Northwestern Week: Preview

Badger Nation's previews of Wisconsin's 2003 opponents continues with an overview of the Wildcats.

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How the Wildcats fared in 2002: (3-9 overall, 1-7 Big Ten)

 

2002 Results:

 

Air Force 52, Northwestern 3

Texas Christian 48, Northwestern 24

Northwestern 26, Duke 21

Northwestern 49, Navy 40

Michigan State 39, Northwestern 24

Ohio State 27, Northwestern 16

Minnesota 45, Northwestern 42

Penn State 49, Northwestern 0

Purdue 42, Northwestern 13

Northwestern 41, Indiana 37

Iowa 62, Northwestern 10

Illinois 31, Northwestern 24

 

2003 Schedule:

 

Aug. 30 at Kansas

Sept. 6 v. Air Force

Sept. 13 v. Miami (OH)

Sept. 20 at Duke

Sept. 27 at Ohio State

Oct. 4 v. Minnesota

Oct. 11 at Indiana

Oct. 25 v. Wisconsin

Nov. 1 at Purdue

Nov. 8 v. Penn State

Nov. 15 v. Michigan

Nov. 22 at Illinois

 

Starters returning: 18—8 offense, 9 defense, punter Brian Huffman

 

Coach Randy Walker: In his fifth season at Northwestern and 14th season as a head coach, Walker is 77-63-5. He is 18-28 with the Wildcats.

 

Versus Wisconsin: The Badgers lead the all-time series 53-30-5. The Wildcats won the last meeting, two years ago, 47-44, in double overtime in a game six Badgers missed due to suspension. Damien Anderson capped Northwestern's victory with a 12-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. He finished with 174 yards rushing on 21 carries. His counterpart, Wisconsin running back Michael Bennett, carried 48 times for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok had an impressive day—278 yards passing on 21 of 41 with two touchdowns; 76 yards, 14 carries and a touchdown rushing.

 

USA Today game story

 

 

Wildcats 2002 in brief:

 

The season opener, a 52-3 loss to Air Force, set the tone. On the sixth play of the year, Northwestern's top defensive player, middle linebacker Pat Durr, injured his knee and was lost for the season. The drubbing suffered at Air Force's hands proved to be the rule for the season. Northwestern was outscored nearly 2-to-1 last season and came away with victories only three times—against Duke, Navy and Indiana.

 

Put mildly, the defense was awful. The extremely inexperienced Wildcats, who started eight players who were either freshmen or sophomores, yielded 41.1 points, 313.6 rushing yards and 502.3 total yards per game. They gave up 39 touchdowns on the ground and 20 more threw the air.

 

The offense was similarly young but provided quite a few bright spots in 2002. Quarterback Brett Basanez missed two games with a broken leg and played the last three games of the season with a soft cast on his left leg but still led all freshman nationally with 220.4 yards passing per game. He was second in the Big Ten in total offense (230.0 yards per game) and threw for 2,204 yards. Northwestern's passing attack did not find the end zone nearly often enough, however, with only nine scores.

 

Running back Jason Wright emerged as a dynamic all-purpose back. He was fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards (167.8) and fourth in kickoff return yards (28.5). Wright averaged 5.6 yards per carry, second in Northwestern history, and tallied 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

Looking ahead to 2003:

 

With Basanez and senior Wright leading the way, Northwestern should, like many Big Ten teams, possess a dynamic offense that has the potential to light up the scoreboard. The team needs to replace its top receiver from a year ago, Jon Schweighardt, and two solid offensive linemen in center Austin King and guard Jeff Roehl. This side of the ball, though, should be very potent. Jason Wright is worth the price of admission and Basanez proved last season that he can direct an offense.

 

The defense should improve with Durr and another injured linebacker, Ryan Peterson, working their way back into the lineup. Still this unit, and this team, are likely in for another year of growing pains. Expect plenty of shootouts when the Wildcats take the field in 2003.


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