Cats, Fitz give Red Hawks Fits

Randy Walker's presence was all over  Yager Stadium as Northwestern faced Miami of Ohio - a team they'd never played on the road, and that they hadn't beaten in almost a half century. Add a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback and you might have had an unsurmountable barrier to a first win, but that's not the way Coach Walk would have wanted it....

Lets start with the Defense...
First off - the NU defense had 5 sacks!

They did it with a combination of 4-3, 3-4 and even a 3-3-5 defensive set. The end result was a game where the Wildcats suddenly had a stifling defense that put pressure on the quarterback with only 3 down linemen.

APCorey Wootton had 2 sacks, Nick Roach, Demetrius Eaton, Eddie Simpson each had 1. Nick Roach [AP Photo-left] led all NU defenders with 8 tackles, Corey Wootton 6, Adam Kadela and Demetrius Eaton 5 each. 18 Wildcat players had at least one tackle as NU almost pitched a shutout.

It could have been a lot different, Miami's Mike Kokal got the RedHawks close enough for a couple of field goals [they made one] and put up 175 yards on 16 of 26 passing. Ryne Robinson was the leading receiver in the game. He had 9 catches for 144 yards, 53 in one reception.

But the Cats kept the Red Hawks out of the end zone, and only allowed that one chip shot field goal.
Meanwhile, NU was getting some confidence for their first time starter QB.
After a decent first drive, NU settled into a defensive battle that only broke when Erryn Cobb blocked a Miami punt in the 3rd quarter, and rumbled 8 yards into the end zone with the ball to put NU ahead to stay.

Next, it was Tyrell Sutton's turn - he grabbed a 19 yard pass from Mike KafkaAP in the back of the end zone to cap a 7 play 69 yard drive. Then with 12:12 left in the 4th, Terrell Jordan [AP Photo right] scored from 4 yards out to end an 8 play, 80 yard drive that put the Cats ahead 21-3. That's how the game ended.

Another good sign, Joel Howells was 3 for 3 from the PAT line.
A few stats:
  • Time of possession: Miami 30:57, NU 29.03
  • Rushing: Kafka 17 for 89 yds, Sutton 13 for 63 yds, Jordan 8 for 44 yds and a TD.
  • Receiving: Shaun Herbert, 4 for 33 yds, Rasheed Ward 4 for 19 yds, Sutton 3 for 23 and a TD, Eric Peterman 1 for 20 yds, Terrell Jordan 1 for 11.
After the game....
The team presented Tammy Walker, Coach Walk's widow with the game ball, then Coach Pat Fitzgerald talked with Ted Albrecht....
I'm so proud of our players, and our staff...I'm so proud of Northwestern University as a family. What we went through was difficult ... that emotional rollercoaster that bonded this family together and I'm so proud of our players and our staff. Its incredible.
Having the Walker family on the field for the coin toss might have been a distraction, but the team looked beyond the pregame ceremonies...
Focus, we talked about playing our style of football. We didn't play it in the first half, we didn't play very well and I give Miami a lot of credit for that. They were playing very well on defense and we were self inflicting a lot of wounds on ourselves, but we kept at them, and stayed together.

We had a very focused halftime, we talked about our adjustments and we really responded well in the 2nd half.
What stood out during the game was the defense, with multiple sets and a lot of pressure...
I said in my press conference, and I meant it - we've got a little swagger going on defense, and we've got an attitude that we've got something to prove and when you've got a "wounded animal with something to prove," you better look out.

I'm very proud of our defense, I'm proud of Greg Colby, Eric Washington, Jerry Brown and our newcomer Randy Bates, and our defensive grad assistant Chris Bowers. They stuck together through tough times, didn't feel sorry for themselves, and we came up fighting.

[But] We need to get a lot better if we're going to go where we want to go.
QB Mike Kafka also stepped up...with a TD pass in the 3rd quarter to Tyrell Sutton.
He settled down in the 2nd half - we were talking when we came out - that was the biggest smile I've seen him have You know, its his first one, and I was glad to get Andrew out there a little bit

I'm really proud of our entire offense, the way they kept battling. [OC] Garrick [McGee] called a great game and our offensive staff just did a tremendous job.
One other standout part of the game were the special teams [3 of 3 PAT's, long booming punts, few returns by Miami] especially Erryn Cobb's punt block that led to the Cat's first score.
We thought we had something - what we saw in film study . We wanted to hold on to it to the end and we just called it at the right time. Adam Cushing our "jet" coach and a great job by Erryn Cobb - took it right off his foot, just like you practice - had the sense to scoop and score - secure the football and that was a huge momentum shift in the ballgame.
In the final analysis?
I'm just relieved, I'm relieved for our players, I'm so happy for Tammy and Jamie and for Abbie and Bryan [Walker] - it had been 48 years since we had beaten Miami and to come in here and win the opener with all the emotions and all the passion and pageantry - I'm so proud of our players and our staff and its one of many.

We're going to have to get a lot better if we're going to beat a very good UNH team next week at our place.

Pat Fitzgerald's Post Game comments [in italics] are taken from the WGN Post Game Show
-- are based on questions from Dave Eanet & Ted Albrecht and may have been edited for clarity.
Official Game Statistics from nusports.com


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Story (c) 2006 by PurpleWildcats.com/Purple Reign
Interview comments (c) 2006 by  WGN Radio

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