Sept. 22, 2003
NU Game Notes vs. Ohio State
Download Free Acrobat Reader
With its nonconference season in the books, Northwestern now shifts its focus to Big Ten action. The Wildcats should have no problem getting motivated for Saturday's challenge: up first is defending national champion Ohio State, which own the nation's longest winning streak at 18 games. The Buckeyes, ranked fourth in both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches' polls, also have won nine straight Big Ten contests. ESPN2 is televising the game.
Northwestern started and finished strong against Duke on Saturday to post a 28-10 road victory, its second straight win away from Ryan Field. The victory gave NU a 2-2 nonconference record -- its 11th straight season with a .500 or better nonleague mark. It is also the ninth straight year that Northwestern has won at least two nonconference games.
The Buckeyes have yet to leave Ohio Stadium, playing all four nonconference games at home. Ohio State opened with a 28-9 win over then-No. 17 Washington, but since then, has played three nailbiters. The Buckeyes held off San Diego State, 16-13, before escaping with a 44-38 triple-overtime win against North Carolina State. This past weekend, OSU held a 24-7 fourth-quarter lead against Bowling Green, but needed a final-second interception from Will Allen to prevent a potential game-tying score from the Falcons. The Buckeyes won the game, 24-17.
Ohio State is winning with its stingy defense. The Buckeyes are yielding 295.0 yards per game and just 24.0 yards per game on the ground (0.9 yards per carry). Linebackers A.J. Hawk (34 tackles, 5.5 TFL) and Robert Reynolds (24 tackles, 2.5 TFL), along with safety Will Allen (24 tackles, 2 INT) lead the OSU defense. Offensively, the Buckeyes are averaging nearly the same number of points as they did a year ago (28.0 to 29.3 in 2002), but doing it while averaging nearly 70 less yards in total offense (295.2 to 364.5 in 2002). All-America place-kicker Mike Nugent leads OSU's special teams.
Ohio State's 18 straight wins is four shy of its school mark (22), set in 1967-69.
Big Ten-Opener Facts
This is the 106th Big Ten opener for the Wildcats. In its previous 105 openers, Northwestern has compiled a 43-57-5 (.433) record. This is the 10th time that the Wildcats have opened their Big Ten schedule against Ohio State. In those first nine meetings, Northwestern is 4-4-1 versus the Buckeyes. The Wildcats have a 2-3 record against OSU when opening Big Ten play in Columbus. NU and OSU last met in a Big Ten opener in 1994 (OSU won 17-15 in Evanston).
The Series With Ohio State
Series Record: OSU leads 54-13-1
At Evanston: OSU leads 25-5-1
At Columbus: OSU leads 29-8
Last Result: 27-16, Ohio State (in Evanston)
Series Streak: 23, Ohio State (dating to 1972)
Series Notes: The Northwestern-Ohio State series dates to 1913, the first year the Buckeyes played Big Ten contests ... The Wildcats and Buckeyes have met each year since 1913, with the exception of these seasons: 1918 to '26, 1959-60, 1965-66, 1975-76, 1987-88, 1995-96 and 1999-2000.
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 20-30 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 79-65-5. 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 Northwestern-Duke Recap
Led by an impressive rushing performance from running backs Jason Wright (Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Bar), Noah Herron (Mattawan, Mich./Mattawan) and Terrell Jordan (Clarkston, Ga./Tucker), Northwestern posted its fifth straight series win over Duke, 28-10. The Wildcats' backfield trio, which combined for 289 rushing yards, averaged just over 8.0 yards per carry. Wright and Herron both hit the 100-yard rushing mark, giving Northwestern two 100-yard rushers for the first time since Nov. 12, 1988. (Bob Christian, 138 yards, and Byron Sanders, 118 yards, were the last duo to accomplish the feat, vs. Purdue.)
Wright ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He opened the game's scoring with a nifty 38-yard scoring run. On the Wildcats' second offensive possession, they marched 51 yards in eight plays and finished the drive with a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Brett Basanez (Arlington Heights, Ill./St. Viator). After Duke cut the NU lead to 14-10, the Wildcats pulled away with Wright's 8-yard scoring run late in the third quarter and Herron's 69-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
Led by linebacker Tim McGarigle (Chicago, Ill./St. Patrick) and safety Dominique Price (Louisville, Ky./DuPont Manual), Northwestern's defense totaled six pass sacks and held the Blue Devil rushing attack to just 90 yards on 32 carries (2.8 ypc).
NU Receives Academic Recognition From the AFCA ... 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.
NU Picks Up a Pair of Early-Season Big Ten Honors
In the season's first two weeks, Northwestern players were honored by the Big Ten Conference for their performances against Kansas and Air Force. For his performance in the season-opening victory over Kansas, senior running back Jason Wright earned his fourth career Big Ten Player-of-the-Week. In that game, Wright equaled a career high in rushing yards (196) and rushing touchdowns (4). He also set a personal best with 41 rushing attempts. The 196 yards were the second-most on college football's opening weekend.
The following week against Air Force, and for the first time since the 2000 season, a member of Northwestern's defensive unit picked up Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Junior safety Marvin Ward (Landover, Md./Eleanor Roosevelt), who was a late replacement in the starting lineup for the ailing Louis Ayeni (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury), shared the honor with Ohio State's Will Allen. Ward collected a career-high 17 tackles (11 solos) and a key fumble recovery in the Air Force game. He played a key role in helping contain the Falcons' vaunted option attack. Only three of Air Force's 53 rushing plays went for distances of 10 or more yards.
Ward is fourth on Northwestern's tackle chart with 27 hits.
Wright Nominated for National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Postgraduate Scholarship
Northwestern running back Jason Wright is the Wildcats' nominee for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame postgraduate fellowship. To be eligible for the award, the nominee must be a senior or graduate student in his final year of eligibility, have a grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, have shown superior academic application and performance, have outstanding football ability as a first-team player, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. Wright was named a first-team Verizon Academic All-American last year.
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 an honorable mention all-Big Ten running back. He bounced back from a career-low 20-yard effort vs. Miami (Ohio) with a 149-yard showing against Duke last week. That gave him 10 100-yard rushing performances in his last 14 games. He also continues to climb NU's all-time rushing list (see chart to the lower left), moving from 10th to eighth place this past week. Wright is fourth in Big Ten rushing, second in Big Ten scoring, and fifth in Big Ten all-purpose yardage.
Wright is one of 39 preseason candidates for the Doak Walker Award, awarded annually to the nation's top running back. He is one of four Big Ten running backs on the list.
An update on some other notable items/numbers for Wright:
* Owns a string of 298 consecutive carries without a fumble (fumbled once in 2002).
* Needs 130 rushing yards to move into seventh place on NU's all-time rushing list; 236 yards to move into sixth place; and 305 yards to move into fifth place.
* Needs 329 all-purpose yards to crack NU's top-10 career list.
* Averaging 118.1 rushing ypg in his last 14 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.
Stiff Schedule Holding Up
Several publications noted that Northwestern's 2003 schedule would be one of the toughest in the country, and four games into this season, the facts support that claim. According to the NCAA statistics service, Northwestern's 12-game schedule presently ranks as the 13th-toughest slate in Division I-A football. NU's 12 opponents presently have a combined record of 31-15 (.674). Northwestern's four nonconference foes are presently 11-4 (.733). That mark ranks 23rd nationally among I-A schools. Only North Texas, Fresno State and Louisiana-Lafayette have played a schedule that has more than 11 opponent victories.
Northwestern has significantly upgraded its defense from a year ago. With four games under its belt, the improvements can be backed up with statistics. Some notable items on the defense:
* NU has sliced more than 50 percent off its rushing yards allowed figure. Last year, the Wildcats gave up 313 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. This year, the figure has dropped to 151.8 ypg and 4.0 ypc. Through four nonconference games a year ago, NU was allowing 317.0 ypg on the ground.
* In four games, the 'Cats have totaled eight pass sacks, including six last week against Duke. Last year, NU accumulated just six sacks all season.
* Northwestern held an opponent to less than 100 yards rushing for the first time in four years when it limited Duke to 90 yards this past weekend. Against "conventional" offenses this season, NU is giving up 112.3 ypg on the ground. Air Force, which led the nation in rushing a year ago with its option attack, piled up 270 rushing yards on the Wildcat defense.
O-Line Measuring 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 have been reduced somewhat, after Northwestern's offensive line, which weighs an average of 317 pounds (fourth heaviest in I-A football), has produced an offensive average of 424.0 yards per game (35th most nationally) and allowed six sacks. Redshirt sophomore Zach Strief (Milford, Ohio/Milford), the Wildcats' biggest player at 6-foot-7, 335 pounds, has led the way this season with four "championship-game" performances in as many outings.
Patrick Leads Nation in Reception String
Dating to his freshman season, receiver Kunle Patrick (Brooklyn, N.Y./Poly Prep Country Day) has caught at least one pass in 38 consecutive games, which leads the nation. USC's Kareem Kelly set the NCAA Division I-A record last year, concluding his career with a 47-game streak.
In Saturday's game at Duke, Patrick, who ranks fourth and fifth, respectively, on NU's career receiving and receiving yardage lists, caught three passes for 31 yards.
That's More Like It
Throughout his coaching career, Randy Walker has proven to be nearly unbeatable when his teams carry a lead into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats added to that impressive mark on Saturday when they took a 21-10 lead into the final frame at Duke. Walker's club uncharacteristically lost a fourth-quarter lead earlier this season, letting a 21-7 advantage turn into a 22-21 defeat to unbeaten Air Force. In his 14 years as a head coach, Walker's teams have compiled a 64-3-1 record when leading at the end of the third quarter. At NU, he is 15-2. (The other loss came to Penn State in 2001.)
Durr's Return Helps Spark Defense
Northwestern's 2002 defensive woes are well-documented, and the rough year was certainly not helped by the absence of Pat Durr (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles), 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 some solid play in the early going of the 2003 season. After four games, Durr is second on the team's tackle chart with 31 hits and second in sacks with two. He now has 204 career tackles.
Although the Wildcat defense is still surrendering more yards than they would like, they are stiffening when the opposition gets inside the 20-yard line. In this week's Big Ten statistics, Northwestern is ranked second in the league in red-zone defense with a .500 percentage. The opponents have been inside the 20-yard line 14 times, but only seven times have they come away with points -- four touchdowns and three field goals. Conversely, NU has gone inside the opponents' 20-yard line 14 times and scored 11 -- all TDs.
Baz in the Top 10
In just 14 career games, sophomore quarterback Brett Basanez (Arlington Heights, Ill./St. Viator) has moved into the Wildcats' No. 10 spot on the school's career passing yardage list. With his 177 yards against Duke, Basanez climbed closer to the 3,000-yard mark and now totals 2,960 yards. After suffering 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.
Holding on to the football has been one of Randy Walker's credos for years. Thus far in 2003, the Wildcats have done a fairly good job of keeping possession of the ball. Although Northwestern has been credited with seven fumbles, it has only lost one -- that one coming in the last game versus Duke (wide receiver Ashton Aikens fumbled the ball after a reception).
* In their first four games, the Wildcats already have eclipsed their cumulative blocked kick totals from the last two years. Led by sophomore Loren Howard (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro), Northwestern has three blocks this year. Howard has two of those blocks -- one on a field goal attempt and the other on a PAT attempt. Northwestern did not block any kicks in 2002, and just two in 2001.
* Punter/kicker Brian Huffman (Schaumburg, Ill./Schaumburg), a Ray Guy Award candidate, now has booted eight of his 22 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Another three punts went into the end zone for a touchback. Huffman is currently fourth in the Big Ten with a punting average of 41.8.
* Northwestern is winning the time of possession battle, holding onto the ball an average of 32:46 per game.
* Northwestern's opponents have only returned five kickoffs (out of 17) this year (for a total of 99 yards).
* The Wildcats have completed 75 passes this year, but only one reception has resulted in six points.