It seems like a lifetime ago that Big Ten teams were crying foul at Northwestern's offensive tactics, as Coach Randy Walker's sophisticated system was operated by quarterback Zak Kustok to perfection.
The Wildcats were a team nobody wanted to face at the time, because they put up points at will, and they could compete with any team in the country.
Northwestern has combined for just seven wins over the last two seasons, both of which Wisconsin was off the schedule. This year, the Badgers will finally have a chance for revenge from a devastating defeat at Camp Randall in 2000, a 47-44 loss in overtime.
But while Northwestern has sunk back to the basement of the Big Ten, the one thing that remains intact is their offensive attack. While the Wildcats ranked just 10th in the Big Ten last year in scoring offense with 22.7 points per game, they have the ability to rack up yards and threaten defenses with a quick-hitting attack. Here is a look at the Wildcats offense heading into the 2003 season:
Walker has found the quarterback of the future with the development of Brett Basanez. The sophomore quarterback returns after leading all freshmen quarterbacks nationally in passing yards with 2,204, connecting on 190-of-325 attempts. He also led the Big Ten in the regular season in total offense.
Basanez won a battle for the starting spot and never looked back, showing a solid understanding of the complicated Northwestern offense. Basanez' impressive statistics came despite missing two games with a broken leg. He threw for 368 yards against Illinois – the sixth-best passing day in NU history -- wearing a soft cast on his leg.
While Basanez received headlines for his arm, he also has the ability to pull the ball down and run. He scored four rushing touchdowns last season, and will likely run more this year with a healthy leg and added confidence. If Basanez continues to develop, he could be a star quarterback for the Wildcats.
There is no doubt senior Jason Wright is the most talented athlete on the Wildcats roster, and one of the top running backs in the country. There isn't anything he doesn't do well, and opponents' gameplans must begin with containing him.
Wright was fourth in the NCAA last season in all-purpose yards, rushing for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 27 passes for 266 yards and posing a constant threat as an explosive kick returner. Despite carrying the ball 219 times last year, Wright only fumbled the ball once.
Backing up Wright is 5-11, 230-pound junior Noah Herron, who rushed for 365 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Sophomore Terrell Jordan could also see more action beyond special teams this season.
In Northwestern's offense, this position is vital, and the Wildcats should have enough depth to give Basanez some quality targets.
The leader of the receiving corps is Kunle Patrick, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior that leads the nation with a 34-game catch streak. He will take over the No. 1 receiver spot from the graduated Jon Schweighardt.
Aside Patrick should be junior Ashton Aikens and sophomore Mark Philmore. Aikens, a 6-2, 205-pounder, had eight passes for 72 yards and a touchdown last year, and should be a deep threat. The 5-10, 175-pound Philmore was third on the team last year as a possession receiver, finishing with 31 catches for 245 yards.
Former defensive end Ray Bogenrief, who's sister Maggie is a former tennis player at Wisconsin, made the transition to offense last spring and will start at tight end.
While the Wildcats are set at their skill positions, the offensive line is a concern entering the fall. After losing three-year starters and All-Big Ten linemen Jeff Roehl and Austin King, Northwestern is scrambling to find suitable replacements.
Carl Matejka will have all eyes on him as he attempts to fill the shoes of King, one of the best centers in the league. The 6-4, 316-pound senior suffered through injuries last season. Roehl's guard vacancy will be filled by junior Bill Newton, a 6-7, 310-pounder from Gary, Ind.
Three starters return from last year's unit – tackles Zach Strief and Trai Essex, and guard Matt Ulrich. The Wildcats expect Strief to become one of the top linemen in the league. At 6-7, 335, the sophomore right tackle is a force to be reckoned with.
Northwestern Week: Offensive Preview
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