Early blowouts give NU 2-0 start

In the first two games of the 2000 campaign, the Wildcats proved two things.

One, they’re better than last year.

Two, they won’t show mercy or pity, even to overmatched opponents.

For the first time in 25 years, Northwestern opened a season 2-0. Even more unusal than that was how NU won by a combined 55-point margin, upending Northern Illinois, 35-17, and Duke, 38-5.

Of course, the opposing teams were Northern Illinois and Duke — a mediocre Mid-American Conference squad and a school which cares so much about its basketball team that the men on the gridiron seem like an afterthought.

If anything, NU was simply better and it had more to cheer for than in last year’s season-opening loss, and the 3-8 record that followed.

“Didn’t have much of this last year, so it’s nice to have it on your first game of the season,” junior quarterback Zak Kustok said after the Northern Illinois victory.

If a single player could take sole credit for the wins, it would be junior Damien Anderson. The tailback proved himself worthy of the preseason accolades, such as the Doak Walker Award Watch List and First-team All-Big Ten by The Sporting News. In the first half of the NIU victory alone, Anderson scrambled for 88 yards and two touchdowns before sitting out the second half with a mild concussion.

Anderson scored another pair of touchdowns a week later against Duke — this time for 56 and 66 yards for a total of 187 yards and an outstanding 8.9 yards per carry.

In the pocket, Kustok was comfortable and versatile. The option succeeded, and the passing game reaped the benefits. Kustok completed 16 of 27 attempts both games and threw for a combined 373 yards.

The defensive corps was just as stellar, especially against the Blue Devils, who only amassed a total of 174 offensive yards. The Cats sacked three Duke quarterbacks six times for a loss of 50 yards.

The NU secondary squashed nearly all of Duke’s scoring chances. With the Blue Devils leading 2-0 in the first quarter, Duke advanced into NU’s 25-yard line and looked poised to extend its lead.

But sophomore cornerback Raheem Covington picked off a pass at the NU 10-yard line. Later, fifth-year senior Harold BlackMonday, NU’s career leader in passes broken up, intercepted Duke quarterback Bobby Campbell’s pass along the sidelines at NU’s 31.

The Cats’ only glaring weakness in the first two games was their shabby special teams. Against Northern Illinois, NU kicked off six times and allowed a morbid average of 33 yards per return. Duke caused similar damage, as it returned five NU kickoffs for an average of 32 yards.

Even after beating the Blue Devils, NU coach Randy Walker expressed humility and shame in his special team’s efforts.

“Honest to God, believe it or not, we’ve worked on it a lot,” Walker said. “I take that personally because I’ve spent a lot of time with the special teams.”