Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Returning to rock bottom (Football)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Last week, Northwestern coach Randy Walker said it would be difficult to say his defense had many “bona fide, first-team starters.”

On Saturday against Penn State (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten), it didn’t.

Earlier in the week, NU (2-6, 0-4) pulled its three starting linebackers — John Pickens, Braden Jones and Doug Szymul — in favor of second stringers, in an effort to “upset the apple cart,” Walker said.

In the course of the 49-0 rout, NU’s defense gave up 546 yards in total offense, including 423 rushing.

By the time the first-string linebackers entered the fray with 7:18 to go in the second quarter, Penn State running back Larry Johnson already had exceeded his career high of 147 yards.

By halftime NU was down 35-0.

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Johnson broke the Nittany Lions’ single-game rushing record with 257 yards.

Did any positives come out of the linebacker switch?

“Boy, it didn’t look like it,” Walker said after the game. “We were going to give everybody a chance. It wasn’t very good a week ago, either. We’ve just got to find some people who play downhill.”

But, Walker added, it’s unfair to blame the linebackers for all of NU’s defensive woes. Especially as NU’s defensive line stayed blocked, giving Johnson — and the other 10 Nittany Lions who gained rushing yards — room to run.

“Watching the films (of Northwestern’s defense), I was licking my chops,” Johnson said.

He said the key to his record-setting game was his offensive line, which he thanked after the contest by presenting the offensive line coach with his game ball.

“The holes they had were just huge,” NU safety Mark Roush said. “It was hard for the linebackers and safeties to come down and fill those holes.”

Further challenging the defense was the loss of starting safety Dominique Price, who went down with a sprained ankle on the first play of the second quarter and did not return.

While Johnson thanked his offensive line, the Cats’ offensive line could have been apologizing to quarterback Tony Stauss.

The sophomore, starting in place of injured Brett Basanez, was sacked five times for a loss of 42 yards. Stauss took the blame for most of the sacks, stating that he “can’t expect (the offensive line) to block for eight or nine seconds.”

But center Austin King disagreed.

“I definitely don’t think any of the results have to do with Tony,” King said. “He doesn’t deserve (to be sacked five times) after all the work he puts in.”

Compounding the offensive line’s problems was an injury to right tackle Jeff Roehl. The senior left the game in the first half with an ankle injury.

Stauss’ 69-percent completion percentage broke the NU record Saturday, but the Cats were unable to score with him under center.

No NU drive was longer than 50 yards, and no single play gained more than 20.

In a dramatic departure from recent performances, NU got very little production from its rushing offense. The Cats averaged 178.3 rushing yards per game prior to Saturday, but gained only 88 yards on the ground and netted a mere nine after lost yards were included.

Running back Jason Wright, who has been the Cats’ go-to guy all season, had just 63 yards — a far cry from the 134 yards per game he averaged in NU’s past five contests.

“Offensively, we had moments where it looked like we were going to get things going,” Walker said. “We moved the ball, but we never really challenged or got rolling.”

In the first quarter, costly penalties killed several NU scoring opportunities.

On the Cats’ second possession of the game, with 1st-and-10 at the Penn State 41, NU was penalized five yards when Noah Herron jumped offsides. With 1st-and-15, Stauss threw two consecutive incompletions, and NU kicked the ball away after Stauss was sacked on third down. Penn State scored on the subsequent possession to make the score 7-0.

On the next drive, NU got the ball to the Nittany Lions’ 17, where David Wasielewski kicked the ball through the goal posts for what would have been his first field goal since Ohio State on Oct. 5. But the Cats were called for illegal procedure, and Wasielewski’s attempt from 39 yards fell short.

“We sure didn’t come up on the right side of the yellow flag,” Walker said. “I don’t know if we got any calls today. Not that we were looking for calls, but whatever (Paterno) did, it worked.”

The Cats lost 90 yards on nine penalties in the game, while Paterno’s squad only had six calls against it after the Penn State coach spent much of the past week complaining about Big Ten officiating.

But Walker said the loss had more to do with the quality of play than the quality of the referees.

“We weren’t a very good football team today, ” Walker said. “To say there’s a crisis in confidence is obvious.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Returning to rock bottom (Football)