Sept. 1, 2003
NU Football Game Notes vs. Air Force
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Fresh off its season-opening road win at Kansas, Northwestern begins one of the nation's most challenging home schedules on Saturday, taking on the Air Force Academy at noon at Ryan Field. Five of the six teams making visits to Evanston this year, including Air Force, are coming off bowl appearances in 2002 and all six had winning records. (Only Arizona, Florida State and Oregon State are playing more bowl teams at home-six-this year.)
Following their 8-5 season of a year ago, the Falcons opened the 2003 season with a 49-0 win over I-AA Wofford, the alma mater of AFA head coach Fisher DeBerry. The win gave DeBerry, who is in his 20th year as the Falcons' head coach, his 150th career win. DeBerry may have one of his better teams since he came to the Academy. He returns the most starters (17) in his tenure, to go along with a host of younger players with plenty of experience.
The Wildcats must prepare to defend the Falcons' vaunted multiple option attack, which last year averaged a nation-best 307.8 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Chance Harridge is back, along with four offensive line starters who DeBerry says could rank among the best in school history. Defensively, the Falcons shaved nearly 10 points per game off their scoring average in 2002 after switching to a 3-3-5 defense. Six starters are back from that unit.
This Saturday is "Take a Kid to the Game Day" -- all children 13 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by a paid adult. It is also "Evanston and North Shore Community Day" -- all city of Evanston employees, as well as individuals owning or working for a business that are members of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce or North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau may purchase tickets for $15 (50% off). Call 847.491.CATS for an order form-advance orders only. The "N Club," NU's athletic support organization, is also celebrating its 90th anniversary at the game on Saturday.
For (Home) Openers
For the third straight year, Northwestern is opening its home season after beginning the year on the road.
Since 1905, the Wildcats have posted a 53-38-5 mark (57.8 percent) in home-opening contests. In the last 10 years, Northwestern is 6-3-1 in home lid lifters. Two of those three losses came at the hands of Miami University, who the Wildcats will face next week at Ryan Field.
The Series With Air Force
Series Record: Air Force leads 3-2
At Evanston: 1-1, series tied
At Colorado Springs: 2-1, Air Force
Last Result: 52-3, Air Force, 2002
Series Streak: 1, Air Force
Series Notes: This is the finale of a third home-and-home series with the Falcons. After this year, another series is scheduled to begin in 2006 ... Versus Mountain West foes, the Wildcats are a combined 6-4. NU has never faced BYU, San Diego State, Colorado State or New Mexico.
Northwestern Head Coach Randy Walker
Randy Walker's passion for excellence continues to be the driving force in his mission to return Northwestern's football program to the top of the Big Ten Conference, and among the nation's elite. A 27-year coaching veteran who has been associated with some of the game's greatest mentors, Walker places a high value on a student-athlete not only excelling on the field, but also in the classroom and in the community.
In his fifth season with the Wildcats, Walker has produced a 19-28 record, highlighted by an 8-4 mark in 2000. That season, the Wildcats won a share of the Big Ten title-NU's third conference crown since 1995. Overall, in his 14th year as a college head coach, Walker is 78-63-5. He spent his first nine years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Walker departed his alma mater as the program's winningest coach with a 59-35-5 (.621) record.
The NU-Kansas Recap
A stellar blue-collar effort from running back Jason Wright (Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Bar) coupled with a noticeably improved defense helped Northwestern chalk up a 28-20 victory over Kansas on a cool, rainy night in Lawrence. Wright totaled a career-high-tying 196 rushing yards and four touchdowns on a personal-best 41 carries. His final two touchdowns came on 1-yard runs in the fourth quarter and helped NU snap a 14-14 tie with the Jayhawks. Wright registered 144 of his 196 yards in the first half as helped the 'Cats to a two-touchdown halftime lead on scoring runs of 18 and 4 yards.
Northwestern's defense was on the field for just 57 plays-30 fewer than the Wildcat offense-and with the exception of a couple plays, held the Jayhawk offense in check. KU's only offensive touchdown of the game came on a 74-yard busted pass play late in the third quarter after the Wildcats failed to convert a fourth-down attempt deep in Jayhawk territory. Kansas tied the game less than two minutes later when a pass intended for NU's Ashton Aikens (Detroit, Mich./Detroit Country Day) deflected off his hip and foot right into the hands of KU defensive end David McMillan who rambled 31 yards into the end zone for the tying score. NU came back, though and took the lead for good on 12-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Wright's third TD of the game.
NU's defensive secondary led the charge, playing a role in four of the five turnovers that it forced in the game.
NU Earns AFCA Academic Recognition Award ... Again
Once again, Northwestern's football program was lauded for its exemplary graduation rates by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) in 2003. Since the Wildcats have been eligible for the award (starting in 1998), they have either won the award (1998 and 2002) or received honorable mention recognition (for a graduation rate of 90 percent or better).
Northwestern was one of six schools with a 90 percent or better graduation rate (for its freshman class from the 1997-98 academic year), joining Boston College, Connecticut, Rice, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Duke won the 2003 title with a 100 percent graduation rate. Northwestern or Duke have held the title all but two years since 1993.
Big Ten schools became eligible for the award in 1998.
Big Ten Honors Wright
Senior tailback Jason Wright earned his fourth Big Ten Player-of-the-Week honor Monday after equaling a career high in rushing yards (196) and rushing touchdowns (4) in the win over Kansas. The 196 yards were the second-most on college football's opening weekend. He jumped four spots on the school's all-time rushing list, moving from 15th to 11th place. Wright now has 1,433 career yards and is just 93 yards shy of 10th place on NU's career chart (see page four of the notes for a complete list).
The Big Ten honor is the fourth of Wright's career. He earned the previous three player-of-the-week kudos in 2002.
The Wright Stuff
The 2002 season was a breakout year for running back Jason Wright. After toiling as a reserve receiver in 2001 (7 catches for 48 yards), Wright finished 2002 by being named a Verizon first-team Academic All-American and an honorable mention all-Big Ten running back. After Saturday's performance at Kansas (41 for 196 yds., 4 TDs), Wright now has eight 100-yard rushing performances in his last 11 games. He also caught a pass (11 yards) and returned one kickoff (21 yards) for 228 all-purpose yards. Wright is second in Big Ten and national rushing, first in Big Ten and national scoring, and second in Big Ten all-purpose yardage.
An update on some other notable items/numbers for Wright:
* Owns a string of 238 consecutive carries without a fumble (fumbled once in 2002).
* Needs 93 rushing yards to crack NU's top-10 career list.
* Needs 636 all-purpose yards to crack NU's top-10 career list.
* Averaging 125.2 rushing ypg in his last 11 outings.
* Missed NU's preseason scrimmage (Aug. 16) in order to take the medical school entrance exam (MCAT).
* Delivered the players' keynote address at the 2003 Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon.
* Sang the national anthem prior to an NU men's basketball game (vs. Ohio State) and prior to a 2003 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament session at the United Center.
Jason Wright on Doak Walker Award List
Jason Wright is one of 39 preseason candidates for the 2003 Doak Walker Award, awarded annually to the nation's top college running back.
He is one of four Big Ten running backs on the list, joining Wisconsin's Anthony Davis, Michigan's Chris Perry and Iowa's Fred Russell.
The SMU Athletic Forum Board of Directors will select eight semifinalists on Nov. 19, and the Doak Walker Award National Selection Committee will vote on the winner in late November. Penn State's Larry Johnson won last year's award.
Northwestern's 2003 team captains are safety Louis Ayeni (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury), linebacker Pat Durr (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles), safety Torri Stuckey (Robbins, Ill./D.D. Eisenhower) and running back Jason Wright. Durr is a repeat selection while the other three are first-time captains.
Pat Durr Makes Successful Return to Lineup
Northwestern's 2002 defensive woes are well-documented, and the rough year was certainly not helped by the absence of Pat Durr, who tore every major ligament in his right knee in the season-opening game at Air Force. Durr has since completed an impressive rehabilitation process and registered a solid performance in his first game back versus Kansas.
Against the Jayhawks, he totaled seven tackles (five solos), a sack and a fumble recovery-NU's first takeaway of the season.
Just prior to the start of the season, the Butkus Award organization announced its preseason watch list, and Durr is one of 10 Big Ten players named to the preseason team. He was a consensus preseason all-Big Ten choice at linebacker a year ago. In 2001, Durr was the Wildcats' third-leading tackler with 103 hits.
There is no question that Wildcats are facing one of the nation's most difficult schedules. A 12-game slate that College Football News rated the toughest in the Big Ten is challenging NU this fall. Overall, the 'Cats are facing seven teams that were invited to postseason play a year ago. Eight of this year's 12 opponents were ranked or received votes in both the AP and coaches' preseason polls. Five NU opponents are ranked in the coaches' top 25.
Kunle Patrick is Streaking
Dating to his freshman season, receiver Kunle Patrick has caught at least one pass in 35 consecutive games, which leads the nation with Texas Tech's Wes Welker and Texas' Roy Williams. He equaled a career high with seven catches against Kansas to extend his string to 35. USC's Kareem Kelly set the NCAA Division I-A record last year, concluding his career with a 47-game streak.
In Saturday's win over Kansas, Patrick equaled a career high with seven catches to move within one reception of Jon Schweighardt, who is fourth on NU's all-time catch list with 147.
O-Line Measures Up
With the losses of offensive linemen Austin King and Jeff Roehl to graduation and the NFL, there were off-season concerns about replacing those two players up front. Those fears were reduced, however, after Northwestern's offensive line, which weighs an average of 317 pounds (fourth heaviest in I-A football), helped produce 467 yards of total offense and not allow a sack on quarterback Brett Basanez at Kansas. Following the game, Jason Wright led the praises for his offensive line: "A lot of people think that's going to be our weak point, but I don't see that at all, not even a little bit."
Safety in Numbers
Northwestern worked hard in the off-season, shoring up its play at the safety positions. Former running back/receiver Louis Ayeni was moved to defense, joining another former running back, Torri Stuckey. The moves paid huge dividends on Saturday, as Ayeni led the secondary with seven tackles, a bone-chilling hit that forced the first fumble of the season and a fumble recovery. Stuckey had three tackles and an interception. Junior Dominique Price (Louisville, Ky./DuPont Manual) had five tackles as well as a big hit.
Throughout his coaching career, Randy Walker has proven to be nearly unbeatable when his teams carry a lead into the fourth quarter. In his previous 13 years as a head coach, Walker's teams have compiled a 63-2-1 record when leading at the end of the third quarter. At NU, he is 14-1.
Baz at the Helm
Sophomore quarterback Brett Basanez made his 10th collegiate start at Kansas and threw for 219 yards on 23-of-36 passing. Despite the low number of games played (11), he is just 276 passing yards away from cracking NU's top-10 list for career passing yardage. Although he suffered a broken fibula midway through the 2002 season, Basanez came back to play the final three games and lead all freshman quarterbacks nationally in passing yardage (220.4 ypg). He concluded his season with a 368-yard effort vs. Illinois.
Prior to the Kansas Game, It Had Been Awhile...
* since NU held the opposition scoreless in the first half? versus Iowa on Oct. 16, 1999 (NU won 23-21).
* since an NU running back totaled 144 or more rushing yards in a half? Damien Anderson rushed for 181 yards on 20 carries and a TD against Michigan on Nov. 4, 2000.
* since the opposition was held to 100 rushing yards or less in a game? Duke had 44 against the 'Cats on Sept. 9, 2000.
* Tight end Ray Bogenrief (Cedarburg, Wis./Marquette) caught four passes for 17 yards in his first game as an offensive player for NU.
* At NU, head coach Randy Walker's teams are 9-5 versus nonleague foes.
* Senior Roger Jordan (League City, Texas/Clear Creek) gave the NU passing game a huge lift, catching a career-high seven balls for 111 yards. Three of his receptions went for distances of 20 or more yards: 20, 30 and 34 yards.
* Versus Kansas, Terrell Jordan (Clarkson, Ga./Tucker) made his debut at running back, and all he did was turn in one of the game's biggest plays. Late in the fourth, with the Wildcats in front 21-20 and Jason Wright getting a breather, Jordan scampered 40 yards down the left sideline to the KU 14-yard line, setting up NU's final score. He finished with two carries for 44 yards.