despite Kafka's late-game gaffe, Purple Reign thought it appropriate to rehash the senior QB's record-breaking day. It's definitely a performance worth remembering.

The game is over – and lost.

Northwestern dropped its first contest of the season, losing 37-34 and falling to 2-1 on a last second field goal by Syracuse.*

* If you believe in karma, it is interesting that NU was downed on a last second field goal one week after…winning on a last second field goal. More symmetry: Stefan Demos' 49-yarder to beat Eastern was his career long, while Ryan Lichtenstein's 41-yarder to beat NU was one yard shy of his career long; the freshman hit a 42-yarder in a loss to Minnesota. Demos' game-winner was his third career field goal, Lichtenstein's his fifth.

And while we're talking about cosmic retribution – how about Demos' missed extra point? Engulfed by jubilant teammates but a week ago, Demos missed an extra point in the fourth quarter that would have given NU a 35-27 lead.

Sure, Syracuse could have still tied it with a TD and a two-point conversion, but who knows what would have happened on that two? People – people who study these things – say that the average two-point conversion success rate is about 40 percent. What's more, Syracuse was 2-for-12 on third down; one of those 10 fails came on third-and-2, another on third-and-3. So the Orange were definitely struggling to come up with clutch plays, even really short clutch plays. So, if NU gave up a score while up by eight, instead of being up by seven, there is a good chance that Northwestern could have gotten the ball back still up by two. Maybe at that point the Cats are able to kill the clock.

Maybe not, of course. But hey, either way that missed extra point didn't help. It wasn't technically the deciding margin, but it was one of the deciding plays.

Any way you dice it, it's a painful loss. Indeed, the list of what-ifs will linger.

What if the Wildcats hadn't given away two fumbles? What if Northwestern's defense – which had been good through two weeks – was stouter against a Syracuse offense that had scored just 27 points on the season coming in? What if NU's anemic running game was able to muster more than 1.9 yards per carry. (Seriously: 1.9 yards per carry. Even if you take out Kafka's -7 yards on 13 carries – you know, sacks – the numbers are still putrid, still less than 4.0 per run)

A lot of factors – a lot of distressing factors – led to this loss. People may now wonder about the defense, the kicking game, the running game, etc.

But one thing that was rock-solid was Kafka, a much maligned (in some circles) QB who had a record-breaking performance.*

* The INT that ultimately cost NU the game shouldn't be a strike against Kafka. At least not a big one. This article is about Kafka's incredible day, so it should come as no surprise that he's getting sympathy from Purple Reign for the pick. Kafka's hand – or arm, rather – was forced by factors outside of his control. The running game was junk all day, so when NU had the ball near midfield with less than three minutes to play, passing was the only viable option. Plus, NU shouldn't have had to score anyway. Again – the Demos extra point.

OK, about Kafka's game. Maybe it doesn't reach the point of "epic," but it definitely transcends good. It was enough to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, and to breaks few records in the process.

He started the game completing his first 16 passes, which bested Tom Meyers' Northwestern record – set in 1962 – of 15 straight. For the first half, Kafka was 18-of-19 for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and he added a rushing TD.

Oh, there's more. Kafka, who ended with three touchdown tosses, also broke an NU record for completion percentage in a game. He finished 35-for-42 – 83.3 percent – which is better than Brett Basanez's 2005 mark of 80.6 percent, 25-of-31. (It may be instinctive to say that Kafka really cooled off after his hot start, but that's not really what happened. After the 16-for-16 streak, he still completed 19 of his 26 passes, or 73 percent.)*

* This would be a good time to mention that Kafka leads the country in completion percentage. His 74.4 percent clip is more than a percentage point better than No. 2, Andy Dalton of TCU. He won't keep up 74.4 percent – or at least it wouldn't seem so. But at the moment, after a quarter of the season, Kafka leads the nation in the category.

More…Kafka's 390 yards were the 11th most in schools history. And for good measure, Kafka – who caught a 24-yard TD pass on a throw-back from Andrew Brewer – became the first Big Ten player since 2004 to catch, run and throw for a TD in a game. Penn State's Zack Mills was the last one to do it, against Akron.

Now, it could be suggested that Kafka did all of this against a horrible defense, that the records were erased and scoreboard lit up because, well, Syracuse is junk.

But that's just not the case.

The Orange D forced Minnesota's Adam Weber – a 64 percent passer last season – into a 19-for-42 outing in Week 1. Weber was 20-for-29 the next week against Air Force and 21-of-32 last week against Top 10 Cal. So he's no hack.

And Penn State's Daryll Clark threw for only 240 against SU, one week after throwing for 353. Meanwhile, PSU running back Evan Royster rushed for only 41 yards and 3.4 per carry.

This wasn't the Little Sisters of the Poor who Kafka rolled.

Purple Reign writes this for a few reasons. First, Kafka has taken a lot of heat recently – really, throughout his career. I don't know Kafka well or anything, and I don't owe him or the university any favors; nothing's in it for me.

But I know that Kafka seems to take an disproportionate amount of flak for someone who really isn't a bad player. So I thought it'd be a good idea to pile on some praise, especially after such an unmistakably praiseworthy showing.

Yeah, NU fell to an 0-2 team. But Kafka played out of his head. So while people on message boards may decry Kafka, and people may see that the INT led to a game-winning field goal, Kafka's not the guilty party.*

* Really, there doesn't need to be a guilty party. Syracuse is not bad. They are 1-2, sure, but the Orange's first loss, to Minnesota, was in OT, plus the Gophers are pretty good themselves. UM hung with Top 10 Cal until the final quarter Saturday. SU's other loss, a 21-point defeat at Top 5 Penn State, doesn't need qualification. With five straight home games coming up, coupled with playing in the Big East, don't be shocked if this is a bowl team. Seriously. I'd bet on it.

Basically, it would be a shame if Kafka's outlandish game is lost on people, even if it was a loss. On a day when NU couldn't run at all, when Stephen Simmons was injured, when the only way the Cats could move the ball was by passing, Kafka put on a sterling show.

This probably won't be NU's last loss of the season. But if Kafka keeps playing like this, there will surely more wins to come.

To reach David Vranicar, publisher of Purple Reign, please write to northwestern.scout@gmail.com.<.i>


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