Look at it the wrong way, and yes, there is plenty to be discouraged about with Northwestern's 38-35 overtime loss to Auburn. The missed field goals, the interceptions, the 38 points given up, the chance to notch back-to-back nine-win seasons, the back-to-back OT bowl setbacks, the 1949 streak and so on.But Wildcat fans would do well to remember all that was great about that game – and this season. And if you keep things in perspective, Friday's game didn't tarnish the season, and the outcome didn't tarnish the game.
Just look at what Fitz was saying after the game:"We have 21 great seniors who have a deep wound" – adding, in the same breath – "that will heal. It will get better. It will improve. But that's the heart of a Wildcat right there, and that was one heck of a fight and one heck of a battle….
"It was a great battle. We're going to find a way to get over this mountaintop. We're not there yet, but I believe we took a step forward today."Corey Wootton struck an optimistic, looking-toward-the-future tone as well. Wildcat fans should do the same.
"It's been hard, especially last year losing in overtime and this year as well. We've been so close these past few years, but close only gets you so far," Wootton said. "Hopefully the next group of teams coming along in Northwestern history will be able to get it done."Keep in mind that Wootton set a school record Friday for games started with 49. His blood is as purple as anyone's. If he can stay upbeat, so can we.
First off, let's consider where the Cats were when they suffered the heartache: a New Year's Day bowl against a bona fide SEC blueblood. Northwestern could have (or should have) beaten a team that had Alabama on the ropes in the final week of the regular season.* That right there is worth something.
* Obviously you can only take that logic so far. Carried to its extreme, and you could say that Eastern Michigan, which barely lost to Northwestern, could maybe beat Iowa, which DID lose to Northwestern. Obviously there are limitations to that train of thought. Still, Auburn lost by five points to the team most pundits are picking to take home the national title. Again, that logic probably would past muster with Aristotle, but it holds some nuggets of truth.Then there was the game itself, a game that featured a jaw-dropping comeback and historic performances all over the place. Northwestern took a big fat eraser to the records books Friday, and even if the result wasn't what Cat fans were hoping for, the game was awesome for tangible and intangible reasons.
The tangible: No less than 28 records were broken in this season's Outback Bowl. Mike Kafka, for one, set Outback records for completions (47), attempts (78) and yards (532). That's the most attempts of the 2009 season – regular and bowl – and the most yards by anyone not named Case Keenum, Houston's gun-slinger who had single-game tallies of 559 and 536. Kafka was also just seven attempts shy of Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Stephen's single-game NCAA record of 85 passes, set last season. And Kafka's completions number was just 11 shy of Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt, who completed 58 last season.*
*Interestingly, both Stephen's attempts record and Schimitt's completions record were set against Sam Houston State.There's more. Zeke Markshausen tied an Outback record with 12 catches. Drake Dunsmore had a career-long 66 yard TD catch-and-run. Sidney Stewart had nearly one-third as many catches (10) as he did all season (31). And Andrew Brewer caught himself a pair of TDs and en route to a 133-yard afternoon.
Now, you may not be impressed with records and stats, but it's concrete evidence of just how wildly entertaining this game was. Sure, the Cats still haven't won a bowl since 1949, and that mark is getting old. Literally.Again, though, perspective: How fun was that game?
Northwestern trailed by 14, 35-21, with 7:32 remaining and stormed back, fueled by a defense that has been stellar all season and a quintessentially NU drive on offense. This is crazy: The drive that brought NU to within 35-27 started on the Northwestern 42 yard-line, and it still took 15 plays. That's not a knock; that's awesome. That's Mick McCall, Kafka, Brewer and this O to a T. Markshausen had four catches by himself, including a 12-yarder on fourth-and-five. Kafka was eight-for-11. It was vintage.And then the defense turned around and forced a fumble, and Kafka turned around and completed four-of-six passes, and NU turned around to tie it up at 35 with less than two minutes left.
You're going to tell me this wasn't fun?Sure, there were some squandered opportunities. While Kakfa tied an Outback Bowl record with four TD tosses, he now has the INT record all to himself with the five picks he threw – two of which were in the end zone. And following yet another Northwestern forced fumble – felt a bit like the first half of the Purdue game, didn't it? – after tying it at 35, the Cats saw Stefan Demos' potentially game-winning field goal* go wide.
* It was an unfortunate day for Demos, who had a stellar season. Along with his game-winner against Eastern Michigan, Demos made 18-of-23 field goal attempts during the regular season. However, against Auburn he missed the would-be game-winning 44-yard field goal with no time remaining, and a would-be tying field goal in overtime (on which he was roughed). He also had an extra point blocked, his first missed PAT of the year. For a career punter, Demos definitely had a solid season. But between the misses and the injury, it came to an unlucky end.
All that stings, and it probably will for a little while, like Fitz said.But every Wildcat fan should get over the frustration long before they get over that game.
Because that was a whale of a game, even if the L looms larger than the W. And it deserves to be remembered for the right reasons. After all, with the ways things are looking, there will be another New Year's Day before long.