Ho-hum. Northwestern got two scores in the final 29 ticks of another amazing win
To hear the folks at Northwestern tell it, there's a simple explanation for the three final-second comeback victories in the Wildcats' last eight games. The no-huddle, spread offense directed by senior quarterback Zak Kustok every game is so similar to a two-minute offense that Northwestern doesn't tense up when the clock is ticking down. The Wildcats displayed that cool again last Saturday, when they came from behind twice in the final 29 seconds to defeat Michigan State 27-26, in a finish that left normally voluble coach Randy Walker groping for an explanation. "Whatever it is," Walker said of Kustok's ability to win under under circumstances, "he's got it."
On consecutive weekends late last season Kustok engineered touchdown drives in the final 1:24 to defeat Minnesota 41-35 and Michigan 54-51. Both comebacks failed to match the stunning victory over the Spartans. After Kustok drove the Wildcats 70 yards to take a 24-20 lead on a 10-yard scoring pass to Kunle Patrick with 29 seconds to play, Michigan State's Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. Northwestern started its final drive at its 13-yard line with :14 left.
"When we run plays in practice, it's always faster than in a game," Kustok said on Sunday. "We had success last year, so we have confidence when there's little time left. I feel that I work better in pressure situations, knowing that I have to produce."
On the previous possession Kustok had run 15 plays without using any timeouts, completing 8 of 10 passes for 43 yards and carrying the ball four times for 36 yards. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson says 12 different plays were used on the drive. "Most teams in two-minute offenses have four or five passes and one or two runs," Wilson says.
The only difference between the Wildcats' regular offense and their two-minute drill is that, in the latter, Wilson tries to keep the formations similar. "We save four or five seconds a play by, for instance, keeping the receivers on the same side of the field," he says.
The first play called on the final drive was Victory Right, the same play used to beat Minnesota a year ago. "We call it Victory because we're optimistic," Wilson says. "Hail Mary means you're praying for good luck." Patrick, Jon Schweighardt and Sam Simmons lined up wide on the right side and sprinted about 50 yards downfield. Patrick's job was to tip Kustok's pass to Simmons in front of him, as he had done last year against the Golden Gophers for a 45-yard touchdown, or to Schweighardt behind him, as he did on Saturday. Schweighardt had to reach back and make a sliding catch of the tipped ball at the Michigan State 33. The Wildcats called time with :08 remaining. After Kustok ran three yards and used another timeout, kicker David Wasielewski made a 47-yard field goal for the victory.
"We practice [Victory Right] once a week, every Thursday," Schweighardt says. "Most of the time we complete it." There's one difference: In practice there are no defensive backs. When Northwestern has called Victory Right in games, Kustok is 2 for 2.
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In the first quarter against LSU last Saturday night, Tennessee freshman walk-on wideout Kelley Washington showed his raw side. When quarterback Casey Clausen threw an off-target deep pass to him, Washington made no effort to prevent Tigers corner-back Erin Damond from intercepting the ball. It was the last time that Damond got the best of Washington, who made 11 catches for 256 yards, a single-game school record, and scored a touchdown in Tennessee's 26-18 win.