Walker blames inconsistency on lack of maturity, confidence

Tania Ganguli

Northwestern coach Randy Walker still doesn’t know why his team hasn’t been able to finish games as strongly as they start them. But at his weekly press conference on Monday, Walker said that effort was definitely not the problem.

“It isn’t a matter of ‘want to,'” Walker said. “It’s a matter of maturity.”

The Cats started three underclassmen on offense, four on defense and redshirt freshman kicker Slade Larscheid in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota. No true freshmen started.

But last year’s team was even more inexperienced. Against Minnesota last year, NU started four underclassmen on offense and seven on defense. Sophomore defensive end Loren Howard started that game as a true freshman.

“Last year it was inexperience,” junior running back Noah Herron said after the game on Saturday. “Now it’s not the case. I feel this year’s team is a lot different than last year’s team. But as of right now we are doing the same thing as last year — which is kind of letting things go by us without doing anything about it.”

In addition to maturing, Walker also said that the Cats needed to learn how to finish games. Against Minnesota, they went up 14-0 in the first quarter before falling 42-17.

“It’s the tale of two teams,” Walker said. “Who was that team that showed up at the end?”

Walker said that NU football had become synonymous with inconsistency — sometimes playing in moments of brilliance, but ultimately unable to put together a complete game. He shouldered some of the blame, saying it was his responsibility to prepare the young Cats.

“Right now we do have a little bit of ‘woe is me, here we go again,'” Walker said. “And every statement I’ve made so far reflects thinking in the past.”

He said thinking in the present was a key step to changing the team’s inability to respond to difficult situations. He said the team often accepted the fact that things weren’t going their way, referring to times when the opposing team executes big plays, like scoring a 96-yard touchdown.

“One thing goes wrong and it just continues and continues,” senior safety Torri Stuckey said Monday.

Adding to their offensive woes on Saturday was the lack of a potent passing game. The Cats ran the ball more often than they passed and rushed for 74 yards while passing for 180. Quarterback Brett Basanez completed 17-of-29 passes and threw two interceptions.

Although Walker insisted that big plays weren’t the cure for the aluggish offense, he admitted that it would be nice to have one spectacular play every now and then to give the Cats much needed confidence. He remembered the Cats game against Wisconsin in 2000, when NU’s Tim Long kicked a 47-yard field goal at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime. The Cats won that year’s Big Ten opener 47-44.

“All of a sudden we think ‘we’re a pretty good football team,'” Walker said.

The Cats said that confidence is missing from this year’s team.

“Everyone has to feel that they can beat the guy in front of them,” running back Jason Wright said.