Price is right model of Northwestern football

Andrea Cohen Column

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Randy Walker says it about missed tackles. Players use it to explain missing open receivers.

It was the reason Northwestern blew a 14-point lead to Minnesota, and why the Cats committed costly penalties at Ohio State.

That wasn’t us out there. That wasn’t Northwestern Football.

With this mysterious identity swap occurring so frequently, the question arises. What is Northwestern Football?

Walker hopes it’s NU’s first quarter against Minnesota last week, which he said “looked like we want it to look like.” Not the rest of the game, which left him baffled and asking, “Who was that team that showed up at the end?”

He’d probably settle for what his squad looked like in the first quarter of Saturday’s game at Indiana. Because while one could argue that it was against the worst team in the Big Ten, the Cats did look as though they were clearly the better team for the first 15 minutes, before Northwestern Football went AWOL.

But when that other, unknown team showed up and replaced the Cats after the first quarter, one NU player — safety Dominique Price — managed to stay in the game. Maybe it’s because he’s one of the few members of the Cats’ secondary who wasn’t originally a running back, or maybe he just has a little bit of Ronnie Lott in him.

Whatever the reason, it seems that even when the rest of the defense is getting trampled, Price will come out of nowhere to lay a hit on somebody that makes you cringe. And that’s a “glad that wasn’t our guy” cringe, not the “we’re so awful I can’t even look” cringe we all got used to making while watching the defense last season.

Take Saturday’s game for example. In the second quarter, Indiana running back Brian Lewis found his rhythm and Northwestern Football began to disintegrate. On the second play of the quarter he broke several tackles and appeared headed for the endzone when Price, showing impressive speed, ran him down and tackled him at the NU 15. Not that the Cats capitalized — Lewis rushed for the score three plays later — but it was the first of many plays in the game that made spectators stop and think: Damn, that guy is good.

Price’s most impressive play of the game was also the most crucial to the Cats’ win. With the score tied 31-31 in the fourth quarter, Price broke up a Matt LoVecchio pass on the NU sideline to prevent a first down on the Hoosiers’ second-to-last possession. Anticipating the quarterback’s pass, Price leveled the receiver and forced Indiana to punt. Best of all, Price acted like he’d been there before — no taunting, no excessive celebration.

Price chalks his hard-hitting ways up to an attitude. “It’s a lack of fear. Every time I come up to make a tackle, I feel like I can punish the other person,” Price said. “It’s the way I’ve been playing for a long time.”

It’s also the way he plays all the time, whether the rest of his team follows suit or not.

If the Cats would start playing Price’s version of Northwestern Football with a little consistency, maybe Northwestern Football would mean something.