Defensive tackle Tyler Scott, who has missed the last two games with a neck stinger, is back practicing and, said 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald, "Good to go."
And what will his return bring to the team?
"I think he's been our most consistent (defensive) player," Fitzgerald replied. "That consistency, a guy who loves football, plays with passion, he's made a lot of plays for us. We could use some playmakers up front."
The 'Cats have just 13 sacks on the season, which leaves them far behind Illinois' Big Ten best 31 and tied (with Nebraska, coincidentally enough) for nothing better than seventh-best in the conference. That is one reason Fitzgerald so welcomes the return of Scott, who has one of those 13. The other is his motor, which has also produced a pair of fumble recoveries, a pair of passes broken up and a pair of tackles-for-loss.
THE RALLYING CRY:
This season, we all know, has not unfolded as the 'Cats had anticipated, and so they now rush toward its finish line with their bowl hopes endangered and hooked up to life support. Still, not unexpectedly, they follow the example of the uber-competitive Fitzgerald, who is undaunted by long odds and unfazed by harsh challenges and still urging his troops to create lasting memories in the month that has just dawned. "Let's make it," he has told them, "a November to remember."
"That's the attitude we're taking into each and every game, each and every practice," says the corner Jordan Mabin. "We started off winning this past week, and that's one step closer to making it something memorable not only for the seniors, but for Northwestern as a team."
"It's a big month for our program if we want to send our seniors out the right way," says Fitzgerald. "You try to make your whole season go to November and have some significance riding in November. Obviously we'd like to be in a different place than we are right now from a wins-loss standpoint. But we're at where we're at. But everybody kind of goes into November 0-0 and everything's going to play itself out through the month. Obviously, a pretty stiff test (Saturday at Nebraska). I think the challenge is obvious to everyone in our program."
NO VOODOO HERE:
The Scribbler, during his many years in the writing racket, talked with countless athletes about the mind and its influence and its ability to transform a game into something bordering the mystical. One of them was a former 49er quarterback named John Brodie, who here was discussing a completion he threw to receiver Gene Washington in a 1971 divisional playoff game against the Redskins. "Pat Fisher, the ('Skins) cornerback, told reporters after the game that the ball seemed to jump right over his hands as he went for it," Brodie said. "When we studied the game films that week, it did look as if the ball kind of jumped over his hands into Gene's. Some of the guys said it was the wind -- and maybe it was."
"What do you mean maybe?" we asked.
"What I mean is that our sense of that pass was so clear and our intention so strong that the ball was bound to get there, come wind, cornerbacks, hell or high water."
That conversation came to mind last Saturday as we watched superback Drake Dunsmore scorch Indiana with four touchdown catches, and so we just had to ask him if he was in some kind of special zone down in Bloomington. "I don't know if I'd say that," he said, viewing his performance far more prosaically. "Everyone has their hot and cold days. Obviously that was a bit of a hot day. I had some lucky catches, you know. But, honestly, it just came down to game plan and quarterbacks, line and other receivers doing their jobs. I'm the one getting the spotlight for this game. But it could be any of the other guys next week."
YES. THE TIME IS NOW:
Dunsmore is one of those seniors whose last 'Cat memories depend on their November performance, and so we asked him about the team's mindset as it prepares for Nebraska. "We're 1-0," he said. "That's what we were this weekend, and we're 0-0 right now. We're just trying to win a big game. This is a big game for us. It's the biggest game of the season. That's the way we're going into this week."
So the battle cry is, "Make it a November to remember"?
"I'd say it is. There's no other choice we have left at this point. Twenty days." (Well. Actually 21 between their Nov. 5 game in Lincoln and their Nov. 26 regular-season finale against Michigan State.)
NOTHING LIKE THE FIRST TIME:
Dunsmore grew up in Lenexa, Kan., which is about a four-hour drive from the Cornhuskers' Memorial Stadium, and he has been to Omaha, where he played in a Little League tournament as a young boy. He has, however, never been to Lincoln. "But," he goes on, "my high school coach was a big-time Nebraska fan, so I heard about it all the time. You heard everything from the tradition they've had for years and years, to the traditions on game day, to how nice and supportive their fans are."
'Cat corner Tim Weak, a junior walk-on, twice received all-state mention at Omaha's Millard North high, and dreamed always of extending his football career at the big state university in Lincoln. Both the 'Cats and the Huskers, in fact, offered him a chance to be a walk-on, and eventually he decided to cast his lot in Lincoln. But just two hours after he reached that decision, his contact there called and told him, "Sorry. We have too many guys now. Everyone we asked to walk on accepted the offer."
"It's kind of the dream of every guy in Nebraska to go to Nebraska and walk on, so it was my first choice," Weak says now. "But, honestly, now it's a God thing for me. That door closed and my coming here is exactly where I was supposed to be. It was really the best thing that ever happened to me even though, at first, it was a bummer."
"I've been to more Nebraska games than I care to admit," Weak says . . . Of Nebraska football, he says, "It's more like a lifestyle. They don't have any pro teams. It's really the only major college football team that's there. So, yeah. It's definitely a lifestyle for people. I know on game day (Memorial Stadium) becomes, I think, the third-largest city in the state.". . . There has been plenty of bantering and any number of questions tossed his way by teammates and coaches this week. "The only good thing to come out of Nebraska is the Weak family," is the line he has liked best. "I appreciate that. It's fun," he says. . . His dad went to dental school at Nebraska and his parents lived in Lincoln the first four years of their marriage.
Weak, who played at Memorial Stadium three times in high school championship games, had this to say about the place: "It's a really neat experience. It certainly wasn't filled the way it will be Saturday. But it will be really neat going back there. My sister's actually in the marching band, and so I'll probably see her on the field at some point. Then my parents'll be there, so it will be kind of a weird experience just thinking that all through my youth I never would have imagined I'd be playing there or playing (against) Nebraska."