Weekly Wildcat Watch

Purple Reign gets a little grief for a recent hoops article, an interesting take on Mike Kafka's lack of rushing yards -- apparently it's Kafka's fault -- some good recaps on the Purdue heart-stopper, plus more. Articles come from the Tribune, the Herald and pretty much every corner of Indiana.

Ah, wins feel good, don't they? And if you saw Purple Reign's recap of last weekend's win – ugly as it may have been – you'll know that around here, snapping a two-game skid with a win is more important than the pedestrian offensive stats, the inept red zone production and the still-horrendous tackling. Hey, if you can suffer through all that and still win, that's not bad. (It's not hard to argue, though, that if you create six turnovers and own a 12-minute edge in time of possession then a last-minute goal line stand shouldn't be necessary. Not hard at all.)

Nonetheless, a win's a win. Can you imagine having slipped to 2-3? Especially with the schedule that looms on the horizon? The Wildcats needed that one, and they got it.

Moving on to other NU news from this past week, here is an article from PR written to dispel a rumor that made its way to the NU Hoops Message Board.

Purple Reign got a note from someone who thought that the story – meant to debunk fallacious "reporting" of a supposedly-burgeoning recruit – actually had the opposite effect: Indeed, it was promoting a player that doesn't deserve promotion. Well, that's one way to look at it. Another, though, is that the article made it clear that Darren Tillman is not at all an NU recruit. Nor, a source with the Cats told PR, is he much of a Div. I recruit period.

Maybe I did give Tillman unwarranted attention, and maybe that's what whoever posted that message board thread wanted. But I'll stick to my guns that any attention brought to Tillman via my article wasn't good. Others can – and do – disagree.

This article was about NU receiver Zeke Markshausen, who has an intriguing story. After a good but not great high school career, he didn't play at all as a freshman in 2005. And when he joined the team in 2006, the season had already begun. Relegated to the practice squad in '06 and '07, he finally got on the field last season, catching all of one pass – in the first game, no less – on the season.

But this year he has been NU's most prolific receiver. Now, he still has zero touchdowns, but he leads the team in catches with 29 (second best is Drake Dunsmore's 22) and is tied with Andrew Brewer for the team-lead in yards with 280. What's more, Markshausen became the first NU receiver on the season to catch 10 passes, which he did on Saturday against Purdue. Basically, Markshausen is an unlikely candidate to be NU's leading pass-catcher. But he is.

There were a few other stories this week from Purple Reign – like this email exchange with the Boiler Report's Rick McGlothlin, and a few recruiting updates – but that pretty much wraps it up.


Now, for some non-Purple Reign news. We'll start with some recaps of the NU-Purdue game, of which there were several.

This one is from the Northwest Indiana Times, and it opens up with mention of one of the goofier stats from the game:

Purdue's defense allowed a pair of 20-play drives against Northwestern on Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium.

It was the least of the Boilermakers' concerns in a 27-21 loss.

Purdue allowed just three points on those two 20-play drives, but six turnovers allowed a comfortable lead to dissipate, leading to a fourth-quarter comeback by the Wildcats.

This one comes from the Associate Press. It begins:

Northwestern's potent offense finally got the help it needed from its defense.

The Wildcats forced six turnovers, made a goal-line stand in the final seconds and got a shutout in the second half of a 27-21 victory over Purdue on a dreary Saturday.

To say that NU's offense "finally got the help it needed from the defense" is an interesting premise. The insinuation seems to be that NU's defense has been lackluster.

Indeed, the "defense has been struggling" them was pretty pervasive this week. That same AP article is reprinted in the Star Tribune under the title "Wildcats show they can play defense, too". Again, the insinuation is that they haven't been playing defense. We'll explore this topic more in the next day or two – that NU's D has struggled – and see what the numbers say it. Because, you know, sometimes our eyes lie. And you know how much PR loves numbers.

This is another Purdue-based recap of the game from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, and this one came from the Indianapolis Star. Both the Gazette and Star articles led with Purdue receiver Keith Smith's post-game press conference.

From the Gazette:

Keith Smith was so furious his jaw was trembling.

Initially, he even looked like he might cry.

It's hard to control emotions after a team continues to lose in heartbreaking fashion.

From the Star:

With his bottom lip quivering, the anger in Keith Smith's voice was difficult to ignore.

"I'm tired of losing,'' Purdue's receiver said following Saturday's 27-21 loss to Northwestern. "We're in the game, at the end of the game, every single time. It's our fault. We come up short every time we've had a chance.

"We can't keep losing these close games. It's heartbreaking.''

Always interesting when various outlets pounce on the same bits from the game, like last week when the Daily Northwestern, Tribune and Herald all led with Fitz's, "Awful. Awful," quote about the defense.

This Boiler-based gamer is from the Gary, Ind., Post-Tribune, and this one from News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne.

Moving over to Illinois, this is an NU-based recap that does well to point out that NU still barely won despite the generous and repeated gifts from Purdue.

There were some non-recaps stories too. This one, from the Tribune, is about Corey Wootton and how he is still looking for a signature, breakout type of game.

From the article:

"Once he gets that first sack," said Lori Wootton, Corey's mother, "he'll say: 'Piece of cake.' "

Right now nothing is easy for Wootton, who blew out his right knee Dec. 29 late in the Alamo Bowl. Reconstructive surgery went well, but Wootton said the knee still feels "real achy" when he wakes up, especially on Sundays.

"It's better than not being able to play," he reasoned. "I remember coming out of surgery and being on crutches, and now I'm fortunate to be on the field. I just have to be patient with this."

Coach Fitz was been feisty in his defense of Wootton:

"Corey is nine months removed from a major injury," Fitzgerald said. "And I don't know how many of you in this room have played Big Ten football nine months removed from a major injury. I'll speak from experience on that. It's one of the hardest things you're going to do in your life.

"He's fighting through it. ... He's doing everything he can to help our football team win. I'm proud as [heck] of him. He's working diligently. It's just going to take time."

This is a good one from the Sun-Times about how Kafka hasn't been running much this season. And that's true – well, it was true, seeing as Kafka had 18 rushes against Purdue and scored the game-winner on a two-yard run. With the Cats getting nil from their backs – starter Stephen Simmons is injured and Arby Fields and Jacob Schmidt just haven't been able to get it going so far – the Purdue game may have signaled a shift Mick McCall's play-calling. After all, Kafka had 36 rushes heading into the Purdue game, so he ran half as much in one game as he had all season. We'll see what happens next week.*

* In an interview with Purple Reign in July, McCall said that he would be espeically cognizant of Kafka's rushing attempts this season. Basically, he didn't want to have Kafka running as much as he did last season in his two starts, when he twice led the Cats in rushing with 217 and 83 yards, respectively. This (previously unpublished!!) quote from McCall sums it up well:

"And the run game, since you're spreading things out, the quarterback has to be a threat to run, but he doesn't have to be the focal point. In fact, we'd prefer him not to be the focal point. We have to manage that guy to keep him healthy all year."

The article, by Jim O'Donnell, has an interesting tone to it. It's not necessarily flattering – and maybe a bit indicting – of Kafka:

With the game tied at 34 inside the final minute and the Cats positioned to march to a trademark cardiac win, Kafka threw an interception. Six plays later, Ryan Lichtenstein kicked a 41-yard field goal for the Orange and NU no longer was undefeated.

Last week against visiting Minnesota -- yes, the same outfit that saw him as a dashing blur at the Metrodome 11 months ago -- Kafka again left his dancing shoes somewhere out by the Grosse Point Light.

His passing numbers were stellar -- 32-for-47, 309 yards and two touchdowns. But his insistence on staying within the Fitzgerald-McCall system proved lethal….

Kafka's ground swing from the win over the Golden Gophers in 2008 to the loss last week was minus-230 yards. That's a bigger loss to cover than an Old Country Buffet owner who sees Charlie Weis' van approaching.

That's really an interesting take by O'Donnell on Kafka: "his (Kafka's) insistence on staying within the Fitzgerald-McCall system." Like he thinks Kafka should call the plays himself, or disregard what his coaches call, or simply improv on every play. Hey, PR would like to see Kafka run more too. But it's not really Kafka's decision, is it?

This one, also by O'Donnell, touches on the fact that NU and Purdue have both lost some heartbreakers early this season.

''I feel like I'm looking at ourselves in a mirror when I watch [the Boilermakers] on tape,'' Fitzgerald said. ''About 95 percent of what you see is outstanding. The 5 percent that's not is costing both of us games.''

Hope, in his first season succeeding Joe Tiller, called Northwestern ''a good, disciplined football team.''

''And that's the way I'd like to think of us, too,'' Hope said. ''We're not happy about our record, but we've got some guys who have taken their game to a new level and are playing very well.''

This article, from the West Lafayette Journal-Courier is pretty much the same thing. It also opens with the "About 95 percent of what you see" quote from Fitz.

And with that, we'll close out this WWW.

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

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