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Skeptics beware: The Wildcats should score in droves again and play better defense too
By Ivan Maisel
To be a Northwestern football player is to perform under a shadow of doubt. The
Wildcats have won or shared the Big Ten title three times in the last six
seasons -- as many as Michigan has and more than Ohio State (two), Wisconsin
(two) and Penn State (none) have in that time -- but skeptics of the program
remain. Dealing with that became a lot less important last Friday, however, when
senior strong safety Rashidi Wheeler suffered a severe asthma attack on the
practice field, collapsed and died. "Rashidi was full of life and was an
unbelievably gifted athlete," said new secondary coach Pat Fitzgerald.
"He had the size and speed to play on
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| Enemy Lines |
| An opposing team's coach sizes up
"Offensively they have a good concept, and when they run out of the spread, it creates problems for the defense. Their trap game is really tough, and it's all determined by what the coaches see from the press box. They use a variety of tempos and go no-huddle a lot. ... Quarterback Zak Kustok runs the offense well, and running back Damien Anderson is tremendous in the open field. ... Linebackers Billy Silva and Napoleon Harris aren't big, but they're exceptional players. "
Wheeler was one of the few bright spots on a defense that needs to improve
quickly and dramatically, because last year Northwestern needed every bit of its
offensive firepower to win games by scores of 54-51, 47-44, 41-35 and 52-33.
There is no such concern on offense. Coach Randy Walker estimates that 10
schools sent staff members to Evanston during the off-season to learn his team's
Last fall the Wildcats led the conference in total offense (475.6 yards per
game) and scoring (38.6 points a game), thanks mainly to a scheme that
capitalized on their multitude of receivers and on quarterback Zak Kustok's
ability to recognize defenses, thus neutralizing teams that had superior speed.
With 10 offensive starters returning, Northwestern should be even more efficient
this year. The best of the lot is 5'11", 204-pound senior tailback Damien
Anderson. In 2000 he finished second in the nation in rushing (2,014 yards) and
set or tied 23 school
There's a lot to like about Walker's style of football. In particular, his
players don't give up. Last year they twice won on the last snap of the game and
another time pulled out a victory with 20 seconds to play. Sad to say, the
Wildcats have to learn how to handle adversity off the field as well.
Issue date: August 13, 2001
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